The return of P.P. Arnold
At a lunch in Barnes a few weeks ago P.P. Arnold got up from her seat — next to Linda Thompson, as it happened — and walked to the other end of the room to sing Cat Stevens’ “The First Cut Is the Deepest”, accompanied by an acoustic guitarist and three backing singers. The gathering of music people rose to acclaim her. Whatever it is, I thought to myself, she’s still got it.
But I knew that already. A couple of years ago I’d gone to Cadogan Hall to see the Manfreds, appearing with two guest singers. One was the irrepressible Zoot Money. The other was Ms Arnold, who had half the audience surreptitiously wiping an eye as she delivered another of the songs with which she is associated in the minds of British audiences, Chip Taylor’s “Angel of the Morning”.
When she first arrived in Britain, in the autumn of 1966, the LA-born Pat Arnold was on the road with the Ike and Tina Turner Revue, as a member of the Ikettes. During that tour they turned up at the Beachcomber Club in Nottingham, a basement space that probably held 300 people. “River Deep — Mountain High” had been one of the hits of the summer, and plenty of the mods in the audience had “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine” and “A Fool in Love” in their collections. So it was packed. But not as packed as the small stage, which contained an eight-piece band, the three Ikettes, a warm-up singer named Albert Akens, and Ike and Tina. As part of the preliminaries to Tina’s appearance, the gorgeous Pat Arnold had stepped forward to deliver a rousing version of “Dancing in the Street”.
It was a great show, and afterwards, in my capacity as a diligent 19-year-old reporter for the local evening paper, I went to the dressing room to try and get the names of the musicians. When I knocked on the door, there was a response that sounded like “Come in.” So I did, to be confronted by a flash of black skin and white underwear: the Ikettes were getting changed. I mumbled something apologetic and stumbled backwards, closing the door behind me. Somehow I managed to get the names I wanted, and the report in the paper mentioned the veteran tenorist Clifford Solomon, the trumpeter Jabe Fleming, and the very fine drummer Soko Richardson, as well as Arnold. I didn’t include the glimpse through the dressing room door.
Now there’s a new release called The New Adventures of P.P. Arnold, which I’ve been playing with great enjoyment. She and her producer, Steve Cradock of Ocean Colour Scene, present her familiar voice in new lights, making reference to the way her records sounded in the past without descending to pastiche. There’s no better example than the opening track, “Baby Blue”, written by Cradock with Steve Grizzell: a great pop-soul song which would have been snapped up by Dusty Springfield or Amy Winehouse; it suits Arnold’s delivery perfectly, her heavy vibrato surrounded by lush strings and female backing vocals as she delivers the hook.
The 15-song running order is full of imaginative choices, including outstanding covers of Mike Nesmith’s “Different Drum” (quite different from the versions by Linda Ronstadt with the Stone Poneys or Susanna Hoffs with Matthew Sweet) and Sandy Denny’s “I’m a Dreamer”. A new version of Arnold’s own “Though It Hurts Me Badly”, a beautifully formed ballad first recorded in 1968 on her debut album, and “I Believe”, co-written with Fuzzy Samuels, the ex-CSN&Y bassist and her former partner, are beauties (you can listen to the latter on the home page of http://www.pparnold.com). So is the intense, gospelly “I Finally Found My Way Back Home”, co-written with Cradock, on which the singer engages in a dialogue with herself. Paul Weller contributes “Shoot the Dove” and “When I Was Part of Your Picture”, on which oboe and strings lightly evoke the decorous neo-baroque mood of late-’60s English psych-pop, as do the string quartet intro and brass fills on Cradock’s “The Magic Hour”. A real highlight is the warm strum-along reading of the lovely “Daltry Street” by Jake Fletcher, formerly of Manchester’s Gramotones: one of those songs in which verse and chorus are so beautifully interlinked that it seems it’s never going to stop, and neither do you want it to.
As if all that were not enough, Arnold and Cradock finish up with two strokes of brilliance. The first is “Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie”, the long poem Bob Dylan recited at New York’s Town in April 1963, and which, after circulating among collectors, appeared on the first volume of the Bootleg Series in 1991. Arnold handles the extended recitative well, her voice riding on a one-chord jam powered by chattering congas and punctuated by a shifting array of brass and reed interjections, like a meeting of Fela Kuti and Sun Ra in Norman Whitfield’s studio, gathering power as it goes. The finale is Arnold’s “I’ll Always Remember You”, a ballad dedicated to her late daughter, Debbie, recorded in Exeter Cathedral with the cathedral organ and choir, plus cello and harp: a bravura performance, deeply felt, never overwrought, and the perfect finale.
* The Further Adventures of P.P. Arnold is out now on the e.a.r music label as a double vinyl album or a single CD.
Smashing review, Richard. Thank you. I’ve got the album and I was eagerly anticipating its release after seeing P.P. a year or so ago in Newcastle when she put on a terrific show with a band that was really in tune with her. I think they were all connected to Steve Craddock. I’m seeing P.P. again in October at Middlesbrough, with SC appearing with her. Seems to me that he’s done a brilliant, thoughtful job on the production and in keeping or a nod to the Immediate label.
I was listening to the reggae version of The First Cut Is the Deepest by Norma Fraser just yesterday. Shamefully, I didn’t know it had been written by Cat Stevens.
That’s why I need to regularly read the Blue Moment… And how often do you see a mention of Mike Nesmith. Great post, thank you.
Lovely to see praise for PP. Always thought of Pat as one of the best and most underrated singers of her generation. (If You Think You’re) Groovy is among the greats. Thank you RW.
Fascinating. There is some great Youtube footage of the Small Faces and Pat performing “Tin Soldier” on some TV show. She is so graceful and modest alongside Marriott’s rock moves.
Yes, it’s from Top of the Pops in 1967 and it’s dynamite. PP was stepping out with Steve Marriott at the time, I believe. Lucky man.
Correction… just looked and possibly the one you mean is from a French TV show. But there is a TotP broadcast in b/w and it’s tremendous, even though it’s a mime. Pat commands the stage.
I really enjoy your posts. At least part of what’s below is probably derived from Jeff Buckley but “Last Thoughts” came out of nowhere at least for me. Made me appreciate Jack. I wonder if PP. Arnold ever heard it?
Aloha from Hawaii, Chris
Sent from my iPad
Great post, Richard. I listened to a truncated copy on Apple Music with tears in my eyes. Great to hear that wonderful voice again (it’s better than ever) especially on I’m a Dreamer. What a pity Acker Bilk is no longer around at add his special touch. Off to buy (several) copies of the album Thanks again
Thanks for the tip, Richard. I successfully searched Apple Music and have been well rewarded. Good song choices and she can still cut it
This reminds me of the summers spent in Wildwood NJ where the only radio station available ( this was in the 60’s ) was the Philly soul station that defined a host of future stars including Hall & Oats , Todd Rundgren etc … not to mention infusing a whole lotta soul in the rest of us regardless of our chosen genre . Sigh … oh for a return of the hours of a misspent youth ….