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P.P Arnold: The Next Adventure

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.”

I didn’t know how the industry worked. I wasn’t a hustler. P.P Arnold

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.”

It was very racist back then. We weren’t allowed to play in certain venues, we weren’t allowed to stay in certain hotels.

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.”

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!”

BeeJees and Bust-Ups

Following this intense period, Immediate Records went bust in 1969, leaving Arnold without a deal or a manager. Cut adrift, the singer met Bee Gees’ Barry Gibb, who at the time had fallen out with his brothers. With the band split up, Gibb was keen to work on new music with P.P.

“I met a guy named Jim Morris – who I later married. He was the assistant to Robert Stigwood, Barry’s manager,” she recalls. “Barry was very private and so was I, and he wanted to be productive, but had split with the brothers, and there was all this feuding going on. He started to write songs for me to record, so we started working. Robert was not happy about that because he was trying to get the brothers back together – this was serious business, it was family business, right? Understandably. Barry was really intent on being his own man, and he didn’t care what anybody else thought, so we went into the studio.”

At a dinner party with co-founder and president of Atlantic Records, Ahmet Ertegun, Arnold and Gibb performed a few of their new songs.

“Ahmet goes to Stiggy: ‘You haven’t signed this girl up? Stiggy stutters: ‘Yes, we’re just sorting the paperwork right now,’ [mimes frantically shuffling of papers]. That’s how Stigwood became my manager, but he didn’t really want to manage me, so we didn’t really have a good relationship.”

Many tracks were recorded, however Stigwood finally got his wish when the Bee Gees got back together, at which point Gibb’s work with Arnold was shelved. This saw Arnold thrown together with Eric Clapton, who she also recorded many songs with.

“Stigwood didn’t like what I did with Barry, so he put that on the shelf. Then he didn’t like the stuff I did with Eric…He had no idea what to do with me, so that was put on the shelf! So I went on the road and I did a West End musical, Catch My Soul. That was a whoooole other story, and that’s when everything got lost. I got dropped, and then I met Fuzzy – Jim and I had split up by this time. Chaos – lost years!”

Arnold headed back to L.A to try her luck over there, but was met with tragedy.

“When you go to Hollywood, it has to already be happening,” she says. “Everybody and their mother and father is in L.A trying to get a record deal. You have to already be connected, and it just didn’t happen. We did rock and roll fusion stuff, but it needed proper production.”

Tragically, whilst in L.A, Arnold’s young daughter was killed in a road collision. “I took my kids with me, and I lost my daughter in a car accident when we were there, so the ‘70s are really the lost, tragic years. It was hard for me to come back [to the U.K] without my daughter. Fuzzy and I split up that project – it ripped our relationship apart. I finally came back to the U.K in ‘83 and I started again. I thought maybe everybody had forgotten about me, really.”

Not knowing where to turn, at this point the Bee Gees had fallen out again, with Gibb offering to pick up where they left off on their project. However, this wasn’t to be, and the album got shelved once again.

“When you’re hot, you’re hot, and when you’re not, you’re not,” she shrugs.

Arnold created a space for herself in the U.K, and her fans have been loyal – with a particularly strong Northern soul following. Arnold started recording again, later accepting a role in Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, Starlight Express (performed entirely on rollerskates).

However, her comeback was stalled yet again when Arnold was involved in a car accident herself.

“My thigh muscles were split in two when I was crushed between two cars, and they told me I’d never do anything again – I’d never dance again. I was a long distance runner, too - they said I’d never do that. I said: ‘Okay, thank you – I don’t want your steroids, I’ll do it myself’. That led me into my alternative healing, nutrition and fitness. I think if I wasn’t singing, I’d be in the healing arts. I like to think of myself as a healer as a singer, because I’m certainly not into celebrity! I always tell people: I’m a glam-ma who sings!”

Perhaps due to her naivety at the time, the music industry, or a combination of both, Arnold reports that she got ripped off time and time again over the years.

“Coming to the U.K was totally different. It was good, but then there’s all the politics. The industry was ruled by men...all the business deals. I got ripped off – everybody got ripped off in the ‘60s. I always think that the artists that survived the ‘70s were the higher echelon: the Stones, Rod Stewart – that’s when artists were really making money, and I kind of missed that boat [laughs]. I had no money, but I did have a name! It would have been nice to have both,” she says good-naturedly.

Peter Gabriel’s innuendo-laden hit, Sledgehammer, features Arnold on backing vocals, which was followed by her recording a string of jingles, which led her to meet jingle production company, The Beatmasters.

