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
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - 3-4 Month Fixed Contract - £30-£35k pro rata

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a 3-4 month pro rata fi...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £26,000+

£16000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager

£25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map