The First Cut Is The Deepest

The First Cut Is The Deepest

Posted 23 Apr 2018

Photo by RB/Redferns/Getty Images.

Barry Gibb has called her “one of the great female singers of all time.”

Ahead of her first Australia & NZ tour, on which she’ll be backed by members of You Am I and the RocKwiz Orchestra, the great PP Arnold tells us about her early days working with Ike & Tina, Mick Jagger, the Small Faces, Barry Gibb, Eric Clapton and others, and her most recent work with Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters and younger artists like Ocean Colour Scene.


Best known for her classic hits “The First Cut Is The Deepest” and “(If You Think You’re) Groovy” as well as her incredible vocal on the Small Faces’ smash “Tin Soldier”, PP Arnold caused a sensation when she arrived in London as a teenager in 1966. Touring with the Rolling Stones as one of Ike & Tina Turner’s Ikettes, PP was selected for stardom by none other than Mick Jagger, who suggest to then-Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham that he’d best sign PP to his Immediate Records label. PP made London her home and developed for herself a successful career that also found her working with the likes of Rod Stewart, the Small Faces, Barry Gibb and Eric Clapton. She never stopped working, an in more recent times she’s collaborated with artists who love her old recordings like Oasis, Primal Scream, Paul Weller and Ocean Colour Scene.

Although she has toured here twice this century as featured vocalist with Roger Waters, PP has never played her own shows here. All that changes next month when, with a backing band comprising of Tim Rogers, Russell Hopkinson and Andy Kent from You Am I, James Back from the RockWiz Orchestra and the sensational Talei Wolfgramm on back vocals, she brings her soul and energy down under for a series what will undoubtedly be sensational shows. Being big fans of the Small Faces and other mod- and soul-rock sounds from the ’60s and ‘70s, the You Am I boys are the perfect band for PP, and Talei is such a fan that she recorded and released a version of “(If You Think You’re) Groovy” on the Wolfgramm Sisters album some years back. And of course, it’s no coincidence that Tim and Talei picked “Tin Soldier” to duet on, on Rockwiz back in 2007.

ILYOS had the great pleasure of catching up with PP as she readied herself for some UK festival appearances and her pending southern sojourn. See below for tour dates.

ILYOS: Can we start with Ike & Tina? There is a great promotional film clip of ‘River Deep Mountain High’ featuring a very young you!  Did you appear on the recording? Did you work much with them in the studio? What was it like? I know you sang lead on at least one Ikettes’ ‘solo’ record? 

PP: No, I didn’t appear on the actual single although I did sing on the album. Phil Spector produced half of that album and Ike Turner produced the other half. I sang on the half that Ike produced. Recording with them was very home grown, as Ike had his own recording studio set up at home back then. It could’ve been 4- track, I had no technical knowledge about recording then, but everybody, the whole band, Tina and the Ikettes would all be set up in the living room with dividers to separate the sound as much as possible and we’d record pretty much at the same time. I sang lead on the ‘Ikette’ tune “Whatcha’ Gonna Do”. That track was recorded in the studio, where I do not remember? I do remember being very nervous but was given confidence by Tina and Brenda Holloway who both sung BV’s on the track.

(PP is the Ikette in the middle)

ILYOS: Obviously you toured the UK with Ike & Tina, out of which your solo career was born. Where else did you play with them? What was the touring experience like?

PP: I toured with Ike and Tina all over the US before touring the UK with them. We would do 90-day tours going from the L.A. on the West Coast to the East Coast, covering the South on the way and the North coming home again. We toured what was know as the ‘Chit’lin Circuit, the circuit that all black artists toured back then. It was a very racist time in America and we weren’t allowed to stay in the Mainstream Hotels. We mostly stayed in Holidays or in Motel chains in ‘Soulville’ that were owned by blacks. Hilton and Sheraton Hotels were off limits for us. We mostly played alone as the Revue was a solid package on its own with Tina and the Ikettes and there were two male vocalist Jimmy Thomas and Bobby John. We would sometime share the bill, I remember Booker T. & The MG’s, Major Lance, The Mad Lads, not many artists enjoyed having to compete with the Ike & Tina Turner Revue, Ike & Tina were a force to be reckoned with. We played all the East Coast Theatres like the Apollo Theatre in New York, the Uptown Theatre in Philadelphia, the Howard Theatre in Washington D.C., the Regal Theatre in Chicago and there were many more infamous Chitlin Circuit Theatres and Clubs all over the country. 


