Crispian St Peters
By Douglas Antreassian
YOU WERE ON MY MIND.
1966 was quite possibly the finest year for music in all of the rock and roll era. Think back to all those wonderful songs you grew up with and you will find that many of them were released in that year. One artist who made quite a splash in that year was Crispian St Peters, with his two huge hits 'You Were On My Mind' and 'The Pied Piper'. Both of these records made the British top five and yet subsequent releases, even his much hyped debut LP, failed to generate any interest. Sitting here, listening to his later releases, like 'Changes' and 'Your Ever Changing Mind' one wonders how these remarkable recordings got missed. I am writing this article to tell you of those recordings and the equally remarkable talent who made them, so that you can dig around for these classics yourself. I'm sure you'll want to very shortly. Crispian St Peters was born, Robin Peter Smith, on April 5th, 1939, in Swanley, Kent, England. His parents were both musically inclined, and Crispian himself got the bug while playing guitar at a youth group to which he belonged. Crispian was an excellent woodworker, and around this time he began making his own guitars from scratch. He kept some and made handy pocket money from the others by selling them around town. His guitars have not only a very distinctive shape, but a distinctive sound - that of a piano! It's quite nice actually.
In any event, Crispian soon began work. Having no car, the lanky, moody youth could often be seen hitching a ride on the side of the road, looking for just about any job. He was restless, however, and couldn't hold down a position long. In fact, he went through over thirty jobs before the age of 21. 'I've done just about everything', he told a teen mag in 1966, "labourer, librarian, kitchen hand, brick layer, projectionist, potato picker - I've done the lot" My shortest job lasted three hours - that was in a shop near my home. I walked in at 8.45 am and asked the owner if he needed an assistant He told me that he did, and I started work at 9.00 am. He showed me his storeroom which was in a bloody awful state, and asked me to start cleaning it up. I didn't know where to begin so I just sat there looking it. Then at noon I went to lunch, came back at 1.00pm and asked for my cards.
Crispian used to work at local pubs as well; his favourite job. He had enjoyed singing to people ever since his first public appearance in 1958, when, at the age of 14 he sang at the Joyce Green Hospital in Dartford, Kent. He didn't like to be around people unless they comprised his audience. Any crowd or group unnerved him terribly. Entertaining them though was wonderful, and he gave it his all, a personality trait that would earmark his later stage act. Crispian hitchhiked north in 1964 for the annual potato harvest, and took a second job in another pub. This is where he met his future manager, David Nicolson. Though only in his teens, Nicolson had shown a great deal of business sense as a boy, and continued to do so by approaching Crispian after a performance and offering to become his manager. It was Nicolson's idea to change Robin Smith's name to the name he has been known by ever since, definitely one of the most distinctive names in rock and roll history, and one that was misspelled and mispronounced more than any other of it's day. His friends still called him Whispering Smith and his mother refused to call him anything but Pete. Crispian St Peters was an odd name for a potato picker anyway. By this time Crispian had already written about 80 songs since he was 15. 'The first? It was about a girl I had given a very rough time. I felt a little guilty about this, and one day I was playing around on my guitar and a song formed itself. I called it 'Darling J'. Although it's the best song I've ever written, I have never let anyone hear it. It still means something to me and I prefer to keep it to myself. No one will ever hear it.' A promise which to this day has been kept.
It was around this time that Crispian started suffering from a recurring dream that would inevitably be published in several countries. He kept dreaming that somebody shoots him while he's performing. Was he afraid of his old girlfriend perhaps?
Crispian and David started looking for a label to record a single on in 1964. They found quick success with Decca records, a label which had turned down The Beatles in 1962. St Peters made his first radio and TV debuts around this time. Long before he had a hit he appeared on a February 1965 episode of the British TV series 'Scene At 6.30' and had also appeared on BBC Radio's 'Pop Inn' and Radio London's 'Inecto Show'. It was during this period that the six foot, ten and a half stone potato picker recorded his first 45.
