and Now - Britain's "Pied Piper"
By Douglas Antreassian
Crispian St. Peters 1998
Looking back, it's hard to believe that Crispian St. Peters didn't make a larger mark on the music world. A glance at a chart reference book fully illustrates the hold he had on the charts in 1966, yet subsequent years brought nothing but disappointment. Between 1967 and 1978, Crispian issued one brilliant record after another, including beat, pop, and many country and western numbers, all to no avail. But Crispian is back, and he still sounds as expressive as he did in 1966. I met Crispian in Swanley, a little village in Kent, England where he has lived all of his life. The area looked a lot like the place the first Pied Piper came from, full of narrow roads, cobblestones, and bridges. Contrary to the shocking press releases which came out during his heyday,Crispian is actually one of the most humble people one could meet. ANTREASSIAN: What's the area of Swanley, Kent like? Did you enjoy growing up there? ST. PETERS: I had a wonderful childhood.....couldn't be better. Swanley's changed a lot over the years....it's built up into a town now, but it used to be a country town.It was much nicer before the factories came. But even though it's not like it used to be, I'd never leave it. ANTREASSIAN: What were your parents like? Did you come from a large family? ST. PETERS: Absolutely wonderful. My mother's family were all musicians - there were 13 of them. My grandfather on my mother's side wasn't a musician, but he used to sing a lot. My father used to run a nursery and he played the banjo. As a matter of fact, his father used to play the banjo, and my grandmother on my father's side played banjo and piano, too. My aunt played piano, and my mother played piano. ANTREASSIAN: When did you first become interested in music? ST. PETERS: I was interested from the word go when my dad used to play the banjo. It was always in the family, we had pianists, drummers, accordion players.....it was great fun when we were kids. ANTREASSIAN: Where was your first public performance, and how old were you? ST. PETERS: That would have been in the Joyce Green Hospital; I was 16 or 17, I think. ANTREASSIAN: Were you making your own guitars at this time? How long did it take you to make one? ST. PETERS: No, I didn't make those until I was about 19. All I used to do was get a piece of wood, get a fingerboard off another guitar, screw it on, stick a bridge on, and a little thing to fix the strings on, and put the strings on. That was it. I made a few guitars out of old bed headboards, too. Nothing special. I sold one or two, but I gave the others away. Typical me. Like with my records and tapes, I've given them out to friends and the like. I never used them on my records, only on stage. ANTREASSIAN: Is it true that your favourite self-penned song has never been publicly performed because it's too personal? ST. PETERS: No, that's not true, I have sung it to a few people. It's called "Darling J." Well, it was (about) an old girlfriend of mine from Kent. Her name was Jill. I also wrote "Jilly Honey" for her, and that one came on my first album. ANTREASSIAN: Did she know that those songs were about her? ST. PETERS: I believe she did, but I haven't seen her since 1960; I still think of her. Jill Taylor's her name, but she married someone else and had five children. ANTREASSIAN: Where and when did you meet David Nicolson, and what made you decide to make him your manager? ST. PETERS: I met David in London. We had a manager at that time, and we were known as the Beat Formula Three. David came along and saw us - he was working for EMI at the time - and he liked my voice enough to have me make a few demo discs. Then, all of a sudden an old girlfriend of American film star Troy Donahue came along and said that she wanted me to come to America with her where she'd make me a big star. I signed a contract with her, and she wound up clearing off at the last moment. I was really down in the dumps then, but David said he'd like to manage me so I went along with him. He got rid of my band and replaced them with a new one. We made a few flops for Decca, and then we released "You Were On My Mind" at the end of 1965. ANTREASSIAN: Did Nicolson do anything that you would have done differently, promotion-wise? ST. PETERS: You have to understand that he was very young and naive, and very inexperienced. But I do thank him for doing quite a little bit of work for producing my records, even though I'm embarrassed by some of them. But there were records he produced that I thought were just rubbish. Sometimes the song was good, but they weren't recorded the right way. Harry (Stoneham) did the best arrangements he could, but I would have liked more acoustic guitar than electric on a few recordings. Some of them didn't work right. Harry was a great arranger, though. A few of the records