David Nathan continues his extensive interview with the illustrious P.P. Arnold as she faces personal tragedy, career highs and lows, healing and musical transformation, the story of a true soul survivor...
DN: So let’s pick it up from, actually, when you came back to the U.K. Which would have been when?
PA: Well, I left the U.K. in 1975, to go—just very briefly—to America to do an album project… [with] my partner at the time, Fuzzy Samuels, who was the bass player with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; Fuzzy and I had been doing—well, we’d already done one album project. And we formed a band called Axis, which was a tribute to Jimi Hendrix, actually—we called it Axis. And we went to America to do a recording project. And you know, it all went wrong. I lost my daughter there. I took my kids back while we were doing the project, and it was during that time that I lost my daughter [Debbie] . And so I didn’t come straight back to England; I found it quite difficult, coming back to England without Debbie.
PA: But then I stayed in the States and Barry Gibb and I hooked up againi—Barry invited me to come down to Miami, and once again, the Bee Gees spilt up [laughs].
PA: So I got caught up a bit more of that kind of politics. But I did do a fantastic version of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” with Andy Gibb which is on his greatest hits album. And then I came back to L.A. I thought, well, ‘ I’ll try to do this American thing’ this Hollywood thing that my heart wasn’t into, because I just wasn’t strong enough to deal with Hollywood and… you know what that is.
DN: From having lived in Los Angeles—yes, I do.
PA: Yep. Yep. And it’s really weird for me, because even though I was born in L.A.—you would think it would be a great place for me—but nothing ever went right for me in L.A., really. And so anyway, I went back to L.A. just for a minute, just to see if I could possibly deal with L.A.—and I met Johnny Guitar Watson. There was a birthday party for [him]. And everybody was singing “Happy Birthday”; and I was doing my soulful version of “Happy Birthday” and Johnny heard me, and fell in love with my voice and decided that he wanted to produce me and everything. And so I kind of stuck around in L.A. to do that, because Johnny was, like, from Texas, and you know, my family is from Texas and my sound is kind of like a Texas thing. It was great, you know, but there was a lot of stuff going on there that just made me want to pack up and get the hell out of L.A. Which I did, and I which I think I did at the right time, and I think it was the right choice for me anyway.
I came back to England… and I came back… and before I had left England I had did [sic]… Doris, Madeline and I had did [sic] the gospel overdubs to Jesus Christ Superstar. And I was supposed to actually do Jesus Christ Superstar, but I was pregnant with my youngest son, Kodzo, so I couldn’t do the show. But when I came back to England, Andrew Lloyd Webber was doing another spectacular musical, a really innovative show called Starlight Express. So I went to the auditions for Starlight Express, and lied and said I was a professional roller skater. Which they soon found out that I wasn’t, once I put my skates on!
ENTER ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER AND DEXTER WANSEL…
PA: All I could do, really, was go forward, and I knew a little dance moves. Anyway, Andrew was besotted—as he said, besotted—with my voice. And the part that I was up for was Belle, ‘The Sleeping Car.’ So in a way the of character Belle actually suited where I was at the time as well: I had been kind of lost, and put on the heap, really—everybody thought it was all over. Then Belle comes in and does the race with Rusty, and she’s back in the race as well. Rusty and Belle win the race. And so that was with Ray Shell—that’s where I met Ray [who] was Rusty and I was Belle. [But] they knew I was lying. I, I begged ’em and asked ’em to give me three weeks and I would learn how to roller-skate—which I did: I went down to the Old Street rink and found a guy named Sammy Samuels, who was about seventy years old. And he was a British roller-skating champion. And he put me through me paces. And I went back three weeks later and got that part [laughs].
DN: Okay. Now is it just prior to that that you did your work with Ten Records, or was that after that?
