Can Ipswich Corn Exchange audience expect cakes from keen cook Elkie Brooks?
Humphrey Lyttleton’s secret to good chicken, singing in Yiddish and appearing virtually nude on an album cover; entertainments writer WAYNE SAVAGE speaks to singer Elkie Brooks.
Don’t be surprised if Elkie turns up on Celebrity Masterchef. Turns out she’s a dab hand in the kitchen as well as the studio.
She’s a little worse for wear when we catch up, having enjoyed an evening of rich food with all the family at her North Devon home.
“My youngest son has been on a paragliding course to train as an instructor in Switzerland and just got back so we had a lovely get-together and I tried out a few new recipes on them,” she laughs.
Cooking is her other passion; had she not become a professional singer she’d be a domestic science teacher right now.
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“I would never put myself up against your Jamie Oliver’s of the world but I really enjoy it from a very amateurish point of view. I always have and find it very relaxing.”
Confessing to owning hundreds of recipe books, a lot of them are still in storage; hence the improvisation.
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“Everything I did last night I more or less made up myself with the exception of Humphrey Lyttelton’s chicken recipe that my lovely Humph, God rest his soul, gave me many years ago.”
Elkie and the jazz musician and broadcaster hit it off when boarding a plane for a show in Germany in the mid 60s and worked together many times in the following years; remaining good friends until his passing in 2008.
“He put a lot of garlic; rosemary and honey in, things like that and of course white wine, you know Humph being a bit of a wine connoisseur,” she laughs.
“I remember him coming down here many years ago. Very few pubs sell very good wine and he said ‘oh I tell you what Elkie, if you’re in a pub you stick to the Pinot Grigio; if they’ve got any of that you can’t go wrong’.
“I’ve always remembered that,” she laughs. “Whenever we see a Pinot Grigio I always think of him.”
Having been on a reality show before, ITV’s music talent show Reborn in the USA, she’s wary of appearing on another.
“My husband never really wanted me to do it. He said ‘it’s going to be a naff programme’.
“He was absolutely right, but on the positive side a lot of people who had never heard of me before, certainly young people, knew about me via the programme and came to see me.
“A lot of them are still coming to see me now. So in that respect it was good but I don’t think I would go on any of them again. It all depends on my schedule, I‘m a busy lady,” she laughs.
Cue the reason for our chat; Brook’s visit to Ipswich’s Corn Exchange on November 12. She’s hoping for a better time of it than she got on a previous trip.
“I remember a very memorable performance at the Gaumont when I think the roof was very leaky at the time.
“It was pouring with rain and I was actually singing Sunshine After The Rain; I remember asking one of my colleagues at the side of me may I have a mop and bucket please,” she laughs.
Born Elaine Bookbinder she changed her name after legendary promoter Don Arden told her it was too long and too Jewish, re-christening her Elaine Mansfield while passing through the town on the way to a gig in Nottingham.
She hated it, later shortening her surname and adopting the Yiddish for Elaine, albeit spelt differently.
Elkie grew up in Prestwich only ever wanting to be either a teacher or professional singer. We have Rabbi Chazan Berkovits to thank for her becoming the latter.
She started singing lessons with him when she was 17 and says the training she got holds in her good stead to this day.
“I think when I threw a lot of that out of the window in the 60s and did a lot of pop stuff, that’s when I started to have problems with my voice. Since the early 70s my voice has certainly improved by going back to a lot of the things he taught me.”
It was all in Hebrew, but as Elkie told him, “singing is singing”.
“I still have the books today that he gave me with all the Yiddish and Hebrew songs; it’s wonderful. Few drinks down me and off I go,” she laughs.
Her first break came aged just 15 when she saw a local newspaper advert for auditions at Manchester’s Palace Theatre. Impressing Arden he added her to the line-up of the national pop package tour he was masterminding.
Elkie appeared on the bill alongside many big acts including The Animals, Carl Perkins and even The Beatles at the Hammersmith Odeon.
She did one night at the Palace and two or three more dates before illness - “with all the stress and everything, your immune system goes down,” she sighs - forced her to return home.
It did help kick-start her professional career, resulting in her moving to London and working with a variety of dance and jazz groups including the Eric Delaney and Lyttelton bands.
She’s the first to admit she’s had a rollercoaster career and some controversy too; I’m thinking of the the cover to the 1975 album Rich Man’s Woman featuring a barely clad Brook.
Was she surprised by the reaction?
“Not really. I had a fabulous suntan, a great figure, I’ve still got a halfway decent figure I think for a woman of 66,” she laughs.
“Of course in the 70s it was considered very risqu�. Now it would be very ordinary. You know I can’t believe the amount of woman singers… their videos and album covers; it just looks like soft porn to me. It’s very ordinary really compared to nowadays.”
Solo success eluded her during the 60s. The 70s was a different story.
She and guitarist Pete Gage, who would become her musical partner and first husband, formed Dada and, as the line-up changed, there was the arrival of a young Robert Palmer.
Proving the perfect foil, Brook and Palmer fronted the band which became Vinegar Joe and became one of the most electrifying rock and RnB bands of the era. But a charttopper eluded them and they split in 1974.
Elkie loved that time, finding some direction after feeling forced to do the cabaret circuit, which she hated, in the 60s.
The only good thing that had come out it was her learning the piano.
“Some of the musicians I’d worked with in some of these house bands, in these cabaret clubs up north, were so dire. I wasn’t very keen on a lot of the songs I was doing, but they couldn’t play them anyway.
“I thought ‘well, I’m going to learn to play the piano. I can’t be any worse than this lot’.
“Being in the music business, it’s not easy. The business itself, all the travelling, I still hate it 51 years later but love the music. The 70s were brilliant because I was enjoying [it] musically and that’s all what it’s about. Unless I’m enjoying myself musically I’d much rather be doing something else.
“[In the 70s] I was quite happy, I’d found what I wanted after many years, I was enjoying myself with a group of people; it was us against the world.”
The following years have been good to Brooks, with albums Pearl one and two and No More the Fool proving massive successes.
He recorded output may have dipped for a while - although Electric Lady and, more recently, Powerless were seen as true returns to form – Brook’s continued to constantly work the live circuit.
It seems that’s where she’s most at home; regularly selling out theatres and concert halls.
So, fans can expect all the hits next week?
“Well, not the entire career,” she laughs. “I mean, some songs are absolutely wonderful on album and don’t always transfer well to live. I shall certainly not be disappointing my fans by not doing some of the hits and obviously some songs from the new album.
“They can sit back and enjoy the music really because that’s what I intend to do; except I’ll be standing up.”