From the Watts ghetto in Los Angeles to the mean streets of Great Torrington in just over seventy-one years is some journey, but when you’re a soul legend who has been lovingly embraced by music aficionados and everyone in the UK mod-scene for over fifty years, us discerning, stylishly attired West Country folk are prepared to forgive the wait. And so it was, that on Saturday evening, in the presence of just over 100 other fans in the intimate surroundings of the lovely little Plough Arts Centre, the former Ikette, turned solo superstar, P.P.Arnold, entertained an appreciative crowd for ninety minutes with a non-stop mixture of great music, witty banter and anecdotes about her long and varied career.
When you launch your career as a backing singer for one of the world’s biggest acts in Ike & Tina Turner, then you become “re-discovered” and mentored by one of the world’s most famous singers in Mick Jagger before being asked to work with one of the greatest British bands of all time in the Small Faces, you could be forgiven for thinking that you’re in possession of a voice that’s just a little bit special, and yes, the former Patricia Ann Cole most certainly does have a voice that still, as was superbly demonstrated this evening, ranks alongside some of the best that have ever been committed to record.
The current nationwide tour has been put together to celebrate both her fifty-year solo recording anniversary and also the release of “The Turning Tide” – an album that brings together thirteen tracks from 1968-1971 produced by Barry Gibb (and latterly Eric Clapton) which were then inexplicably shelved before being released. It is largely thanks to the hard work of Ocean Colour Scene founder, and now Paul Weller band member, Steve Cradock and his wife Sally, that this fantastic P.P. Arnold “lost classic” has now had the release it always deserved (It will be reviewed in these very pages during the next week or two).
Superbly backed by Steve Cradock’s talented young touring band, among other lesser known classics, we were treated to all her solo singles – the original and best version of “The First Cut Is The Deepest”, Northern Soul favourite “If You’re Feeling Groovy”, and the beautiful, top 20 record, “Angel Of The Morning”. Her performance of “River Deep Mountain High”, an Ike & Tina track she helped turn into a classic, was powerful and flawless and “To Love Somebody”, originally a big hit for the Bee Gees which she recorded for her 1968 Kafunta album, was as gorgeous as her rendition of Traffic’s “Medicated Goo” was funky. Apart from meeting the still beautiful Ms Arnold when she spent some time after the show in the bar chatting and signing albums, the highlight of the evening for me, and I suspect many others in the audience, was the final song; a brilliant and faultless rendition of the Small Faces classic, “Tin Soldier”, with the band’s young guitarist, Jake Fletcher, who P.P. introduced as “mini Marriott”, playing that inimitable role quite superbly. This was, without doubt, the fitting finale of a memorable gig.