PA: No, that was after. I got the gig with Ten Records after that. Because I actually went to America…this guy who was managing the whole situation with Fuzzy and I, a guy named Steve Lewis was working with him. When I came back to England in the eighties, Steve was now working with Ten Records—with Virgin Records. And so Steve had actually come to America before and thought that I would be a good artist for Virgin. So yeah, after I came back and I did Starlight Express—and Starlight was just the big success that it was. After I did Starlight for about a year, during that time I was offered the record deal with Ten Records. I started working on another album project—my first album project. And the productions… things had changed; now it was the eighties and everybody was doing all the technology with—and I knew nothing about what was going on. The old days of going in the studio with just a rhythm section or with a band or whatever, and doing everything live—that was over. Everybody was using all this technology that they were calling slaves. They had all the different tracks, and the slave tracks, and it was almost like… where did I fit in? It was just, like, weird [laughs].
But anyway, I started recording with two brothers—the Walsh Brothers—Pete and Greg Walsh were producing. And these guys had been kind of connected with the Tina Turner “What’s Love Got to Do With It” period, and they were sort of like the “in” guys at the time. But you know, nobody really knew what to do with me, really. And so they brought Dexter Wansel in. Dexter Wansel was on the set from Philly International. He came in and he was working with… I almost said Blue Mink. Not Blue Mink, ah… oh, god, my brain just sat down on me. Oh, god… the guys that were with the Virgin… the black group… I can’t remember. I’m moving too fast, here.
DN: Oh, Loose Ends.
PA: Loose Ends, excuse me. Yeah, Loose Ends, of course. So, yeah. Dexter was producing Loose Ends, and so they brought Dexter in. They brought some more writers in and I did tracks with Dexter, with the Loose Ends guys playing. We actually wrote some songs together. Actually, I had my song “Smile”, and we all wrote a song together called “Haunted House”. And then I did a track called “A Little Pain Never Hurt Nobody”—and that was the single, “A Little Pain”. And it was fantastic; it was a great single, and it was, like, underground. They finally found a way to put me in the new black Britain scene that was happening. So the record was released: [it[ was a soul record, but of course, Radio One wouldn’t play it…
DN: Right, right.
PA: So it was crazy; it was really a crazy time. It wasn’t about having a band and going out being live. Everybody was going out and doing these P.A.s and miming, and I just couldn’t get with that at all. I just was not with that. And in a way, I might have been a little hardheaded, because I was just real revolutionary about going and standing onstage and just miming. Uh-uh. To me, that was cheating. But that’s the way it was done, so I didn’t really last long on that scene [laughs].
DN: I gotcha; I gotcha.
PA: But anyway, Dexter and I got together and we were recording some great stuff and we got along really well, but you know, the record company didn’t think it was commercial. And so that’s what happened with that. And then I had some things going on, and I was getting ready to go on tour with Billy Ocean. I did a tour with Billy in America, and it was to be my first global tour. I had a really tragic accident, where I got crushed between two cars, and—oh, it was a nightmare. Anyway, I ended up going on—it was my first kind of global tour to really promote myself outside of England, and I was supposed to open for Billy, but because of my accident they brought a lady named Meli’sa Morgan in to open. But I still went on that tour with Billy, and I did have a short spot where I sang “First Cut”, and I did a duet with Billy, “The Long and Winding Road”, that went down really well. But you know with my accident… I actually started that tour on crutches, and it was just hell, that whole tour. But I was just determined not to just lay down and just be a vegetable. So I did the tour, came back and then took time off. I had to just stop doing everything for a while and work on my healing.
Luckily… I’m glad I did that tour, because I found out about a new healing therapy called electromagnetic healing that I had found out about that in L.A., and when I came back to England, nobody had ever heard of it. But I bought a ‘Daily Mail’ one day, and on the front page there was an article about the Queen Mother—this therapy being used on the Queen Mother—at this clinic called the Bluestone Clinic. So I got on the phone and I called this woman who owned the clinic—Kay Kiernan was her name. Anyway, I told her my condition and she told me to come down, which I did, and that started my healing. So that started the healing process for my legs, and it also moved me into my love for alternative healing, which I’m also very much involved in. But I couldn’t really work; I couldn’t really go on the road or do live shows, or anything like that. And a really lovely, lovely lady by the name of Linda Hayes—who was another American singer here in England—she was so lovely to me. And she introduced me to all these agents that did jingles and things. And it just happened to be during a time when there was a lot of soul jingles around. And Madeline had moved to Spain, so she wasn’t around—Madeline was the jingle queen. And there was an opening for all these soul songs—“Respect” and the Staple Singers—I did all these different campaigns.
