Elkie Brooks & Robert Palmer
Pencil Portrait by Antonio Bosano.
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last updated: 03/06/21
‘In the three years that the band (Vinegar Joe) existed, between 1971 and 1974, we released three albums. We were never huge, but we were very popular with students and played a lot on the university circuit.’
‘Robert Palmer and I were very competitive; I suppose that was understandable because we were both lead singers in Vinegar Joe. But outside the band we used to get on very well. When we were on the road we would often go off on our own, find a bistro and enjoy a nice bottle of wine and a meal together (although mostly we lived on food from motorway services because we weren’t paid much). Robert was a very good-looking guy, and so girls that we met used to be well pleased when they found out that we were not an item.’
‘I think Island Records always saw Vinegar Joe as something of a rehearsal band for Robert, and when we split up, the whole band was definitely smarting for a few months. Robert felt I was very pissed off, and although I really never held a grudge we didn’t keep in touch and our paths never crossed, which was a huge shame (Palmer died in 2003). I kept in touch with his parents and his brother and they have been to my shows over the years. I admired Robert so much and I recorded his song Circles for my album of the same name in 1995. And if that isn’t a tribute to his great ability, then what is?’
Elkie Brooks – “Daily Telegraph” interview 2010
Brooks would talk to the Sunday Telegraph in June 2017, recounting her ‘run-in’ with the taxman in 2002, the reverberations of which – if she is to be believed – are still being felt today. Taken aside that year by her accountant, she and her husband were told that they owed the Inland Revenue £250,000; payments throughout the preceding years having been little more than nominal non-payment fines. Like the trouper she is, the situation was quickly addressed. The family home, a five bedroomed detached property in Devon, was quickly sold – the couple were fortunate to have their asking price met – and the debt was settled, thereby allowing them to start over. Fifteen years on, she is renting a flat in Devon, seeking planning permission for a house her husband will build, and continuing life as an inveterate touring performer. the marriage endures, helped in no small part by the fact that her husband Trevor is also her sound engineer. All’s well that end’s well, and yet, I’m left perplexed by that momentous tax bill. Even as a basic rate payer, it’s standard practice in the UK to set aside roughly 25% of one’s earnings to cover income tax and national insurance. Clearly, Elkie didn’t, or was led to believe that her involvement in certain tax structures would minimise her liability. Recalling that momentous meeting, her accountant rather sheepishly admitted ‘We’ve got a problem. A £250,000 tax problem. I’ve got to put my hand up. It’s all my fault. I’ve not been doing your tax returns properly for quite some time.’ With that, he was dismissed, never to be seen again. Was this a case of misplaced loyalty, or sheer naivety?
Tax problems are one thing. Premature death is another. Palmer would be another rock casualty by the age of 54. He passed away in September 2003 whilst enjoying a two day break in Paris with his partner Mary Ambrose. The cigarettes, and a 60 a day habit, had caught up with him.
He had been in London to record a television show for Yorkshire TV and was spending a short time in Paris before travelling home to Switzerland, where he had lived for the past 16 years. The singer, whose real name was Alan Palmer, was born in Bentley, Hampshire, to a British naval officer. He was a member of several British rock bands before achieving stardom as a solo artist.
Palmer enjoyed a string of hits, including “Addicted to Love” and “Simply Irresistible,” in the late 1980s, and success on both sides of the Atlantic. His brash rock synth anthems, accompanied by slick videos featuring the sharply dressed Palmer and a bevy of attractive women, made Palmer an 80s icon.
The “Addicted to Love” video, with its mini-skirted models strumming guitars as Palmer sang, became one of MTV’s most-played clips, and has been pastiched at least twice; by Shania Twain in the video to accompany her 1997 hit, “Man! I Feel Like a Woman” and in the film “Love Actually” (2003).
“I’m not going to attach inappropriate significance to it because at the time it meant nothing. It’s just happened to become an iconic look,” Palmer once said of the video.
He had his first hit album and single, Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley, in 1974.
In his 20s, Palmer worked with a number of small-time bands including Dada, Vinegar Joe, and the Alan Bown Band, occasionally appearing in opening acts for big draws including The Who and Jimi Hendrix. A side project, Power Station, formed in 1985 with Duran Duran’s John Taylor and Andy Taylor, scored three US Top 10 hits, including Communication and Get it On.
His last album, Rhythm and Blues, which was his first studio recording for five years, was released in 1999.
Palmer once confessed that he was not attracted to the excesses of rock ‘n’ roll stardom.
“I loved the music, but the excesses of rock ‘n’ roll never really appealed to me at all,” he said. “I couldn’t see the point of getting up in front of a lot of people when you weren’t in control of your wits.”
He was noted for dressing up and being somewhat restrained. “I don’t want to be heavy,” he said in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine. “I can’t think of another attitude to have towards an audience than a hopeful and a positive one. And if that includes such unfashionable things as sentimentality, well, I can afford it,” he said.