P.P Arnold: The Next Adventure

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It’s been five decades since P.P Arnold made her mark on the music scene with the timeless hit, The First Cut Is The Deepest. A shy girl with no ambition to become a star, a young P.P escaped an abusive teen marriage by coming to the UK in the ‘60s to begin what would become her incredible recording career. However, with the highs came the lows: suffering the loss of her young daughter in a car accident, getting ripped off and dropped by labels, and surviving a serious car accident which left her unable to walk – all the while navigating what was very much a man’s world. This year sees the self-professed “glam-ma” return to the charts with new album, The New Adventures Of… P.P. Arnold. Headliner meets the legendary soul singer in London, where she describes her experiences during the civil rights movement, how Tina Turner helped her escape her abusive partner, why a Bee Gees feud derailed her career more than once, and how Mick Jagger and Jimi Hendrix brought her out of her shell.

“Call me Pat, or glam-ma!” says P.P Arnold, welcoming Headliner into a trendy Scandinavian cafe in London, where she immediately invites me to share her pastries. Speaking in her honey-dipped, musical voice and relaying her stories with ease, aside from a rather fabulous jacket, there is not a hint of diva about Arnold.

Dressed all in black and flashing freshly manicured baby blue nails and a warm smile, despite only being 5ft 4 myself, Arnold makes me feel tall. Far from going through the motions (Headliner can only imagine how many times P.P has been asked to summarise her life story) – Arnold is nothing but happy to be here, her eyes twinkling at the memories she shares. A great impressionist, the soul singer laughs often, and never forgets a name – remembering every producer or songwriter she’s ever worked with.

Having just released her long overdue new album, The New Adventures Of… P.P. Arnold, featuring contributions from Paul Weller, Ocean Colour Scene’s Steve Cradock, The Specials, and her songwriter son, Kodzo, Arnold is appreciative that people have responded so well to her new release:

“I’m just humbled that the album is doing so well, and by the way it has been received by the media. Steve [Cradock] and I are really just over the moon because this is really just the beginning. You never know [how it will be received] – it’s the music industry, so you never know. I’ve done a lot of music and things through the years that haven’t been released. You don’t think about it, but you put your heart and soul into a project, and if it’s not received well, or if you can’t get a deal, it’s really quite devastating, really.”

The New Adventures Of… P.P. Arnold was recorded and produced by Cradock (a huge P.P fan) at his Kundalini Studio in Devon, and follows on from the singer’s two ‘60s solo albums on Immediate Records, The First Lady Of Immediate, and Kafunta, as well as a more recent compilation of previously unreleased material from the late ’60s and ’70s, The Turning Tide, which was finally released in 2017.

“Turning Tide was recorded between 1968 and 1970 was produced by Barry Gibb and Eric Clapton, and that music was the next stage in my development. If that record hadn't been released, maybe my story would have been totally different, because I got really lost when that happened.”

How so?

“When [Turning Tide] wasn’t released in the ‘70s, everything changed – it was the beginning of the English invasion in America, and I was without a label or management, but I was still carrying on independently. Then I went to America to record with my younger son’s father, Fuzzy Samuel, who was the bass player with Nash & Young. We went there to do a record and everything went wrong. Even though I’m from America, I spent the majority of my adult life here in the U.K, [evidenced by her saying ‘petrol station’ and ‘toilet’ over ‘gas station’ and ‘bathroom’] and my kids grew up here.”

Swept away by her storytelling, Headliner takes it back to when P.P first came to the U.K to begin her music career in 1966, where she supported The Rolling Stones as one of Ike and Tina Turner’s backing singers, The Ikettes. Little did she know that her world was about to be turned upside down.

The shy 19-year-old caught the eye of one Mick Jagger, who persuaded her to try and make it as a solo artist in London. The rest is history: Arnold went on to carve out a five-decade career, working with Jagger, the Small Faces, Rod Stewart, Barry Gibb, Eric Clapton, Peter Gabriel, Roger Waters, Paul Weller, Ocean Colour Scene and Primal Scream, to name a few.

