Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Crispian St. Peters "Changes" - 1939-2010

Who was following "The Pied Piper?" Death. But he follows everyone, and yesterday he caught up to Robin Peter Smith...better known as "Crispian St. Peters," singer of the "one hit wonder" from 1966, "The Pied Piper."

Of course at the Illfolks blog, he wins greater admiration for being one of the few to cover a Phil Ochs song while Phil was still alive. That song, "Changes," is your download by way of tribute to this folk-rock artist. Not that Phil was a big fan of this version. St. Peters and his producer turned Phil's simple ballad into a bit of jangle-rock, with insistent drums.

After performing in several bands, and trying out a few aliases such as "Woody Smith," it was time for something new. His manager thought up "Crispin Blacke," and suggested he wear crisp black clothing on stage. Since another singer, Dave Berry, was already doing that look in the U.K., "Blacke" was out and the singer thought up "St. Peters" instead. Someone else helpfully suggested "Crispian" instead of "Crispin," and that was the name attached to the Decca contract.

St. Peters "failed" with Decca...going nowhere with the first singles they released in 1965. Unlike The Beatles, Decca thought Crispian had promise and kept with him. He proved them right, scoring a big hit in England with a cover version of "You Were On My Mind." His next single, "The Pied Piper" (1966) was the blockbuster. The song was technically a cover version (it was originally recorded by the Dylanesque duo "The Changin' Times" the year before). His version was trippy, folky and mesmerizing, and it marked St. Peters as a kind of masculine version of Donovan.

Next came Crispy's creamy cover of "Changes" by Phil Ochs. With typical Ochs bad-luck, Peters' choice of "Changes" stopped his momentum cold; after two Top Ten hits, "Changes" barely made it inside the Top 50. Peters couldn't understand what went wrong. He followed "Changes" with "Free Spirit" (written by "The Pied Piper" team of Kornfeld/Duboff once that duo called "The Changin' Times"). It too, was a failure. Then he tried a cover of "Almost Persuaded." Folks were almost persuaded that St. Peters was still a star, but his foray into C&W (perhaps a salute to his late teen days with a skiffle band called The Hard Travellers) was also a flop. Most of his other singles were self-penned and likewise not successful, so by 1971 he was done at Decca. So was the hippie vibe that had carried him and so many others through those hazy crazy latter days of the 60's.

In Crispian's case, the early 70's brought him a lot of pain. He suffered the first of three nervous breakdowns as he made the desperate move from Decca to the Square Records label, and in 1974 he and his wife divorced. They had two young kids.

Fans of St. Peters sometimes got a pleasant surprise...a new album on cassette in 1986 and more in 1990 and 1993. He also worked the oldies circuit, but admitted he was awfully tired of being asked to sing just his two hit songs. He said at the time, "My chief ambition is to stop working on the road and just concentrate on writing songs for other people."

But in 1995 he suffered a stroke. In 1999 he managed a final performance, and in 2001 his fans learned that he was now fully retired. He suffered a frightening bout with pneumonia in 2003. Meanwhile some aging folkies began turning up at clubs here and there pretending to be Crispian St. Peters, hoping to cash in on the modest man's obscurity. As for cash, St. Peters long ago realized that he wouldn't be seeing all the royalties due him, due to free downloads and the complex route of existing royalties which were going to his manager (who only licensed the tracks to Decca).

Crispian St. Peters: April 5th, 1939 – June 8th 2010. He lived and died in Swanley, a small village in Kent, U.K., occupying the same house all his life.

Phil Ochs' CHANGES, as rocked by Crispian St. Peters No pop-ups, porn-ads or wait time. Instant download or listen on line.


Anonymous said...

Very sad news. Fantastic voice & songs. A.

cpoineau2 said...

Hi. Just found your blog. Going to go through the whole thing soon. I've been looking for an mp3 of Sue Richards' Tower of Strength forever. You may have the only one. Thank you for posting.

Tonopah Slim said...

Sad news about Crispian--just got turned onto his music recently, though Pied Piper I recognized. And that version of Changes is very cool.

Anonymous said...

Anyone know the other vocal on Changes. Wonderful version.