Music: Return of the First Lady of Immediate
The legendary PP Arnold, who Tina and Ike Turner picked out for stardom in the Sixties, is making a comeback. Glyn Brown talked to the Beautiful Thing
Friday 20 March 1998
Could you write to her? "I did, last year when she was at Wembley. Her assistant called, said did I want to see the show? And that show - even sitting down for an acoustic set she was animated. I was touched, because I feel music the same way."
Think about one of the hippest, most exotic things you could be in London in the swinging Sixties; that was PP Arnold in her mid-twenties. Having just quit shaking tail feathers with the Turners, she had a record deal and a couple of achingly great singles - "Angel of the Morning" and the Cat Stevens-penned "The First Cut is the Deepest". She was also black, Nefertiti-beautiful and dating Mick Jagger. Thirty years on, she's a happening babe all over again. Looking half her age, which is 52, she's just finished a tour with Ocean Colour Scene; "It's a Beautiful Thing", her duet with Simon Fowler, is half-way up the charts; she has a groovy single. "Different Drum", due next month, and is working on her first LP for years, while her two key Sixties albums, First Lady of Immediate and Kafunta, are about to be re-released.
"I'm a Libran," she tells me, "and we work hard. We play hard, too, though I don't get to play much lately - but my work is play, so how lucky am I?"
Arnold wasn't always that lucky, but her early days gave her a kind of strength to fall back on when times were hard. She was born in LA's South Central - then the black ghetto of Watts - where her family were the backbone of the local church. "I still remember my first solo, at the age of four. I'll sing it for you, I'm gon' sing it in my li'l baby voice." In fact, she sings alto for this sweet, walking blues: "My mother was a soldier, her hands on the gospel plan ... ba-duh, ba-duh [keeping time with a foot, clicking her fingers] ... one day she got old, she couldn't fight no more, but she said [voice reaching a climax] I'm gon' stand up, and fight on anyhow!" Booming laugh. "When I did that, the church just went wild. And I thought, so this is what you do to make everyone happy."
Shy and retiring - well, so she says - the then Pat Cole made the mistake of falling in love at 15. "It was at the record hop, and all the girls noticed David Arnold. He was the business, twisting to Chubby Checker. Well, he asked me to dance. And I think we twisted a little bit too much." Which means, a few months later Arnold got pregnant. A shotgun wedding, then another child. It wasn't bliss - David refused to work, though he was apparently handy with his fists, and at 16, a mother of two, Arnold was holding down a day and a night job. Fortunately, two friends had an audition for the Ikettes, and Arnold went along. "Tina loved us, because we were little girls and we had a Motowny look. She wanted us to see her in Fresno that night. I said, I can't go - my husband is already going to kill me for being out this late. And Tina said, girl, if you're gonna get in trouble, you may as well really get into trouble." Arnold saw the show, getting home at 6am. "I walked in the door, and pow!" She shrugs, "But y'know, maybe that time, he knocked some sense into my head."
So she packed her bags, left the kids with her parents and took off on the tour, becoming, in Tina's Svengali-like hands, the requisite glamour puss. Tina showed her how to apply make-up, and took the girls for wig fittings. These pricey falls of real hair, pinned on tight, became a nightmare, too. "It was a self-esteem thing. Black people have kinky hair; European hair seemed better." She grimaces. "And, when I married an Englishman, I even slept in the wig - he saw me as this woman with the hair and the miniskirt; it was my image." One day, she tore off the wig and threw it into a rubbish bin. Her own hair didn't grow back for seven years.
In 1966, having just added her vocals to "River Deep, Mountain High", produced by Phil Spector, Arnold and the team arrived in the UK to support the Rolling Stones.
How was that? "I'll tell you - when I first saw Mick dancing on stage, I just cracked. I said, what kinda dance is that? He'd laugh at us too, shakin' our butts. But we started showing him steps, helping him get his dance goin'."
The relationship blossomed, much to Ike's tight-lipped chagrin. "He didn't like it one bit. Especially when limos came to pick up the Ikettes, and he and Tina were driving round in an old Zephyr."
When Ike got upset he would extort fines - $25 for a stocking run, $25 for being late. Eventually, Arnold could take it no more, so Jagger introduced her to his manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, who signed her up and put out the two landmark singles. She formed a backing band, the Nice, wrote with the Small Faces' Steve Marriott, and collaborated with the Bee Gees and Eric Clapton.
In the late Seventies her pop career dried, so she got into musicals, and, when things were really bad, sang jingles to extol the virtues of Vortex bleach and Finesse shampoo. The Eighties dance explosion saw her embraced by the likes of the Beatmasters and KLF, but the approach of Ocean Colour Scene was the true turning-point. The Sixties-flavoured rockers appeared at her dressing-room door two years ago with bouquets of flowers, and their adoration hasn't waned; the band's Steve Craddock will produce her new album.
And here she is, a soul survivor, enthused to the max. A story from her early days says her voice was so loud that when she hit a high note, she had to be put in another studio.
Arnold laughs about it. "Yeah, that's true, but I've learned. I'm happy to say I have a lot more control now."
PP Arnold's key Sixties albums `First Lady of Immediate' and `Kafunta', are released this week on one CD by Castle. `Different Drum' is to be released in May on Universal. An album will follow later in the summer.
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