I was happy with at the time, but when I listen to them now, I imagine how they could be done differently, better, than they were in the 60's. ANTREASSIAN: Was Nicolson the one who came up with the name "Crispian St. Peters?" ST. PETERS: We both did. Nicolson actually came up with the name Crispin Blacke, and I said no, it won't work. David wanted me to dress up all in black, but I said that Dave Berry, a wonderful performer around that time with a great stage act, was already doing that. That's when I thought of St. Peters as a last name. I thought that sounded great; David did too. Then, a few minutes later, I thought it sounded absolutely ridiculous. But David said that St Peters should definitely be it. Then, my old manager, who was still managing the Beat Formula Three, suggested I make it Crispian instead of Crispin. David and I liked the idea, so that was it. ANTREASSIAN: What was the audition for Decca records like? Were you nervous about going over there? ST. PETERS: No, I didn't even go to Decca as a matter of fact. David went over there for me. All I had to do was go into a studio and record the songs, I did my singing, and I said, "OK, David, I'm off now to do a show," and left. David stayed around for a few more hours and produced the final mix. ANTREASSIAN: How did the first pair of Decca 45s do, sales-wise? Do you think that Decca promoted these early efforts adequately? ST. PETERS: Oh...well, you'd know more about that than I would. I didn't get any information at all on how those records were selling, I think that they could have done a bit more, to be quite honest, because there was some really good material there.....good songs. ANTREASSIAN: Was it David's idea to make "You Were On My Mind" your third A-side? ST. PETERS: That was his idea, sent over from a friend of ours that went to America I can't remember who he was; he was big with the Mamas and Papas or something Oh, I know, Ian Whitmore. ANTREASSIAN: How did you, your family, and your friends react to the sudden success of this record? ST. PETERS: It was just amazing; everything was so fast all of a sudden. Too fast. I had to have a quick rehearsal with another band, and get on the road to do concerts, then television and radio spots, and then more concerts and more spots. I would have loved more time to prepare. I remember doing "Ready, Steady, Go!" and "Top Of The Pops." I sang the hit for "Top Of The Pops," but for "Ready, Steady, Go!" I did some other songs as well. It was really exciting. ANTREASSIAN: Did you always think you would make it big someday? ST. PETERS: I always knew that something was going to happen, but I didn't quite know what. I knew it might be somehow......musically-oriented, because it was in the blood somehow. I had bought my first guitar - an old four-string thing - for 10 shillings, which is 50 pence now, and joined up with a skiffle group called the Hard Travellers. That was when I performed at the Joyce Green Hospital, for the doctors and nurses. We used to copy Lonnie Donnegan at that time. Half the 60s styles copied Donnegan, you know. ANTREASSIAN: Where was your first large-scale performance? ST. PETERS: The places I did "You Were On My Mind" were all big dance halls and venues like that, but the biggest gig I did around that time was working at the Empire for the Poll Winners concert. The Beatles and the Stones were there; Cliff Richard and the Shadows were there; and the Fortunes, everybody. Even Roy Orbison was there. He was my idol. ANTREASSIAN: There was a lot of hullabaloo in 1966 concerning some of the comments you directed toward other artists. Did these comments hurt or help your career? PETERS: Those comments did get me a lot of publicity. They nicknamed me the "Cassius Clay of Show Business" as a matter of fact. You know, the big mouth and all. But those comments were only meant to be a joke. That's the real truth. But this guy, Richard Greene, wrote all the stuff down like it was serious, and it came out. I was stunned. All these things were just tongue-in-cheek, you know. I did cause a little bit of trouble with fans at that time. ANTREASSIAN: Where did you get the idea to do "The Pied Piper?" ST. PETERS: That was sent over from America by the same chap who sent over "You Were On My Mind" - he sent it to David. I knew instantly that the song was a potential hit, but it needed to be changed first. The version of the song I got was by a group called the Changin' Times. I later did another song originally released by that band, called "Free Spirit." It flopped. David was sent a lot of material originally put out by that band. ANTREASSIAN: Why didn't an EP come out around this time? ST. PETERS: I was really busy on the road. Eventually we got together to do an album, but no EP. The album, (Follow Me), didn't get much publicity, by the way. It sold a few. I don't know to this day how