We caught up with the legendary soul singer PP ARNOLD ahead of her performance at Cornbury Festival....
PP Arnold can only be described as a legend, she started her career way back in 1964 when she joined the Ike & Tina Turner Revue, she left in 1966 and went on to work with some of the most famous names in the music industry including The Small Faces, Barry Gibb, Rod Stewart, David Bowie and Roger Waters to name just a few.
During the late 1980’s, she worked with some ground breaking dance acts including The Beatmasters, The KLF and even provided vocals for Altern-8.
She’s remained active on the music circuit and is due to release her latest album in the Autumn (more on that later).
We heard that she's going to be performing at this year’s Cornbury Festival so we arranged some time to have a chat, she was in her villa in Spain, I was in a gloomy office in London, we chatted for far too long about all sorts of things, read on to find out what....
I was looking over your career to date trying to find a real 'stand out moment' and ask you some questions about it but as I delved deeper, there are just so many, so I’d like to ask you, what has been the stand out moment of your career to date and why?
They’ve all been amazing for so many different reasons, I guess if I had to choose one, it would be the early days, I was so young and it was all so new, I knew NOTHING about the business and it was as if destiny had opened up the door for me to be involved in the music industry, I never even thought about singing professionally! It was a time of very fast success, it was also a huge learning curve for me, as well as the ups, there were also lots of downs but when you’re young, you’re learning, it was a tough time for me but amazing at the same time!
If you could go back to the mid 60’s knowing what you know now, what would you tell yourself?
To be a lot stronger and more confident in myself, I didn’t have a lot of confidence at the time as my life had already been quite turbulent and I was quite introverted, I think I could have had more confidence about who I was as a young black woman, integrating for the first time in a multi cultured society. I’m still not a very good hustler, but back then, I knew nothing about networking or playing people, I had that real innocence that you have when you’re young and you learn as you go through your teenage years but as I said, my teenage years were quite turbulent and I had 2 children at the time and the responsibility that goes with that, I wasn’t as free flowing as I guess I might have been without the children, but I did have to go with the flow.
I guess you could say the same these days but look at what women are going through in the industry right now, I think it’s really important that you be who you are rather than someone that the industry wants you to be, it’s a man’s world and that hasn’t changed in god knows how many years!
My career would never have happened in America, growing up in London as a young American black woman was a much easier ride from my point of view than growing up in America, I loved it as people just thought you were really cool because you’re from America! I spent a lot of time pretending I WAS cool without falling off that wave where, in fact, I was really shy and doing my best to appear as a cool character!
I really don’t know what people saw in me as I had so little confidence at the time, all the other 'Ikettes' were so much prettier and taller than me and I was just a shy, introverted young lady! Deep down, I am my true self, as soon as I knew who my inner self was, I then worked out how to portray myself to the world!
I can be myself far better than I can be someone else! What you see is what you get, it’s all about love!
You have worked with some amazing names in the music business, who made the biggest impact on you?
Destiny had me and Jimi Hendrix in the same place at the same time and he was a great influence, he knew exactly what he was doing and where he was going and he used to tell me to "go with the experience", wise words indeed!
You’ve performed with a whole host of acts covering many genres including rock, pop, blues, reggae and even acid house/hardcore later ion in the 90’s with the likes of The Beatmasters, KLF and Altern-8, do you see yourself as a musical chameleon that can change its colours to suit the act that you’re working with?
To me it’s all about the voice, my voice is an instrument, I like doing lots of different things, things I’ve never done before. People like my sound, that's what attracts the people to me, to be able to use that sound is incredible. At the time, I never really understood the power of the voice as I do now, it’s just using my voice as an instrument to suit whichever genre. It’s all about the melody, it’s all about the rhythm, the timing and I just love all that. There are thousands of songs that I’ve never sung before, be it jazz, gospel, blues, I love it all!
You’re clearly not the kind of person who likes to be 'pigeon-holed' then?
It’s an experimental thing, I’m only one aspect of the finished piece, it’s the journey that I like, working with great producers, great writers and great musicians who inspire me to find things inside me that I didn’t know I had! The idea of working with different genres and fitting my sound into what they do creates something new and different.
It's incredible how you sound the same but with different styles of music behind you, it transforms what you do....