The A-side was a bouncy commercial original called 'At This Moment'. The flip was a less commercial ballad, also self penned, called 'You'll Forget Me Goodbye'. The elements of his later works (goodbyes, lost loves and loneliness) were already present on this debut offering. Meanwhile, in America, Jaimie Records of Philadelphia showed interest in the song. Independent labels all over the country had been suffering miserably since the British invasion and Jaimie definitely wanted a legitimate English hit on their label to see them through this draining trend in the American charts. Major US labels had no trouble in securing British artists as there was often a corporate connection between an American label and it's British counterpart anyway. This is why Capitol Records got the rights to the Beatles recordings and why 45's released on the British Decca label almost always showed up on the London label in the States. Independents didn't have any ties abroad, so getting a genuine British hit maker was nearly impossible and keeping one was even more unlikely. It wasn't long therefore until Jaimie decided to release this Crispian record in America, regardless of how it fared in the UK itself. 'At This Moment' wound up flopping but the Decca-Jaimie distribution deal continued on all of his future American 45 releases.
NO NO NO.
The next single was a better effort,. No No No, - released in the UK in the fall of 1965. Jamie held off on it for a while, yet released it anyway after it's British failure. The British flip-side was 'Three Goodbyes', a slow, un-orchestrated ballad, which featured Crispian singing with his guitar in grand folk style. The format of this, an up-tempo A-side backed with a bitter love ballad, would take Crispian through much of his career. This single should have-made it, but it fell flat and was pulled off after a month or two. The Crispian crew was in despair after this second failure, as was Decca, who had a tremendous amount of faith in their young charge. A new music director was brought in, and Nicolson decided to make the A-side of the next single a cover version of a Sylvia Fricker song called 'You Were On My Mind,' which had been performed by Ian and Sylvia awhile back. Decca released this in November of '65, backed with another ballad 'What I'm Gonna Be'. This 45 was possibly Crispian's last chance.
On the 6th of January 1966 Crispian finally struck gold: the single was in the charts. It rose quickly, and wound up peaking at number two on the Record Retailer Top 50, spending an impressive 14 weeks on the charts. Suddenly Crispian St. Peters was a star in a big way. Who was he? Teenyboppers all over the country wanted to know (after all they were buying his record) and the music press of the day wanted to tell them, so Crispian began giving numerous interviews for newspapers, magazines, annuals, radio stations, and, of course, television stations. Television was a key promotional tool long before MTV, you know. It was around this time that, according to one teen magazine, incredible statements came forth. It was Crispian making waves.
Crispian St Peters had always been outspoken, but never on a matter of which he knew little He therefore saw little reason to dilute his commentary on other music acts during interviews. Nicolson was obviously busy elsewhere when Crispian told a teen rag: I think the Beatles stage act is rubbish. I move about. I do something to earn my money - they just stand there.
The statement was, of course, undebatable to anyone who had ever seen their stage act but that was beside the point. Who was this guy anyway? Crispian later qualified his remarks: Oh it wasn't meant to sound big headed. I'm not at all. But I don't like the Beatles, so I say so. If I was an ordinary bloke I could say so, but just because I'm a pop singer, people tell me I'm not allowed to.
Having explained his reasoning, our hero moved on to The Kinks: I just don't believe Ray Davies when he says he writes three songs a day. No one can do that. Not even him. He then went on to point out that he would soon be bigger than Sammy Davis Jnr or Elvis Presley pointing out that Elvis could barely outdraw him as it was. Crispian never really meant to hurt anyone, but headline-hungry reporters weren't interested in analysing his true motives. His outspokenness was entertaining, so they egged him on and even made delusionary inferences whenever possible. In any event, his talent outweighed any hot water he might get himself into, as proven by his next success.
THE PIED PIPER.
In March of 1966, Decca released his version of 'The Pied Piper' an inspiring classic written by Jim Duboff and Artie Kornfeld, an American song writing team. An American group called The Changin' Times had already had a minor hit with the record in the western United States, but Crispian's cover version wiped it away. It peaked at number 5 in Britain, after 13 weeks on the charts in March, April and May of 1966. Speaking of the United States, Jamie had still had trouble with Crispian's recordings. After 'You Were On Mind' became a huge British hit, Jaimie released it abroad, simultaneously releasing his earlier British 45 'No No No,' for the first time in America. Both failed miserably.
Only Jaimie's desperation (it's days of big chart success had passed when they lost Duane Eddy in 1961) prodded them to release 'The Pied Piper,' with such zeal in May of 1966. Finally their persistence paid off, and 'The Pied Piper' became' a monster hit in America peaking one notch higher in the US than abroad, hitting number 4 both of the major US chart surveys operating at the time. With two major hits backing him, Crispian began seeing real money.