ENTER THE BEATMASTERS AND KLF…
While doing this I met a jingle production team called the Beatmasters—well, who became the Beatmasters; they were actually just producing jingles at the time… They were talking about doing all this dance music. The industry was changing once again. They were doing all this house music and they were talking about house music, house music. And so they wanted me to do a house record with them. And I go, “Well, I don’t know what house music is. But if it’s soulful and it’s kind of funky—I’m in. Let’s do it.” And so we all got together and we wrote this song, “Burn It Up”. And “Burn It Up” was released in 1968 and it was—
DN: You mean 1998.
PA: Yeah. I’m sorry.
DN: I know it wasn’t ’68 [laughs].
PA: But it wasn’t even ’98—we’re talking 1988.
DN: Oh, ’88—okay.
PA: This is the eighties. This is a part of the whole eighties decade. I did “Burn It Up”—and [it] was a hit! We had a Top Ten hit with “Burn It Up”, so I was back on Top of the Pops. And I had healed my legs… you know, the doctors told me I would never walk; I would never dance. And there I was on Top of the Pops in these high-heeled shoes, dancing away, doing “Burn It Up” and my concept of “Burn It Up” was [it was] all about transmuting negative energy into positive energy through dance.: Through being out on the dance floor and sweating it, and sweating it out [laughs].
DN: I gotcha. I gotcha.
PA: So yeah, I had that hit with “Burn It Up”, and so that really got me, like, wow, motivated again, and helped me to get my confidence back again after the accident and everything. And so… but I couldn’t get a record deal. I couldn’t get a record deal to save my soul. I was the only live element on the record [laughs]—and I couldn’t get a record deal. So then I got revolutionary. That’s the first time we’re talking about independent productions, so that’s the first time I decided to do my own productions. And I got a little too revolutionary and a little bit too headstrong, and I formed a company called Full Circle Records. Kenny Moore, who was the keyboard player with Tina Turner before he passed away—you know Kenny?
DN: Of course, yeah.
PA: Well, Kenny and I wrote a song called “Dynamite”. We thought, after “Burn It Up”, let’s do “Dynamite” [laughs]. We recorded “Dynamite” and the Beatmasters produced it, and it was a jamming, jamming tune. And I had the record label, and I made a video for it and everything, but I didn’t know how to sell records. I knew about making them. And I didn’t really have a really strong backup support system around me, and there was no way I could compete with the record companies, who were actually giving records away at all the record— But I did have a buzz on the record, and it was a nice little underground club hit. And I did a distribution deal with a company whose name I won’t mention that really let me down. Because I went all over the country—I’ve always had a great relationship with the media, with all the DJs. The media… if I’ve got something happening, the media has always been there for me. So I went all over the country with my son, Kodzo; we went all up and down the country doing radio interviews and, you know, promoting the record. But the distribution company didn’t have the records in the shop. So I lost out on that. And you know, you just keep going.
Then I get a call from these guys, KLF. They’re doing a record, and they liked the work that I did with the Beatmasters. And they had this track “3 AM Eternal” that they wanted me to do, so they had a session so I went, actually, to way out in Dagenham. They picked me up in their little police car and everything and took me to Dagenham. I took Katie Kissoon with me. Well, my deal at the time was, I was doing a lot of backing singing—sessions and things in order to survive and pay the mortgage, and things like that. But I didn’t want to do that anymore, because suddenly people were just sort of thinking that just because we were doing sessions during those days, they were calling us backing singers. You know? And it was really hard, doing that, because of the sound—my voice is so distinctive, it’s really hard for me to just go into a session and sing with just any singers.
