Some readers will be long-time residents of these villages, and will remember when Sinnels Field and Church Meadow were indeed just a field and a meadow. And a grey horse named Sixpence swished his tail under the tree as he surveyed the A361 before Tothill was a twinkle in the planner’s eye. The nineteen seventies…flower power may not quite have reached us…but flares did, massive lapels, Ford Capris…and a soul diva! – P.P. Arnold. Yes, soul singer, mixer with the stars and free spirit, P.P. Arnold lived in Milton for many years.
The original P.P. Arnold
Born in 1946 in Los Angeles, Patricia Cole was dating David Arnold several years her senior. Impressionable, she skipped school one day, recalling that she was “a silly infatuated girl” and, at just 17 years old, her son Kevin was the result. From a church going family, where she frequently sang, Pat and David married. Then daughter Debbie arrived but the marriage was not a happy one and Pat shouldered two jobs to get by. To escape the now abusive husband, Pat, along with two girlfriends, made the most of an opportunity and her singing career was born; she was now P.P. Arnold, soul singer and decidedly free range.
Professional singing began with the Ikettes alongside Ike and Tina Turner. This only lasted two years before her relationship with the famous duo cooled. During her time as an Ikette, whilst touring England, she met Mick Jagger, and the Rolling Stones manager got her a record deal. She loved London and met and worked with a stream of great musicians, including Steve Marriott, Rod Stewart, Keith Richards, Keith Emerson, Jimi Hendrix and Barry Gibb.
P.P. Arnold’s breakthrough came when Cat Stevens wrote ‘The first cut is the deepest’ and gifted it to her…her first hit in 1967, and from then on her life changed. Her children Kevin and Debbie came over to live with her in London and she became involved with Fuzzy Samuels the bassist with the band ‘Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’. Because of this, P.P.’s career took a back seat and the couple decided to move to a community more suited to raising the children. Fuzz and P.P. spent time looking at potential homes in Berkshire as frequent travel to London would be necessary. However, at that time rural Berkshire appeared somewhat hostile to a black family making a home there.
The Milton connection
Cue Hoplands, 1971, on Shipton Road in Milton, beside Prew’s garage, next door to my Uncle and Aunt, Mike and Monica Bradley, and my cousins at Springbank. P.P. and Fuzz immediately loved the vibe of the Wychwoods and felt welcome. Debbie was a similar age as we cousins but her brother Kevin was soccer obsessed and seldom around for our girly antics.
However, Debbie was a delight. Live wire doesn’t really do her justice. Brave, mad, gutsy, funny, daring. We all had ponies and spent hours and hours riding and hanging round them. Debbie and pony Sammy took part in the Wychwood Show and attended Pony Club Camp. We spent a lot of time at Debbie’s house playing in the music room or climbing into the attic to dress up in P.P.’s stage clothes. Everything at her house was unusual and exotic (pomegranate, avocado); an adventure with little parental busy-bodying. We would thunder around the tennis court in our wellingtons armed with elderly tennis racquets or roam the back fields, climb trees and fall in the streams.
At other times mum (Margaret Bradley) would shoehorn us into her trusty Mini Traveller (pre seat-belt legislation) and take us en masse to the Pitville Pool in Cheltenham for a lengthy swimming session. Debbie even jumped off the topmost diving platform – a spindly figure in a pink bikini plummeting with arms windmilling from the elbow as we had told her the lifeguards wouldn’t let you back down the steps once you’d gone up!! Debbie also joined our local Brownie Pack in Churchill and later on our Guide Pack, the 1st Westcote (none in the Wychwoods at that time). P.P., mum, dad and Monica all took their turn in ferrying us to and fro. One source of amusement was Debbie’s enormous Afro hairstyle. Trying to get a Brownie beret, Guide hat or old style velvet riding cap to sit on it was quite a feat, unless P.P. had spent hours tightly braiding it.
By 1977 P.P. and Fuzz had had a son, Kodzo (pronounced Kojo) and she had the opportunity of another musical collaboration back in the States, though she had every intention of returning to England. Sadly the project was not a happy one and Hoplands was sold. P.P. and Fuzzy split up and even more sadly two weeks later Debbie was killed in a freak car accident. P.P. retired from public life for some time and our wonderful collaboration with an R&B soul diva was over for some forty years until…
Aunt Monica always kept in touch with P.P. but a proper reunion was never to be until P.P. toured the UK in the autumn of 2016 with The Manfreds. Following one of her nearer shows, P.P. came back to Milton. She stayed at mum’s house and we all met there for coffee and a walk around the village where the Fosters very kindly allowed P.P. to look around her old home where she had been so happy with her children. She also had very fond memories of the Wild Garden so we all enjoyed a walk around there on a beautiful bright November day just before what would have been Debbie’s 50th birthday.
P.P. Arnold and daughter Debbie; great friends, great memories.
February – March 2017