many it sold. Anyway, I went back to my country and western roots the next year, and Decca did eventually put out an EP of my country and western stuff called ALMOST PERSUADED. ANTREASSIAN: At what time did you start using stereo tape? ST. PETERS: I can't remember any stereo stuff being made during the first few years. I recorded my songs on a 4-track machine, an Ampex, but my first actual stereo release wasn't until my second album came out in 1970. It was called SIMPLY.........CRISPIAN ST. PETERS, and it was put out on the Square label. Incidentally, on that album, they've got "Look Into My Teardrops" credited to me, but it was actually written by an American. Mike Weston got all the words wrong on the songwriting credits. ANTREASSIAN: Were there any tracks left over from your albums that have never been released? ST. PETERS: There are still some songs in the can that have never been released; it was stuff we did around 67 and 68. There were also a few cuts left over from the SIMPLY..... album. We did some Jerry Reed stuff, I remember. He's a great cat from Nashville. What a marvellous guitar player he is. One of the world's best now. Anyway, David Nicolson has all the unreleased material. ANTREASSIAN: How do you account for the failure of "Changes," the 45 which was the official follow-up to "The Pied Piper?" (The 45 peaked at #47 in the U.K.) ST. PETERS: I just can't understand that at all. Everyone was telling me on the road that "Changes" was the best thing I'd ever done. All my fans wanted to know why the tune wasn't in the Top 5. I told them I just didn't know. Funny enough, the girl I wound up marrying, Collette, had that record, and that was her favourite, too. It was very, very strange that "Changes" flopped after a #2 and #5 record. ANTREASSIAN: How did you "Your Ever Changin' Mind'," the follow-up to "Changes," do on the charts? ST. PETERS: Oh.....nowhere. That song was recorded in New York City, by the way, with American musicians. They sent the song over to London and we rehearsed it over here, but only so that I would know what I was gonna do with it when I got to the studio in New York. ANTREASSIAN: The flip sides of "Changes" and "Your Ever Changin' Mind" were songs that had already been issued on your debut album. Was this done to help promote the LP? ST. PETERS: No......we wouldn't have been that sharp. We just had the tracks in the can, and I guess David thought enough of them that he wanted to release them in both formats. David was the one who determined what recordings would be used, and where they would pop-up. ANTREASSIAN: Tell us about your next single, "Almost Persuaded." Who decided that you should switch styles and so a country and western 45? ST. PETERS: I wanted to do that. I felt that I wasn't doing too well in the pop field, with only two big hits out of six 45s and all, so I thought I should go back to my musical roots. I felt safer doing country and western all along, because I'd loved it for so long. That record wound up flopping anyway. ANTREASSIAN: Since the 45 didn't do well, why did Decca then go ahead and release an EP with the same title, featuring more country and western tunes? ST. PETERS: Well, it was released simultaneously with the 45 - it wasn't meant to "ride" a hit or anything. Somebody just decided to put it out with the single. ANTREASSIAN: What were your favourite recordings done for Decca? ST. PETERS: "Your Love Has Gone" was a favourite of mine. I also loved "The Pied Piper." I had felt strongly about that tune right from the beginning, and I was right. The original version by the Changin' Times didn't do the tune justice. It was Nicolson's idea to change the "I'll show you where life's at" line to "I'll show where it's at." ANTREASSIAN: Did other artists of the 1960s cover any of your songs? ST. PETERS: Actually, there was a band who did "Without You" from my first album. I can't remember the name of the group, but it was released on the Immediate label. Speaking of cover versions, my co-manager Kenneth Pitt once asked Ken Dodd, a popular comedian at the time, to record a version of my love song "Willingly." Well, his manager came through and said that Ken would do the song, but only if he could be listed as co-writer. Apparently, he wouldn't do anything unless he could get co-writer billing. The oddest thing about it was that Dodd needed the hit more than I needed the royalties, so I said forget it. Anyway, everyone loved that tune. They could never get enough of that one. ANTREASSIAN: I guess you're aware that when "Willingly" came out in the U.S., on the Jamie label version of the FOLLOW ME.......LP, they butchered that particular tune..... ST. PETERS: Oh, yes. I don't know why they did that. David Nicolson just came up to me in America and said, "they've done a great job on this song," and he played me the two versions, and I just said, "My