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Thursday 26 April 2018

Crispian St Peters

Singer-songwriter who claimed to be better than Beatles and host of others

CRISPIAN St Peters -- real name Pete Smith -- first excited attention with comments he made in the wake of his first chart success in January 1966 with You Were On My Mind; this had climbed to number two, denied the top slot by a cover version of The Beatles' song Michelle by the Overlanders.

His assertion, on the strength of a single hit, that he was going to be "bigger than Presley, more talented than Sammy Davis Jr" was generally reckoned, at best, misjudged, at worst, reckless. In March he followed up with The Pied Piper, which reached number five, and proclaimed himself "a better songwriter than Lennon and McCartney", "sexier than Dave Berry" and "more exciting than Tom Jones". The pop-music press made hay with what sounded like nothing more than ill-founded conceit.

Matters went from bad to worse when the newcomer told a teen magazine: "I think the Beatles' stage act is rubbish. I move about. I do something to earn my money -- they just stand there."

Although the hapless St Peters claimed to have been making these heretical pronouncements with his tongue firmly in his cheek, the damage was done, the New Musical Express labelling him "the Cassius Clay of pop".

"From being a world superstar just a few short weeks ago," noted one observer, "he was now virtually an outcast."

Robin Peter Smith was born April 5, 1939 at Swanley, Kent, to musical parents. He started writing songs when he was 11 and left secondary school when he was 15. A spell as a projectionist at the Century Cinema, Dartford, was the first in a series of some 30 jobs he took before he was 21. He joined a skiffle group called the Hard Travellers, and during his service in the army became one half of a duo called the Two Tones.

A further change of career, to that of potato picker, took him north again, and he was spotted singing in a pub by a 19-year-old agent, David Nicolson, who changed Smith's name to Crispian St Peters, dressed him from head to toe in black and groomed him for a solo career.

Signed to the Decca label, his first single flopped; but success came with You Were On My Mind, which sold 250,000 copies and earned him a silver disc. His second single, The Pied Piper, with its distinctive piccolo obbligato, remains his best-known release, reaching number three in the United States and number one in Australia. Television dates and tours of both continents followed, and St Peters embraced the rock-'n'- roll lifestyle.

"If you've ever been really broke and hungry as I have," he explained, "then when money comes your way you find that material possessions are essential."

But a fourth single, Changes, flopped, only edging into the Top 50. Work and money dried up, he was treated for depression and in 1970 was dropped by Decca and admitted to hospital with the first of three nervous breakdowns. He turned to recording country and western numbers, but suffered a stroke in 1995 and retired in 2001.

Crispian St Peters died on June 8. He married Colette Rogers in 1969, but the marriage dissolved in 1974. They had a son and a daughter.

Sunday Independent

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