CRISPIAN ST. PETERS Then 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