In the days when Doris, Madeline and all of us were doing sessions together and everybody had that same sound and everything, it was one thing. But to try and just sort of, like, fuse my sound—my very distinctive sound—into sessions wasn’t working for me anyway. So I took Katie Kissoon down to Dagenham with me to do the session; we did the session. And when we did, KLF wanted… these guys, they always want you to adlib around everything. So my thing is, ‘Yeah, I’ll adlib, but if you use my adlib, just look out.’ You know? Take care of me, you know? Just give me a little bit. I just ask for a little bit; I never ask for too much. So anyway, we did that, and I came up with the [sings]: “KLF, aha aha aha/KLF” [bass tones]. So to me, that was the hook of the song. I think everybody who heard that song knows that that was the hook of that song. So anyway, I did that, and Katie and I, we tracked up a lot of stuff for them; they were doing some other stuff. Well, Katie Kissoon and I are the MuMu Choir: the MuMu Choir that you heard on every KLF record? That’s PP Arnold and Katie Kissoon.
DN: Okay [laughs].
PA: So later, you know, you end up going through a lot of politics—there’s a lot of politics that went down with that. I’m watching ‘Top of the Pops’ one day and suddenly I see them on ‘Top of the Pops’ with somebody else miming to my voice, you know. Things like that have happened a lot to me, a couple of times. So anyway, politics with that—blah-blah-blah. [And] I hate all of that. You just want to sing and …a lot of people, they want you to scratch their back: ‘come do this and make me sound good.’ But then when you ask for the favour back, sometimes it’s not there.
PA: Then the industry changed. Back in the day, everybody supported everybody else. If you worked with a good singer, great. Everybody respected everybody. It’s like—not right now, today. If somebody tells me I’m the Queen of Soul, I think, Don’t even go there. Aretha is the Queen, okay? Forever and always. Re-spect. And now the scene, times change, and … suddenly there are all these people out here on these big ego trips; all the big egos and everything, for people who have only like done something for a hot minute. Now they’re like, ego tripping out. Now, it’s like—it’s all out of control. There’s all this celebrity-ism. Everybody wants to be a superstar; sometimes it’s hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. And there’s a lot of talent that don’t get the opportunity to get through, because of the mediocre talent that’s being promoted for whatever reasons, because of their age or because they got big tits or because of whatever. You know, it might have nothing to do with whether an artist has talent anymore.
ENTER ROGER WATERS…
DN: Sure, sure. Now, let’s bring us up to today. You spent some years on the road with Roger Waters, right?
PA: Ah… I love Roger.
DN: When did that begin and how did that happen?
PA: Well, Roger saved my soul. He really did. Because you know, we’ve just been finished talking about all this stuff with the eighties era and how the music industry changed, and the whole thing. And then in the nineties—coming into the nineties… well, I know Roger from the sixties, because as PP Arnold and The Nice I played alongside Pink Floyd. We all know each other from when we were all kids. If a session came through, and after Madeline was gone and Doris wasn’t around, I would always call Katie, ’cause I really liked her. She was really sweet and she had a beautiful, beautiful sound—very sweet, pure top. And I like working with Katie, she’s really sweet and easygoing. So Katie retuned the favour with me by putting me on a session that she was doing with Roger—Roger was recording his Amused to Death album and during that session, Roger had written a song called “Perfect Sense”, and he wanted me to sing this sort of very melodic but soulful and intense, revolutionary-like vocal for these lyrics—these amazing lyrics that he had written for that song. He just gave me the space and gave me an idea of where he wanted it to go, and I just went for it. And so “Perfect Sense” turned out to be quite a… a well-liked track on that album. A well-loved track, shall I say—and really appreciated, and a very powerful, powerful piece of music.
[Then] in ’92 and then as the nineties went on, I ended up doing another musical, Once On This Island, which I must say to all of your soul listeners: Once On This Island is the only black musical ever in the U.K. to win the prestigious Oliver Award. And nobody knows about it, and that just breaks my heart. Because that was in 1994… I did that musical with Clive Rowe, Sharon D. Clarke, Suzanne Packer and Shezwae Powell… Anyway, we did this great musical that won this award. First of all, they closed that musical down. It was like a Caribbean Once On This Island. And it was quite… the storyline, written by Rosa Guy, has a lot to do with the racism that exists between black people themselves. And it took place in the islands, and you know the whole thing with the light skin and the dark skin and the separation between black people themselves. It was directed by a great man named David Toguri. So our show was closed down two weeks before it was nominated for best musical, best direction and also best supporting actress, which Sharon D Clarke won. And so… yeah, anyway, I had done that. I’d done the music with Roger, and then Once On This Island—and so I was so upset about that I went to away - and that’s how I ended up living in Spain [laughs]. I never knew at the time that it would happen. Lorna Brown was the beautiful young actress that also starred in Once On This Island.
