Rock'n'roll served up without acetic acid
1970s singing star Elkie Brooks looks back over a sometimes troubled career now back on the rise with a new album
Finding My Voice/ By Elkie Brooks/ The Robson Press, £20
‘If you are after sensational celebrity stories from my 52 years in the music business, stop reading now; this book is not for you,” writes Elkie Brooks in the foreword to her new memoir. This is either very brave or very stupid, given that “sensational celebrity stories” are precisely what so many people seek in entertainment industry insider biographies.
But Brooks is adamant. “This,” she adds (and it might strike you as more of a threat than a promise), “is the story of my very emotional journey through the highs and lows of my life in music.”
Brooks has certainly been there, even if she hasn’t always done that. She was there in the early ’60s, on tour with The Beatles, The Small Faces and The Animals. In the early ’70s she formed the band Vinegar Joe with Robert Palmer, where she gained a reputation as a hair-flailing wild woman, who appeared on the front cover of Melody Maker as the “Face of ’73”. People who remember her latter incarnation as the husky voiced but sensibly attired purveyor of mainstream hits such as Fool If You Think It’s Over and Pearl’s A Singer might be surprised to discover that Brooks was quite the rock’n’roller in her 20s.
But aside from the occasional admission about her own alcohol intake and brief penchant for marijuana and cocaine, Finding My Voice doesn’t blow the lid off the music business or implicate its major stars in any scandals, nor does it deal in excoriating self-examination. Rather, it’s a plainly told account of how the girl born Elaine Bookbinder in Broughton, Salford, in 1945 became the biggest-selling British female album artist in the UK.
Depending on your view of Brooks — and she always had a reputation as a light entertainer — you may find the details of her rise to prominence less than riveting.
There is a wealth of Jewish minutiae about her childhood, a veritable cornucopia of kneidlach and kreplach and references to Friday-night kiddish and singing in shul.
You might be surprised to learn, therefore, that her mother was born a Catholic and converted when she married her father, and that Brooks had a nose job in her youth “to remove the Jewish bump” although she admits she has “come to regret the decision”.
She is also open about her relationship with her parents, and when she confronts her feelings, especially following her father’s death, it is quite moving.
Brooks wasn’t one of those confessional artistes who enjoyed the respect of rock’s critical fraternity. She began on the cabaret circuit and was briefly a sort of PG-rated Janis Joplin. There probably was a moment when she could have gone off the rails a la Amy Winehouse. But Brooks was always too sensible for that, and this is
Paul Lester is a music writer for the JC and other papers