She was the Soul Queen of the mod scene, a fixture of Swinging London, a revered solo artist and backing singer extraordinaire. Garth Cartwright speaks to P.P. Arnold about her tragedy-tinged yet glittering career in music, and her new album…
P.P. Arnold groans when we call her “a 60s legend”. P.P. – “Call me Pat” – then states: “I certainly don’t have the fortune that comes with being a ‘legend’. Still, I’m pleased I got to do what I did. And that I can still do it!”
Do it, Arnold most certainly can. For a long time, she’s found herself wearing various labels – Mod Queen, Swinging London’s Soul Siren, The Female Small Face – but in 2017, she launched a comeback very few of us expected. This involved the release of The Turning Tide, an album Arnold had recorded over a series of sessions stretching from 1969 to 1972.
The initial sessions were produced by Barry Gibb. Then Eric Clapton took over. Session guitarist Caleb Quayle produced two tunes. The resulting album was supposed to be released on RSO – the label owned by Robert Stigwood, the magnate who oversaw both the Bee Gees’ and Clapton’s rise to superstardom. Yet Stigwood chose to sit on Arnold’s magnificent music, having little idea how to market a singer who straddled soul and rock.
Arnold’s life took many twists and turns after Stigwood stymied what should have been her breakthrough album. Leaving London for Los Angeles, then moving to Miami, proved unsatisfying – “I’m unknown in the US” – and she returned to London in the 1980s. Since then, Arnold has continued to tour, record, sing in musicals and lend her soulful vocals to everyone from Steel Pulse to Roger Waters – all the while trying to get The Turning Tide released.
“I knew how good those sessions were,” she says of the unreleased recordings, “and I was determined that my fans hear them. I had no power in the music industry, but then Steve Cradock and his wife Sally determined that they’d help me, and this changed everything.”
Patricia Ann Cole was born and raised in Watts, South Central Los Angeles. Watts is now notorious for riots and gangsta rap but, back then, she notes, “it was a beautiful place to live”. Singing gospel in church found the congregation recognising her talent. “When I sang, it made people happy and, from the age of four, I liked that.”
Getting pregnant aged 15 suddenly meant Arnold was no longer welcome in church and, by 17, she was living with her abusive husband and two toddlers while working two jobs. One Sunday, the phone rang.
“It’s Maxine Smith and Gloria Scott, two girls I knew who were determined to make it as soul singers. Now, they wanted to go and audition for Ike and Tina and they knew I could sing. I said I couldn’t go, but Maxine wouldn’t take no for an answer, she insisted and told me to tell David, my husband, a lie,” Arnold recalls.
“I did… I said I was going shopping, and then I’m at Ike and Tina’s house. “Tina liked how I sang right away. They invited me to ride with them to see their show that night and I said if I did so, my husband would beat me. Tina suggested that as he was going to beat me whatever I did, I might as well come see the show. I went with them and, boy, were they phenomenal!
“When I got home late, he hit me. I took my kids to my parents, then went out on the road with Ike and Tina. I knew here was the opportunity to do something for myself and my children. But it was difficult at the start. See, I was so shy, I was introverted. And Tina emphasised that I had to project as a singer and performer if I wanted to hold onto the job. Tina told me to sing and perform as if I was hanging out with my girlfriends and having a good time. And I took that advice to heart.”
Life on the road with the Ike & Tina Turner Revue was a challenge in every sense. “To me, it looked like Tina was living the dream. Then, once we were touring, I realised that although she had helped me get out of an abusive relationship, she herself was stuck in one. And Ike, he had about four women on the go at any one time. He even had his concubine he took on tour. He was a great bandleader and musician, but he was not a great human being. And we’d go out on these 90-day tours and be working maybe 87 of those days. Once we hit the South, we worked the Chitlin’ Circuit and segregation was still in force, so we were often having to sleep on the bus – and this was not a bus like today’s ones, but an old, rattly bus. It was tough. And you had to be good to hold that job because, in the US, singers are a-dime-a-dozen. But I held onto it, because it was a way out.”
