Crispian St Peters: Pop singer whose Sixties hits included 'The Pied Piper'

A respected singer-songwriter whose most enduring recordings were penned by others, Crispian St Peters remains an enigma of mid-1960s pop music. He scored two Top Ten entries in 1966; the second of these, "The Pied Piper", was also a huge success in North America. Moreover, an attendant album, Follow Me, elicited covers of St Peters compositions by such disparate artists as Ken Dodd, Darrell Glenn and, most spectacularly, Marty Kristian – whose "I'll Give You Love" (which St Peters also produced) was a hit in Australia.

Such distant triumphs had not belonged even to speculation when Peter Smith left Swanley Secondary Modern, Kent in 1954 to be an assistant cinema projectionist. The younger of musical parents' two sons, he was already an accomplished guitarist, making his own instruments for use on stage with The Hard Travellers, a skiffle outfit whose repertoire contained Smith originals.

Some of these survived when, after two years' National Service in the army he fronted Beat Formula Three, who were discovered in late 1963 by David Nicolson, an EMI publicist. He offered Smith – singled out as the trio's X-factor – his services as manager, and suggested a stage alias, Crispin Blacke, in keeping with a saturnine image similar to that of Dave Berry. This was dropped when, after much debate, Nicolson settled on Crispian St Peters and deducted five years from his client's age.

Thus packaged, St Peters was signed to Decca on a lease contract in 1965. This commenced inauspiciously with two flops, "At This Moment" and, despite heavy plugging on pirate radio, "No No No". Then Nicolson stumbled upon a sounder vehicle for a chart breakthrough in "You Were On My Mind", a US million-seller by We Five. In a frantic effort to find the cash to get a version by an initially disinclined St Peters on disc before We Five's left the runway in Britain, Nicolson decided to share his stake in Crispian with Ken Pitt, best recalled nowadays for managing Manfred Mann and David Bowie.

Nicolson's judgement about "You Were On My Mind" proved correct, and who could not empathise with the team's disappointment when its passage to No 1 was blocked only by The Overlanders' cover of the Beatles' "Michelle", just as St. Peters touched the ceiling of his domestic impact with a scream-rent slot in April 1966's New Musical Express Poll-winners Concert?

Conspicuously absent from this event was PJ Proby, fallen from grace after the famous trouser-splitting incident during a national tour. Briefly, St Peters was prime candidate to fill the void. The strategy backfired, however, when he was described as "the Cassius Clay Of Showbusiness" after his widely reported comments – a misconstruing of flippant remarks – about how he was going to be bigger than both Elvis Presley and The Beatles three years hence.

Though this coverage was to damage him in the long term, it seemed at first as if no harm had been done. Another US item, "The Pied Piper" by The Changin' Times, climbed almost as high as its predecessor after a lyrical adjustment: the "I'll show you where life's at" hookline became the trendier "I'll show you where it's at". Any signs of commercial danger were mitigated, too, by St Peters' popularity overseas, particularly in Australasia, the Far East and, crucially, the States, where a peak of No 4 with "The Pied Piper" was followed by the return of "You Were On My Mind" to the Top 40.

The decline began when "Changes" (a ballad by the protest singer Phil Ochs) was a relative miss at home. Attempts at relaunch included the 1967 A-side, "Free Spirit" – another from the Changin' Times' portfolio – and reinvention as a country-and-western performer, notably on a 1970 album, Simply... Crispian St Peters. Later, St Peters was well-received and fondly remembered on the Swinging Sixties nostalgia circuit, but a private life troubled by divorce and gathering infirmity motivated him to concentrate on writing and arranging for others. Yet, until retiring as a professional entertainer in 2001, he extended a sporadic recording career that embraced a 1990 remake of "The Pied Piper" in a voice drained of 1966's buoyant optimism.

Alan Clayson

Robin Peter Smith (Crispian St Peters), singer and songwriter: born Swanley, Kent 5 April 1939; married (marriage dissolved; one son, one daughter); died Swanley 8 June 2010.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions