Book Review

PP Arnold | Soul Survivor | Nine Eight Books | 2022

There’s a bit of footage of the Small Faces performing “Tin Soldier” on a French TV show back in 1967, which features a guest appearance by one Patricia Ann Cole, aka  PP Arnold, who looks for all intents and purposes like a female version of Jimi Hendrix, albeit without the guitar.  The outfit she wears could have been purchased from the very same London boutique on Carnaby Street regularly visited by the Seattle Rock God, yet her smile and her voice are very much her own.  It’s always difficult to take your eyes off Steve Marriott under any circumstances, except when PP Arnold steps into the frame, even if she is deliberately out of focus; she has that sort of mesmerising presence.  Best known perhaps for her reading of an early Cat Stevens number, “The First Cut is the Deepest”, which became her first hit in the UK, Pat began her career in music as an ‘Ikette’, one of the backing singers/dancers for Ike and Tina Turner’s live revue, which hit ‘swinging’ London in the middle of the decade.  She has a tale to tell, one that gives eager readers a glimpse into the lurid world of Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll, yet told from a relatively safe distance.  She was there, she loved, she lost, she witnessed and as the book title suggests, she survived to tell the tale.  Obviously there’s been the good times, as illustrated in that infectious smile captured on that French TV performance, but then there’s been tragedy, eloquently revealed within the pages of this memoir.  The first lady of Andrew Oldham’s Immediate label, Pat’s voice was soon singled out and given its rightful place in popular music, delivered in her very own distinctive style, evolved from her American Gospel roots, but augmented by a uniquely British modernist edge.  Her first album release on the label boldly made claim to her First Lady status, a reputation further emphasised by the time of her second and perhaps more explorative Kafunta album a year later, which featured a couple of Beatles songs and the Beach Boys’ timeless “God Only Knows”.  Even at this stage, there was already a story ready for the telling, but there was more to come.

Soul Survivor is a page turner, with pages that turn easily and with surprises around each corner, some revelations difficult to write.  During the Q&A session at the recent CAT Club presentation in Pontefract, the singer would dodge certain difficult questions by signposting the audience to the book.  ‘Go read the book’ she quipped, followed by her now familiar chuckle.  I imagine the Texas-born singer feels uncomfortable talking openly about some things in her past, but perhaps also feels a need to get this stuff down in writing. During a second presentation and book signing the following afternoon at the nearby Pontefract Library, the singer once again focused her attention on the early days with Ike and Tina, at one point demonstrating the ‘Shag’, a move that would effectively close the shows as the band shuffled (or shagged) off stage. Despite her age, let’s say the same number as a famous 60s address on Sunset Strip, Pat still looks youthful, still has a twinkle in her eye and still giggles often.  This is surprising once we learn of the turbulent a life she has lived, the abuse she’s suffered and the losses she’s had to bear.  I think in the end though, this comes down to the realisation that even after all these years, all these traumas, PP Arnold still has Soul and she has evidently survived to tell the tale.

This photo courtesy of Antony Walsh, the CAT Club (09.02.23)