‘I’m doing fine! I have to go out this morning and see a tailor who is hemming a dress for me. We’ve had two days off organising all this luggage I’m carrying around. I am the original bag lady! I’ve got so much going on.”
P.P. Arnold was in fine voice when I called her this week, just about to dip into a bowl of muesli while holed up in York, before a show at the Grand Opera House in the company of The Manfreds, the touring band including Manfred Mann originals Paul Jones, Mike D’Abo, Tom McGuinness and Mike Hugg.
From there she was set to thrill a crowd at the Sunderland Empire, with Preston Guild Hall (tonight, October 27th) and Southport Theatre (Saturday, October 29th) next up. And she’s clearly not travelling light.
“It’s hard for us girls. I’ve got two shows each night. The guys wear the one suit every night. I have to wear one thing on the first show, another on the second, then I’ve got shoes, I’ve got make-up, cosmetics, all my herbs and vitamins …”
While she first came to prominence in the mid-1960s, you don’t have to be of a certain age to appreciate the back-catalogue of P.P. Arnold. She’s certainly made some top recordings over the last five decades, in her own right or contributing vocals elsewhere. From memorable takes on ‘60s favourites like Angel of the Morning, The Time has Come, First Cut is the Deepest and To Love Somebody onwards, she’s belted out many a classic.
But, first things first, I ask a soul legend who has worked with so many names over the years, should I call her Pat or P.P.?
“You can call me Pat if you like. I don’t mind that at all. But I’m not really a Patty or a Patsy.”
Are you Patricia to anyone these days?
“I’m Patricia in Spain, for the first time in my life. My real name. I love that. No one ever called me that other than the teachers in my school when they did the roll call!”
I make it that her Preston and Southport shows are the seventh and eighth of 29 dates, taking the touring party right through to Poole in Dorset on December 2. Those include shows at Manchester’s Palace Theatre (November 24) and Liverpool Philharmonic Hall (November 26). And Pat’s having a ball, one of two women on the road with 13 fellas.
“I’m travelling with Debra, the Manfreds’ manager. We’re girls together, having a ball! We got it going on. We’re just rolling in her beautiful 4×4 BMW. First-class travel!”
Despite her US West Coast tones, Pat is mostly based in the UK and mainland Europe these days. But there are still plenty of calls to America en route?
“I’ve been calling Los Angeles quite a lot, because my brother-in law passed away a couple of weeks ago, so I’ve been very connected with my family there, supporting my sister. They had a memorial service on Saturday, so – thank God for Skype – I was able to be there. My brother-in-law wasn’t religious, but he was a spiritual man and he loved jazz. They had a beautiful service and the family wore t-shirts with his big smiling face on it. There were 200 people at my sister’s house. It was a brilliant celebration of life for him.
“But I’m more British than most British, although I’ve still got my accent. I’m here a lot, and a resident, but also have a house in Spain I love, so spend as much time there as I can.”
Does that involve plenty of time in London?
“Oh yeah. My kids are here, and my grandkids. I’ve spent the majority of my adult life here.”
It hasn’t all been roses for a singer who fell pregnant at 15, soon contending with holding down two jobs – day and night – while caring for two children in what proved an abusive teen marriage. After one violent incident she packed her bag, made arrangements for her parents to look after her children and took up an offer to join the Ike & Tina Turner Revue. That’s how she ended up crossing the Atlantic, with many highs and a few lows since. Has she got to know fellow ‘60s survivors The Manfreds well over the years?
Incidentally, Ram John had a stint with the Ram Jam Band during a short absence for Geno Washington. But you may know the Guyanese singer better as an actor, playing Augustus ‘Porkpie’ Grant in Desmond’s. But that’s another story, and Pat’s still talking.
“I also worked with Manfred (Mann). I did a lot of jingles with him. I also toured with the band in 2004, so this is our second together. And it’s fantastic!”
So how does it work live with the modern-day Manfreds? Does she do her own and guest slots with them?
“Exactly, and I’m loving this tour. When you’re a guest, you go on, do your thing but then have to sit backstage until the finale. But they get me back out. I’m up and down! I come on and do Angel of the Morning and First Cut is the Deepest, then call Zoot on, and we do Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s It Takes Two. Zoot then does his bit and The Manfreds finish off the first set, and I go out and sell loads of merchandise – classy t-shirts, bags, CDs, going out for a meet’n’greet.
