“I am the God of Hellfire, and I bring you …”
If ever a first line of a song grabbed your attention, there was one.
Frightening kids since 1968, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown only had that one hit, ‘Fire’, but certainly made an impact, even if they took eight weeks to set the charts alight, in a manner of speaking.
They ultimately reached No.1 in late August ’68, briefly knocking Tommy James and the Shondells’ ‘Mony Mony’ off the summit before the same record returned to the top, ‘Fire’ also reaching No.2 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and No.1 in Canada that October, and the top-10 in Austria, France, Germany, Ireland, and the Netherlands.
That was it, hit-wise, even if that iconic track from 1968 album ‘The Crazy World of Arthur Brown’ still maintains its mesmerising power with audiences and peers today.
A genuine one-hit wonder, yes, but that self-titled debut LP, produced by Kit Lambert with input from The Who’s Pete Townshend, also reached No.2 in the UK, only kept off the top by Small Faces’ sublime Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake then Simon and Garfunkel’s era-defining Bookends.
Their trademark song was co-written with Vincent Crane, who played Hammond organ in Arthur’s band and later featured with Atomic Rooster, later contributing to Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ 1985 cult LP, Don’t Stand Me Down, dying way too young, aged just 45.
However, half a century and a bit later, shock rock pioneer Arthur is still very much with us, his new album, Long Long Road, out on Friday, June 24, which just happens to mark his 80th birthday.
What’s more, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown are set to promote their unique take on psychedelic blues rock at four special UK shows – including elements of dance, poetry and visuals – to help celebrate that landmark.
It seems like perfect timing, but those shows were rescheduled twice due to the pandemic, the iconic band-leader now eager to get out there, promising a full evening of ‘psychedelic individuality, ingenuity and madness’.
Clearly, he hasn’t changed his ways too dramatically, his new immersive multimedia show, ‘The Human Perspective’, featuring ‘great musicians, stunning visuals, iconic dance and sonic adventure’, this self-proclaimed ‘God of Hellfire’ showing us why he’s recognised as a true innovator of progressive rock and a significant influence on heavy metal.
Musically, his show involves a retrospective of a long, long career, featuring a heady mix of psychedelia, prog, blues and rock. And as he put it, “The Human Perspective concept is the exploration of our inner selves while trying to navigate the external world. The God of Hellfire meets The God of Purefire, if you will”.
As for the concept, it’s something Arthur reckons he’s been incubating for decades.
“This is the live show I always wanted to perform with Kingdom Come back in the 1970s, but the technology at the time meant it wasn’t possible. But now I’m able to fully realise my vision for the show. It’s something I’ve been looking forward to for a long time.”
The first of those take place next Thursday, May 26 at The Playhouse, Whitley Bay, followed by a visit to Waterside Arts Centre in Sale on Friday, May 27, with two more Saturday shows from there, at Leeds’ City Varieties on June 11, and London’s Bush Hall, Shepherd’s Bush, on June 25.
On the back of his 1968 worldwide million-selling smash hit, Arthur’s shared the bill with the likes of The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention, The Doors, the afore-mentioned Small Faces, and Joe Cocker.
And there are elements of both Cocker and Small Faces on the title track of the new record, an epic, poignant ballad that could as easily have come our way in the late ‘60s as now.
The same goes for many more numbers on Long Long Road, to the point where I can picture Keith Emerson attacking keyboards with knives on opening track, ‘Gas Tanks’, a Look at Yourself era Uriah Heep-like romp.
The LP then takes something of a Screaming Jay Hawkins meets Johnny Cash – another artist whose late career saw him afforded fresh critical acclaim – turn with ‘Coffin Confession’, before the organ revs up again and the brass arrives for the swirlingly soulful, late Beatles-esque, heavy metal thunder of ‘Going Down’, sort of namesake James Brown possessed by AB disciple Bruce Dickinson, with no guarantee of sleep ’til … well, Shepherd’s Bush at the very least.
‘Once I Had Illusions’, split into two parts, is more Nick Cave, another track including atmospheric prog keyboard from multi-instrumentalist/long-time collaborator/co-producer/arranger, mixer and engineer Rik Patten, who adds everything bar Arthur’s seasoned vocals, guitar and piano.
