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by Norman Warwick

Elkie Brooks (born Elaine Bookbinder; 25 February 1945) is an English rockblues and jazz singer. She was a vocalist with the bands Dada and Vinegar Joe, and later became a solo artist. She gained her biggest success in the late 1970s and 1980s, releasing 13 UK Top 75 singles, and reached the top ten with “Pearl’s a Singer“, “Sunshine After the Rain” (both 1977) and “No More the Fool” (1986) She has been nominated twice for the Brit Awards.

Brooks is a Gold Badge Award of Merit winner from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA) (now The Ivors Academy and is generally referred to as the “British Queen of Blues”.

Brooks was born Elaine Bookbinder in Salford, to a Jewish family. Her father’s grandparents emigrated to Britain from Poland at the start of the 20th century to escape the pogroms. Her older brothers are Raymond Bookbinder (born 1938) and Anthony Bookbinder (born 28 May 1943).

Whilst still a child, Brooks began singing at barmitzvahs and weddings; according to Brooks, her unofficial debut was a gig at a club called the Laronde on Cheetham Hill Road, Manchester, when she was 13 years old. Aged 15, she won a talent contest in Manchester, leading to her taking part in a pop package tour which was promoted by Don Arden. Her first record, a cover of Etta James‘s “Something’s Got a Hold on Me,” was released on Decca in 1964. Brooks spent most of the 1960s on Britain’s cabaret scene, a period of her life that she did not particularly enjoy. In the mid 1960s, she supported the Beatles in their Christmas show in London, then, as an established act, helped the Small Faces in their early career by introducing them at several venues. She went on to tour the United States with several bands, including the Animals. She also toured the then communist Poland with Jon Lord‘s the Artwoods.

In the 1960s, Brooks had begun singing jazz with Humphrey Lyttelton‘s band, but subsequently changed direction musically after she met Pete Gage, whom she would marry, she joined the short-lived blues rock fusioneers Dada, before forming Vinegar Joe with Gage and Robert Palmer. Brooks gained the reputation as the wild woman of rock ‘n’ roll, due to her wild stage performances. After three albums, Vinegar Joe split up in 1974, and Brooks and Palmer pursued separate solo careers. After a time as backing singer with the American southern boogie band Wet Willie, she returned to England.

Brooks’ first solo album, released on A & M Records, was Rich Man’s Woman (1975). It was released to critical acclaim, but Brooks was criticised because of the album’s cover shot of a naked Brooks with a feather boa, which was considered outrageous for the time.

This came before a run of 16 albums in 20 years, starting with Two Days Away (1977), produced by the songwriting duo Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who had previously worked with Elvis Presley; Brooks also wrote tracks with Leiber and Stoller. The hits “Pearl’s a Singer” (reaching No. 8 in the UK Singles Chart) and “Sunshine After the Rain” (which reached No. 10) came from this album. 1977 also saw Brooks duet with Cat Stevens on the song “Remember the Days of the Old Schoolyard” which reached No.33 on the Billboard charts and No.44 in UK. The albums Shooting Star (1978) and Live and Learn (1979) also saw success, along with the singles “Lilac Wine” produced and arranged by Mike Batt and “Don’t Cry Out Loud”. Her polished, powerful cover of Gallagher and Lyle‘s “The Runaway” saw the Scottish singer-songwriters appear with Brooks on Top of the Pops to provide backing vocals.

In 1980, Brooks performed at the Knebworth Festival with The Beach BoysSantana and Mike Oldfield. The Pearls album, released in 1981, was the biggest commercial success of her career, charting for 79 weeks and reaching No. 2 in the UK Albums Chart. The album was still in the charts a year later, when Pearls ll (1982) reached No. 5, spending 26 weeks on the charts. The Gus Dudgeon-produced “Fool If You Think It’s Over (1981)“, written by Chris Rea, was a major hit single for Brooks. Other chart singles followed, with “Our Love”, “Nights in White Satin” and “Gasoline Alley”, all produced by Dudgeon. The 1984 albums Minutes and Screen Gems were both chart hits in the same year. In 1986, Brooks sang the title theme song for the BBC television series A Very Peculiar Practice. Written by Dave Greenslade, it was never released commercially.

In early 1987, the song “No More the Fool” reached the top five for Brooks, and became her biggest hit single to date, with the parent album also reaching the top five. This led to her achieving another career peak, with two albums in the top ten and a single in the top ten in the same week. More chart success ensued with the albums. 

The Very Best of Elkie Brooks (1986), 

Bookbinder’s Kid (1988), 

Inspiration (1989), 

Round Midnight (1993), 

Nothin’ but the Blues (1994), 

Amazing (1996)

The Very Best of Elkie Brooks (1997).[16]

In March 2003, Brooks participated in the ITV music talent show Reborn in the USA, alongside musicians such as Peter Cox and Lee John. The same year, the album Trouble in Mind was released, which saw her collaborate with Humphrey Lyttelton, with whom she had worked earlier in her career, and his Band. The album included “Bad Penny Blues” with added lyrics. The Electric Lady album (2005), produced by her son Jermaine Jordan, saw a return to her blues and rock roots, featuring self-penned tracks alongside re-workings of numbers by the DoorsBob DylanPaul Rodgers and Tony Joe White. The following year saw the release of her first official DVD, Elkie Brooks & Friends: Pearls, featuring an array of guest musicians.

Brooks’s twentieth studio album, Powerless, also produced by Jordan, was released in 2010, featuring songs such as Prince‘s “Purple Rain” and Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love.” She continues to perform live throughout the UK and Ireland. In 2012, Brooks released her autobiography Finding My Voice, published by The Robson Press. In it, she detailed her life and career, focusing on her love of performing live and the downsides of the recording business, which she says has often left her financially no better off.