“It was great - I came over with Ike and Tina Turner, coming out of the civil rights revolution, into the rock and roll revolution,” she remembers. “I had grown up in a segregated society – I’m a descendant of slaves. I was born in L.A, but by family is from east Texas; they moved to escape all the Jim Crow racism of those times, so [London] was my first experience of being in an integrated, cosmopolitan environment, and I was young, very shy, very introverted. I didn’t know about the industry. I was thinking: ‘What does everybody see in me?’”

Arnold remembers London in the ‘60s: “Being in London at that time with all the music: it was youthful, it was exciting – all the fashion, art, the culture – London was swinging, baby! Here I was, this little introverted young black woman from Watts, and suddenly I’m a part of this scene, and I’m hanging out with Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones – that would not have depend in L.A baby, oh no, no no,” she shakes her head.

Meeting Mick Jagger And Jimi Hendrix

Jagger made quite the first impression: “We became friends because Mick just used to make me laugh. When I first met him in the Albert Hall, he came into the dressing room: [mimes camp strutting]. This white dude with these big lips, talking black, walking black, wanting to be black – trying to do the Mashed Potato, and we would laugh at him,” she says fondly.

“We used to go to our dressing room and dance and stuff, and on the tour he used to take me and all the other Ikketes to discotheques and dance. He made me laugh with the way he talked, and I made him laugh because of the way I talked – because I was so shy and everything. We were just friends; we were all pretty young.

“Destiny is what it is; the only thing that separated us was our lives went separate ways. I made a choice that I couldn’t hang on that party scene because I had kids – that was a hardcore scene! But we were always friends, and I’ll always love him for everything; he opened the door for me. I don’t mean it like I hustled him; he opened the door for me, and he just kept going his own way. Mick was a busy boy…you know,” she says teasingly. “All of them were busy boys!”

Another “busy boy” that helped the shy singer come out of her shell was Jimi Hendrix: “Jimi was my brother,” she smiles. “I mean, the way the universe planned that! I was doing a gig, and my guitar-player came backstage and said there’s an American guy here, and he wants to know if he could jam with the band. And I didn’t know him, so I checked him out. I saw this brother with all this freaky hair surrounded by women, and thought: ‘Who is this brother?’ Right?! I said: ‘Tell him he can jam on the second set,’ (because I never let anyone jam on the first set just in case they blew me away) - which he did on the second set, but I was finished!”

As fate would have it, the two lived right around the corner from one another.

“It was like God had given me someone that could understand me!” she says. “We were from the same upbringing, the same roots, so he was great. We were friends, and we were lovers, but you know, it wasn’t like [adopts sassy voice] ‘Jimi was my man,’ or, ‘Mick was my man’. Yeah, I had different lovers, that’s just the way it was back then – everybody had more than one lover! [laughs] But I was just happy to have my own scene. I was not a groupie,” she stresses. “I was picking and choosing. I've always been very much independent and on my own.”

Jagger told Arnold that The Rolling Stones’ manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, wanted to sign her as a solo artist to his label, Immediate Records, resulting in her first UK hit single, The First Cut Is The Deepest, a few months later.

“This song captured my heart; it was my story,” she states, matter-of-factly. “I know a lot of people have covered it, but I put my heart and soul into that song because that was my experience as a young girl – the first cut is the deepest – and trying to learn how to open up and have relationships once again without being afraid, so it was just like he wrote it for me – even though he didn’t. And [Cat] feels it is the definitive version of the song, so if he feels that, I’m happy with that!”

The pain she is referring to stems from her abusive teenage marriage, which saw her become a mother of two at a very young age.