“I’ve recorded with The Beatmasters, and I am the mo-mo choir, okay? But seriously, KLF ripped me off! On every one of their records, the choir – that is me! A lot of things I've done, I haven’t got the credit for, but it’s okay – it is what it is. I did start fighting it, but I needed to work, and I didn’t have money. I was using legal aid, but then I got a gig. So if you’re working, you can’t get legal aid [laughs]. I needed to work!”

Arnold then got her own band together, selling out a few gigs at The Jazz Cafe, when Pink Floyd’s, Roger Waters got in touch.

“Roger called me in for his Amused to Death album, and then he invited me to tour with him. I got a call from Roger’s manager, who says: [adopts croaky voice not a million miles away from Joey Tribbiani’s perpetually-smoking agent, Estelle] ‘P.P! Roger has been chasing you for six months. He’s getting ready to go on tour and would like you to go with him’. I said, ‘That’s really nice, Mark, but I’m finally getting myself back together, and I've got a band, and we did two sell-outs’. He said, ‘Well, P.P, I think you might be interested – the money is quite good’. I said, ‘How much are we talking about?’– and he threw all this money at me. I said, ‘That’s really nice, but I want to do my own thing, but I will think about it’. So I thought for about an hour, and I said, ‘Yeeeeeah, go on then!’ I thought: ‘Okay I’ll do one tour with Roger’.

Arnold toured with Waters for the next 10 years.

“I thought that all that money I was going to make from that tour, I could use to do my own thing,” she chuckles. “But it didn’t work like that. Every time, he keeps offering me all this money, and it was really hard to turn down. Plus, I was really happy working with Roger – the quuuuality,” she purrs. “All those musicians with that great sound: it was a first-class travelling set. Travelling the world on that level, with the global exposure that I’d never had. That’s a whole chapter in itself!”

Headliner could listen to Arnold’s stories all day, but conscious of the time (and the fact that the chairs are about to be stacked atop the tables at the cafe), I wrestle the topic back to her new music.

Cradock got in touch with Arnold in 2015 after rediscovering demos that he and P.P had made in the ‘90s, leading to the creation of her new record. Now living in southern Spain, Arnold frequently flew to the U.K to add vocals to Cradock’s backing tracks at his home studio. The emotional hymnal closing track, I’ll Always Remember You… (Debbie’s Song), was recorded in the suitably spiritual environment of Exeter Cathedral in memory of Arnold’s daughter.

“If I had to change anything, I wouldn’t have taken my kids to L.A when I went to do that project, that’s for sure,” she says, sadly. “I wish my daughter was still with me, but she is, but not in the physical sense. She’s certainly with me in the spiritual sense, daily. When I wrote that song, I wanted people to know about her, because so many people that know me now, didn’t know me then, or about my kids.

“I wanted them to know about her character, and what a beautiful young girl she was – she was so much fun,” she smiles, eyes twinkling. “Even though I wrote that song, and I know it's a sad song, it's Debbie’s character that I wanted to come through. I know Debbie would have loved the organ on that track. I grew up in the gospel church, but she was a classical English girl with a little classical voice. I know she likes the track because I dreamed about her a lot after that recording – I had a visitation from her.”

When working on the song, something didn’t feel right:

“Even though they recorded it to my vocal and my melody, the lower octaves of the organ were making it sound sad, and too sorrowful, and that isn’t what I wanted. That melody should be like: [sings in a triumphant, major key] ‘da-da-da-da-da-da-da da’. And it talks about her in a fun and lively way, and that’s how I want people to remember her. So when I was doing the vocal, it was difficult because the melody is really important. So at one point I thought it wasn’t going to work, because if I’m going to do it, I want to do it right, because that song is from here [points at her heart]. But we worked around it, and put a click track on it so I can make sure it’s my melody, and I’m really happy with it. Steve has done an absolutely fabulous production, and we all worked so well on this – they are like my babies! I’m their glam-ma!” she laughs.

With The New Adventure of... P.P. Arnold U.K tour kicking off in early October, an autobiography in the works, and after waiting for her moment for decades, Arnold shows absolutely no signs of slowing down. In fact, it feels like she’s just getting started.

“Retiring? No – I’ve got to keep these bones happening; feet don’t fail me now!” she says, handing me a flyer with the tour dates on. “I’m so happy I’m going to have Steve with me, too. I’ll kidnap him from Ocean Colour Scene, Paul Weller and those guys,” she jokes.

”I just so love working with him; we really are close and we have a great musical partnership. It’s great that I’m coming back with this record. Even now, I’m still finding my way, because the industry changes every decade, and you’re sometimes out of the loop. For me it’s all about faith, meditating, love, praying…try to be ready and don’t give up the fight. That’s the message. I was given a gift, and that gift is uplifting people. It’s not about me, me, me. It's my gift to share.”

Words by Alice Gustafson.

Read this article in Headliner Magazine.