God, they've cut the middle-eight out of it." He said, Yeah, isn't it great," and I said, "No, of course not." They ruined the song. ANTREASSIAN: Did Decca compensate you well for your recordings, or do you feel that you have been shorted on initial payments and/or royalties, like so many of your contemporaries? ST.PETERS: Well, I got quite a bit, but I do feel that I got very ripped-off when it came to royalties. There's still a lot of money to come yet, especially from Nicolson After all, the stuff's on CD now. It all got very complicated because the records were being licensed to one company, then another, and then another. After a while, it was just a mess. ANTREASSIAN: Going back to the 60s, how long did it take you to find another label after Decca left the scene? ST.PETERS: Well, I got people interested from other labels after that, but those recordings didn't get any plays. They didn't get any radio or television coverage, so obviously it would flop. They were really fine records, too. It's a shame. The thing is that the people who owned the labels that I was signed to at the time just didn't have the resources. They had distribution deals worked out through EMI, but any promotional money would've had to come from them, and they just didn't have it. They were really nice people, though. When you can't promote a recording correctly, you have to take the record around to the radio stations and hope that the station producer will let the DJ's play the record. Sometimes you can get a song popular that way and it will sell, if the producers are keen on it, but it's very, very hard to do. ANTREASSIAN: What kind of jobs do you do now? ST.PETERS: We do pubs, hotels in London, cabarets and even special weddings. The jobs we do nowadays are a lot of fun, because we get free food, free booze, and a lot of money. In fact, when I went to Belgium last year, I didn't have to pay for a thing - even the hotel room was free. There were a lot of great bands there for that show. ANTREASSIAN: Was your 45 on Mencap done for charity? ST.PETERS: Yes, Mike Weston was behind that release. Proceeds from the record went to help mentally handicapped children. It's a very rare release of mine. ANTREASSIAN: Were you surprised to find out that you'd be making a second album? ST.PETERS: I was very excited to do that. I was finally going to get my chance to do a country and western LP. The arrangements on the album were done by Big Jim Sullivan, and he did a good job, but some of the work from the musicians wasn't quite right.I remember having to change some of the stuff they were playing now and again, but overall I was very pleased. Now, if you play that album today, it still sounds up-to-date. Jim Sullivan had foresight, and his arrangements were ahead of their time. ANTREASSIAN: What was your favourite cut on SIMPLY....? ST.PETERS: I guess my favourite was probably " Soft As a Rose." We did a video for that song by the way, but it never got aired. ANTREASSIAN: Tell us about the 45 you released in Switzerland, called "R.D.M. - The Ballad of Richard's Drivin' Machine." ST.PETERS: That was a 10-inch single. It was a novelty record about Richard Nixon. The whole project was by Suzanne Harris, a folksinger from America, and she did the flip side. That was my longest released song; I think it was about 8 minutes long. ANTREASSIAN: Did you ever re-record your hits for "oldies" labels? ST.PETERS: I've re-recorded "The Pied Piper" and "You Were On My Mind" five times. One tape, about three years ago, all the musicians were from Nashville, and the versions cut that day were very unusual - very different. Instead of trying to stay true to the original arrangements, we just started from scratch. It was very exciting. Anyway, after all that, the record company went bust, and the project never got released. I didn't get a copy of the finished mix - I wish I had one. The only time I ever heard it was in the studio. ANTREASSIAN: Do you ever get tired of doing your old hits when you perform today? ST.PETERS: Oh, God yes. I stopped doing "You Were On My Mind" for a while because I was so sick of it, but it wasn't long before people started requesting it, and I had to start it up again. I have to do it because parents play my hits to their children, and then bring them to one of my concerts to show them the original guy that made it a hit over here. The kids, say, "Ooh, is he gonna do 'You Were On My Mind?'" I've stopped worrying about it now; I just do it wherever I go ANTREASSIAN: What was the most memorable encounter you ever had with a celebrity? ST.PETERS: The most memorable encounter I ever had was with one of my heroes, Roy Orbison. We were doing "Top Of The Pops" in London, and Roy was performing "It's Over," a wonderful song of his, which still brings a lump to my throat whenever I hear it. This was in 1966 I believe. I wound up meeting