St Peters was soon touring the US, France and Australia when not playing British dates, and was also making television appearances on a global scale. Crispian admitted that he was changed by success. "I eat, drink and smoke a lot more than before," he told a teen magazine of the day. "I can now do many things I always wanted to but couldn't afford. I'm not any happier now though; just more secure. I cleared off all the debts I had. Lots of people, particularly my mother, helped me when times were hard. Now I want to repay them all."
A HOUSE IN THE COUNTRY.
Crispian also bought a bronze 3.4 Jaguar, a Rover 2000 and a nice new flat, after being thrown out of his old one. He and Nicolson had been, ousted from their Chelsea flat for holding too many noisy, late night parties.
Crispian really wanted his privacy too: a lot of it. He was therefore looking for a large second home in the country to get away from it all: I want some place with about 20 acres of land, so that I can wander about on my own. It would be somewhere where I can practice shooting. I've always been interested in guns and cowboys. Indeed, one of his greatest ambitions (next to having other artists cover his works) was to star in a cowboy movie. I hope my fans wouldn't shoot me down. Imagine the awful billboard ads for that one.
One of Crispian's more endearing statements during an interview came at this time - 'If you've ever been really broke and hungry as I have, then when money comes your way you find that material possessions are essential'. Crispian spent a lot of money on clothes in 1966. He admitted to getting through three pairs of trousers a week because his fans tore them to bits.
Well, we all know how these stories must end, don't we. For Crispian, the carnival was about to close. Though there were a few more successes yet to come. With two top-five hits behind him, Crispian's debut album was destined for an easy success. As part of what was almost surely a promotional move, his first LP Follow Me, was not issued until September of 1966, and then only in mono. Jamie, who had anticipated huge sales along with Decca, released the album first in America in July of 1966. Stateside, the album was simply called 'The Pied Piper' and was released in electronically rechannelled stereo as well as mono. The album was brilliant, containing one gem after another.
The album featured Crispian at his up-tempo best with fully-charged numbers like ']illy Honey' and 'Without You'. There were also ballads like 'Your Love Has Gone', and the heart-stopping 'So Long'. Every cut, with the exception of the two hits, was self-penned. In the States, Jamie continued the dubious tradition of dropping the cuts from 14 to 12. 'Without You' and 'That Little Chain' are therefore not featured. Jamie also replaced 'When We Meet' with 'At This Moment' for unknown reasons, and even edited the middle out of one of the LPs high points, a tear-jerking ballad called Willingly, which darn nearly ruined the whole song. But even the American issue of this forgotten, classic album is well worth much more money than you'd pay for it. It's therefore very difficult to believe that it did the impossible, and flopped.
'The Pied Piper' LP didn't make the British top albums chart, nor did it chart in the US, although it did sell respectably in some markets. The shock of the failure was unbelievable. Similarly, the failure of the next single, 'Changes' was equally amazing. The New Musical Express tipped it for the charts in September of 1966, even showing a photo of Crispian in concert with the review. The 45, like the album, met with critical acclaim, but just didn't do it. In Britain, 'Changes' hit No.47 in September of 1966 and dropped out of sight, making this his last British chart entry. In the States it floundered at No..56 on one chart, and No.70 on the other.
It was perhaps his finest recording to date, (a cover of an American folk song album cut, originally written and performed by Phil Ochs), and if that wasn't good enough, what was? As it would turn out, nothing was good enough His next single, 'Your Ever Changin' Mind', was released in late 1966 in America and the UK The A-side was an up-tempo delight, fast-moving and more commercial than 'Changes', which it was now decided, was too slow to have made the Top Ten. The flip was 'But She's Untrue', a ballad previously issued on the LP. All in all, it was a truly great recording. Although, the A-side was not self-penned, it, like many others before it, just seemed tailor made to be, sung by Crispian. Despite the incredible performance on both sides, the 45 floundered in Britain and only hit 106 in America. Jaimie had rush released the 45 in the hopes that 'Changes' would be forgotten and that this would be considered the official follow-up hit. After it's failure Jaimie realised that there was a much deeper problem.
