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Arthur Brown

+ {The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown} + {Kingdom Come}

Whereas Jim Morrison of The DOORS invited listeners to light his, and HENDRIX requested to stand next to one burning desire, the pyromaniac “god of hell…” ARTHUR BROWN was igniting the pop charts and the hair on his head for the theatrical No.1 `Fire!’. The single’s lasting success in the hot summer of ’68 was largely down to a Top Of The Pops appearance, in which Arthur (and his “Crazy World Of…”) took shock-rock to bizarre new heights; his colander-helmeted head ablaze as a stunned audience stood in awe with jaws agape. The illusionary gimmick did the trick (so to speak), stoking up further success in North America and parts of the continent, but as prog-rock filled a void for some post-psychedelic blues at the turn of the 70s, Arthur was virtually frozen out. Nevertheless, creating a myriad of music over the decades that encompassed KINGDOM COME, a handful solo albums, several collaborations and a re-unified CRAZY WORLD OF ARTHUR BROWN (from the 00s onwards), the hairy one moved heaven and earth, wind and, of course, “fire!”, to preach his grim and gory gospel.
Born Arthur Wilton Brown, 24 June 1942, Whitby, West Yorkshire, and schooled in Leeds, he studied law and philosophy at the University of London and the University of Reading, before finding his voice in respective mid-60s bands Blues & Brown and The Diamonds; he featured as guest singer on the latter’s Reading Rag freebie flexi-disc song, `You Don’t Know’. Fast-forward a year, Arthur worked in Paris, France, where he contributed a couple of tracks to the soundtrack for Roger Vadim’s movie adaptation of Emile Zola’s La Curee, before he briefly joined the SW5 (with PAUL BRETT) and ska-cum-soul combo The Ramong Sound (aka The FOUNDATIONS).
Also following his own flaming path to glory, the four-octave singer formed The CRAZY WORLD OF ARTHUR BROWN, in October ‘66, roping in organist Vincent Crane and drummer John “Drachen” Theaker, to presumably light the touch-paper. On the back of hair-raising gigs that literally caught fire (his customised helmet had to be doused with beer after being soaked with fuel rather than methanol!), the fiery crown of Arthur was sought out by Track Records after a scorching gig at London’s UFO Club. However, the group’s inaugural single, `Devil’s Grip’ (featuring Jon Hiseman on sticks), sold relatively poorly.
Adding bassist Sean Nicholas (aka Nick Greenwood) to the fold, Arthur and Co’s electrifying OTT re-appearance with the demonic `Fire!’ (issued in June ’68), was worth its weight in gold. It was indeed time to stoke the grill while the candle was hot and, released only a matter of weeks later while the one-hit-wonder-to-be was scaling the charts, the Kit Lambert-produced eponymous set, THE CRAZY WORLD OF ARTHUR BROWN {*7}, also ruffled a few feathers. The proto-genic link from psychedelia to prog-rock, quite possibly, many pundits balked at a full set of histrionics and banshee-like chanting. Still, if one’s bag could meld theatrical poetry and soul re-hashes of SCREAMIN’ JAY HAWKINS’ `I Put A Spell On You’ and JAMES BROWN’s `I’ve Got Money’, then this near-chart-topping set was the bees knees.
His “Crazy World” subsequently falling apart at the seams (the aviophobic Theaker moving aside for hired-hand drummer Carl Palmer) as the incendiary promotional tour unfolded, Arthur and retainer Greenwood then re-hired Crane, who duly returned in time to feature on a single version of LP track, `Nightmare’; to think they were kicked off tour supporting fire-brand guitarist JIMI HENDRIX!
As both Palmer and Crane deserted to form ATOMIC ROOSTER, in came Jeff Cutler and Dick Henningham to respectively fill over the ever-widening gaps; as the year 1969 grew evermore frustrating, Pete Solley spent time at the keys before moving over for Jim McCulloch, whilst John Marshall replaced Cutler; the end came when Greenwood’s place went to bassist Denis Taylor. The final line-up that appeared on the lost 2nd album (… STRANGELANDS {*6} surfaced in 1988), comprised keyboardist Jonah Mitchell, guitarist Android Funnel, saxophonist George Khan, and a returning Theaker and the aforementioned Taylor. An off-shoot of both the CRAZY WORLD OF… and an earlier configuration as The Puddletown Express, the 1970-formed RUSTIC HINGE (with Brown as vocal guest only) featured Theaker, Funnel and bassist/cellist Pete Pavli, although recordings were unforthcoming until 1988’s “Replicas” LP.
