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'British Queen of Blues' Elkie Brooks is coming to the Britannia Theatre, Chatham

Four decades after THIS controversial album cover, Elkie Brooks is still one hot mama, bringing her brand of blues to Kent. Jo Roberts reports.

Elkie Brooks' cover image for the Rich Man's Woman album
Elkie Brooks' cover image for the Rich Man's Woman album

Often referred to as ‘the British Queen of Blues’, Elkie Brooks’ sultry, husky voice has been one of her most distinctive qualities. But the other – let’s face it – is that smokin’ body.

It first caused people to sit up and take notice when she flaunted her slender frame, and what is these days termed ‘side boob’, on the 1975 album cover for Rich Man’s Woman.

The image would still appear current if you replaced Elkie with either Rihanna or Lady Gaga, so it is nothing short of staggering that the grande dame herself is 69!

When What’s On caught up with Elkie ahead of this weekend’s Kent concert, we found that the only tell-tale sign of age was Elkie’s long memory of an incredible career...

Elkie Brooks
Elkie Brooks

Is it true you made your first debut aged just 13 and went professional at 15?

“Yes, my first job was for £5 for the week at the Laronde in Manchester. My parents were not at all musical, and when I went for my audition they didn’t know anything about it. I think they were a little naive and they were busy trying to make a living - my dad was a baker. Things were different then – we are talking 1960 here. They thought I was going to be a star overnight, which of course I wasn’t. It wasn’t until 1977 that I actually got a record in the charts [Pearl’s A Singer].”

In 1964 you supported The Beatles during a three-week show in Hammersmith, how was that?

“I got totally dismissed and ignored by all of them and by everybody on the show, but there you go. They were at the height of their career, with all of these big celebrities going in and out of the dressing room.”

At the time of its release in 1975, Rich Man’s Woman caused a lot of controversy?

“Oh, I got told off for that one, big time! Well I’ve always had a reasonably good figure and I was quite suntanned at the time. By today’s standards it’s probably quite ordinary, but back then I was considered terribly risque. I never really thought that much about it: I didn’t want to make any apologies for it, I thought I looked great.”

Elkie Brooks
Elkie Brooks

In 1977 there was a huge turning point with Pearl’s A Singer - did you know you’d made it?

“To be honest, I just wanted to enjoy myself in music and I never thought Pearl’s A Singer was going to be a big hit. I liked it when I was first played the song by [producers] Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. They said, ‘It’s a bit too country for you, not really rhythm and blue-sy enough for you’. But I liked it, and it was released on my birthday in 1977. The record company really pushed it, got played on all the radio stations and became very successful [No.8 in the chart]. No one was more surprised than me.”

Over your career with the bands Dada, Vinegar Joe and as a solo artist, you have also worked with The Animals, the Small Faces and Robert Palmer. Which are the showbiz friendships that have endured?

“Without a doubt, the late Humphrey Lyttelton [the jazz musician]. In the 1960s, when I was thinking of going home and doing something else, Humph was wonderful and let me sing with his band for quite a few years, on and off. He said, ‘No, you’ve got it, you really have; you should stick at this.’ Otherwise I think I’d be doing something else. I scattered Humphrey’s ashes from a paraglider. My sons paraglide and I was asked by Humph’s manager and partner, Susan, if I would spread his ashes, and I did over Woolacombe. I was very honoured to be able to do that.”

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned over a life spent in the music industry?

“The greatest phrase that I always remember - and I think it was a line on [the TV show] Everybody Loves Raymond, because I’m a bit of a fan - is ‘It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.’ That’s what I try to remind myself.”

Which are the big numbers you’re looking forward to singing at your Kent concert?

“I still really like Don’t Cry Out Loud, Sunshine After The Rain and, of course, Fool If You Think It’s Over. That is a terrific song. If I didn’t do the hits, people would be very upset. I tend to stick to the safe songs, and then some very rocking songs in the second half that I enjoy doing and they like them as well I’m on my 22nd album now! We hope to have the album out next year and it’s all rather good. I’m still here and I’m doing well.”

Elkie Brooks
Elkie Brooks

What would you have been if not a singer?

“Perhaps a home economics teacher, because I always liked cooking. Or a PE teacher. I could have been a retired teacher by now! Teachers tend to retire earlier than people in the music business.”

Elkie Brooks is at Chatham’s Britannia Theatre on Saturday, December 20 from 7pm. Tickets cost £25. Visit www.thebritanniakent.com or call 0844 8586656.

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