Crispian St Peters and David Nicolson realised this too and therefore decided to try something different again, Crispian's favourite music had always been country and western despite what his own concoctions sounded like, so it was decided that his next 45 would be a cover version of a very popular country song, 'Almost Persuaded'.
This 1967 entry was Crispian's weakest record to date and it died in Britain despite acceptable promotion, arguably the only 45 that deserved this fate. In Britain, it was released with an EP also called 'Almost Persuaded,' a collection of country and western songs which sold in England for about 15 minutes.
Man, this thing is hard to find today. In the States Jamie passed on the EP altogether, (extended plays were dead in the United States), but released the single; a ridiculous move considering all the US acts that had already had a hit with it. The 45 was withdrawn early in the United States. After a rather long time, Crispian's next 45 came out; a pop item called 'Free Spirit', backed with another very up-tempo classic, 'I'm Always Crying'. Both sides of this single were very, very good, the A-side being written by Duboff and Kornfeld of 'The Pied Piper' fame. The flip was an original - an absolutely relentless rocker worthy of A-side status itself. Once again, the record was released first by the US group, The Changin' Times, and once again, Crispian's version was better. In fact, his versions were always better. Nonetheless, it flopped on both sides of the Atlantic.
Around this time, Jamie had decided to re-release 'You Were On My Mind' and actually achieved some success. The 45 made No.36 in the states in July of 1967, a full year and a half after its original US debut. It made No.71 on the competing US chart. After that Jamie released another full-fledged country item, 'Look Into My Tear Drops' which made No.133 on a US chart that only went to No.135. At this point, Jamie finally got fed up, and stopped releasing Crispian St Peters records altogether. After all, the British invasion was already over and a hit in this new climate would be harder than ever. 'Look In To My Teardrops' was his last US 45.
In England, two more 45's came out on Decca, both in 1968. There was 'That's The Time' (backed by a full orchestra under Nicolson's direction), and 'Carolina,' both backed with stunning, heartbreaking ballads. After these failed, his contract was up with Decca, and they dropped him quickly.
Later, St Peters latched on with Mencap Records, a tiny subsidiary of Pye. Proceeds from Mencap 45's went in part to help mentally handicapped children, and St Peters made a nice 45 for them called 'Monumental Queen' a strict country and western piece that went nowhere. By 1970, he had made a total commitment to country and western music and recorded an entire album of country and western delights for EMI's tiny subsidiary label, Square Records which were almost all self penned. A 45 was released around this time from the album, an original called 'Wandering Hobo' a forgotten work of genius that is unquestionably one of the 25 greatest country songs ever written. Both the 45 and the album disappeared without a trace. After these came a pair of 45's on two ultra obscure labels and after these - nothing.
Jaimie records has since reissued a 45 with 'The Pied Piper' and 'Changes' on it as part of their Golden Hits series. Other US oldies labels have also released these two songs always ignoring 'You Were On My Mind' arguably the more important flip. In Britain, Old Gold has a 45 and CD single out pairing 'The Pied Piper' and 'You Were On My Mind'. Amazingly, no US or UK label has released a 'Best Of ...' collection from this equally amazing artist. Surely they will in time?
Crispian St Peters is now 47 years old and I do not know his whereabouts, (I have enough trouble finding his records). Last I knew however, he was doing oldies concerts around the UK with a few other English acts.
Unfortunately, for every artist and group who gets their due, there is at least one other who does not. There are many examples of course but Crispian St Peters is probably the best one. He played, sang and arranged almost all of his materiel, made his own guitars and produced cover versions that were better than the originals (how many others can you name that did that?), yet he is more or less obscure today. That is one of the tragedies that surrounds and often engulfs talent. But perhaps some enthusiasm is warranted. He has many fans in many countries and his 45's and albums seem to get bought up rather quickly. And he did score three hits on both sides of the Atlantic. Still, he deserved better.
I'm happy to try to answer any questions you may have about Crispian St Peters. Please send all queries to:
Douglas Antreassian, 99 Westville Ave. Caldwell, New Jersey, 07006 USA.
In the meantime why not go find your old Crispian St Peters records and give them a spin? The sincerity and charm on each one will bring to mind all sorts of wonderful things.
Douglas Antreassian 1990