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Crispian St. Peters - The Pied Piper: The Complete Recordings 1965-1974 (2014) review

The Tragic Musical Mystery Tour Of Crispian St. Peters
‘The Pied Piper:  The Complete Recordings 1965-1974’ (RPM Records Retro D941, 2014)

Mention the name Crispian St. Peters to pop music fans approaching my age (60) who grew up in the United States or United Kingdom and I virtually guarantee that a smile will come to their face and one song will come to their mind, the infectious pop tune ‘The Pied Piper’, one of those instant classics with catchy lyrics and an incredible hook.  In 1966 the tune reached #5 in the UK, #4 in the US and top 5 in New Zealand and Singapore, while placing high on the charts in Canada, South Africa, Australia and much of Western Europe.  Although this level of success was not to be repeated Crispian produced a considerable body of recorded works, the most successful and best known period of which is covered in this 2-CD anthology totaling 50 tracks with a run time of nearly 140 minutes.

Crispian St. Peters, born Robin Peter Smith, began his recording career laying down 2 original compositions ‘At This Moment’ and ‘No No No’, both released in 1965 and both sinking without a trace despite the gorgeous vocal range displayed by St. Peters and bringing to mind the golden voice of Roy Orbison.  Yes, his voice was that dynamic.  Despite the failure of his first 2 singles, Crispian’s label, Decca, released a third single bankrolled by Manfred Mann manager Kenneth Pitt, a cover of Canadian duo Ian & Sylvia’s ‘You Were On My Mind’ which had more recently been a million-selling single by the US folk-pop band We Five.  St. Peters, however, used Barry McGuire’s arrangement, and Crispian’s version sold over 250,000 copies in the UK, topping at #2 on the charts, while it belatedly made Billboard’s Hot 100 singles, peaking at #36.  It was his next single, the previously mentioned ‘The Pied Piper’ that made Crispian a household name and pop star, a status that St. Peters explored to its fullest claiming that only 3 acts had anything to offer:  The Who, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles and the latter he claimed were “past it.”  He claimed that he was going to make Elvis Presley look like The Statue Of Liberty and that he was more exciting than Tom Jones, comparing himself to early Elvis Presley, Gene Vincent and Jerry Lee Lewis saying they all had something in common-“We move!”

St. Peters’ comments were met with outraged complaints, but he kept right on enjoying his fame saying it had all been manager David Nicholson’s idea.  Regardless, after shows he enjoyed women, sex and booze.  Things happened incredibly quickly with Crispian opening for such top acts as Small Faces, Wayne Fontana and Dave Barry.  St. Peters was signed by the Robert Stigwood Organization who represented The Who.  In June, 1966 Decca released his LP ‘Follow Me’ which featured uptempo numbers like ‘Jilly Honey’ and ‘Without You” beside ballads like ‘Your Love Has Gone’ and ‘So Long’.  All but 2 tracks on the UK LP were originals.  The US release was retitled ‘The Pied Piper’ with different artwork and 2 less tracks.  September, 1966 saw his last chart action as Crispian’s cover of Phil Ochs’ ‘Changes’ which crept to #47 in the UK and #57 in the US.

The hit singles may have been in his past, but they did afford St. Peters to record the music closest to his heart, country rock, rockabilly and country and western.  Not exactly hip for the times, but it was his dream and he followed it recording a long series of mostly original singles as well as an EP, with the gradual change in his sound being noticeable as early as 1966’s ‘Your Love Has Gone’.  What followed were a series of solid performances none of which caught the public’s fancy.  The releases ranged from originals such as ‘Carolina’ and ‘That’s Why We Are Through’ to covers such as ‘I Fall To Pieces’ the  Patsy Cline classic.  The one constant, regardless of whether original or cover material, is Crispian’s incredible voice. 

By 1970 Square Records allowed Crispian to realize his dream of recording a country and western album, titled ‘Simply’ released in November, 1970.  The album was produced and arranged by Big Jim Sullivan and featuring Crispian’s friends Nicky Hopkins on keyboards and Vic Flick on lead guitar.  Crispian’s favorite from the album was ‘Soft As A Rose’ although he also really liked ‘Monumental Queen.’  I concur with St. Peters’ choices and also sense his enthusiasm in performing, and highly recommend giving a listen to ‘Wandering Hobo’ and ‘Look Into My Teardrops’.  Unfortunately, ‘Simply’ was the last release by St. Peters until 1974 when Crispian did a one-off 45 for Sandra Powsa coupling mid-tempo country ballads ‘Do Daddy Do’ and ‘Every Time You Sinned’ both penned by St. Peters.  Sadly, the single did not sell and little was heard from the artist for some time.   

Tragically, St. Peters’ brief years of fame and commercial success were followed by a “life of poverty, rendered worse by illness and neglect”.  By 1974 he had suffered three nervous breakdowns, become dependent on alcohol, endured a divorce and was in generally deteriorating health.   But with a hit like ‘The Pied Piper’ he earned enough that Crispian, a prolific songwriter, was set monetarily, right?  Well not exactly.  Sadly, St. Peters said that he earned only 37,000 pounds sterling over a 40 year career as of 2004, having suffered a major stroke in 1995 and spending much of his life in poverty and lingering health problems St. Peters passed away in 2006.

‘The Pied Piper:  The Complete Recordings 1965-1974 documents the musical (mis)adventures of pop star cum country balladeer Crispian St. Peters.  Far from the norm, his heart lie in country music much like highly regarded American Gram Parsons, founding member of the groundbreaking country rockers, The Flying Burrito Brothers.  St. Peters’ beautiful voice is reminiscent of several musical icons:  Roy Orbison, Marty Robbins, Rick Nelson and The Everly Brothers to name but a few.  Crispian St. Peters may not have maintained the level of fame of the previously mentioned artists but he certainly had his fifteen minutes of fame, quite rightly.  Thanks to the folks at RPM Records, UK, you can explore the complete recordings of St. Peters at his prime. The package includes sound mastering by Simon Murphy and a 16-page color booklet including an essay by compiler John Reed, complete track annotations and lots of photos and other memorabilia.  

Review made by Kevin Rathert/2015
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