Cliff Richard and Engelbert Humperdinck are probably the two most well-known English chart-topping musicians to be born in India, but the first real musical celebrity death is another, as we say goodbye to Peter Sarstedt.
Peter was born in Delhi to parents who were both classically trained musicians. The family moved in 1954 to the UK and settled in south London where Peter finished his education and learned to play bass guitar. His brother, Richard, who was born some 20 months earlier also became a musician and decided to change his name to Eden Kane and notched up five UK top 10 hits between 1961 and 1964 including the number one Well I Ask You.
Peter Sarstedt played bass for his brother, Eden Kane, but when Eden emigrated to Australia in 1965, he was without a job. He went to Copenhagen and started writing songs. He says, “The message I got from Bob Dylan was to be as unlike him as possible. A Dylan imitator is nothing like Bob Dylan because he would never imitate.” In so doing, Sarstedt came up with a highly original debut single, I Am a Cathedral. This cryptic song was arranged by Ian Green and produced by Ray Singer, who worked on Peter’s first two albums.
The talents of Sarstedt, Green and Singer were best heard on the atmospheric, accordion-based Where Do You Go to (My Lovely), a five minute track on the first album which was not intended as a single. Peter comments, “I wanted to write a long, extended piece because I was working in folk clubs and universities, and Al Stewart had something that was half an hour long and Bob Dylan’s ‘Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands’ took a whole side of an album. ‘Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)?’ was my first attempt at writing something longer than my normal three minutes. It was amazingly easy to write, but I knew what I wanted to say. I wanted to say something about this particular person, although it wasn’t about anyone specific.”
At first, United Artists did not think it was a single: “They said it has no drums, it is too long and there are only three instruments.” The label relented and the song became a standard topping the UK singles chart for four weeks in February 1969. It went on to be a chart topper in numerous countries and won the Ivor Novello award for best song composition.
His only other hit was the follow up, Frozen Orange Juice which reached the top ten four months later. During the 1970s he effectively retired and moved back to Copenhagen, but he got the bug again and in the early 80s he returned to the UK and toured the south of England as part of the Solid Sixties Shows. He continued to record and his last album in 2013 was called Restless Heart.
There is a third brother, Clive, who used the first name Robin, who charted one hit in 1976 with a cover of Hoagy Carmichael’s My Resistance Is Love. In doing so it was the first that three members of the same family had individually claimed a top 10 hit. In the later 90s and early 2000s when Peter wasn’t on an oldies tour he would perform with his brother, Clive, around Europe.
On Sunday 8th January the family released a statement stating the Peter had died peacefully after a six-year battle with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy.