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She fled an abusive husband to tour with Ike & Tina, was brought to swinging London by Mick Jagger, and ended up singing for the KLF. Now the soul great has dusted off a lost album produced by Eric Clapton and Barry Gibb
I meet PP Arnold in the top-floor restaurant of a hotel in London’s West End. The windows offer a panoramic view of central London, which turns out to be perfect for illustrating her conversation. You can see Regent’s Park, where Mick Jagger took her for a walk after lunch in 1967 and convinced her to leave her job as a backing vocalist for Ike and Tina Turner and become a solo singer; she signed to Immediate, the record label founded by the Stones’ Svengali-like manager Andrew Loog Oldham. Over there is Soho, where the studios were and where Arnold recorded umpteen sessions, gradually notching up one of the most extraordinary CVs in pop. She is presumably the only artist in history who can claim to have worked with Nick Drake and the KLF. “Trident, that was down by Denmark Street,” she remembers, her face lighting up. When she smiles, she looks almost eerily unchanged, as girlish at 70 as she was in the late 60s. “That’s where I sang with Dr John. Fan-tastic! He had all the voodoo stuff on, he was lighting incense and doing the whole gris-gris thing. It was like New Orleans in that place.”
Arnold is back in London from her home in Spain to promote a new solo album, which in itself seems astonishing. The last time she released one, it was 1968 and she was, as the slogan had it, The First Lady of Immediate, author of a string of Summer of Love hit singles: The First Cut Is the Deepest, Angel of the Morning, If You Think You’re Groovy. To complicate matters further, the “new” album she’s promoting is actually 47 years old. Recorded in 1969 and 1970, but shelved as a result of what she describes with a sigh as “politics, politics, politics”, The Turning Tide is fantastic, blessed with a supporting cast that gives you an idea of the regard Arnold was held in by the era’s rock aristocracy. Half of it was written and produced by Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees, the rest by Eric Clapton, with the nascent Derek and the Dominoes as her backing band; the Stones’ touring saxophonist Bobby Keys performs on it, as do Elton John’s sometime backing band Hookfoot.