Crazy World Of Arthur Brown
25th/26th January 2020
Nells Jazz & Blues, London
Arthur Brown is the God of Hellfire! Or so he claims at the beginning of his 1968 hit song 'Fire'! At the ripe old age of 77, he is still out there doing it! Born in Whitby on the 24thJune 1942, then moving to Leeds in time to attend school. Upon graduating from school he went onto study Law at the University of London, before dropping out and then moving to Reading University to study Philosophy. It was in Reading that Arthur formed his first band called ‘Blues and Brown’. They didn’t last very long, but Arthur was determined to continue to develop his musical experiences and so gravitated towards the bright lights of London town. Around 1965 Arthur was off to Paris, France, with the ‘The Arthur Brown Set’, featuring Fats Dean on bass, Martin Steer on guitar, Robin Short on keyboards and Christien De Vaux on drums. They were a typical R&B band of the day, playing mainly covers. What made them stand out from other acts were Arthur’s experimental flamboyant theatrical performances and his developing powerful, wide-ranging operatic voice. With his desire to grow as a performer and diversify from standard R&B, Arthur was back in London by 1966 and eagerly searching out bands to join. He was a temporary member of a London-based R&B/Soul/Ska group the Ramong Sound that would soon become the hit-making Soul group The Foundations. Not being creatively satisfied he moved on quickly to pastures new.
Brown ended up living at Mary Crampton’s Bohemian boarding house in West Kensington where he met a like-minded soul in the form of keyboard wizard Vincent Crane. Together they formed ‘The Crazy World of Arthur Brown’, being joined by drummer Drachen Theaker soon after. This is the point in time where all Arthur’s ambitions and visions would soon be realised. By the middle of 1967 they were gaining a formidable reputation as an exciting live act, being booked regularly by Joe Boyd to play the infamous UFO Club on Tottenham Court Road, London. With Arthur’s desire to present his work both visually interesting, as well as musically diverse, made him stand out as the unique and innovative performer he is. He would wear outlandish costumes, face paint and perform wild and crazy dances. His most famous trick to perform live was his flaming helmet routine that he would adorn when performing his hit song ‘Fire’. Very dramatic, quite shocking at the time and extremely dangerous! It was basically a metal colander strapped to the top of his head, containing rags soaked in methylated spirit and set alight! According to reports from the time, this stunt would go wrong regularly and Arthur would get badly burned! Arthur’s use of stage make-up and face paint was a major influence on bands such as Kiss and Alice Cooper, who would go onto great success. Arthur’s other unique and influential attribute is his wide vocal range, powerful operatic voice and his high-pitched screams. Several hugely successful Heavy Rock vocalists have sited Arthur as a primary influence including Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden and Ian Gillan from Deep Purple.
The Crazy World's first single 'Devils Grip' was released in 1967 and set the tone and mood for their short but dramatic musical journey. Their eponymously titled debut album ‘The Crazy World of Arthur Brown’ was released in June 1968 and managed to reach number two in the UK charts. It is definitely an adventurous Psychedelic masterpiece! The album was originally going to be called 'Tales From the Neurotic Nights of Hieronymous Anonymous'! A bit of a mouthful! Brown, Crane and Theaker were joined by Nick Greenwood on bass and John Marshall on drums for two songs. Produced by the Who's manager Kit Lambert, and executive-produced by Pete Townshend on Track Records. Lambert along with Chris Stamp would go onto manage the band. The single ‘Fire’ reached number one in the UK charts in August 1968. Originally adapted from a song called ‘Baby You’re a Long Way Behind’ by Mike Finesilver and Peter Ker, Brown and Crane used the melody and added new words and arrangement. Due to the similarity of both songs, Finesilver and Ker were added to the writing credits for ‘Fire’. The song stands up today and is still regarded as a wild and weird Psychedelic Rock masterpiece. Arthur describes the song as ‘Psychedelic Soul music’, as he considers himself a Soul singer in a Psychedelic band.
Due to Theaker's erratic time keeping and bitter attitude towards the band, he was fired in late 1968, to be replaced by drummer Carl Palmer, later of Atomic Rooster and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. The root of Theaker's unhappiness stemmed from the fact that his drumming was not used on the first single 'Devil's Grip', the producer was not happy with Theaker's time keeping! Jon Hiseman was eventually drafted in for the job. Also, his drumming was deemed unusable on two tracks for the album, John Marshall being drafted in for 'I Put a Spell On You' and 'Child of My Kingdom'. Both Crane and Palmer left in June 1969 to form Atomic Rooster. In late 1969 Arthur assembled a new bunch of musicians and recorded the ‘Strangelands’ album. Deemed too weird and un-commercial by the record company, it was initially shelved, eventually seeing the light of day in 1988.
