January 8, 2017 – Peter Eardley Sarstedt was born on Dec 10, 1941 in Delhi, India where his parents Albert and Coral Sarstedt, worked in the British civil service as India was still a British possession in 1942.
The following year, his parents moved the family to Kurseong near Darjeeling, in the shadow of Mt. Everest, where Albert took over the management of a tea plantation. Sarstedt was one of six children and, like his siblings, was educated at boarding schools favored by the British living in India for much of his childhood. From the time he was five years old, the family relocated to Calcutta, and later — amid the turmoil and uncertainty following independence in 1947 — the family finally moved to England in 1954. Albert Sarstedt had passed away during the extended preparation for the relocation, and it was a truly new existence that they began in South London that year.
The family, which was very musical, and Sarstedt’s older brother Richard — who had seriously entertained notions of studying architecture — soon found himself sidetracked into music. Pop music was starting to undergo a decidedly youth-oriented boom around this time, with the advent of the skiffle explosion, followed by the new American export, rock & roll, which arrived in England in a serious way in 1955 with the release of “Rock Around the Clock” and the movie The Blackboard Jungle, and grew exponentially the following year, with the first of Elvis Presley’s releases in the U.K.
Richard Sarstedt was a serious Bill Haley fan, in addition to being a natural (and highly proficient) guitarist, and by 1957 he’d organized his own skiffle band which included Peter Sarstedt and younger sibling Clive Sarstedt. As the Fabulous Five, they played lots of local clubs and coffee bars, gaining experience and honing their sound, so that by 1961 Richard Sarstedt won a talent competition that got him a recording contract and a name-change, to Eden Kane. Peter Sarstedt and his brother Clive continued to accompany their brother as members of his band throughout the early ’60s.
Clive Sarstedt, billed at one time as Robin Sarstedt, also recorded in his own right, at first as a musical protégé of Joe Meek, who produced his debut single (released credited to “Clive Sands”). He subsequently scored a hit in 1976, as Robin Sarstedt, with the song “My Resistance Is Low.”
Peter Sarstedt eventually gravitated toward his own musical interests and sound, which differed somewhat from those of his brother. Following a musical career closer to folk than most traditional ‘pop’, Peter didn’t consider it necessary to undergo a name change like his older brother. Although lacking Richard’s good looks, Peter was blessed with superb songwriting skills. He’d already had some recognition- though not chart success- with ‘I Am A Cathedral’- before writing his great 1960s classic ‘Where Do You Go To My Lovely’.
The combination of folk and pop paid big dividends in early 1969, however, when his “Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)?” went to number one in the British charts, and copped the Ivor Novello Award (sharing it with David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”). A none-too-sympathetic portrait of a young female survivor of the slums of Naples turned into a Euro-jet-setter set to a faux European waltz tune, it reached the top chart position in 14 other countries, but was only a tiny hit in the U.S. Sarstedt did manage another creditable Top Ten single in his native U.K. with “Frozen Orange Juice” later that year. He also released a self-titled debut album that reached number eight on the British charts.
Sarstedt’s first two albums are some of the most peculiarly dated relics of their time, with a brazen eclecticism that seems to be firing for acceptance in both the underground and AM radio formats. James Bond soundtrack brass here, mournful pseudo-classical bombast there, chirping bassoons, straight acoustic heart-on-the-sleeve folky guitars: all were fair game, although as a singer/songwriter, Sarstedt’s ambitions often outstripped his talents. Even though he penned and recorded 11 more albums, he was never able to repeat these chart successes and for a time in the 1970s he worked with his siblings as one third of ‘The Sarstedt Brothers’.
Listening to Peter Sarstedt today, you might think he’s the creation of some TV movie producer who tried to build a story around a character based on Donovan and only got it 25 percent right. Sarstedt recalled Donovan, and to a slighter extent such other British pop/folk singer/songwriters of the era as Al Stewart and Cat Stevens, with his lilting phrasing and earnest ambition. Like those artists, he was also prone to being a bit fruity and smug. And if you thought Donovan’s production could be overly pop-conscious, Sarstedt’s arrangements were a far more determined admixture of wordy lyricism and bouncy commercialism, their brassy orchestrations often sounding like juiced-up refugees from easy listening sessions.
Since the 1980s, Sarstedt had been very busy on the oldies circuit, playing on package tours with other fixtures of British pop music from the late ’60s and 1970s. He continued to write and record new songs, and his classic sides received a boost in 2007 when “Where Do You Go” turned up in two movies by director Wes Anderson, Hotel Chevalier and The Darjeeling Limited in 2007.
Although he lived quietly in Denmark for many years he returned to England during the 1990s and regularly performs on the 1960s nostalgia circuit. Peter last performed live in 2010. His last album ‘Restless Heart’ was released in 2013.
He was diagnosed with dementia in 2013 and suffered from progressive supranuclear palsy in 2015.
He died peacefully, according to his family, on January 8, 2017 at age 75.
In the liner notes to his debut album, he said he wrote “Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)?” for a girlfriend who “tragically died in a hotel fire.” In 2009, he told the Daily Express the fire story was “completely untrue.” The girl of the song was “meant to be a generic European girl,” he said, but was based partly on a Danish student, Anita Atke, whom he married in 1969 and later divorced. Rumors circled when the song was released that it was about Sophia Loren’s rise out of the ghettos of Naples.
Where Do You Go to My Lovely?