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P.P. Arnold: ‘I was in a relationship with a white boy that just happened to be Mick Jagger’

The soul singer used her musical talent to escape an abusive marriage, became an Ikette then moved to London. But life had yet more challenges to throw at her

Patricia Ann Cole was born into a family of gospel singers in Los Angeles. She married young and had two children before becoming an Ikette in the Ike & Tina Turner Revue.

Performing with the Turners, she sang backing vocals on River Deep Mountain High, toured with The Rolling Stones then moved to London to begin her solo career.

She’s best known for her hits The First Cut Is The Deepest and Angel Of The Morning.

Arnold also sang with the Small Faces, featuring on their hit Itchycoo Park, and Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer, among many others.

In 2019, she released her fourth solo album The New Adventures Of… P.P. Arnold and has just published her autobiography, Soul Survivor, which describes the highs but also many difficult moments in her career.

In her Letter To My Younger Self, she recalls the experiences that have shaped her incredible life.

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My oldest brother had his leg cut off by a train when he was four years old. He was in and out of hospital all his life. So, even though I was a second child I ended up being the eldest one. I was very smart in school, so my father expected a lot out of me. That’s why he was so hard on me. I had younger sisters and brothers, so I had to be strong. I’ve always taken responsibility because I come from a family where I had to take responsibility.

I’d tell my younger self: don’t let others influence you to do things that you know are wrong for the sake of being popular. When I was 15, my boyfriend kept putting me under pressure, so my plan was to ditch one class in school just to keep him quiet. I certainly didn’t plan on having sex with him. But you know, one thing led to another. 

At 16, I was married with one child and another one on the way. I was a young girl, and I was in this abusive teen marriage. I was getting beat up from time to time. I was living in fear of someone who would go off at any moment. I was quite a strong girl, so I wasn’t having it. I was determined not to become my mother, who had dealt with that throughout her whole life, for the sake of the children. I wasn’t thinking about that being my life. It was horrible.

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At that time, I was totally occupied with cleaning and cooking, and being the best young mother that I could be. I had been under house arrest for the majority of my pregnancy. My friends had been allowed to give me a baby shower, and after that they weren’t allowed to see me anymore because I wasn’t a “good influence” on them. When Kevin was born, it was great. I had a beautiful son, and he kept the joy through all the pain. I had my baby that I could wrap up and play with, dressing him. He was the cleanest baby you’ve ever seen.

I never wanted to be in the music industry. It wasn’t an ambition of mine. All I did was say a prayer and ask God to help me find a way out of the hell I was living in. The teen marriage and all this violence and working two jobs. I had messed up all my educational opportunities. I didn’t see a way out. That’s why I prayed. An hour later I had a phone call, an hour after that phone call I was in Ike and Tina Turner’s living room singing Dancing in the Street. Twelve hours later, I’m an Ikette [a member of the backing group for the Ike & Tina Turner Revue]. It was like destiny. I had asked God to show me a way out and so I felt that God had answered my prayer. This was my way out of this marriage, to be able to create some kind of security for myself and my children.

In 1967, at the start of her solo career in swinging London
Photo: Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy

I did go through a horrible sexual assault at the hands of Ike Turner, and it was very frightening. I didn’t tell anybody about it because if I had told my parents, they probably would have insisted that I come back home. And if I came back home, I was still married. I’d be coming home to my abusive husband. I didn’t want to tell Tina, who I had so much love and respect for. I didn’t want her to think that I was after Ike because she was already dealing with all the women around him. I was just a little girl. I just wanted Ike Turner to leave me alone. I could have made a lot of trouble for them because I was still underage. I was only 17. But that wasn’t my thing. I just sort of dealt with it and moved on.

Even through the hard times, musically there’s just been so many highlights in my life. Even with Ike and Tina. Singing with Tina Turner every night at the age of 17! To be on stage with her for nearly two years learning my craft, working with all these great musicians. Ike might have been an asshole, but he was a brilliant musician, and that band was absolutely amazing. Those were great times. Then coming to play the Albert Hall [in London], after working the Chitlin’ Circuit [venues in the eastern, southern, and upper Midwest areas of the United States that accepted African American musicians, comedians, and other entertainers during the era of racial segregation], we’d never performed in venues as beautiful. That whole time coming to England and coming of age was a wonderful time.

Performing at a CND anti-war demonstration in London in 1969
Photo: PYMCA/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

I was a Black American girl in integrated, cosmopolitan London in the middle of the rock’n’roll revolution, coming out of the civil rights revolution. All my peers are white and everybody’s really into me, because they’re all into American Black music. And I was the real deal. There was no racism. We were all young. I was having a relationship with a white boy that just happened to be Mick Jagger.

I’m not saying everyone’s had a ménage à trois [Arnold has, with Jagger and Marianne Faithfull]. We were kids, we were having fun. Suddenly I could try to find myself, discover my own sexuality. It was an experience. It wasn’t a horrible, dirty little secret or anything like that. All of my lovers, they were my friends. It was music that connected me with all of these people, not as a groupie, but as another artist. These people respected me for my talent. When you’re young, sex and music – they’re close.

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My friend Jimi Hendrix came over to England around the same time as me. In him, I had someone who really understood my dilemma and really understood how shy and introverted I was. He helped me a lot, to go with the flow a bit more. 

When I came to England, and I was offered the opportunity to actually be an artist, I didn’t know anything about the industry or how it worked. It was totally male dominated. Being a woman in the music industry is never easy. It’s still male dominated right now. I ended up trusting a lot of people and I paid the price for that. For my naivety. I’d tell my younger self, start asking for your money. But I’m a real singer. I love to sing. I have a gift that God gave me to share with humanity. Over 50 years, I’ve come through all of the ups and downs.

With the Small Faces in 1977 during their short-lived reunion. Arnold performed backing vocals for the band
Photo by Ian Dickson/Shutterstock

My daughter ditched school as well. That didn’t work out well for her either. [Her daughter Debbie died in a car crash at 13, when she should have been at school.] After Debbie died, the hardest thing was forgiving myself. We were in the wrong place. My kids grew up in England, not in America with all the racist stuff going on. I just wish that I had not taken my kids to Los Angeles when I went chasing that record deal. My kids were happy in England, Debbie was riding her ponies with her friends. We wouldn’t have had to go through all of that. We lost Debbie but we continue to celebrate her.

I think I would like my younger self because she was really sweet and she was fun. She didn’t have a lot of confidence in herself because she had grown up in a very strict household. So I would say to her: “Always believe in yourself and be confident, regardless of what others think of you. You’re beautiful, special and unique, just how you are.” I’d want her to know that. And I’d say, continue to be respectful of your parents and your elders, even though you don’t understand them and why they do the things that they do. 

Interview: Laura Kelly

Soul Survivor: the Autobiography by PP Arnold is out now (Nine Eight Books, £22). You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine. If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member.You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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