Brown being a forward thinking spiritual seeker, picked himself up and moved on in search of a new band to create new and interesting sounds with. In 1970 he formed ‘Kingdom Come’ with guitarist Andy Dalby. Their first album ‘Galactic Zoo Dossier’, released in 1971 featured Julian Paul Brown (synthesizer), Michael "Goodge" Harris (keyboards), Desmond Fisher (bass) and Martin "Slim" Steer (drums). Unfortunately the band didn’t remain stable for very long, by 1972 Julian Paul Brown and Desmond Fisher quit. Phil Curtis joined on bass in time for the release of the second album ‘Kingdom Come’. Martin Steer quit in late 1972, just before the release of the third and last album ‘Journey’. He was replaced by a drum machine! Apparently the first drum machine to be used on a Rock album. Michael Harris quit in 1973 to be replaced by keyboard and synthesizer player Victor Peraino. Kingdom Come live shows were a multi-media experience with innovative use of special effects, dramatic costumes and colourful theatrics. The band appeared at the 1971 Glastonbury Festival in Somerset, England, and featured in the Glastonbury Fayre film. Sadly the band had run its course by the end of 1973.
Brown released several solo albums over the latter half of the 70’s, including 'Dance' in 1975, 'Chisholm in My Bosom' in 1977 and 'Faster Than the Speed of Light' (with Vincent Crane) in 1980. Brown also made several guest appearances, including on Robert Calvert's 1974 album 'Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters'. In 1975, he appeared in the Who's Rock opera movie ‘Tommy’ as "The Priest". Later that year he contributed vocals to the song 'The Tell-Tale Heart' on the Poe-based concept album 'Tales of Mystery and Imagination' by the Alan Parsons Project. In 1979 and 1980, he collaborated with German electronic musician Klaus Schulze.
For most of the 80’s Brown lived in Austin, Texas, where his wife came from, and obtained a master's degree in counselling. While there he also started a painting and decorating business with the Mothers Of Invention drummer Jimmy Carl Black, with whom he also released an album in 1988 called 'Brown, Black & Blue'. Returning to England in 1996 he began to resurrect his musical career in the UK, making several guest appearances on other artistes albums including Bruce Dickinson's 'The Chemical Wedding' album, Kula Shaker's 'Mystical Machine Gun' single and The Pretty Things 1998 Abbey Road live performance of their 'S.F. Sorrow' album. He would go onto reprise his role of Narrator with the Pretty Things live at the Royal Festival Hall, London in 2001. Around 1997 Brown formed an acoustic band with Stan Adler (cello and bass) and Malcolm Mortimore (percussion) and produced the album 'Tantric Lover' in 2000. By 2003 Adler and Mortimore were out and in was Rick Patten (guitar) and multi-instrumentalist Nick Pynn. Patten didn't stay long and was soon replaced by guitarist Chris Bryant, they went on to record the 2003 album 'Vampire Suite' and the 2007 album 'The Voice of Love'. In 2001 and 2002, Brown made several guest appearances with Hawkwind, subsequently touring with them as a guest vocalist. He also provided vocals on two of the tracks on Hawkwind's 2005 album 'Take Me to Your Leader'.
On the 12thMarch 2005 Brown reunited with the surviving members of Kingdom Come for a one-off concert at The Astoria in London. Brown played three sets that night, an acoustic set with Chris Bryant and Nick Pynn, a Kingdom Come reunion set and an electric 'Crazy World' set with the band Instant Flight, who would later go on to tour with Brown. The flaming helmet trick rarely gets an outing at gigs these days due to Health & Safety regulations and venue logistics, but at the Astoria it was worn by Arthur during 'Fire'! Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden was the DJ for the evening, playing some of his favourite records between sets. This show won Brown the 'Showman of the Year' award from Classic Rock magazine. The concert was filmed, but sadly remains unreleased.
With a new steady line-up of the 'Crazy World', made up of members of the band Instant Flight, Brown toured the UK extensively, playing to packed-out venues including well received sets at the Glastonbury Festival in 2010 and the second High Voltage Festival in Victoria Park, London in 2011. This gig was recorded and released (on vinyl only) as 'The Crazy World of Arthur Brown Live at High Voltage'. In 2012, Brown and Rick Patten released 'The Magic Hat' alongside a comic of the same title by Matt Howarth. In 2013, as the result of a successful pledge campaign on PledgeMusic, Brown released the album 'Zim Zam Zim'. In June 2019 Brown joined Carl Palmer's ELP Legacy as guest vocalist on "The Royal Affair Tour". In between all this activity Brown managed to record a brand new Crazy World of Arthur Brown album entitled 'Gypsy Voodoo', co-written and produced by Mike Morgan.