(“Tin Soldier”, live with the Small Faces)

ILYOS: When Mick Jagger decided you should go solo and Andrew Loog Oldham signed you, were there discussions about direction? You ended up going in a more song and pop-oriented soul direction than where you came from, and you became associated with mod-style artists. Were you familiar with the likes of Cat Stevens, Rod Stewart and the Small Faces before you got to London? How much artistic control were you given? Did you ever work with the Stones other than as part of Ike & Tina?

PP: It wasn’t like that at all. They were experimenting with me and as I had no idea of who I was as an artist, I was very happy to go along with the ideas that they had. Andrew was a big fan of Phil Spector, Beach Boys, West Coast girl group sound and Mick was a big fan of all RNB, Stax, Atlantic and Soul music. All of the musicians, artists and producers/arrangers were excited to have an authentic Soul girl like myself to try out new directions and to learn from, although I didn’t really understand why they chose me. I knew absolutely nothing about the music industry or how an artist developed at all I was the most unlikely candidate. As a result the fact that we were all open and excited about all the possibilities of creating something new made the whole collaboration possible. All of the Mod Style artists were of Motown & Soul Music and I was a personification of all that as I was a young black American woman who was from the same roots that all of that music was created from. I had no idea of how it was created I just loved to sing and it all of that music came from the Church. We all were happy to try out different ideas and see what we came up with and that’s how PP Arnold was created. I wasn’t familiar with any of the UK Artists and didn’t really know that much about the Rolling Stones before I arrived in the UK. I thought that they were white boys who sang ‘Satisfaction’, which I thought was Otis Redding’s song. J I never worked with the Stones as a band, but as you know Mick produced my original songs on that my First Lady Of Immediate Album and he also produced the ‘Come Home Baby’ track with Rod Stewart that Keith Richards played on.

ILYOS: What can you remember about those early recording sessions, with Mick and Rod, then the Small Faces etc…??

PP: I can remember everybody showing up and throwing down. All of the sessions took place at the famous Olympic Studios in Barnes and although there was the serious work of making music and creating new sounds going on, it was always a party going on as well. You know what they say about all work and no play. 

ILYOS: There is an amazing amount of film footage of you from these days on YouTube. You obviously did a lot of TV in the UK and Europe. Again – any memories?

PP: It was a very busy time. A lot of those shows like the Beat Club series were all done in Black & White. It wasn’t until the end of 1967/early 1968 until the first Colour TV shows were made in Europe.

ILYOS: What was your live show like in the early days? Did you work live with the Small Faces at all? Tell us about some of your bands.

PP: My first ‘live’ shows were filled with a lot of Soul covers. I didn’t really do a lot of my own songs then except First Cut, Angel Of The Morning and Groovy. I was and still am into Aretha Franklin. I’d open with Arthur Conley’s ‘Sweet Soul Music’ and do things like ‘Respect’ ‘Nowhere To Run’ ‘Natural Woman’, ‘Knock On Wood’, ‘In The Midnight Hour’, ‘Chain Of Fools’, ‘You Keep Me Hanging On’, stuff like that. I inherited my first band, The Blue Jays, from an American Singer named Ronnie Jones, ex Air Force, who stayed in London and worked with Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated band before forming his own band. I used to do gigs with him when I first stayed in London. When he decided to leave and live in Italy, I kept the band. Andrew felt that I needed a more fusion-based unit so that’s when I was introduced to Keith Emerson who put my band The Nice together for me. Originally the band was my backing band. I named that band, but I knew that Keith was going to eventually do his own thing. I went home to get my children and bring them to live with me in London and when I returned the band had signed with Immediate as a solo act. I was shocked that it had all taken place behind my back, but I wasn’t surprised that Keith was ready to spread his wings. I then inherited another band from another American artist named Sonny Childes called the T.N.T. I toured as PP Arnold & T.N.T. It was a great band that featured Ernie Hayes on guitar and Phil Kenzie on Sax and Eddie Phillips of ‘The Creation’ on Bass, a great drummer, Billy Adamson and Mike Vaughn-Jones on Keyboards.