‘I Like Games’ has a John Lee Hooker fused with Led Zeppelin stomping dirty blues vibe, while ‘Shining Brightness’ conjures up The Doors and Tom Waits. As for ‘The Blues and Messing Around’, that’s a 12-bar blues number steeped with wild guitar licks, underpinning organ, tinkling piano, and Arthur’s life-well-lived vocals.
Then comes the majestic title song, before we’re away with ‘Once I Had Illusions (Pt.2)’, this time with added Daniel Lanois-ish production qualities, David Gilmour-like six-string dashes, lots of those touches that made Arthur who he is, and echoing plenty of those artists who ploughed on where he left off (I could hear Tom Jones giving that finale a great working-over, for example).
I can’t argue with the official line, this being a ‘wild and vibrant affair, crammed with rich musical textures … quintessentially Arthur Brown’ and an album that can ‘easily be construed as the apex and summary of a fascinating career that has spanned no fewer than seven decades’.
As long since became his way, Arthur shifts from prog and soul to blues rock, this veteran performer ‘summoning his full vocal range with a mature mastery that comes only with the experience of a lifetime’.
Whitby-born Arthur attended grammar school in Leeds before university studies in London and Reading, forming his first band in that Berkshire town and involved with others in the capital before a spell in Paris working on his theatrical skills.
He returned in late 1966, featuring with R&B/soul/ska outfit The Ramong Sound before they became The Foundations, Arthur soon finding his own calling alongside Vincent Crane, Drachen Theaker (drums) and Nick Greenwood (bass).
That Crazy World of Arthur Brown quartet quickly built a reputation for outlandish performances, Arthur’s flaming headgear becoming his signature gimmick, not always health and safety-friendly.
As it turned out, personnel changes followed and only two albums were made, their shelved 1969 follow-up not seeing the light of day until 1988, Arthur going on – after further projects – to form an increasingly ‘out there’ Arthur Brown’s Kingdom Come, making three influential LPs, even dabbling in space rock.
But their multimedia approach to performance proved some way ahead of its time and arguably too much for mainstream audiences, several more unlikely projects following.
There was always that sense of the theatrical with Arthur, so it wasn’t too much of a surprise when Ken Russell cast him in Pete Townshend’s rock opera, Tommy, his dramatic vocals kicking in where Eric Clapton left off in a frankly disturbing miracle-working communion scene.
By the early ‘80s Arthur was based in Austin, Texas, with a master’s degree in counselling, soon adding painting and carpentry to his CV.
Returning to England in 1996, many more meanders, recorded product and performances followed, working with afore-mentioned Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour and former Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson, plus Kula Shaker, Die Krupps, and fellow space rock pioneers Hawkwind en route, to name just a few.
In later years he’d find himself sampled by The Prodigy and cited as a major influence on artists as diverse as Alice Cooper, David Bowie, Kiss, and George Clinton.
Cooper reckoned, “Without Arthur Brown there would be no Alice Cooper”, while Elton John added, “Now there’s a man who was ahead of his time”, and Bruce Dickinson said, “Arthur Brown was a big influence of mine … Arthur Brown has the voice of death.”
His work was also recognised as recently as 2019’s Prog Awards, Arthur receiving the Visionary Artist Award, other accolades including Classic Rock magazine’s Showman Award, all part of his latter-years renaissance.
As for his wild stage persona, flamboyant theatrical performances, and charismatic multi-octave voice, he’s long been appreciated far and wide by musicians, writers and fans, far beyond the vast shadow cast by that huge hit.
And on Long Long Road, Arthur proves he remains as authentic, challenging, creative and as compelling as he was at his career’s fiery beginning. What’s more, as the team behind him insist, ‘This record is not a swansong, but the thrilling beginning of the final phase of an utterly singular career’.
Long Long Road is available as a box set, including 48-page hardcover 2CD artbook, gatefold 180g orange marble vinyl LP, bonus 7″ vinyl single, art prints, and various other signed products. It’s also available on black 180g vinyl LP, transparent red 180g vinyl LP, and as a digipak CD. For more details and The Crazy World of Arthur Brown’s The Human Perspective 2022 live show tickets, try www.glasswerk.co.uk or www.thegodofhellfire.com.