Interview: Elkie Brooks

Her career has encompassed, rock, blues, pop and jazz, who has worked with The Beatles, Robert Palmer and Small Faces and who was at one time described as the “wild woman of rock n roll” – Elkie Brooks is still performing and recording and brings her one-woman show to The Spa at Felixstowe in April. – Ipswich24’s Mark Keable (a self-confessed Elkie fan) caught up with her.

Q: Where did it all begin?
Well I was born in Broughton Park, which is on the borders of Salford and Prestwick, Manchester. I always sang from the time I was a little girl. I spotted some auditions being organised by a promoter called Don Arden (who was Sharon Osborne’s father), I was 15 at the time and I went along to the Palace Theatre in Manchester and Don thought I was “wonderful” and put me on the bill that night! At the time he was touring lots of American artistes so I did the show that night and a couple of other shows for him. Then I got the flu so had to pull out but I kept in touch with him and he put me in for more auditions and I eventually got an audition with the late Eric Delaney who had a big jazz band at the time so I was singing with his band at the age of 16.

Q: So what were your musical influences at this time?
Elkie: Well they’ve always been varied but at the time thanks to my brothers Tony and Ray I started listening to jazz and the late Ella Fitzgerald, later I discovered Billie Holliday, Sarah Vaughan etc. At the time popular artistes in the charts were people like Elvis, Cliff Richard, Bill Haley, so I was influenced by all of these people as well. Plus my early singing teacher, a rabbi, gave me lessons in Hebrew and Yiddish, so I’m influenced by lots of things that have crossed my life.
My attitude is that if you have a good singing voice you should be able to sing anything. I recently saw on You Tube Aretha Franklin singing opera, and it was sensational.

Q: You mention your training, do you thin that traditional vocal coaching is important?
Well it did for me, everybody is different though. I believe in singing naturally and projecting your voice and being relaxed. When singers sing more from the throat they can damage their voice so easily and the only cure is total rest.

Q: You mentioned your brothers, so was it a musical family?
Both brothers are musical, Tony (Bookbinder) played with Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas and Ray played the bass and trumpet, but Mum and Dad not musical at all! I think the musical side came from my late grandmother Maude Newton, I never met her, but apparently she was a great keyboard player, violinist and singer. If you want to know more you’ll have to read the book that I’m currently finishing, hopefully it will be out later this year.

Q: So you’re still recording, your most recent album being Powerless, do you still enjoy that?
I love recording, this album has taken about five years, finding and writing all the songs. It’s the third album I’ve done with my eldest son who not only produced the album but also wrote a lot of the songs on it, in addition to playing guitar and bass on it. I think we have another album in us yet., it may take us a couple of years but I think there will be another.

Q: So if the music career hadn’t taken off, what path do you think your career would have taken?
Well I must admit I did get a little despondent in the 60s and considered giving up, I wasn’t singing with whom I wanted, I was having to put up with resident bands in clubs up north that I didn’t like. I wasn’t enjoying myself, and I believe if you don’t enjoy your job you should think of switching it. So I was having a pretty low time then and did consider going back to Manchester. Other than singing the only thing I’m any good at is PE, cooking and music, so I guess I would have probably become a teacher.

Q: You are largely thought of as a solo singer but you were in Vinegar Joe, did you enjoy being part of a group?

Very much so! I really do think I am part of a band I have a great band around me today as well. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Dada which became Vinegar Joe with Robert Palmer, we had a really good time. I try and remember the good things rather than all the travelling and bad hotels! I’m still in touch with ex members of the band, such as Pete Gaze (my ex husband) and also Robert’s mum and we meet up and I love seeing her.

Q: 1975 saw your first solo album, Rich Man’s Woman, realised to critical acclaim but also a little controversy!
You mean because of the cover! By today’s standard it’s nothing but at the time it was rather risqué. (Elkie was pictured tastefully nude and wrapped in a feather boa). I didn’t think anything of it …. My figure was wonderful, I had a good tan and it was tastefully done. Strangely the album wasn’t that successful and it was the next album which featured “Pearl’s a Singer” that got me musically recognised.

Q: So you’ve already mentioned You Tube, so you embrace new ways of listening to music, so do you keep up to date with the latest trends and what do you listen to?

Currently I like this new band, Gotye, I love him, I have the album, fantastic voice. The girlband Stooshe, I know they’re a little bit naughty but I love the lead singer I think she’s great. My younger son always has the radio on and I’ll hear something and say, “what’s that?” so I’m discovering new stuff all the time.

Q: You’re still recording, performing and touring so will you ever retire?

Well my fitness levels are still good for my age, I’ve studied ikido for over 20 years and that keeps me fit. When I feel I haven’t got the control of my voice, then that will be the time to hang up my microphone.
But at the moment I’m enjoying the shows, I think I’m probably singing better than I have done for years. But I don’t want to be one of those artists who are past their sell-by date both in looks and sound. But I would hope when that time comes my husband would say “Elk give it a rest!”

Q: You’re coming to the Felixstowe Spa (20th April) what can we expect?
Obviously the hits, I’d be lynched if I didn’t, plus some songs from the new album. The second part of the show is very rocky and bluesy. So just me and the band, it say’s Elkie Brooks on the posters and that’s what you get.

Q: So what motivates you to get up on stage?
Certainly not alcohol anymore, in my youth I used to drink a lot of brandy. But I haven’t drunk before going on stage for over 30 years now, I have a drop of red or white wine at the end of the night. I enjoy what I do and I have a great band.

Pictures: Christopher Cohen