Arthur Wilton Brown, meanwhile, formed his own enterprising septet, KINGDOM COME. GALACTIC ZOO DOSSIER (1971) {*7} – on Polydor Records – comprised Julian John Brown (VC5), Andrew Kenneth Dalby (lead guitar), Desmond John Fisher (bass), Martin Philip John Steer (drums), Michael William Greville Harris (organ) and Denis on lights. An exercise for Brown’s gymnastic larynx and unrelenting in a tale of philosophical psychedelia, the carnivalistic trip into Arthur’s cosmic mind-set was long and arduous, although opener `Internal Messenger’, plus `Simple Plan’ and the Orwellian-like `Night Of The Pigs’ were strikingly neo-classical, or indeed prog!
Dropping off Fisher, Brown and Taylor (all superseded by bassist Phil Shutt), sophomore set KINGDOM COME (1972) {*6} tried in vain to recreate earlier glories; `The Teacher’ was a quirky song scribed by Arthur and Vincent. Very much in a prog-musical style that was a bit too complex for its own good, Dalby and Harris were the main conspirators in this flight of fancy. Nothing worth a single release in the UK, Arthur was “Jesus Christ Firestarter” as he warbled and wailed without much let-up through `A Scientific Experiment…’, `The Whirlpool’, `The Hymn’ and `City Melody’.
1973’s JOURNEY {*6} continued KINGDOM COME’s sojourn through a wall of prog sci-fi shenanigans. Furthermore compact and tight as Victor Peraino (keyboards) took over the reins from both Goodge Harris and Martin Steer, the record – notable as the first to incorporate the use of a drum machine – was intense as it was whimsical, with best parts served up on `Superficial Roadblocks’, `Come Alive’ (name-checking BOWIE!) and the holier-than-holy `Spirit Of Joy’.
The wild wizard of Whitby was well-known enough for his hell-raising antics. So much so that he could pursue a solo career. Selling his make-up kit to ALICE COOPER, PETER GABRIEL and KISS (so to speak), he sandblasted the rough edges of his rock music to introduce listeners to DANCE (1974) {*4}. Augmented by a plethora of session musicians including Dalby (who’d pen `Helen With The Sun’ and `Quietly With Tact’), Arthur’s own compositions were rather bogged-down by covers of The ANIMALS hit, `We’ve Got To Get Out Of This Place’ (a failed 45), JAGGER & RICHARDS’ `Out Of Time’ and Lee Robinson’s godly and scream-y, `The Lord Will Find A Way’; avoid his unconvincing reggae union with TOOTS AND THE MAYTALS on `Soul Garden’.
In the mid-70s, after time spent supplying vocals for ROBERT CALVERT’s Captain Lockheed And The Starfighters LP (on the two parts of `The Song Of The Gremlin’), Arthur worked with both The WHO – as “The Priest” in the rock opera movie version of Tommy – and The ALAN PARSONS PROJECT; the latter as guest singer on `The Tell-Tale Heart’ from Tales Of Mystery And Imagination.
Also released on the semi-independent Gull label, CHISHOLM IN MY BOSOM (1978) {*3} is rated one of the worst records of all-time, and coming at a time when his progenitors from the new wave world were setting the pace, stuff like `Monkey Walk’ didn’t cut the mustard with anyone but his dippy disciples. If the ruination of `I Put A Spell On You’ buried him deep in the mire of no return, then an exhausting croon through the 19-minute title track was worth hiding the razor-blades.
Re-uniting with old ATOMIC ROOSTER mucker Vincent Crane, FASTER THAN THE SPEED OF LIGHT (1980) {*5}, managed to get a release in Germany and other parts of the continent. Overblown and self-righteous in its audacity to carry an apocalyptic concept motif, the Crazy World duo went big on the production, roping in the Frankfurt Symphony Orchestra and a drummer (Clifford Venner) for the prog/ZAPPA-esque `Storm Clouds’, `Come And Join The Fun’, `Storm’ and the anchored title track. Sadly, Vincent was to die on 14 February 1989 (he was 55) and John/Drachen joined him upstairs in 1992.