My last band of that era was the band I put together to do the Eric Clapton Tour w/Delaney and Bonnie & Friends w/ George Harrison and Billy Preston. The band was Ashton, Gardner and Dyke and Steve Howe (later Yes) on guitar.

ILYOS: How come you never went back and toured the US as a solo artist?

PP: Politics and tragedy prevented that from happening. I did try to do it myself by forming a band with Fuzzy Samuel who was the bass player with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. We formed a band called, ‘Axis’ but it didn’t work out. Long tragic story.

ILYOS: Working with Barry Gibb came about after he heard your cover of  “To Love Somebody”, a song he’d written, I believe, with Otis Redding in mind. Can you describe your musical relationship with Barry? And, briefly, how did most of this stuff remain unreleased?

PP: Barry and I had a brilliant musical relationship, which I believe explains itself through the music that we did together. Unfortunately due to a lot of personal and professional politics that Barry was experiencing with the break-up of his Siblings and that impacted on the work that we were doing together the recordings were stopped. Robert Stigwood who managed the Bee Gees and had become my manager on Barry’s insistence but was not really into me as an artist. When Barry and his brothers worked out through their differences and began recording again, which the family and I were happy about, as I was a big fan of the Bee Gees and the amazing family sound that they had. I grew up singing with my sister and brothers and understood how special family harmonies are. Unfortunately, the work that Barry and I had done was put on the shelf. Robert did not like the recordings and didn’t really know what to do with me.

ILYOS: You were there when Eric Clapton started working with Delaney & Bonnie and your sessions with Eric were the beginnings of Derek & The Dominoes. Can you describe working with Eric in what was obviously a very creative time for him?

PP: After the tour we did, that Robert had been instrumental in booking me as the support act on the tour, he also managed Eric as well, so he booked us into the studio together to see what we’d come up with. As the Delaney and Bonnie dand were going to be in London for a while after the tour he used them for the recordings. They later recorded as Derek and the Dominoes. We came up with those great covers, but Robert didn’t like them either and they were put on the shelf next to Barry’s productions. I never worked with Eric again. I was supposed to record with him in 1986 but I was in a bad car accident and couldn’t do the session. Had I done that session I probably would’ve toured with him as he went back out on the road around that time.

ILYOS: Perhaps surprisingly, you also have tied with the English folk scene, having worked with Nick Drake and more recently with Linda Thompson and on a Sandy Denny Tribute. How did that music resonate with you, and how did that scene accommodate you?

PP: Working with Nick Drake was a one off auspicious session that I did with my good friend Doris Troy that went really well. The track that we did that night has been a memorable one. It’s a beautiful hook. I never worked with Nick again and it was sad to hear of his death so soon after.

(PP and Doris Troy sung backing vocals in this Nick Drake track)

Andrew Batt who was the musical director of The Tribute To Sandy Tour in 2012 invited me to do the tour. I never got a chance to meet Sandy but I knew of her work and what an amazing, creative, female artist that she was through a mutual friend who knew Sandy really well. I approached the songs through the beautiful lyrics and melodies of ‘I’m A Dreamer’ and ‘Like An Old Fashioned Waltz’ and was given very good reviews regarding my interpretation of Sandy’s beautiful songs. To me, it’s always about the song regardless of the genre. I’ve recorded ‘I’m A Dreamer’ on the new album that Steve Cradock of Ocean Color Scene has produced. He’s also a big Sandy Denny fan and he’s done a beautiful production of the song.

ILYOS: Jumping forward, you’ve been embraced by Brit-poppers and mod-rockers from Oasis and Primal Scream to Paul Weller and Ocean Colour Scene – can you feel the connections in their music to the music you were part of in the mid-to-late ‘60s?

