PP Arnold has sung with some of the biggest names in rock, pop and soul but has spent half a century at the side of the stage since her last solo hit in 1968. Now she’s stepping back into the spotlight with her her first new solo album in 51 years. Matt Mead interviews the soul survivor for Louder Than War.
LTW: Hi PP. Can you please let me know your first memory as a child?
PP Arnold: It’s kind of a good memory and a bad one all mixed up together. It’s quite deep actually.
I was about two years old and I was watching my daddy, my uncle and their cousin at a family gathering dance contest. Their cousin was cursing a lot, saying one of my favourite words that had been taught to me by my Aunt Bert, my grandfather´s youngest sister – “Muthafucka”.
I really liked the sound of it and every time Otis uttered the word it seemed to cause excitement in the room. So I got really excited and shouted out “Muthafucka” and my father stopped dancing, grabbed me and gave me a spanking in front of everybody.
I couldn´t understand why nobody said anything when Otis shouted the word out and why I got a spanking! I had no idea of what it meant at all, I just liked the sound of it at the time. It’s a disgusting word that was acceptable for grown-ups to say in front of little children, but little children weren´t allowed to repeat it. Very confusing.
What is the first memory you have of hearing music?
I never remember NOT hearing music. There was always music in our house. KJLH (Kind, Joy, Love and Happiness) was always on the radio and everybody in the house loved to sing. We sang at church and sang all of the hits of the day to each other. Singing gospel was always a very touching experience that was a very special part of our life.
I love harmony and gospel harmony is such a true spiritual thing. The blues was also a part of our life and my grandfather loved to sing the blues. He didn´t make a big deal about being a blues singer or anything, but he did have a style of his own. Everybody loved music in our house.
Who influenced you to start singing?
A number of people including my mother, who had the most beautiful alto. My grandmother had a very soulful soprano, my daddy had a very beautiful bass voice and my uncle had an amazing tenor voice.
Everybody sang together in a church that they started in the living room of my Aunt Catherine, my grandmother´s sister, every Sunday. The whole family would get together and sing as a congregation. These were the voices that first influenced me.
When did you start listening to music that become more serious?
Music has always been serious to me. Growing up, singing harmony with my family was a very beautiful thing that I’ll never forget, music has always inspired me.
How did you first get a break into singing professionally?
An answer to a prayer that I´d made led me to being in the living room of Ike and Tina Turner singing Dancing In The Street.
How did you meet Ike and Tina Turner? What was touring with them like?
You’ve probably heard this story, I’ll try and edit it a bit for the questions. To make a long story short, an ex-girlfriend of my brother’s, Maxine Smith, called me out of desperation and asked if I would go to an audition with her and another singer, Gloria Scott, that they had with Ike and Tina.
She knew that I was a good singer from singing in church and thought that I could sing the missing harmony after another singer (also an ex of my brother) had let them down. They really wanted the gig and were desperate enough to call me and the story goes on to tell how they got me to me go to the audition with them and that´s how I met Ike and Tina Turner.
How did you get involved with Immediate Records?
A very lovely afternoon walk in Regents Park with Mick Jagger offering me the opportunity to stay in London and sign to the Immediate Record label that was owned by his manager at the time, Andrew Loog Oldham.
How did you meet the members of The Small Faces?
I first met The Small Faces in the offices of Immediate Records at 69 New Oxford Street. We were label mates who were both signed to Immediate at around the same time. A lot of exciting things were going on at Immediate Records which we were all a part of.
How did you involved in singing on Tin Soldier?
It was very natural and I don´t remember it being planned, but I might be wrong. I think that we were in Olympic Studios in Barnes recording If You Think You’re Groovy and both of the tracks were cut around the same time so we were all singing on everything together and it just happened. It was truly a beautiful thing.
Did you sing live with The Small Faces at any of their gigs?
We were occasionally gigging alongside of each other as you did a lot of in those days. I had my own bands back then, first The Blue Jays and then The Nice. We would jam with each other. Steve and I loved singing together. We also did a lot of TV performances together.
There are many stories of those days at Immediate Records where anyone and everyone was used on all of the records that were made. Are there any records in particular that you can remember singing on that aren’t well known?
To be honest, no, but there could be!
When it came to your own albums released via Immediate, did you choose to sing all the songs that appeared on those albums or were they chosen for you?
We chose them together and I was always open to the creative direction that I was receiving working with Andrew Oldham.
What are your favourite songs from those albums?
There’s so many. I really loved recording and I love singing beautiful songs. The majority of those songs that I recorded on both of the Immediate albums are all very beautiful songs written by a lot of very talented writers. I was learning and I was so grateful to be given the opportunity to record them.
The images used on both Immediate albums depict you wonderfully. Did you have any say in how you were dressed in those pictures?
I chose my own clothes. I did a bit of shopping with Marianne Faithfull who taught me the extravagance of shopping in Beaufort Street and other Knightsbridge haunts. I loved shopping in Granny Takes A Trip, all along the King’s Road, Chelsea, Kensington High Street and Carnaby Street. Shopping in London has always been heaven to me, but everything is so expensive these days.
