A chance encounter at a party led to Blow Monkeys frontman Dr Robert collaborating with ’60s soul legend PP Arnold on the 2007 album Five In The Afternoon, which has just been released on vinyl for Record Store Day.
It’s a great record – a ‘lost’ classic – from the rootsy opener, Nothing But Love, to the laid-back, jazzy-blues groove of the title track, the classy soul ballad Stay Now, the pop-funk-flavoured I Saw Something and What Am I To Do? and the album closer – the groovy, ’60s folk-psych-gospel song Satellite.
I spoke to Robert, who lives in the mountains, in Andalusia, Spain, to find out the story behind the making of the album.
How did you meet – and come to work with – PP Arnold?
Dr Robert: I met her at a party up here in the mountains, which was thrown by a mutual friend. There were some musicians there, including a drummer called The Baron, who played on some of Donovan’s stuff that I loved, like Wear Your Love Like Heaven. That’s what drew me to the party – normally I’m not much of a party person.
PP Arnold was there and I was singing some Curtis Mayfield songs and some Hendrix – The Wind Cries Mary, I believe. Suddenly she’s on stage and we’re singing The First Cut Is The Deepest. So I talked to her and found out that she lived nearby and it just seemed the natural thing to do – to write an album for us to do together.
So did you write the songs with her in mind, or were any of them ones you had kicking around?
DR: I wrote the songs quickly, in a 10-day period. I tend to do that. I like deadlines. Once we had decided to do an album, the pressure was on me to come up with the songs. It’s a pressure I enjoy.
What did you want the album to sound like?
DR: I knew it had to be funky and soulful, but I also wanted to bring in elements of folk music – nothing too rocky, but just a platform to try and enhance the voices. I found the sax player, Jose Luis, busking in Granada.
Where did you record the songs?
DR: There was a great little studio [Gizmo 7] in the seaside port of Motril, in Spain. It was run by a guy from Cologne [Paul Grau], who had some amazing analogue gear. He was also an experienced engineer, so it was a real find. I had the songs and then contacted some old friends – Marco Nelson from The Young Disciples, who played bass, and Crispin Taylor from Galliano on drums.
‘I wrote the songs quickly, in a 10-day period. I tend to do that. I enjoy the pressure of deadlines’
How was PP to work with?
DR: She was an education. I had to remix the whole album because she thought the vocals were too low. She was right. The way she heard things was that the song supports the singer. It was a valuable lesson. She is an incredible singer – a proper soul singer – and we sang most of the stuff together. It was an honour.
Listening to the album now, how do you feel about it? Do you have any favourite songs?
DR: I’m still happy with it, which I can’t say of everything I’ve done. It sounds fresh because we didn’t try any gimmicks, or attempt to make anything particularly contemporary. We just tried to keep it sparse and natural. My favourite song is probably Shape It For Me.
Why did you decide to put the album out on vinyl, for Record Store Day 2017?
DR: The original label it was on, Curb Records, went bust shortly after the original release in 2007 and the album had largely been unavailable since then. Richard Clarke at Monks Road Records came along and wanted to put it out there again – Record Store Day was a perfect way to get the ball rolling. It will come out on CD and download too
You’ve just come off a UK tour, playing solo acoustic shows with Matt Deighton and Chris Difford. How was that? I saw the London show and thought it was superb…
DR: It was the first time I’d met Matt. He’s a lovely guy – very gentle and one hell of a guitar player. I love his song Villager.
Playing solo is a challenge, after doing so much with the band over the last five years or so. But I love the freedom of just being able to take it where I want, to try and feel the audience vibe and respond to it. I love improvising basically and being solo allows me the freedom.
‘The new Blow Monkeys album is the best thing we’ve ever done. I know I always say that, but this one is!’
You’re currently working on a new Blow Monkeys album. What’s it sound like and when can we expect to hear it?
DR: It’s called The Wild River and it is the best thing we’ve ever done. I know I always say that, but this one is! It’s luck and fortune, but sometimes things just fall into place. I hope everyone feels the same way when they hear it.
Five In The Afternoon by Dr Robert and PP Arnold is available now on Monks Road Records. For more information, go to http://monksroad.com/