mon 22/07/2024

PP Arnold, Islington Assembly Hall review - joy in a consummate musical setting | reviews, news & interviews

PP Arnold, Islington Assembly Hall review - joy in a consummate musical setting

PP Arnold, Islington Assembly Hall review - joy in a consummate musical setting

The claim of being 'London’s first lady of soul' is shown to be no idle boast

PP Arnold: about the now not the thenAlan O´Duffy

“I had my first inter-racial relationship.” Moments after walking on stage and before the first song, PP Arnold is reminiscing about when she first arrived in Britain in 1966.

The America she knew had barriers, ones she found weren’t apparent in “Swinging London.” Later in this show she says, “Mick Jagger invited me for a walk in the park.” That year, Ike & Tina Turner were billed on The Rolling Stones’ UK tour and she was an Ikette, one of the backing singers and dancers.

Although she confessed “I know, I’m a bit long-winded tonight” during the encore, this appearance was about her voice; her singing voice. From the opening seconds of set opener “Though It Hurts Me Badly”, it was plain she is still the PP Arnold who attracted Jagger and prompted Andrew Loog Oldham to sign her to Immediate Records, where she recorded solo and with Small Faces.

After “Though It Hurts Me Badly”, a nuanced arrangement of “Baby Blue” the yearning opening track of her recent The New Adventures of… album set the evening up as a balancing act between the force of her voice and the musicians on stage. Extraordinarily, as she retains an innate vocal power, the mesh was seamless. Trumpet and trombone, two backing vocalists – they could have taken precedence, but didn’t.

Her work with Roger Waters wasn’t on the agenda

“Baby Blue” was co-written by Steve Cradock, also a main driver behind The New Adventures of… and the earlier collection of archive material The Turning Tide. For the show, he was billed as the “musical director”. When Arnold inadvertently switched “Hold on to Your Dreams” and “(If You Think You're) Groovy” in the running order, she apologised to him.

The 15-song set ranged through what is held dear by her Sixties-inclined fans and cherry-pickings from what sits well alongside it. Even so the house-pop of “Hold on to Your Dreams” jarred, as it did on the new album. Her work with Roger Waters wasn’t on the agenda. A ripping “Everything's Gonna be Alright” was introduced as for “the Northern Soul fans. Did you come on your Vespas?” Indeed, there was a fair sprinkling of mods in the crowd but not as many as anticipated. Paul Weller, who played on and wrote for The New Adventures of… was absent.

But what this engaging, joy-filled show stressed was that Arnold is for more than those keeping the faith. The astonishingly powerful set closer “Angel of the Morning” and the encore version of “The First Cut is the Deepest” were predestined as sing-alongs and confirmed she is integral to the fabric of British pop.

Maybe, though, Arnold doesn't see it quite this way. Before her affecting adaptation of Sandy Denny’s “I’m a Dreamer” she confessed that when she first sang it, “I didn’t know how to sing folk, I know how to sing soul.”

Also disclosed was Cradock’s playing style when disconnected from Ocean Colour Scene and Weller, whose band he's fundamental to. At the end of “Though It Hurts Me Badly”, he injected some gentle Curtis Mayfield-styled wah-wah guitar. But he really let rip towards the end of “Eleanor Rigby” with a visceral solo which was part Hendrix, part Sly & the Family Stone yet still clipped and to the point. Thereafter, for the set's remaining three songs, he was on fire.

Nonetheless, this show was about PP Arnold and a consummate new musical setting which restores her to how Britain first heard her over 1967 to 1969. Her dalliances with Beatmasters and KLF weren’t even footnotes. Maybe this is nostalgia. But the crispness, the energy – she never stopped fizzing, even when interrupted by a rambling interlocutor presenting her with an award as the encore began –  confirmed this was now not then. Arnold is promoted as “London’s first lady of soul” and there’s no reason to disagree.


A nice review, I was in the band onstage that night. I just need to take you to task about who you referred to as a "rambling interlocutor". I found this a little disrespectful as the gentleman in question was David Nathan, one of the most respected biographers authors and authorities on Soul Music in the world. He has written biographies for Aretha Franklin, Prince, Whitney Houston and many more and has been recognised and receIced awards from the international association of African-American music.

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