PP Arnold’s “lost album” The Turning Tide, recorded 50 years ago with Barry Gibb and Eric Clapton, was released this month. EDWIN GILSON reports

YOU would do well to find a more intriguing back story than that of PP Arnold. At one point in the 1960s, the soul singer was considered one of the hottest young talents on the pop music scene. She’d toured with Ike and Tina Turner, been scouted by Mick Jagger and worked with The Bee Gees’ Barry Gibb and Eric Clapton.

But her blossoming singing career was soon frustrated by a series of unfortunate events as she embarked on what she hoped would be her landmark album, The Turning Tide. At first, the prospect of recording the album couldn’t have been more exciting for Arnold – especially with her good friend Barry Gibb was at the helm.

Arnold had met the Bee Gee through her onetime husband Jim Morris. Gibb was Morris’s best man his and Arnold’s wedding.

“Barry wanted to do some production with me, but I think his manager would rather the Bee Gees got back together,” laughs Arnold. She’s a very generous laugher. Due to music industry “politics” as Arnold puts it, the recordings Arnold and Gibb worked on didn’t see the light of day for half a century. For Arnold, who had left Los Angeles and an abusive marriage for the “rock and roll revolution” in Britain in the 60s, this was a bitter blow.

“I was devastated. I was very young and didn’t know how the business operated. I had two children, I was an American living in the UK, and it was a sad time for me. You’re only as good as your latest record, as they say, so I was absolutely devastated it didn’t come out. I still call that period of my career ‘the lost years’. I made a lot of bad decisions in that time.”

Before we get on to how Arnold went about recovering the lost recordings – she fought “tooth and nail” to get them released – there are a few other major points to cover. Firstly, Mick Jagger. The Rolling Stones icon saw Arnold performing with Ike and Tina Turner on tour, a chance meeting which Arnold now calls “destiny”. Jagger’s manager Andrew Oldham recruited Arnold onto his record label Immediate, which also boasted The Small Faces and Fleetwood Mac on its roster.

“I got to know Mick very well – we became close friends,” says Arnold. “All of the people in that rock and roll scene were all so young, nobody had any idea that all of our work would survive the test of time. Those of us who have been blessed to survive are still here to tell our story.”

It’s difficult to write about Arnold without name-dropping every few lines, but here’s another one – Eric Clapton. After Arnold finished working with Gibb, music business mogul Robert Stigwood paired the soul singer up with the rock god to record some covers – including one of The Rolling Stones You Can’t Always Get What You Want. Once again, though, the promising situation went awry.

“Eric and I went into the studio and had a ball,” says Arnold. “But Robert [Stigwood] didn’t like them. Everyone thought of me as PP Arnold the little pop singer, but there I was in the studio doing all these hard R ’n’ B numbers. So those songs were put on the shelf too. It was all politics.” One of the first lines on The Turning Tide, which was finally released earlier this month, sees Arnold singing “I was born to be humble”. But how did she keep her feet on the ground while she was rubbing shoulders with rock and pop royalty?

“I was very shy,” she says. “I think if I hadn’t have been so humble I might not have been able to survive all the stuff that was going on; the drugs, that rock and roll stuff. I never understood why people liked me. I didn’t think I was the prettiest girl or a great singer or anything. I had come out of an abusive teen marriage. I was very introverted. Maybe that’s why people liked me.”

Shyness wasn’t going to help Arnold in recovering her lost album. In the course of bringing The Turning Tide back to life, she showed dogged determination and a resilient spirit. It helped, too, that she had some assistance from inside the industry. Bill Levenson, a veteran of the music industry, assisted Arnold in tracking the different recordings from various record labels. Amazingly, Arnold herself didn’t own any of the copies she had recorded with Gibb and Clapton.

“Nobody cared,” she says. “The labels didn’t care. Over the decades things change and people in the industry don’t even know who PP Arnold is. But I have fans who are interested in my work, have always been interested.”

Now, she’s on a kind of celebration lap around the UK, touring The Turning Tide to anyone who is aware of her remarkable story – and some people who aren’t. Arnold has also written an autobiography, even though she says she doesn’t like to “shout about my private live” and doesn’t buy in to celebrity culture. Why did she publish the book now?

“I think it’s important to tell the story of how a young black girl from LA came out of the civil rights revolution in America to the rock and roll revolution in Britain,” she says. Arnold lives in the UK but many of her family still live in America, and the singer says her entire clan are “ashamed” of the discriminatory policies of Donald Trump. But then, as she points out, persecution against minorities is nothing new in America.

“We’ve been disturbed ever since we were brought here as slaves,” she says. “We’ve been appalled since then. The fight goes on.” What differences did Arnold discern between the race relations of her native USA and Britain when she moved here in the 1960s? “England was more cosmopolitan and integrated, but there was still racism – especially with people from the West Indies coming over.

“Being in the music industry I escaped some of that. And anyway, I’ve always been rooted in myself, wherever I am.” This point is reiterated when I ask Arnold if she considers herself American or British now. “I consider myself Patricia Ann Cole,” she says, using her real name. “But I still have my US accent. My kids have grown up in England. My youngest, Kojo Samuel is a musical director who has worked with Jessie J and Rita Ora among others. My oldest son teaches soccer back in the US – he’s very British.”

From being a shy, modest young singer finding her way in a new country amid the madness of the swinging sixties, Arnold has become a truly inspirational figure. With the release of The Turning Tide, she has received the validation she deserves and added a euphoric chapter to a fascinating tale.

“I came from Los Angeles and survived being a part of the era of sex, drugs and rock and roll,” she says. "Mine is a unique story."

PP ARNOLD, Ropetackle Arts Centre, October 29, ropetacklecentre.co.uk