PP Arnold has been an Ikette, worked with the Small Faces and Rod Stewart, had hits in the UK and yet she has spent much of career as a back up and session singer. Perhaps the release of her long lost album The Turning Tide will go some way to help change things. This album, originally recorded in the late sixties and early seventies, was produced by Barry Gibb and Eric Clapton but has bafflingly remained unreleased ever since due to complicated personal and legal circumstances. Despite being nearly fifty years old it sounds fresh and vital, a story of female talent that’s been on the shelf far too long.
When PP Arnold moved to the UK in the sixties she found support and opportunities in the swinging London scene, recording two albums with the label Immediate. Her music has since been championed by mods and northern soul fanatics but she has remained only a cult favourite with limited mainstream success. Credit must go to Steve Cradock from Ocean Colour Scene and his wife, among others, for helping to secure the release of this album on their label Kundalini.
The album opens with the song Medicated Goo by Steve Winwood and it feels like the perfect mix of sixties soul and the British Invasion, sounding sweet and good for you. However it’s the next song Born that really ignites this album. This is an anthem about being an independent and free woman. It’s depressing that something brimming with such confidence has been gathering dust for so long but I guess there’s no point dwelling on what could have been, best just to appreciate this song now we can hear it.
If This Were My World is one of two tracks co-written by Arnold and its lyrics feel powerfully poignant. If this were her world, things would be different, things would be better. She’d have been something, somebody else.
I should probably mention the fact that most of these songs were written by Barry Gibb himself, so there’s quality to the songwriting throughout. Bury Me Down By the River is a real stand out, the gospel harmonies are beautiful and Arnold’s lead vocal is just stunning. At the end you hear her say ‘Hey Barry’ and there’s a muffled response. Maybe that tells you how things were, this should have been a chance for both of them to shine but something got lost along the way.
Children of the Last War is the second of her co-writes, looking back on the past and then imaging a better future where every man can be called a brother. Van Morrison’s Brand New Day also takes on a whole new meaning – this is another century, another world not just another day. It feels good for this to be heard but I guess it’s sad to think the world has gotten worse rather than better over time.
Title track The Turning Tide has a heart wrenching drama to its vocal delivery and the strings turn it into a real showstopper. The lyrics feel prophetic and you just hope the tide might finally be turning in Arnold’s favour. Give a Hand Take a Hand is a beautiful uplifting number that raises the roof and couldn’t be more apt for the modern world right. In fact when I first heard it I thought it said everybody has to give a damn and I guess it works both ways. We need to care about something and we also have to help other people up.
The album finishes with a cover of the Stones’ You Can’t Always Get What You Want, which is again chillingly on point in terms of Arnold’s career. Some have argued that she is the most over looked soul singer of all time and listening to this album it’s hard to disagree. Thankfully Arnold is still touring and singing so you can buy this album and give her story a happy ending. The fantastic support given to the late great soul singers Charles Bradley and Sharon Jones proves that age is not a barrier to success. Classic soul music never goes out of style.
The Turning Tide may be an album from the past but it sounds fresh and modern simply because of the quality of the music and P.P. Arnold’s voice. What’s good can never truly be lost. This album was just a statue frozen in time, waiting for its moment to come alive and step forward into the light of a brand new day.