One of my favourite songs you have sung on is Poor Boy by Nick Drake. What are your memories of the session? Was your vocal done in one take?
I received a call from my friend Doris Troy asking me if I was up for doing a session with her that evening. I loved singing with Doris Troy, I always sang soprano when singing with her. She had a beautiful alto that reminded me of my mother and Doris was so soulful. We arrived at the studio where Nick was with an engineer and his producer Joe Boyd. They told us what they wanted us to do and we did it. It always takes hearing a track a few times before you record – or, if you’re Barry Gibb, you always record everything. It definitely didn’t take us long to record it. We were basically in and out.
Nick is a clouded figure, with little known about him. Did you have much interaction with him?
I only met him on the one occasion. He was very quiet and unassuming. He seemed very shy and sensitive. He seemed happy with what we did.
Tell us about your time singing with Roger Waters?
Great! Fantastic!! Brilliant!!! I love working with Roger. He is a brilliant artist, amazing, so good, so professional, so creative. Being a part of his first-class travelling set was an absolute joy. Travelling the world, singing that music, with the best musicians, the best sound, the whole travelling team.
Singing with Katy Kissoon is always a joy, Carol Kenyon, and for a short while with Linda Lewis and Susannah Melvoin was nice. I loved it. Roger saved me and was a good place for me to be. It was a blessing working with Roger and singing in amazing settings. It was special!
Fast forward to you new album, New Adventures. Who had the idea to do the new album?
Steve Cradock and I always planned to record together. We have a strong connection. We had started doing pre-production demoes after the work that I did with Ocean Colour Scene. Steve rediscovered the tracks while setting up his studio after a major move to Devon and he felt that it would be a good idea to record the album now. I was really pleased because I had been devastated when the project was shelved back in the late Nineties. It was a déjà-vu of what had happened with the RSO recordings [recorded in the Sixties and eventually released as The Turning Tide album in 2017] with Barry (Gibb) and Eric (Clapton).
Apart from the covers, were all the compositions composed especially for you by Paul Weller, Steve Cradock etc?
I don´t think that the songs were written especially for me, but I liked the songs and Steve thought they would be good songs for me to do. He was right. The songs that I’ve written that I’m a co-writer of were composed for me.
Who features on the album? Was a full orchestra used on some of the songs?
The line-up is as follows:
PP Arnold – lead vocals and backing vocals
Steve Cradock – acoustic and electric guitars / piano / xylophone / timpani / harpsichord / vox organ / autoharp / percussion
Paul Weller – guitar / bass / vocals
Horace Panter – bass (The Specials)
Tony Coote – drums
Q Strings – violin Laura Stanford / violin Rebekah Allan / viola Amy Stanford / cello Jess Cox
String Arrangements by Jess Cox
Rogue Orchestra – violin Kirsty Main / violin Gillian Grant / viola Annemarie McGahon / cello Balazs Renczes
String arrangements by Annemarie McGahon
Brass arrangements on tracks 2/5/6/9/10/11/12/13/14 by Tim Smart (The Specials)
Brass arrangements on tracks 1/3/8 by Sam Massey (The Specials)
Was it your idea to cover a Bob Dylan track?
It was without a doubt Steve Cradock´s idea!
Where was the album recorded? Was it a long process to record the album?
The album was recorded in Steve´s home studio Kundalini Studios in Devon. It took two to three years to get it recorded.
Were you trying to create a particular sound in the studio? Or is what we hear a natural reaction to the recording process in the studio?
You need to talk to Steve about the sound the he has created. I think he definitely had a few ideas in mind but it all came together quite organically.
You’ve worked with Steve Cradock in Ocean Colour Scene and Paul Weller, recently singing on Woo Sé Mama. Are you pleased they have been able to return the favour with their work on the album?
I’m very pleased that we all continue to collaborate with one another and I look forward to future collaborations to come.
What are your favourite songs from the new album?
There you go asking me that question about choosing favourites. They´re all my babies and I love them all.
Your voice sounds as fresh and powerful as ever. What is your secret to keeping your voice sounding as vibrant as it was in the 1960s?
It’s my instrument. I need to feed it the right food, stay fit always doing my vocal exercises, get enough sleep, meditate and practise my songs with backing tracks that I have of everything that I sing. It’s important that I am vocally strong before my rehearsals and tours start.
Who are your musical influences at present?
For sheer talent, creativity, vocal technique, tone, expression and soul as an artist, it is Gregory Porter. I´m also totally focused and influenced by the amazing arrangements and production that Steve Cradock has done. I´m looking forward to performing the album live.
Are you due to play any gigs in support of the album?
If you go to my PP Arnold Facebook page and my website, all the dates for my autumn tour are posted there.
Finally, what’s on your turntable at present?
I’m on my turntable at the moment!
New Adventures, released on 9 August 2019, can be purchased from PP’s website. New single Baby Blue can be purchased from all major streaming services including iTunes. She can also be followed on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. All photos by Gered Mankowitz.
All words by Matt Mead. Further articles by Matt can be found via the Louder Than War author archive pages.