PA: And so anyway, then after I came back from that I decided that I was going to write my autobiography in ’94. So I actually first started writing the book in ’94. Well, the minute I started writing the book and writing about the sixties, I started getting all these people calling me. It was like, suddenly there was this big Small Faces revival and there were all these young mods that were into the music that we did in the sixties. I get a call from these guys… no, actually I had met Ocean Colour Scene when I was doing Once On This Island; they came to the theatre in Birmingham and introduced themselves. They were big fans, and they wanted me to work with them. So anyway, this tribute album for the Small Faces came through and I ended up doing that with… with a lot of the Primal Scream. I did the Primal Scream “Understanding” track “ From that I did the work with Ocean Colour Scene, and I did the single “It’s a Beautiful Thing” with them. That was a hit—it was also a Top Ten hit. Steve Cradock and I were in the process of working on an album, and we did one single, “Different Drum”, the old Monkees tune from the sixties—[which] was released. And you know, I got a lot of response for that. It didn’t chart because the record company closed down or was taken over by—you know, there was a whole change in record company politics. And there was a bit of politics: once again, I’m working with an artist who is producing me, who is also an artist… When you do that, you get caught up if there’s politics going on in their camp…
I was just, like, Oh, I’d had enough. And so I just kind of went underground. And I just thought, Well, ‘how am I going to survive? How am I going to keep surviving?’ And I just thought, ‘Well, I’m just going to let go.’ I had been through a bankruptcy and all kind of chaos. And anyway, so I just decided to put this band together, PP Arnold and the Band of Angels. I did the project that I’m now downloading now with Chaz Jankel. And so I had that music. And so I met Tony Remy, he’s a guitarist who I’m also working with. Then there’s also another band I’ll be touring with after—in-between the gigs with Digby. So anyway—I’m getting [back] to Roger—
So I put this band together, the Band of Angels; I went into the Jazz Café, did two sell-out gigs at the Jazz Café. And I’d been underground. So from those gigs I get a call from Roger’s manager, Mark Finney, saying that Roger was going on the road to do this tour, and he wanted me to go on the road and tour with him. Well, at first I thought, ‘Oh, no, I’m getting PP Arnold back together again—I’ve got this great band and a great response from all the gigs we’ve been doing.’ But then he told me how much he was gonna to pay me—
PA: — [laughs] and I thought, Well, maybe I should go out and at least do one tour with Roger [laughs]—
PA: —and get myself back together financially. Because you know, having a band and supporting a band—it takes money to do that.
PA: Without a record company and without management behind you and all of that, you just end up paying for everything, and everybody’s making money except you. So I went on the road with Roger, thinking I was only going to do one tour, and I ended up touring with Roger from 1999 till 2008.
PA: And fabulous, fabulous world tours all over the world. So you know, it has been a great experience, working with Roger and singing “Perfect Sense”; and the audience—that Pink Floyd audience—really tuning in to me and my history and everything, so… that lands me to where I am now.
ENTER THE STAR OF THE WHOLE SHOW: ’LADIES & GENTLEMEN, THE FIRST LADY OF SOUL, MS. P.P. ARNOLD’…
PA: After the 2008 tour, then I did the tour with Gino and Jimmy James last year, which was fantastic—the This Is Soul tour. And when I finished that tour I thought, ‘I’ve got to finish my book.’ So basically, I’ve taken a year out to finish my book. And now I’m ready to do ‘live.’ I need to be live. I have to—I have stuff to complete as PP Arnold. And Roger’s gone on the road with The Wall at the moment, and it’s an all-male tour.
