Is PP Arnold the most overlooked soul singer of all time?

PP Arnold on stage with the Small Faces: (l-r) Ian McLagan, Steve Marriott, PP, Ronnie Lane and Kenney Jones

Now 70 years of age, PP Arnold has spent most of her life chasing her past. For more than four decades, the US soul singer reminds me, she has been knocking on doors, calling in favours and rifling industry vaults, always hunting for tapes of the aborted sessions that she recorded with Barry Gibb and Eric Clapton back in the early 70s.

“It was so frustrating,” she sighs. “That music has been sitting on shelves, in England, Germany, LA. You keep starting from scratch. You keep paying solicitors. I started thinking, ‘I’ll be an old lady soon. I want my music!’”

Inspect the sleeve of this year’s The Turning Tide – a storming soul-blues collection which finally gathers those 13 lost songs – and you’ll see its author pictured as she was then. Arriving in London as a backing singer with Ike and Tina Turner, Arnold caught the beady eye of Mick Jagger, who eased her onto Andrew Loog Oldham’s Immediate label.

“Mick and I,” she breathes, “we were an item. But I didn’t stay in the UK to be Mick Jagger’s girlfriend. Even though I was one of them. Mick was a busy boy. I recently found out that the catalyst was Ian Stewart. He apparently said, ‘You got to come and hear this girl sing’.”

For a kid nudging twenty, Arnold had – and has – a thrilling call-to-arms of a voice. It drove hit 60s covers such as The First Cut Is The Deepest and Angel Of The Morning, saw her backed by label-mates the Small Faces and duetting with Rod Stewart on Come Home Baby. “Andrew had this vision for me, bringing in all these great writers, producers and arrangers. Y’know, the whole scene was blowing up. It was before the drugs and the rip-offs, before all the jet-setting and gigantic egos took over.”

Post-Immediate, Robert Stigwood brought in Barry Gibb to produce Arnold’s first album for the RSO label. Her explosion seemed a done deal. “But it was a tough time for Barry, because the Bee Gees had split up. So Eric Clapton took over as producer. I was just loving that stuff. That’s some down-home, funky, having-a-good-time music. As we say back home, it’s the shit. But Stigwood didn’t like the tracks. He didn’t think they were commercial. So he just stopped the recording.

“Nobody knew what to do with me,” Arnold reflects. “I got dropped. I was lost. The seventies are the lost years. We went to America and my daughter was killed in a car accident in 1977, when we were in LA. I went to Miami to work with Barry again, but once again, he had other commitments. By that time, I was old news. Stigwood wanted him to work with Dionne Warwick and Barbra Streisand.”

Arnold, to be clear, is no victim, subsequently forging a long and varied career in everything from Roger Waters’ Dark Side Of The Moon Live to Starlight Express. Yet you sense that nothing has topped the thrill of that fateful day last October, when she finally clawed back her sunken treasure.

“I’d been waiting and waiting,” she recalls, “and one afternoon, I thought, ‘I’m gonna call Universal and have a go at whoever’s taking their time with this’. I went online and there was an email saying I could have it. They were giving me everything. The digital rights. The licence. It felt incredible. Especially because it was my 70th birthday.”

Arnold allows herself a victorious smile. “It’s been such a long fight. I tell you, there’s a lot of excitement going on right now for a young girl like me. It’s never too late!”

The Turning Tide is released October 6 via Kundalini Music. PP Arnold tours the UK from September 23 to October 30.

Call And Response: PP Arnold

Henry Yates

Henry Yates has been a freelance journalist since 2002 and written about music for titles including The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Classic Rock, Guitarist, Total Guitar and Metal Hammer. He is the author of Walter Trout's official biography, Rescued From Reality, a music pundit on Times Radio and BBC TV, and an interviewer who has spoken to Brian May, Jimmy Page, Ozzy Osbourne, Ronnie Wood, Dave Grohl, Marilyn Manson, Kiefer Sutherland and many more.