“I then put on my second show outfit, The Manfreds do their thing and I come back and do Bright Side of the Road with Mike D’Abo, and a beautiful ballad with Paul, Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye, written by John Loudermilk, which The Manfreds recorded. And then I come back for the finale.”
Did she ever get to see her fellow tour guest Zoot Money at the Flamingo club in Soho in the ‘60s? Or Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames there before that?
“Yeah, I remember Zoot with the Big Roll Band! And Georgie – yeh yeh! There, the Marquee and all those other great venues – the Speakeasy, the Bag o’Nails, the Cromwellian. I played all over London. And it was at the Bag o’ Nails that I first met Jimi Hendrix.”
I was coming to that. Word has it that along with The Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger and Small Faces front-man Steve Marriott, Jimi was Pat’s closest friend when she first came to England.
“Yeah, Jimi and I were very close. He was my ‘brother’ – he really helped me. I was very shy and never planned to do any of this. I didn’t know how the music industry worked. I was just a young girl who’d come out of this abusive teen marriage, who one morning ended up at Ike and Tina Turner’s house after a prayer. Then I was on the road, then Mick Jagger and Andrew (Loog) Oldham invited me to stay and go solo. And the rest is history.
“The universe and God work in mysterious ways, because Jimi and I ended up just around the corner from each other when he lived in Montagu Square and I lived right behind him in Bryanston Mews East, and he really supported me. He understood me. We came from the same background, out of the civil rights revolution and into the rock’n’roll revolution of the UK.”
I read somewhere that you felt more accepted here in the UK than back home, where it wasn’t all so much about the colour of your skin.
“I did, although I felt more accepted because I was in the music industry. I still had my share of racism, but integrated into some really posh villages. Me and my family moved in and told them, ‘We’s your new neighbours!’
Going back to Pat’s Los Angeles roots, she came from a family of gospel singers. I’m guessing there was a lot of singing at home. Or was that saved for church?
“No way! Black music goes beyond church. My grandfather and father were big blues fans – BB King and so on. I knew all the blues people and the radio was on at our house, KJLA, playing all the R&B and all the soul from morning until night.
“During the week we had choir rehearsals, and my brothers and sisters would sing in church with me on Sunday. We’d be across the street at the hamburger stand and by the jukebox, then we’d have to put on our robes and march across into church!”
More of that and a lot more stories are expected when Pat publishes her autobiography, supposedly very soon.
“I’ve been doing it a long time, and love the process, and it seems that when I started writing the book everything started happening for me again.”
She says that, but always appears to have been busy, including spells in musical theatre and recording the afore-mentioned advertising jingles. And she’s never fallen out of fashion.
Pat arrived in Swinging London at a happening time in 1966, for music, fashion and culture. We were even top of the world for football then. She soon made her mark, an initial helping hand from the Stones and their manager Andrew Loog Oldham leading to recordings for his Immediate label, including work with the Small Faces.
The Nice were her backing band for a while, a band including future prog rock hero Keith Emerson. And I’m still finding songs I hadn’t realised Pat recorded, from backing vocals for Graham Nash’s first solo album, 1971’s Songs for Beginners, to plenty of work with Steve Marriott’s Humble Pie, plus Nick Drake (on Poor Boy, this fan having heard that so many times without realising it was P.P.), and many more.
“Oh, what a blessing! The many collaborations I’ve done, and to be able to survive independently. And in my book I take the music all the way back to the plantation. I talk about songs like Wade in the Water and the history of that. I talk about all those gospel songs and the whole journey from my great-great-grandparents onwards. I did a lot of ancestry and go right through until my own experience of hearing music and how it was when I was born in ’46. But don’t count it!”
While Pat adds that last warning, I’ve no qualms about mentioning her age. After all, she’s been posting all over social media details of her 70th birthday celebrations.
“Yeah, I told everybody already! And 70 has made a new woman out of me.”
That’s good to hear, not least on account of her many personal trials and tribulations en route. And this year alone we’ve lost a few of her contemporaries, including Keith Emerson.
“Absolutely. That was so tragic. I went to the funeral, and I know the family. Tragic.”
“I am a true soul survivor! God had blessed me so much. I’ve worked very hard on it though, for my health and my fitness. I was in an accident in the mid-‘80s where I was crushed between two cars, that started me on my alternative healing journey. I’m actually a healer as well as a Reiki master. I’ve really been into all these regenerative herbs for about 25 years. I also love sport and found out about all that after my daughter passed away.
