It’s now hard to believe that sixties soul sensation P.P. Arnold never became a household name.
She started her career as an Ikette in the Ike & Tina Turner Revue at the time of their greatest recording, River Deep Mountain High. She was taken under the wing of The Rolling Stones, and Mick Jagger produced her first album. A pre-ELP Keith Emerson led her backing band for a while. The Small Faces had her sing on their records and they wrote songs especially for her. Rod Stewart duetted with her, and subsequently introduced her to her second husband. Barry Gibb was best man at her wedding, and he wrote and produced most of what should have become her third hit album – and Eric Clapton, with help from what were to become the rest of Derek & The Dominoes, produced the few tracks that Barry could not.
P.P. was in the original cast of Jesus Christ Superstar, and she has featured on albums by Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, Roger Waters, Peter Gabriel, Oasis, Ocean Colour Scene, The Kane Gang, The KLF. She appealed to Northern Soul fans, rock fans, pop fans, prog fans & indie and dance music fans. She should have been huge!
Still, it’s a truism that many of the best things in life are only experienced by the privileged few – and it was only Adelaide’s ‘privileged few’ that got to enjoy Arnold’s performance at The Gov last night.
Playing to the modest sized, but hugely appreciative, crowd, this soul legend proved that her vocal power has diminished little, if any, even as she is now entering her eighth decade. Her setlist consisted of a generous selection of bona fide chart hits, songs that clearly should have been hits, a wonderful tribute to the Queen Of Soul, Aretha Franklin, and even a teaser from her soon to be released new album that she has recorded under the producer’s eye of Ocean Colour Scene guitarist, Steve Cradock. It was a cleverly balanced collection of crowd pleasing tunes.
Throughout the show, Arnold also regaled us with tales of her eventful musical life.
Her sassy recollection of a series of accepted ‘propositions’ put to her by Mick Jagger was particularly entertaining, as was her account of auditioning for Ike & Tina and her description of Primal Scream’s alcoholic proclivities.
Arnold’s set opened with Born, one of the Barry Gibb songs written especially for her and recorded in 1969 but not released until 2017, due to nearly fifty years of endlessly ongoing contractual problems. It was a shaky start musically. Her backing band seemed a little rusty and somewhat hesitant, which is not something I expected to hear from a group of players as experienced as You Am I, and a seasoned musician like keyboardist, James Black.
The following song, Whatcha’ Gonna Do, was a little tighter and the band seemed to be slowly warming up to the task, but it was not until the more urgent River Deep Mountain High got under way that they became more in synch with Arnold as she started to reach for the higher realm of her vocal powers.
Angel Of The Morning was a sensitive rendition of her second hit, and was sung with sympathetic harmony from the very talented Wolfgramm Sisters who positively enhanced the impact of the performance. Again, however, Tim Rogers and the band struggled to find the balance between poignancy and clunkiness in places, which slightly spoiled what should have been one of the highlights of the evening.
Mike Nesmith’s Different Drum was lovely, delivered as a very faithful rendition that had a lot of people smiling and toe-tapping, but the band struggled with some of the tempo changes in (If You Think You’re) Groovy, resulting in it being perhaps the most disappointing moment of the night.
However, a fantastic bracket of songs, offered up as a tribute to the late Queen Aretha, energised and emotionally charged the crowd.
Chain Of Fools and Respect were both masterful examples of Arnold’s ability to tap into the well source of her primal soul power, and her affecting interpretation of (You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman was simply gorgeous.
The Small Faces song, Understanding, that she has more recently re-recorded with Scottish rockers, Primal Scream, was a chance for You Am I to break free from their seemingly uncomfortable restraints, and to create some real rock and roll energy, before Arnold gave the audience a delicate take on The First Cut Is The Deepest, the song Cat Stevens handed to her in the mid-sixties, and which duly became her biggest hit – ‘ten years before Rod Stewart’, as she proudly boasted just as the song began.
A delightful, funky version of Traffic’s Medicated Goo was a major highlight of the second half of the show, with the whole band fully in synch and delivering the goods with fervour.
Two more of the impressive ‘lost’ Barry Gibb songs closed the main set, before an encore that delivered, musically, a fiery version of Tin Soldier. Tim Rogers’ mike seemed to switch off as he was trying to emulate Steve Marriott’s vocal intensity just as the first chorus kicked in, but the crowd, now all happily out of their seats, did not seem to notice as they responded to this classic song by singing it word for word themselves.
Closing the show with a new song, I Believe, was a brave choice. It will be one of the songs we will get to hear on Arnold’s next album release, and, on the strength of this particular performance, we should all be putting our pre-orders in now.
By show’s end the audience’s affection for this talented singer was palpable, it was clearly obvious that her humble demeanour had won us all over.
This was P.P. Arnold’s second Australian tour for the year and, after talking to her after the show, she seems pretty keen to come back and perform for us again once her new record has finally hit the (cyber)racks.
And the thought of her returning to our town once again? Well. ‘it’s a beautiful thing’!
P.P. Arnold performed at The Gov on Thursday December 13, 2017.