Roy in the men's room, and I went up to him and said "Hello." He said "Hi, hi." I asked him how he was doing, and he said, "Fine, fine." He said absolutely everything twice. So I said, "I'll see you later," and he replied by saying "Okay, okay." He was a really cool character, though, and the world's best singer. He was wearing those black sunglasses that the Beatles had given him. I wound up doing a radio show with him later that year, with a whole bunch of big stars. ANTREASSIAN: Do you still keep in touch with any of the acts that you toured with? ST.PETERS: Well, I meet some of them now and again when we do some concerts abroad. Last year we were in Belgium, for instance, doing the "Golden Years" festival, and I saw the Fortunes, the Searchers, and the Tremeloes again. B.J.Thomas was topping that particular bill. ANTREASSIAN: What can you tell us about the cassette you released on 1990, called NEW TRACKS ON OLD LINES. ST.PETERS: I've been selling that tape at gigs from time to time, but it's never been offered in the stores. It was Roger Rounce's project and he wrote most of the songs on it. There are 10 songs, but it's very commercial stuff, so it's really for a younger man - not me. I do like "Country Roads, (I Almost Made It Back)," however. It's about a man in prison who wants to go home and be with his true love. He escapes jail, but he winds up killing a policeman on the way back to his home. He can just see the mountains and the trees that surround his home when the policemen suddenly close in on him. It's one of Roger's best tunes. ANTREASSIAN: Do you still perform around England? ST.PETERS: Oh, sure. As a matter of fact, I did a special gig in Liverpool a few months ago, for a show that used to be on English television. It was called "The 6-5 Special," and it was one of the first pop programs in England. Anyway, this guy revived it to do on the road, and I agreed to perform for him. So I did my show, and this guy winds up writing me a dud cheque. I've been done so many times, now... You've got to be very careful and shrewd to avoid getting conned in this business. ANTREASSIAN: Do you have any plans to release any new recordings? ST.PETERS: I'm going to be making some demos and taking them to Prestige Records, who have just published 45 new songs of mine, including a number of Gospel songs I've written. I was originally planning to do an album with them last year, but they wanted me to do all this rubbish from some other writer. I want to do all my own stuff from now on. I don't mean to sound selfish, but I just can't get on with anyone else's songs at all now, except for the ones I've loved over the years, from Elvis and Chuck Berry and the like. ANTREASSIAN: What are the chances of a compilation album featuring your classics being made? ST.PETERS: Well, David Nicolson owns all the material now - not Decca - so I'm not too sure what'll happen. Back in the 60s, he and his father started a little company called Cash Records, which I was contracted under. Cash Records in turn licensed the recordings to Decca, and other labels after that. Decca might've done it already if they owned the tracks outright all these years. ANTREASSIAN: How has your material changed over the years? ST.PETERS: My material's gotten more humble over the years, actually. Forget all this "love" business - you know...... "You've left me with a broken heart, /so now I'm gonna leave and make a brand-new start" and all that. You get sick of all that after a while. ANTREASSIAN: What are your chief ambitions at this point? ST.PETERS: My chief ambition is to stop working on the road and just concentrate on writing songs for other people. I've always wanted to be a songwriter for other people. But I would like to go into the studio and make a video of my latest recordings. I just wouldn't want to publicize it on the road - I'd rather do it some other way. ANTREASSIAN: Are you more or less content now than you were during your peak of popularity? ST.PETERS: I love my life now, because there's not so much pressure. I'm not worried about being a great-big star again. I'm just glad that I didn't wind up being worked to death. Nowadays, I'll sometimes do a job for a group of people I know at a discounted rate, just because I have such a good time doing it. I worked in a pub where they could only afford to pay me 25% of my usual fee, but I did it anyway because they're all friends of mine. I say, "OK - throw in some free food and drink and I'll do it, and everybody'll have a marvelous time." ANTREASSIAN: Is there anything special that you'd like to tell your fans? ST.PETERS: Yes.....I'm sorry I never responded to their fan letters personally. It's just that I was always on the road.....always at Heathrow.....always at Gatwick. I was always saying "Cheerio, Mother," or goodbye to my wife, and there was never any time. Douglas Antreassian