“I had blown my teen years by getting pregnant at a young age,” she admits. “I mean, I never even ditched one day [of school] before, but I was infatuated. I was talked into ditching one class – my music appreciation class! I thought, well I know I can make that up; that’s not a problem! I used to love to kiss and cuddle, and that’s all I thought was going to happen and then...[makes swooshing noise] I got swooped on, and two kids later…it was difficult, but you know, that was my journey.”

Touring The Chitlin Circuit With Ike and Tina

Her unhappy marriage turned out to be the catalyst for her joining The Ikettes, giving P.P a way out of her relationship, and a way to support her children.

“I didn’t really know how the music industry worked because it wasn’t my ambition to be in the industry, and then all these opportunities happened for me,” she reflects. “I didn’t know how the industry worked, I wasn’t a hustler – I was just a young girl who had escaped being in a really abusive teen marriage with two kids, and I needed to find a way to support my kids. I wasn’t a party girl, I didn’t know how to hustle or network – it’s taken me a while!”

Being on the road with Ike and Tina was a hard slog, and a personal eye-opener for the still relatively sheltered Arnold, who although was all-too familiar with domestic violence, was now exposed to the ugly world of racial segregation.

“It was hard work with Ike and Tina. Man, we used to go on 90 day tours – it wasn’t glam like it is today. We toured through the Chitlin Circuit, which was the circuit that all the black artists did, because it was very racist back then. We weren’t allowed to play in certain venues, we weren’t allowed to stay in certain hotels – the only hotel we were allowed to stay in was the Holiday Inn. We couldn’t stay in Sheratons or Hiltons. Or we stayed in Soulville – [sings: ‘show me the way to get to Soulville, honey’]. And that’s what we did – you’d go to Soulville, which was the black neighbourhood where they had black-owned businesses. But yeah, it was racist.”

Despite having to strictly stick to the Chitlin Circuit, Arnold still didn’t fully grasp the extent of the situation: “When we were on the road, you couldn’t stop at any petrol station and you couldn’t go to the toilet. I grew up in L.A and my family is from the south, so I had only heard about that [segregated] lifestyle. But in the Deep South, it was separated. So when I went on the road with Ike and Tina, I couldn’t understand why the bus driver wouldn’t stop at certain places when I had to go to the toilet. He would say: ‘No, we can’t stop there’. The first time I realised what was happening, I was saying: ‘Dude, dude, I've got to go,’ so he stopped the bus, and I was the only one that got off. They were going to teach me a lesson, right?

“So I go strutting up to the front, getting ready to go into the ladies’, and the guy says: ‘No, you have to go around the back’. I still didn't get it. So I went around the back, and the sign said: ‘for negroes only’. I still didn’t get it. Until I opened up the door, and it was just a pit – it was awful. And I was just like: ‘wooow’. It hit me, and I just ran back to the bus in tears. And they said: ‘Mmhmm, that’s why we don’t stop. You can stop by the side of the road and we can find you a bush just like everybody else’.

“It was like that,” she shrugs, “but the gigs were fantastic! It was all about the music. There were all these funky clubs, and in some of these places we played in big barns, and people would bring in the church chairs and party, party – it was just the black circuit. I mean, some brave white people might have been around, they loved the music! But that was for the black community.”

As one can imagine, being on the road with Ike and Tina was difficult for other reasons:

“Being on the road with Ike and Tina was crazy,” she nods. “Their domestic scene was pretty intense. We lived together – we were on the road as family. When you’re on the road, you’re on the road. Everybody knows what’s happening. It was difficult because Tina had saved me from an abusive relationship, so I was already very sensitive to that kind of violence, and it was very difficult for me to have to witness what she was going through, but I just stayed out of it. It was like that for women in the industry back then – all women were controlled by some man. If I had been in the U.S, there is no way that I could have been the independent artist I've been, and survived since the 70s without management, without labels, and still have the nerve to be out here by myself – that just wouldn’t have happened in America. It wouldn’t happen in America now!”

Read the rest of the interview, here.

Words by Alice Gustafson.