On song again: Elkie Brooks
PUBLISHED: 09:35 28 July 2014
In a career spanning decades Elkie Brooks has known the ups and, latterly, the downs - but she is fighting back once more, as she reveals to PETER ROBERTSON
Thanks to a string of international hits from 1977-1987, like Pearl’s A Singer, Lilac Wine and Gasoline Alley, Elkie Brooks has had decades of solo success around the World. Yet, only 12 years ago, the Devon-based star found herself so heavily in debt that she ended up living in a mobile home on a caravan site.
This spectacular downfall of a British music legend was due to naivety and misplaced trust, and means that Elkie, despite being 69 now, still needs to keep touring and recording to keep the wolf from her family’s door.
Today, refusing to wallow in self-pity, insisting she’s learnt lessons and is recovering financially, she appears to live by the titles of three of her other hits: Don’t Cry Out Loud, No More The Fool and Sunshine After The Rain.
She even claims moving from their home of 22 years, Trees, a five-bedroom detached house with a bungalow, studio and pool in upmarket Woody Bay, to what was then her tour bus with one bedroom and a trailer for her younger son, in a Woolacombe field, was “fine”.
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“I loved living in the motor home. Trees was a lovely family house but it took a lot of looking after and I was forever doing housework. I was happy to switch to low maintenance so I could concentrate on my music.”
However, in her autobiography published in 2012, Elkie writes: “The whole moving out of Trees process had been a truly horrible experience, not least because we were moving from a beautiful large house to a motor home. To say it was a shock to the system would be an understatement.”
Elkie is all for “moving on”. But she admits large chunks of Finding My Voice, which covered her financial crisis, had to be edited out for legal reasons: “I haven’t got the money for people to sue me,” she explains. “I don’t need lawyers knocking on my door for money I haven’t got because someone’s p***ed off after I told the truth. I’ve had enough trouble in my life; I just don’t want anymore.”
Born in Salford and brought up in Prestwich with the name Elaine Bookbinder, baker’s daughter Elkie is from a Polish Jewish family which mercifully avoided the Holocaust. “My paternal grandparents had come over to England in the early 1900s, and my maternal grandparents came over in 18-something.
“During the Second World War, my father employed a lot of people in his bakery who came over from Germany. He claimed they were his relatives, but they weren’t. I’ve only done one tour of Poland and I didn’t manage to visit anywhere like Auschwitz, but I’m quite relieved as it’s enough to see old footage on TV.”
Elkie’s maternal grandmother Maude Newton was a fine classical pianist, violinist and singer. “Neither of my parents were musical, but of my brothers, Tony played drums for Billy J. Kramer, and Ray played bass and trumpet. And of course I sang and played piano,” explains Elkie, who was 13 when she first performed professionally.
Having learned her trade on the cabaret circuit and supporting bands including The Beatles and The Animals before fronting rock group Vinegar Joe featuring Robert Palmer and her first husband Pete Gage, Elkie went solo in the mid-’70s.
“I liked making music and being in the business, but I never thought it would take off,” she recalls. Yet from Pearl’s A Singer and Sunshine After The Rain in 1977, Elkie became a household name.
Since February 1978, Elkie has been married to her sound engineer Trevor Jordan, father of her two sons Jay, 34, and Joey, 28. Shortly after Jay’s birth, they moved from London to Devon.
“Trevor said ‘Elk, if we stay in London any longer I think I’m going to end up in jail for hitting someone!’ As Trevor had always wanted to live in the West Country, we came to the dramatic decision to look for a place here.
“His passion for hang-gliding was a deciding factor. Every other week he was going to his favourite spot at Woolacombe, so it seemed a logical place to look for a property. I’d been with him on quite a few trips and liked the area too. So we came down every weekend to look at houses and indulged in cream teas – it would have been rude not to, they’re so good!”
Elkie remains as slim now as she’s always been. Partly thanks to training in the martial art Aikido since 1988, and perhaps partly due to anxiety from battling tax problems since 1998 and lost royalties from even longer ago.
But Trevor has recovered a lot of her royalties, and albums Elkie has made since 2002 have been produced by Jay and released on their own label Eventful, so she owns all those. Jay also manages his mother, helped by his wife Joanna.
After two years in the motor home, Elkie, Trevor and Joey (a paragliding and ski instructor) moved to a three-bedroom apartment, and for a year now they’ve been in a two-bedroom apartment between Mortehoe and Woolacombe overlooking the sea – renting in each case.
“Three years ago we managed to buy seven acres quite close by that Trevor put a fruit farm on. It would be lovely if we’re eventually permitted to have some kind of semi-permanent dwelling, but I think that’s probably very far in the future, if ever.
“In North Devon, they’re very strict planning-wise and you have to do things very slowly. We’ve got a great accountant now and everything is running fairly okay. We’re always working hard and you’ve always got the taxman on your tail.’
Asked what’s become of the memorabilia from her glittering career, Elkie replies: ‘I’ve got loads of it in storage on our farm and I hope eventually we will be able to take it out and put it in the house we would like to build.”
The good news is Elkie has no plans to ever leave the West Country: “When we first moved here, people in the music industry thought I was nuts. Of course then it was pre-mobile phone days. But I got more successful when I moved here than I was when living in London. So they were bl**dy wrong! “I’ve no desire to move now. I like it down here. My husband and the boys hang-glide and paraglide here – things we couldn’t do in London. It’s a better way of life.
Elkie’s autobiography Finding My Voice is published by Biteback. For her concert dates, visit elkiebrooks.net