PA: So for me, that meant I didn’t have that temptation of whether I was going to turn down [laughs]…that work. I really just decided to have my own completion now. And so that’s what this time is about, you know? So I’m going on the road, and I’ve got the Web site up, and I’ve got the downloads… and I’m just sort of here in London—I’ve been living in Spain for the last ten years, well, I’ve lived in both cities all the time. But now I’m going to be in London a lot more. And I just had a meeting with a wonderful lady, Juliet Matthews, on Friday, so it looks like I’m going to have somebody who’s really enthusiastic about working with me and helping me to do things that… it’s just hard for an artist to take care of business and be an artist at the same time. So it’s a whole new… I’m moving into the next phase of PP Arnold.
DN: Okay. All right.
PA: It’s a new phase [laughs].
DN: Well, I have one, final question.
DN: ’Cause that was a lot [laughs].
PA: It’s a lot, and you know I’m just getting warmed up [laughs].
DN: You’ve had a really, pretty amazing career.
PA: Yes. It’s been difficult. I really consider myself a soul survivor and I’m proud of myself for surviving a lot of the chaos and everything. I was going to retire last year. I thought, ‘Pat, you can’t retire—you’re a soul singer, you gotta sing. You gotta keep touching people’s souls. You’re a healer. Don’t worry about all that celebrity-ism and all of that stuff; you just keep going out there and singing and touching people’s souls, so…’
DN: When you look at the entirety of it, do you ever shake your head and go, Wow?
PA: Yeah, I look back and wonder how I got over, that’s for sure.
DN: Okay [laughs].
PA: And I do say “wow.” But you know what, David? I’m really excited about what’s about to happen now. I’m very much in tune… I mean, I could have turned into one of those very bitter artists, because I’ve been through a lot of exploitation, and I’ve been through a lot of tragedies and things in my personal life. And I could have gone that route and just be bitter and pissed off with the industry and everything, but you know… hey.
You just have to keep growing. And so I’m glad that God has given me a heart and that I have forgiveness—I have to forgive myself so that I can forgive my past. Because you know, we all make mistakes in our lives. And nobody has ever twisted my arm and made me do anything. So maybe my lack of experience and my naiveté and all of those things—I’ve had to pay the dues for all of that. But I’m whole; God has blessed me with my health and strength. So I’m real excited about what the future holds as well.
DN: All right, well, it’s time for us to wind it down. I just want to thank you for sharing, really, basically, the highlights of your life with us. I’m sure that there’s a lot people will get from listening to this and from reading it, about many different periods of time—just, you know, life in the music industry through many different decades. As well as, of course, walking away with the knowledge that, as you so correctly put it, you have survived—you are a soul survivor; and that… and I’ll use a Grover Washington Jr. title to sum up the last sentence: “And the best is yet to come.”
PA: The best is yet to come. And make sure you buy the book, because I’ve only given you a glimpse of what’s to come inside that book. And we’re nearly there, and I’m hoping that the book will be ready and be out there very, very, very soon.
DN: Okay. Well, PP Arnold, or as I would prefer to say, Pat—thank you for a great interview. And I would just remind people to go check out your Web site, www.pparnold.com, for the great music that you’ve never heard before; see some of those great videos that they may not have seen before; and to really keep up with what you’re up to in this next, new, exciting phase of your journey.
PA: Thank you so much, David. Facebook as well.
DN: Oh, okay—we mustn’t forget Facebook [laughs].
PA: [laughs] I mean, it’s just been a joy doing this with you of all people.
DN: Thank you.
PA: I love you so much, and I look forward to seeing you real soon.
About the Writer
David Nathan is the founder and CEO of SoulMusic.com and began his writing career in 1965; beginning in 1967, he was a regular contributor to Blues & Soul magazine in London before relocating to the U.S. in 1975 where he served as U.S. editor for the publication for several decades and began being known as 'The British Ambassador Of Soul.' From 1988 to 2004, he wrote prolifically for Billboard, has penned bios, produced and written liner notes for box sets and reissue CDs for over a thousand projects. He returned to London in 2009 where he has helped create SoulMusic.com Records as a leading reissue label.