June 8, 2010 – Crispian St. Peters was born Robin Peter Smith on April 5, 1939 in Swanley, Kent, England. He learned guitar and left school in 1954 to become an assistant cinema projectionist. As a young man, he performed in several relatively unknown bands in England. In 1956, he gave his first live performance, as a member of The Hard Travellers. Through the late 1950s and early 1960s, as well as undertaking National Service, he was a member of The Country Gentlemen, Beat Formula Three, and Peter & The Wolves.
While a member of Beat Formula Three in 1963, he was heard by David Nicholson, an EMI publicist who became his manager. Nicholson suggested he use a stage name, initially “Crispin Blacke” Crispin Blacke, in keeping with a saturnine image similar to that of Dave Berry, but subsequently changed to C
, and deducted five years from his client’s age for publicity purposes. In 1964, as a member of Peter & The Wolves, St. Peters made his first commercial recording. He was persuaded to turn solo by Nicholson, and was signed to Decca Records in 1965. His first two singles on this record label, “No No No” and “At This Moment”, proved unsuccessful on the charts. He made two television UK appearances in February of that year, featuring in the shows Scene at 6.30 and Ready Steady Go!
In 1966, St. Peters’ career finally yielded a Top 10 hit in the UK Singles Chart, with “You Were on My Mind,” a song written and first recorded in 1964 by the Canadian folk duo, Ian & Sylvia, and a hit in the United States for We Five in 1965. St. Peters’s single eventually hit No. 2 in the UK and was then released in the US on the Philadelphia-based Jamie Records label. It did not chart in the US until after his fourth release, “The Pied Piper,” became known as his superhit signature song. It reached No.4 in the US and No.5 in the UK.
As with most pop phenomena, Crispian St. Peters became the object of massive press attention, and that was where the first of his outlandish self-promoting statements achieved notice – he claimed that he’d written 80 songs that were better than anything John Lennon or Paul McCartney had ever authored, and subsequently described himself as a singer better than Elvis Presley, sexier than Dave Berry (“The Crying Game”), and more exciting than Tom Jones.
Later in 1966, St. Peters’ “The Pied Piper” soared into the Top Ten on both sides of the Atlantic, and, with its infectious chorus and beat and flute ornamentation, seemed to captured the glow of the pre-psychedelic era. It proved to be the last of his successes, however, a fact that can only be explained, in part, by the controversy surrounding his statements. There was something bizarre and off-putting seeing his name attributed to statements announcing that the Beatles “are past it.” His sound was also strangely inconsistent, crossing between upbeat folk-rock and brooding ballads — he could sound like an aspiring rival to Tom Jones, but on a number like “Your Love Has Come,” reached for a high register that made him seem more like an aspiring Tiny Tim. His folk-rock inclinations were also undone by numbers like the pre-Beatles British beat-style “Jilly Honey,” complete with ornamentation that sounds like a honking sax (or is it a fuzz bass?). In fairness, he did have the wisdom to record a rocked-up version of Phil Ochs’ “Changes,” but it was still difficult to tell whether St. Peters was trying to be Tom Jones, half of Peter & Gordon, a pop version of Donovan, or a mid-’60s version of Marty Wilde.
Although his next single, a version of Phil Ochs’ song “Changes,” also reached the charts in both the UK and US, it was much less successful. In 1967, St. Peters released his first LP, Follow Me…, which included several of his own songs, as well as the single “Free Spirit”. One of them, “I’ll Give You Love,” was recorded by Marty Kristian in a version produced by St. Peters, and became a big hit in Australia.
By 1968, he’d moved on to country music, but found little success with that repertory. A 1970 release, Simply…Crispian St. Peters, compiled many of his early sides, and he periodically reappeared on the ’60s revival circuit in England.
St. Peters’ album was followed by his first EP, Almost Persuaded, yet by 1970, he was dropped by Decca. Later in 1970, he was signed to Square Records. Under this new record deal, St. Peters released a second LP, Simply, that year, predominantly of country and western songs. Later still they released his first cassette, The Gospel Tape, in 1986, and a second cassette, New Tracks on Old Lines in 1990. His third cassette, Night Sessions, Vol. 1 was released in 1993.
Several CDs also came from this record deal, including Follow Me in 1991, The Anthology in 1996, Night Sessions, Vol. 1 in 1998, The Gospel Tape in 1999, and, finally, Songs From The Attic in 2000. He also performed on various Sixties nostalgia tours, and continued to write and arrange for others until his later ill health.
On 1 January 1995, at the age of 55, he suffered a stroke but continued to write songs thereafter and performed live up to 1999. His music career was severely weakened by this however, and in 2001 he announced his retirement from the music industry. He was hospitalised several times with pneumonia after 2003.
St. Peters died on 8 June 2010 at his home in Swanley, after a long illness, at the age of 71.