“My brother introduced me to Shodokan Aikido as I was grieving so hard and needed to do something. And through all that I learned I could run. I was a long-distance runner up until around five years ago, when I decided that was enough, let’s slow down and start walking. I do that, I train, and I love the gym. I have a personal trainer at my house at eight o’clock every morning. I love sport, I love dancing, and I’m just loving singing at the moment.”
Well, you’re clearly exercising those vocal chords regularly.
“That’s right. I have a fantastic vocal coach and work very hard. When I get older I don’t want to sound like an old lady. You’ve got to take care of your voice.”
I ask her more about how she was spotted by The Rolling Stones performing with Ike and Tina Turner, wanting her to shed light on the night Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts came to see her at Galaxy in LA, apparently. But instead she starts telling me about a later occasion in South London, the night in 1966 that her previous working relationship ended and she set out on a solo career.
“That is a funny story, but I can’t tell you all of it. You’ve got to read the book! But yeah, they came and they kidnapped me! I was doing a gig, my last Ike and Tina gig at the Ramjam club in Brixton, and sneaked my bags to the venue early, put them in the back room. Glyn (Johns, the Stones’ producer and engineer) and Stew (Ian Stewart, original band member) came while we were on stage, put my bags in the car, and when I came off stage they were waiting for me.
“Everyone thought I’d gone off with Mick (Jagger). But they came and took me off to Epsom in Surrey. I received a call about four in the morning from Ike Turner. And you’ll have to read the book for the full story!”
How about her relationship with Steve Marriott? Pat and the Small Faces certainly made a great team – as heard on the wonderful single (If You Think You’re) Groovy and its accompanying seaside promo film.
“He was my soul brother! We hit it off instantly. That film was shot early in the morning at Canvey Island, and it was freezing cold. What an idiot I was to be rolling around in the ocean, knowing I can’t swim. The things we do for showbiz!”
It turns out that it was actually shot at Camber Sands, but I’m sure that slightly more southern climate wouldn’t have made much of a difference to the water temperature.
Another notable friend she worked with after the Immediate label folded, has come back to the fore of late – surviving Bee Gees star Barry Gibb.
“Oh, I love Barry!”
At the turn of the ‘70s there was an album you made with him that never came to fruition. Will it ever get a release?
“It’s coming out! Universal just gave me the rights. I’ve been fighting for it for ages – those recordings and the singles, Give a Hand, Take a Hand and Bury Me Down by the River. Unfortunately that second single was a bad omen that taught me you have to be so careful about what you sing, what you put out into the atmosphere. I sung the shit out of that song and that’s just what happened. I got buried for a few years! But it’s a beautiful song.”
She returned to LA in the mid-’70s, tragedy following with the death of her daughter in a car accident, leading to a period in which she withdrew from public life. But Pat never lost her UK links and later returned, working with Steel Pulse, the Kane Gang, Eric Clapton, Graham Parker, and many more acts.
That even included backing vocals on Peter Gabriel’s 1986 hit Sledgehammer and prominent contributions to ‘80s dance smashes by The Beatmasters and the KLF. And in the 1990s she found she still appealed to emerging and established artists alike, working with Ocean Colour Scene and Primal Scream as well as Paul Weller. That period also included her first solo album in 25 years, produced by Steve Cradock (Ocean Colour Scene and Paul Weller’s band). Are there other songs she feels deserved more credit?
“Well, they’re all going to be getting a lot of credit soon, because I’ve got a lot going on. I’m also doing this new album with Steve Cradock and we’ve sorted 15 tracks so far. That’s set to come out sometime in the fall next year. I want all the ‘heritage’ songs and unreleased recordings out in a package with my book first. Fingers crossed! So many great things are happening.
“And wait until you hear all these other songs Barry and I did. I was so young and had no idea what I was doing. I loved to sing, but didn’t know who I was as a singer. It was really good to be produced in England. That makes my productions and recordings unique. I didn’t have to try and compete with nobody! P.P. Arnold is P.P. Arnold. I didn’t appreciate that though. I used to think I was really square!”
Maximum Rhythm’n’Blues with The Manfreds, featuring special guests PP Arnold and Zoot Money, reaches Preston Guild Hall tonight, with ticket details via the box office on 01772 80 44 44 or via this link.
For this site’s interview with The Manfreds’ Tom McGuinness from two and a half years ago, head here.