The ‘Rocking Sikh’ Elvis Impersonator in a Turban from Swansea who Shot to Fame in the 80s || SNE
By walesonline .
Jun 19, 2019
When Elvis came to him in a dream and told him he would one day entertain millions of people, Peter Singh didn’t just dismiss it as the wild imaginings of an unconscious mind.
Instead, it led him on a path that would see him support The Clash, go to a party with Bob Geldof, and have an article written about him in the New York Times.
It was quite a leap for a turban-wearing Sikh whose family ran a clothing stall in Swansea market.
Elvis is celebrated every year in the coastal town of Porthcawl.
The Elvis Festival last year welcomed 35,000 visitors, some flying in from all corners of the globe.
So perhaps it’s not surprising then, that just down the road a singer would emerge who managed to forge his own career with an act featuring an Elvis homage – but with his own distinctive take.
It was in the 1980s that Peter Singh developed his love of rock ‘n’ roll and performance.
Later, like Elvis impersonators the world over, his act included the requisite sequined jump-suit.
But Peter added his own unique twist. As a Sikh, he topped over the famous outfit with a traditional turban.
And with songs such as Turbans Over Memphis, Bindi Bhaji Boogie, and Who’s Sari Now?, his cultural combination proved to be a hit with fans – and he sustained a career which lasted around twenty years.
His act proved so popular, he was much in demand for television and radio. He played at the Royal Albert Hall, toured Kenya, and even supported the likes of The Clash.
Bob Geldof invited him to play at a private party of his, and Billy Connolly was another fan to invite him on his TV show.
Even The New York Times took time out to profile the father-of-five.
Born Narinder Singh, on the Pakistani side of the Punjab, his family had come to settle in Birmingham in England.
After seeing the film Jailhouse Rock there as a child, he was instantly hooked on rock ‘n’ roll.
Listening to the songs of Elvis helped him to master English, and his history of performance began after the family had moved to Swansea.
One night, while dancing in a pub, a rock-and-roll band leader asked him to sing.
The song he chose was ‘Blue Suede Shoes’, and, inspired by the response, he produced his own recording of the song and sold all 1,000 copies from his family’s clothing stall in the market.
He then came to a wider audience after teaming up with music promoter Paul Durden, who was then living in London’s Notting Hill.
“Dexy’s Midnight Runners had split up, and some of the members had formed a new band called The Bureau,” said Paul.
“They were doing a tour of the UK, and they asked me if I knew of any acts that could support them, but they didn’t want any bog standard act.
“I said I knew of someone, and they loved him.”
‘I don’t smoke dope, I don’t like bourbon, all I want to do, is shake my turban’
One of Peter’s very first gigs took place in The Greyhound, the famous rock venue on London’s Fulham Palace Road.
The event was billed as an antidote to the royal wedding, taking place on the evening that Prince Charles married Lady Diana.
Actor Keith Allen helped organise the event, as did musician Martin Ace, of legendary Welsh rock band Man, who went on to have a major input into Peter’s career.
Martin said: “I knew of Peter before that gig in The Greyhound. When I played in the No Sign in Swansea with the Trembling Knees, Peter would come up and sing on some numbers.
“He was just a bloke with a turban singing some songs. Paul Durden asked me to write a song, and we came up with Rocking with the Sikh.
“We started talking about Peter as an Elvis impersonator, but with original material. So we started writing songs with Peter. It was a real good laugh. We were laughing all the time.
“We did a whole album together, Urban Turbans. A lot of serious musicians were interested in Peter.
“He went on Ludovic Kennedy’s show, Did You See? Ludovic was fascinated with him.
“Years later t here was a crisps advert featuring a Sikh Elvis. It wasn’t Peter, but it was definitely inspired by him.
“It was all show business, but it was a lot of fun.”
Very quickly, Peter was in demand.
Paul Durden said: “My phone didn’t stop ringing.
“I was getting calls from colleges, from television, they all wanted a piece of Peter.
“A record company in Birmingham wanted to get involved.
“Then we did two nights with The Clash in Bristol. I knew Joe Strummer and their manager Bernie Rhodes. They told me all the bands they had supporting them were exactly like them, and asked me if I had anything different.
“I told them about Peter, plus another act I was managing; he was a former motorcyle boy from Port Tenant, Gareth T Jones, who had become a vicar and was billed as The Sinister Minister.
“We did two nights with The Clash in Bristol. They loved him.”
Peter recorded his single, Rocking With The Sikh, at Nick Lowe’s studio in Hammersmith, with another former member of Man band, Micky Jones, while Micky Gibbons, of Badfinger, was also drafted into his band.
An appearance on daytime magazine show Pebble Mill followed, and he also appeared at The Royal Albert Hall.
His record was played on Radio 1’s breakfast show by Mike Read – with singer Mark Almond nominating his song for record of the week.
Des O’Connor also invited him onto his show.
Two tours of Kenya followed – the country had a large population of Sikhs, after being expelled from Uganda by Idi Amin. His success was such that one tour lasted three months, and band members were able to take their families with them.
Paul and Martin continued to pen songs such Turbans Over Memphis, and Elvis I’m On The Phone, in which Mr Presley makes a telephone call to Mr Singh from heaven to say: ‘Peter, there’s just one thing I wanna know. What’s the weather like down there in Swansea?’’
Peter played benefit gigs during the miners strike, and would occasionally pepper his stage patter with Welsh.
Another guitarist to share the stage with Peter was guitarist Brian Breeze.
He said: “I played with Peter in a few places. He was quite serious about the music, but he was a lot of fun.
“I remember him going down on one knee one night, to serenade my mother-in-law. She loved that.
“He woudn’t always be in time, and sometimes I’d start an intro and he’d come in with a different song.