THE JOHN HANNAM INTERVIEW – Elkie Brooks
John chatted to the songstress about surviving the Sixties and her visit to the Island
The first in-depth interview I did with Elkie Brooks was at a Wimbledon Common hotel in the summer of 2007.
After our very enjoyable chat we joined her husband for drinks on the hotel patio. Quite out of the blue she asked me, as I came from the Isle of Wight, if I knew a guy called Wilf Pine. She had just read a book on him and was dying to meet him. I then revealed that he and I had been friends for 30 years. In just a few weeks I’d arranged a meet and we all got together in a village pub near Salisbury. I couldn’t really lose. Wilf, who grew up on the Island, had always wanted to meet Elkie. Through that meeting, Wilf, who had been in the music business for many years, managed to get her a new album deal and an autobiography.
Elkie and I have met up socially on several occasions since then and she always gives me a quick interview. She still has a superb voice and an amazing stage presence.
During the early days of your career it was not easy for female singers to survive in a ruthless business. Did you need to have a tough streak to overcome it?
I think deep down right through my years I have had quite a few people trying to tell me how to do things. These include managers and agents. The record companies told me to do this and do that. In the end I used to go to the toilet, come back and have a cup of tea and then sing it how I wanted to sing it and pretend it was the way they told me to do it.
In the mid Sixties you appeared in a Beatles Christmas Show. Have you got good memories?
I did appear in their show but I was never taken very seriously in those days. I wasn’t what you would call drop dead gorgeous. I didn’t fit into the mould of your actual pop star. I had a great singing voice but it does help if you are reasonably attractive. I had to get myself together, which I have done. I think I’m quite attractive now, even though I say it myself. I’ve had to work at it but I haven’t had anything done because I don’t have the time or the money to do it. I have a good diet and exercise a lot. I’ve done martial arts for many years and I’ve done power and hang gliding.
Early on, you went up north to the cabaret circuit. That was not really you, was it?
I hated it. I was in my little mini with my frocks in the back with a band call at five o’clock. Then I had to find digs. I also needed a bottle of brandy around seven o’clock to get the courage to go on with some of the terrible musicians I had to work with. I was not keen on the material I was doing and they couldn’t play it anyway. At times I thought I should give up, go home and perhaps get a job as a PE or science teacher. I hated what was then called showbusiness.
You then met a guy called Peter Gage. Was that the turning point in your music career?
He had the idea of forming a 12-piece band called Dada and this was a fusion of rock RnB, jazz and classical music. It was great and all of us came from different musical backgrounds and it worked for a while. Robert Palmer eventually joined us. This later became Vinegar Joe. These groups played more of the music I wanted to sing.
Was the Two Days Away album you made with the legendary Leiber and Stoller the launch pad for your solo career?
That’s when my career really started to fall into place. They were marvellous people and I enjoyed working with them, especially Jerry Leiber, who was one of the greatest lyricists of the last century. They thought I was making the tea but I learnt an awful lot from those two about writing songs.
You’ve had so many hits over the years. How did you find Pearl’s A Singer which was your first top-ten single?
Two session guys had written this song and Jerry Leiber played it to me. He didn’t think I would like it and thought it was too country and western for my taste. I told him I really liked it but it needed a middle section. He told me not to worry and he would write one – and within 30 minutes he had. I am still singing it today and probably better than I’ve ever sung it before. That’s down to all the great musicians I have working with me.
How do you get that fantastic sound at live gigs?
In 1977, I went to a Diana Ross concert and was blown away by the sound. It was the best show I’d ever seen her in. In the interval I went and shook the sound guy’s hand to congratulate him. His name was Trevor Jordan and we got him for our next tour. We got married after a few months and are still together.
You’re coming back to Shanklin Theatre on Saturday, March 30th, are you excited?
I’m so pleased about that. I’ve been to the Island many times and the audiences are wonderful. I’m so looking forward to it.
In the front of my copy of her brilliant autobiography, Finding My Voice, Elkie wrote: ‘John thank you so much for getting Wilf Pine and I together’. It was such an emotional moment at Wilf’s funeral in 2018, when Elkie sang live in the church.