In July 2017, after Brooks signed to Virgin EMI, the album Pearls – The Very Best Of, was released. It charted at No. 14, and included two new singles: “Love Ain’t Something that You Can Get for Free” and the Bryan Adams-penned “Forgive and Forget.” Later in the year, a remix of the 1979 album track “The Rising Cost of Love” was also released as a single. All three singles made it onto the Radio 2 ‘A’ playlist, with “Forgive and Forget” being the network’s “Record of the Week.” Brooks promoted the album with several appearances on Radio 2 programmes, including the Aled Jones Show, and The One Show on BBC One. On 19 September that year, Brooks appeared at the London Palladium to mark 40 years since her first sell-out week at the venue in 1977. The show also celebrated her 40 years of success since the release of the single “Pearl’s a Singer.”

The same year, Brooks recorded the closing theme song for the 2017 film Finding Your Feet, which starred Imelda StauntonTimothy SpallCelia Imrie and Joanna Lumley. The track, “Running to the Future,” was released as a download-only single, and included on the soundtrack album. Brooks’ self-penned song “Just An Excuse” has been remixed several times, most notably appearing on the Bonobo album Migration in 2017. She has performed live since 1960; her 2021 tour, put back from 2020, has been billed as her 60th Year Anniversary Tour.

She is still touring, with concerts scheduled through 2023 and 2024.

That early hit, Pearl´s A Singer, was thought by many at the time to have  been a biography-in-song about the American blues and rock singer Janis Joplin, was a surprise hit, even to herself, for British singer Elkie Brooks who some of us in the late nineteen seventies saw as a sort of Joplin like figure.

The song might have been made famous by the British singer Elkie Brooks, as taken from her 1977 album Two Days Away which was produced by the song’s co-writers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. The original version of “Pearl’s a Singer” had been introduced by the duo Dino and Sembello – also the song’s co-writers – on their 1974 self-titled album which Leiber and Stoller had produced.

The song is a ballad, telling the story of a failed singer who still dreams of the success she might have had.

Brooks would recall that at a rehearsal session for her Two Days Away album “Jerry Leiber [said]: ‘I want to play you this song, I don’t think you’re going to like it, it’s too countryish for you but I’ll play it for you anyway.’…I said: ‘Go on, I’ve got an open mind, I like a lot of country [music].’ I listened to ‘Pearl’s a Singer’ and told [Leiber & Stoller] I liked it but that they needed to [modify it with] a middle section. To which Jerry said: ‘No problem’. And with that he disappeared and came back half an hour later with the [modified] version of ‘Pearl’s a Singer'” which Brooks recorded. Brooks – “To be honest [in the mid-1970s] I just wanted to enjoy myself in music and I never thought ‘Pearl…’ was going to be a big hit but [after] it was released on my birthday in 1977 the record company really pushed it, [it] got played on all the radio stations and became very successful. No one was more surprised than me.”

“Pearl’s a Singer” afforded Elkie Brooks her debut chart single – thirteen years after she’d recorded her first track – reaching No. 8 on the UK Singles Chart in spring 1977. It remained her highest placing in that chart until “No More the Fool” reached No. 5, in early 1987, although Lilac Wine was also a firm favourite with her fans.

Elkie Brooks autobiography, FINDING MY VOICE

Elkie is now widely seen as a genuine national treasure. Blessed with one of the richest and most distinctive voices in showbusiness, she has been entertaining people around the world for the last five decades. Her professional debut at age 15 began a career that has spanned most musical genres and collaborations with some of the finest musicians of their generation, making her a household name. Along the way she has recorded some of the most iconic songs in rock history, including Lilac Wine, Sunshine After the Rain, Fool (If You Think It s Over) and her signature tune Pearl´s A Singer. But the road to stardom was never an easy journey. Along the way she has experienced hardships that would have daunted most, and dealt with them with the same spirit, grit and determination that colours the extraordinary emotional power of her singing. In Finding My Voice, Elkie tells her remarkable story in her own unique voice, laying bare the nuts and bolts of stardom and her commitment to the great passion of her life in music.

Yesterday Sidetracks And Detours ran a post on Janis Joplin. “Her Pain And Her Pride´´  and as nearly always happens when we run features on artists, we have ended up buying a couple of books. 

Electrifying, highly acclaimed, and intensely personal, this new and updated version of Myra Friedman’s classic biography of Janis Joplin teems with dramatic insights into Joplin’s genius and into the chaotic times that catapulted her to fame as the legendary queen of rock. It is a stunning panorama of the turbulent decade when Joplin’s was the rallying voice of a generation that lost itself in her music and found itself in her words.

From her small hometown of Port Arthur, Texas, to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury, from the intimate coffeehouses to the supercharged concert halls, from the glitter of worldwide fame to her tragic end in a Hollywood hotel, here is all the fire and anguish of an immortal, immensely talented, and troubled performer who devoured everything the rock scene had to offer in a fatal attempt to make peace with herself and her era. Yet, in an eloquent introduction recently written by the author, Joplin emerges from her “ugly duckling” childhood as a woman truly ahead of her time, an outrageous rebel, a defiant outcast and artist of incomparable authenticity who, almost in spite of herself, became to so many a symbol of triumph over adversity.

This edition also contains an afterword detailing the whereabouts of a large and colorful cast of characters who were part of Joplin’s life, as well as “We Remember Janis,” a new chapter of poignant and affectionate anecdotes told by friends.

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