In 1966, The Rolling Stones invited the Ike & Tina Revue to support them on their European tour. Again, Arnold’s life was about to change. “While on tour, I got on great with The Rolling Stones. This surprised everyone, including me, because I was ‘shy Pat’ and here I was hanging out with these white rock ’n’ rollers. And in South Central LA, black girls and white guys definitely did not hang out and party together! While they spoke English here, it was a different kind of English to what we spoke. And I found the culture completely different. I went from the Civil Rights revolution in the US to the rock ’n’ roll revolution in England.”
“Ike got insanely jealous over my friendship with the Stones,” says Arnold. “I was being treated like royalty! – and I mentioned to Mick one time that, when I got back to the States, I was going to leave Ike and Tina because Ike was getting crazier and crazier. Mick then asked if I was interested in signing to Immediate Records. The deal offered was that he would produce half my album and Andrew Loog Oldham would produce the other half. And that’s exactly what happened. I rang my mom and told her about the offer and we agreed she would raise my children for six months and then, either I would come back to LA or, if things had worked out in London, I would collect the children and bring them to live with me in London.”
Co-founded by Andrew Loog Oldham and Tony Calder, Immediate Records was a hip independent label: the Small Faces fled Decca for Immediate, while Rod Stewart, Nico and Chris Farlowe were all signed. Oldham gave Arnold songs by Marriott-Lane and the then-unknown Cat Stevens (Arnold’s version of his The First Cut Is The Deepest is the original and best, and her biggest hit). By 1967, P.P. Arnold was the black female face of Swinging London.
“I knew nothing about the music business at the time and, of course, I got royally ripped off, but it was all a great experience for me,” she says. “Gered Mankowitz captured my innocence in those photos, and I got to meet the Small Faces and we got on fabulously. I fitted into their musical vibe, because I was into Stax and Motown and so were they.”
There’s a fabulous YouTube video of Arnold and the Small Faces roaring through Tin Soldier “from a Belgian TV show”, which demonstrates the wild, soulful energies brought about when Arnold and the East End band joined forces.
“It was exciting times! Steve Marriott and I really hit it off, we were soul brother, soul sister,” Arnold recalls. “He loved the way I sang and I loved the way he sang. He was just hyper in everything he did and we became lovers. He was the first British guy ever to take me home to meet his family.”
Jimi Hendrix settled in London around the same time as Arnold. We ask, did Pat get to know Jimi? “Jimi? Oh, he’s another soul brother and lover!” she laughs and adds: “Everybody had more than one lover back then. We had multiple lovers! I’m so pleased AIDS wasn’t around back then.” Arnold then adds: “Jimi was quite shy and very talented. To me, he was a very nice guy.”
Arnold scored several UK hits and released two strong LPs but, by the time the late 60s arrived, Immediate was imploding and she found herself without a recording deal or any royalties.
“I finally got some of the money I was owed in 1992,” she says. “Not all of it. I’ll never see that. Tony Calder was a big-time crook, a gangster, really. At the time, I was so naïve I didn’t know how to fight for my money. Now, well, I’ve learnt how to fight, alright.”
Triumph and Tragedy
Pat learnt the hard way, and the unreleased Stigwood sessions saw her seemingly disappearing in the 1970s – as if a voice this great had suddenly been silenced. The mod revival once again showed she commanded a loyal following.
Not that Arnold was inactive; it’s just many only associated her with her Immediate recordings. “I really got to stretch out (on The Turning Tide). People only know me from my Immediate records, which are very cute, very pop. Here, I’m showing my gospel roots and doing songs like Medicated Goo and Brand New Day.”
P.P. Arnold never got rich. She’s been ripped off and passed over, tragically lost her teenage daughter to a car accident and experienced plenty of pain and frustration. Yet she’s never lost belief in herself or her music. And today, at 71, this ensures she is a genuine soul survivor. “Having kids definitely saved me – it grounded me. A lot of the people I was friendly with from that era died too young. And I put it down to drugs-drugs-drugs.”
With a new, Steve Cradock-produced, album set for release in late 2018 and her autobiography, The First Cut Is The Deepest, due out at the same time, the Queen Of Mod is ready to reclaim her throne.
“Magical things do happen to me,” says Arnold. “I think there’s a spiritual way that keeps me safe.”