Wait until you hear the new album that Steve Cradock has produced! He’s still doing his Ocean Colour Scene thing and he’s another person who works with a really varied bunch of people including Paul Weller, The Specials and me, I guess he’s also a real musical chameleon! The new album is called “The New Adventures of PP Arnold” and it has so many different flavours, we’ve got some beautiful MOD styled Northern Soul sound going on, we used a few indie writers and they bought a great sound to the table, Jake Fletcher from the Steve Cradock band has written an incredible song called "Daltrey Street", when I was first heard it I told Steve I couldn’t sing it as I’m just an old lady who knew nothing about Daltrey Street which was a street in the North of England, he told me I’d be fine and as soon as I listened to it, I realised that Daltrey Street could be a street anywhere and as soon as I could relate to that, I could relate to the lyrics and then I’m in!
We re-recorded “Different Drum” and that sounds amazing, there’s another indie ballad called “Baby Blue” written by a friend of Steve’s, there’s also a couple of songs on the record that I did with my son, some really fine afro-beat tracks that are going to blow your mind!
Paul Weller gave me two songs for the album, Steve has also written some great material “Still Trying” and “Magic Hour”, I also re-recorded a song called “Though It Hurts Me Badly” which is the first song that I ever wrote which was to do with my first inter-racial relationship which is pretty deep! The new record will be out this Autumn, we’re going to be announcing everything really soon!
It sounds like you’ve been having a great time working with some incredible writers and performers?
It’s amazing how Paul Weller has gotten behind the project and supported it as much as he has, we recorded most of the material in Devon at Steve’s home studio in Devon which is amazing, the scenery was incredible, the organic food was off the scale and the views from his home were incredible, it was such a beautiful place to work!
You’re set to play Cornbury Festival this year in Oxfordshire, what can the fans expect from your show?
I’ll be doing my classic hits, I’ll be doing a tribute to Tina Turner including “River Deep Mountain High”, the classic “First Cut is the Deepest” will definitely be in the set and then I’ll be doing some material from “The Turning Tide” album, “Medicated Goo” & “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, there’s also a really good rock track that I wrote with Barry Gibb called “Born”. I have to be careful as my stage time is limited, I guess as long as I get the classics out there, everyone will be happy!
I think with UK festivals, you really need to curate a crowd pleasing set as you can’t really rely on the weather and the last thing people want to be doing is sat in a muddy field, listening to music that they’re NOT familiar with whilst the rain comes down!
Oh don’t you worry about that, the people of Cornbury Festival will have a great time during my set! This will be the first Summer of me doing UK festivals in my own right, I did a few in the past with Doctor Robert and I was on tour with Roger Waters and that covered a few festivals including Glastonbury which was incredible, such an experience. This year, I’m doing Cornbury and the Cheltenham Jazz Festival, Love Supreme and also Looe Festival in Cornwall. I’m really looking forward to all of them, especially Cornbury because Mavis Staples is also performing!
And Jimmy Cliff!
Oh my word, I haven’t seen Jimmy Cliff for years, he’s definitely going on my list to see! I did an album with Jimmy, it must have been between 68’ and 72’, it was me, Jimmy and Doris Troy and we were crammed into this little hot ass studio in the Round House in London and it was so hot! I can just see us in there sweating and singing up a storm! , Jimmy is a lovely man!
All my life I’ve loved Mavis Staples, since I was a little girl, I bowed down to her, I once channelled her when I recorded “Respect Yourself” with The Kane Gang which was a cover of The Staples Singers classic! I really hope I get to meet her, I hope that we’re both performing on the same day! (I checked, PP and Mavis are on the Saturday!) We’re also both playing the Love Supreme Festival so if I don’t get to meet her at Cornbury, I’ll do my best to meet her there! Her, Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner and Dionne Warwick, they’re the queens of the music scene!
So apart form the new album and preparing for the festival season, what else have you been doing?
I've been busy working on my new website, you MUST check it out....
I’ll be sure to do that, what’s the address?
It’s www.pparnold.com, nice and easy, It has everything under one roof, the site, the store, bios, news, press pieces, discography, videos, it’s well worth a look!
I'll be sure to do just that and get everyone reading this interview to do the same!
Pat, it's been a pleasure talking to you and learning about your very colourful past, I’m going to be at Cornbury on the Saturday so I’ll arrange to pop by and take you for a coffee…
That would be amazing, let’s do it!
All we need is some good weather, bring us some of that Spanish sunshine!
I’ll certainly pack it in my suitcase!
All the best for the new project and the Summer of festivals!
Thank you so much, it’s certainly going to be a Summer to remember!