Released almost simultaneously, at least in the same year, the synth-friendly REQUIEM {*4} and SPEAKNOTECH (1982) {*5} went virtually unnoticed among the swarm of indie bands hitting the market. However, now based in Austin, Texas, BROWN was acquiring an American audience for his wayward meanderings; tracks `Conversations’, `Speak No Tech’, `King Of England’ and the bloop-y `Mechanical Masseur’ were prime examples of his BILL NELSON-esque take on the new wave – the embarrassing DANIEL MILLER-meets-ROBERT PLANT reading of BUDDY HOLLY’s `Not Fade Away’ was indeed obverse.
A fan of FRANK ZAPPA and The MOTHERS OF INVENTION for over two decades, ARTHUR BROWN was only too happy to team up with one of its esteemed crew (and fellow house-painter), Jimmy Carl Black, on the 1991-released BROWN, BLACK & BLUE {*4}. Recorded back in ‘87 and ’88, the set was no “Monkey Walk” in the park, but it did contain blues-rock covers of staples `Fever’, `Unchain My Heart’, `Got My Mojo Working’, `Smokestack Lightnin’, `Hound Dog’, `Stand By Me’, `Help Me’, etc.
ARTHUR BROWN and a band that consisted of guitarist Randall Ward, keyboardist Jeff Danford, bassist Jeff Mays and drummer Stuart Millsapps, were still touting his madcap act around the country; a summer concert at London’s Marquee, ORDER FROM CHAOS – LIVE 1993 (1994) {*6}, spread out all his best-known tracks up to now.
Subsequently busying himself as collaborator and guest performer with the likes of DIE KRUPPS (on a re-recorded `Fire’), BRUCE DICKINSON (narrating poems of William Blake for `The Chemical Album’ set), The PRETTY THINGS (on a reprise of `S.F. Sorrow’) and KULA SHAKER (on the 1999 track `Mystical Machine Gun’), the post-millennium period was best a time as any to re-form The CRAZY WORLD OF ARTHUR BROWN.
Assembling the likes of Malcolm Mortimore (drums), Stan Adler (bass/cello), Derek Austin (organ), Chris Kenny and Rick Patten (on either organ or electric guitar) – Arthur played acoustic guitar – “comeback” album TANTRIC LOVER (2000) {*5} was hardly something to set their crazy world alight. Prior to its re-issue in 2002 on Voiceprint Records, where many of AB’s previous LPs surfaced, BROWN had performed for HAWKWIND on tour.
Back on Track (“Records”), and with a fresher CW for 2003’s VAMPIRE SUITE {*5}, there was nothing here to suggest that former king Arthur was resurrecting the dead by way of `Is This Love’, `Vampire Love’ and a bonus CD of dialogue. ARTHUR BROWN and side-kick Nick Pynn then worked on a collaboration album and, released under “The Amazing World Of Arthur Brown” logo, THE VOICE OF LOVE (2007) {*5} was released in France.
AB’s alliance with Z-Star (aka singer/multi-instrumentalist Zee Gachette) was to come to fruition in 2009, and with quite a solid band behind them, the CW played a festival gig LIVE AT HIGH VOLTAGE {*6} in 2011, which was issued on vinyl-only a year later.
Responsible for so many CD albums to emerge in recent times, PledgeMusic (and ultimately Bronze Rat Records) were behind the CWOAB in their umpteenth attempt at glory. His thoughts on the cosmos (from his yurt in Lewes) relayed by way of ZIM ZAM ZIM (2014) {*6}, the record was something akin to TOM WAITS or his idol SCREAMIN’ JAY HAWKINS. Whether band rhythm section core members Jim Mortimore and Sam Walker would agree, prime-evil examples were in `Jungle Fever’, `The Unknown’, `Muscle Of Love’, “16 Shells” ringer `Junkyard King’ etc., etc.
Fire in the belly and `Fire’ – the song – recurring twice on the patchy home-grown grooves of GYPSY VOODOO (2019) {*5}, The CRAZY WORLD OF ARTHUR BROWN were back from the dead. And preceded this time around by a “poem” that could almost make actor William Shatner blush, the blazing saddles of philosophical posturing arrived further afield through C&W-surf ditty `The King’, the narrative `The Kissing Tree’ and, at a push, the gloop-y SAHB-like opening title track salvo.
© MC Strong 1994-1997/GRD series // rev-up MCS Aug2016-Jan2020

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