The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown recently played two nights at Nells Jazz & Blues club in West Kensington, London. The first night sold out several months in advance and so a second night was added due to phenomenal demand. The second night was billed as the launch party for the new 'Gypsy Voodoo' album. Interestingly it was just a few streets away, at 14 Perham Road, where Arthur formed the Crazy World with Vincent Crane back in 1967. The support on the first night was from the sensational Rebecca Downes Band. A Midlands based Blues Rock band featuring Rebecca Downes on guitar and vocals, Steve Birkett on guitar, Vincent John Yarrington on bass, Nigel Darvil on keyboards and Neil Ablard of drums. Their blistering set included a selection of songs from their new album 'More Sinner Than Saint' including 'Take Me Higher', 'Wave Them Goodbye', 'Hurts', 'More Sinner Than Saint' and 'Big Sky', and a couple from their 2016 album 'Believe', including the title track and 'Sailing On A Pool Of Tears'. They also played a storming version of Zeppelin's 'Rock 'n' Roll'! Rebecca is a powerhouse vocalist with an impressive range and control. The band were smokin' hot, super tight and grooved with style and grace!
Brown stated that this would be an all-new presentation of his 'Crazy World', including new theatrical visuals, elaborate costumes and a new line-up of musicians. The band now features Sam Walker on drums, Jim Mortimore on bass/keyboards, Dan Smith on guitar/keyboards, and dancer Angel Fallon aka Angel Flame. Arthur was on top form, fully energized and totally owning the stage with his mesmerising performance. A truly spectacular show full of weird and wonderful moments! A tantalizing audio/visual trip with seductive lighting effects, enchanting stage projections, elaborate costumes, wild face-paint, strange headgear and scary masks! What a crazy world indeed! Angel Fallon provided some stellar choreography to accompany Arthur during several songs in the set. She has the ability to be able tell a story with her graceful and expressive dance moves. An exceptionally talented choreographer! Brown's singing voice has still got an impressive range, from a low howling snarling rumble to a full on screeching falsetto which he delivers with immense power and gusto! His extraordinary woad face paint was bewitching and demonic, with his variety of elaborate stage costumes and wild headgear being quite strikingly strange, completely eccentric, altogether avant-garde, totally over the top and utterly outlandish, but also quite beautiful and captivating!
The band sounded well rehearsed and executed the songs with unbridled passion and vigour! The set kicked off in style with some far-out Psychedelic exploration in the form of 'Bubbles' and 'Phoenix Rising', before the entire side one of the 1968 ‘The Crazy World of Arthur Brown’ album was played, including the songs 'Nightmare', 'Fire Poem', 'Fire', 'Come and Buy', 'Time' and 'Confusion'. Arthur was clearly enjoying himself, leaping, whirling and thrashing all over the stage whilst belting out the lyrics with the zeal and zest of a man half his age! Tall in stature and slim of build and quite obviously fit as a fiddle! The enticing 'Sunrise' from the 1971 Kingdom Come album ‘Galactic Zoo Dossier’ greeted us next. A cosmic and haunting performance with intense magisterial vocals from the Brown!
Proceedings slowed down a notch with the delectable and beautiful ballad 'The Voice Of Love', the title track from the 2007 album. 'Touched By All' from the 2013 album 'Zim Zam Zim', seduced us with its charm before 'Time Captives' was unleashed to transport us in outer space! Originally on the 1973 Kingdom Come 'Journey' album, this song is a trance inducing, hypnotizing slice of Space Rock that sent shock waves through our brains and throbbing in our ears! The performance was executed and delivered with skilful aplomb and electric precision. An uplifting and out of this world mind-blowing performance! The mood then took a slight twist and turn, with 'The Unknown' from the 'Zim Zam Zim' album, a sort of Bossa-Nova type song with some stunning and elegant dancing from Angel Fallon. Onto the final furlong with 'Devil's Grip', the first 'Crazy World' single released in 1967. An effervescent and sparkling performance! The last song of the set was 'Gypsy Voodoo', the title track from the new album. A brilliant slice of Heavy Rock with a ripping guitar riff and rousing chorus.
The second night saw Brown and band do two sets, the first set being the main theatrical performance we witnessed on the first night, and the second set being a more loose Blues/Soul jam session with special guests Phil May and Dick Taylor from the Pretty Things! May and Taylor opened the second set with a couple of acoustic Blues songs, 'I Can't Be Satisfied' and 'Come On In My Kitchen', before Brown and band came on and played several songs that were not played on the first night, including 'I Put A Spell On You', 'That's How Strong My Love Is', 'Eyesight To The Blind', 'Didn't It Rain’, 'Sinner Man', 'Muscle Of Love', 'Hoochie Coochie Man' and also a few other songs that they did play on the first night such as 'Devil's Grip' and 'Gypsy Voodoo'. Both May and Taylor joined them together and separately throughout the set. May was in good spirits and seemed to be really enjoying himself. Taylor weaved his Psychedelic guitar magic, playing some superb and blinding solos. The 'Crazy World' band were also having a blast, digging down and jamming hard. A triumphant conclusion to a thoroughly enjoyable two-night stint with The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown!
Steven C. Gilbert