Paisley’s annual festival of music and arts, the Spree, has been growing steadily recently and this year organisers had to get a bigger Spiegeltent to accommodate demand for events such as a celebration of the music of native son Gerry Rafferty and Karine Polwart’s Scottish Songbook.
PP Arnold, Spiegeltent, Paisley ****
Malcolm Middleton, Paisley Arts Centre ***
Looking further afield, the life and music of PP Arnold is a rich seam in its own right. Arnold is a renaissance diva, inhabiting many scenes over the years. Her first gig as one of Tina Turner’s Ikettes brought her to the UK and into the orbit of key musical influencers – Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton – with whom she would go on to collaborate.
In particular, her work with The Small Faces’ Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane has given her status on the mod and northern soul scenes, bringing her to the attention of her latest fan mentor, Ocean Colour Scene guitarist Steve Cradock, who has co-written and produced her first solo album in more than 50 years, The New Adventures of PP Arnold.
Her set is now an eclectic mix of old and new-which-sounds-old, all testifying to her versatility as a vocalist. In the latter category, Baby Blue had the gentle class of Dionne Warwick’s work with Burt Bacharach, while Hold on to Your Dreams, one of a couple of “keeping the faith” songs written with her musician son Kodzo, was infused with an 80s Britsoul feel.
These complemented the high standard set by her 60s material, including the first song she wrote, Though it Hurts Me Badly, for which Cradock and band created a beautifully calibrated mix of sighing synthesised strings and mournful mariachi brass, while her backing vocalists added rapturous girl group colour.
Arnold, in effortless voice herself, was equally comfortable with the bright, optimistic northern soul of Everything’s Gonna Be Alright, southern rhythm’n’blues of Medicated Goo and covers of Mike Nesmith’s bittersweet Different Drum and an epic dubby Eleanor Rigby, while the encore brought a rare outing of the heartfelt ballad Life is But Nothing and her exquisitely soulful, yearning take on Cat Stevens’ The First Cut is the Deepest.
Over at Paisley Arts Centre, there was a survivor story of a contrasting hue from former Arab Strap man Malcolm Middleton. With an almost gleeful contrariness, he prepared for the release of the latest album in his electronic instrumental guise as Human Don’t Be Angry by performing an acoustic set of the lesser-played songs from his solo career, which he characterised with typical self-deprecation as “all my s*** B-sides and stuff”.
His rapt audience would take issue with this assessment but there was no hiding from his stark lyrics, often picking at tussles with mental health and the tenacious internal voice of doubt – one song was even called Devil and the Angel.
Light relief from his bleak perspective came with the nursery rhyme simplicity of 1,2,3,4 about the consoling power of love and even his grimmest lyric was tempered with his soothing, undulating playing and dry-as-a-bone humour – apparently this show was his excuse to get out of a family outing to a Greatest Showman singalong event. Fiona Shepherd