PP: Of course I do, they’re all really influenced by that music that I was very much a part of in the mid-late ‘60s.

ILYOS: You’ve also worked a lot live with Roger Waters – can you describe how that came about and what that experience was like?

PP: I met Roger and the Pink Floyd band back in the ‘60s. It was during the time of ‘PP Arnold and the Nice’ when I worked alongside all of the great bands of the time. I particularly remember doing a Simon Dee radio interview with them, which Roger reminded me of. I also played a couple of gigs that the band pulled out of for whatever the reasons were. So, I was delighted to get a call from his office booking me on a session with my friend Katy Kissoon who I had called in to do the K.L.F. session with me. Roger presented me with the ‘Perfect Sense’ monologue that he had written and gave the challenge of vocalising his words, which I did. I received a call in 1999 just as I was about to finally get my own solo career back together again after all the politics and tragedies that I’d experienced. His manager Mark Fenwick informed me that Roger had been looking for me for some time and wanted me to tour with him. I’d been underground due to personal difficulties I had experienced, but I was back on my feet again and looking forward to just being me. Best laid plans. J Mark made me an offer that I couldn’t refuse and I decided to do one tour that I felt would help me get my career back on track. One year turned into 10 and it was an amazing experience traveling and working with Roger as part of his first class traveling set. First class in every sense, first class traveling the world and performing with great musicians, great sound, great audiences, great accommodation and generally the best touring experience that I’ve had. I loved working with Roger. He’s a totally creative, multi-talented perfectionist and a very generous man.

(PP appears about 3:00 in)

ILYOS: Australia has long loved Vanetta Fields, who has lived here now for decades. I believe you knew her in the ‘60s? Have you kept in touch?

PP: I love Vanetta Fields; she is an absolutely amazing singer, woman, and artist. We’ve never worked together. I followed in her footsteps in becoming and Ikette and she followed in my footsteps working with Steve Marriott. We both have led similar lives by having the courage and the opportunities to leave the U.S. and create careers for ourselves in foreign countries. I spent a lovely evening with her when I was last in Australia with Roger and we keep in touch from time to time on Facebook. I haven’t had a lot of Facebook time lately but I’m going to write to her and hopefully get the chance to connect with her again while In OZ. Hopefully I’ll get the opportunity to see her again. She is a very beautiful who has done such a lot of great work as well.

ILYOS: The release of The Turning Tide has put you back in the charts and back on the road and in the limelight. How do you feel your performances stand up to when you were singing these songs first time around? 

PP: On my Turning Tide tour of the UK last year was the first time I ever performed the material from back then and the audiences loved them. So I guess I did alright. J I’ll be performing more songs from the album on the Australian tour so hopefully I’ll do alright down under as well.

ILYOS: What can you tell us about your forthcoming and recently completed (?) new album and memoir?

PP: I can tell you that it’s called, The New Adventures of PP Arnold. I can tell you that it has been masterfully produced by Steve Cradock of the Ocean Color Scene and will be released this fall.

It is a very eclectic mix of songs and genres and it comes together in a very soulful, rock, mindful way. Steve and I have both contributed original material separately and together along with some very nice covers and original contributions from some very talented indie songwriters. So, surprise, surprise! J I will also have very exciting news about my autobiography as well. By the time this interview comes out, I’ll be in a position to do another interview with you announcing all the signed, sealed, delivered and released news about both of these projects.

Catch PP Arnold and her all-star Australian band featuring Tim Rogers, Andy Kent & Russell Hokinson of You Am I, Talei Wolfgramm and James Black in May.

Thursday 17th May - Memo Music Hall, St Kilda

Friday 18th May - Thornbury Theatre, Thornbury

Saturday 19th May - Meeniyan Town Hall, Meeniyan

Sunday 20th May – The Powerstation, Auckland

Wed 23rd May - Factory Theatre, Marrickville

Friday 25th May – The Night Cat, Melbourne

Sat 26th May - Fly by Night Club, Fremantle

Sun 27th May - Rosemount Hotel, North Perth

 Get your tix here.


- Dave Laing 



Related Posts