Powerhouse vocalist Elkie Brooks has been singing up a storm for around 5 decades now. From opening for The Beatles in the sixties and making music with Robert Palmer in the amazing 70’s group Vinegar Joe, through to the great albums she makes today with her multi-talented son, Jermaine Jordan.
I sat down with her ahead of her show this month at Perth Concert Hall to talk about everything from her illustrious career to her life on a fruit farm in Woolacombe, Devon.
When was the last time you played in Perth?
It’s got to be a good few years ago now. I think I did Glasgow last year but that is nowhere bloody near you. The concert hall is a wonderful venue though.
You’ve recorded around 20 solo studio albums. How do you go about selecting a set list when you have so much great material to choose from?
It isn’t easy. I’m actually on my 21st solo album now and there has been a lot of best of’s including the latest on Virgin EMI. That means there is also a lot of bonus tracks. I like to include most of my hits, particularly the ones that I feel will be good live. Then I try and do things that I really, really enjoy singing, like some old blues stuff. I do my show in two parts, which allows people to go to the loo or hit the bar after sitting for an hour.
You’ve toured nearly every year of your career - how do you manage to keep your voice in such great shape?
I don’t play every single night when I’m touring. Years ago I used to go out on the road and do back to back shows. I haven’t done that for about 5 years now. I hated it. As a vocalist, you really ought to take 24 hours off to rest the voice as much as you can. With my warm up, and soundcheck, and then the actual show I worked out that I’ll probably be singing for about 3 hours on any given show date. I also have a fairly good diet and I try and keep my alcohol intake down to a minimum. It is difficult when you are very fond of Guinness, Glenmorangie and good red wine. I exercise a lot and do one on one Aikido training. I've been practising this material art for over 23 years and I love it!
When you were in Vinegar Joe with Robert Palmer, could you tell back then that he was going to be a big star?
Well, he certainly was exceedingly talented, very, very good looking, and a great songwriter, so I think you could see that he had star quality. It was quite sad that at the time everyone thought that I was responsible for Vinegar Joe splitting up when it was really because Robert wanted to go solo.
I like to include most of my hits, particularly the ones that I feel will be good live. Then I try and do things that I really, really enjoy singing, like some old blues stuff.
I heard a story that Phil Collins unsuccessfully auditioned for Vinegar Joe, is that true?
Phil Collins? I believe he did an audition, but I personally don’t remember it. I met him years later and he said “Don’t you remember me from when I did that audition” but I had to admit that I didn’t. I think that Pete Gage the guitarist, who I was married to at the time, and Steve York the bass player just didn’t think he fitted with what the band needed.
The cover art for your first solo album 'Rich Man’s Woman' caused a bit of controversy at the time. Do you think that helped or hindered its sales?
I think it hindered it if anything. I remember doing an interview with a journalist in New York and she said, “You’re a great singer, but how do you expect to be taken seriously with an album sleeve like that?” I never really thought that much of it. I had a suntan at the time of the photo shoot and the photographer said, “whack a feather boa around you, you’ll look great”. I honestly didn’t think it was a big deal, but for some reason, it was considered very risqué.
Your next album “Two Days Away” was a real breakthrough. It must have been thrilling to work with Lieber and Stoller. Can you tell me a bit about the experience?
It could be quite difficult. Stoller would want me to sing a take in one way, but Jerry Lieber would want me to sing it completely differently. I would just go into the green room, have a cup of tea, come back out and sing it my way. They would both look at each other and go, “that’s it!”.
One of the biggest hits of your career was the album “No More the Fool” which due to some creative accountancy made zero profit on paper. Did that make you more wary of the business side of things in future?
I've still never received my royalties. I’ve got people working on that at the moment, trying to get me my dues. I’m pretty sure that the people who made that album got quite a bit of money from it.
Around this time you started to write more and more of your own material. Is that something you still enjoy?
Absolutely! I’ve written some songs for my new album with my son (producer and guitarist Jermaine Jordan). It’s my fourth with him and we are hoping to push to get it out later this year or early next.
What was it like having your son produce one of your albums?
We have an awful lot of respect for each other. He’s a tremendous musician who plays wonderful bass and guitar. He programmes the drum parts as well as composing film scores while he’s not working with me. He really is exceedingly talented. Respect is the key when you work with family members. My husband Trevor has been my sound engineer for 41 years. One of the reasons I’m able to sing so well is I can always hear myself and that’s due to Trevor’s skill as an audio engineer. He always gets an amazing sound.
Are you still living in Devon?
Oh yes! We’ve lived here since '81. We’re staying on a fruit farm in Woolacoombe which has the most glorious beach you have ever seen.
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