Arthur Brown (musician)

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Arthur Brown
Arthur Brown live.jpg
Brown on stage, August 2009
Background information
Birth name Arthur Wilton Brown
Also known as The God of Hellfire
Born (1942-06-24) 24 June 1942 (age 72)
Whitby, North Yorkshire, England
Genres Psychedelic rock, shock rock, progressive rock, rock and roll
Occupations Musician
Instruments Vocals
Years active 1965–present
Labels Track/Polydor
Associated acts Kingdom Come, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Instant Flight, Hawkwind, The Alan Parsons Project
Website Official site

Arthur Brown (born Arthur Wilton Brown on 24 June 1942)[1] is an English rock musician best known for his flamboyant theatrical performances, powerful wide-ranging operatic voice and his number-one hit in the UK Singles Chart and Canada, "Fire", in 1968.[2]

Brown has been lead singer of various groups, most notably The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Kingdom Come, followed by a varied solo career as well as associations with Hawkwind, The Who, Jimi Hendrix and Frank Zappa.[3]

Though Brown has had limited commercial success and has never released another recording as commercially successful as "Fire", he has been a significant influence on Alice Cooper,[4] Peter Gabriel,[5] Marilyn Manson, George Clinton,[6] Kiss, King Diamond and Bruce Dickinson[7] among others, and his songs have been covered or sampled by a range of artists including Ozzy Osbourne, The Prodigy and The Who.

Brown's voice, and in particular his high banshee screams, are a precursor to the banshee screaming of many later heavy metal singers, and his theatrical concepts and stage presence such as the face makeup, voodoo dancing and flaming helmet pioneered a lot of what was to become Shock Rock and Progressive Rock. The third and final Kingdom Come album, Journey (1973), is noteworthy for being one of the first (if not the first) rock albums to feature a drum machine, especially on the track "Time Captives".[8]

Following the success of the single "Fire", the press would often refer to Brown as "The God of Hellfire" in reference to the opening shouted line of the song, a moniker that exists to this day.[9]

History[edit]

After attending Roundhay Grammar School in Leeds, Yorkshire, Brown attended the University of London and the University of Reading[10] and studied philosophy and law, but he gravitated to music instead, forming his first band, Blues and Brown, while at Reading.[10] After a spell fronting a number of bands in London, Brown then moved to Paris in 1966, where he worked on his theatrical skills.[10] During this period he recorded two songs for the Roger Vadim film of the Émile Zola novel La Curée.[10] Returning to London around the turn of 1966 to 1967 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.

The Crazy World of Arthur Brown[edit]

By the time the Foundations had been signed to Pye Records Brown had left the group to form his own band, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.[3] The band included Vincent Crane (Hammond organ and piano), Drachen Theaker (drums), and Nick Greenwood (bass).

Brown quickly earned a reputation for outlandish performances, which included the use of a burning metal helmet, that led to occasional mishaps, such as during an early appearance at the Windsor Festival in 1967, where he wore a colander on his head soaked in methanol. The fuel poured over his head by accident and caught fire; two bystanders doused the flames by pouring beer on Brown’s head, preventing any serious injury.[11] The flaming head then became an Arthur Brown signature.

On occasion he also stripped naked while performing, most notably in Italy, where, after setting his hair on fire, he was arrested and deported.[8] He was also notable for the extreme make-up he wore onstage, which would later be reflected in the stage acts of Alice Cooper, Kiss, and Marilyn Manson. He was also famed for his powerful operatic baritone voice which spanned four octaves[citation needed] and notably his high pitched screams.

Arthur Brown in 1968 wearing his trademark burning helmet.

By 1968, the debut album, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown became a hit on both sides of the Atlantic. Produced by The Who's manager Kit Lambert, and executive-produced by Pete Townshend on Track Records, the label begun by Lambert and Chris Stamp, it spun off an equally surprising hit single, "Fire", and contained a version of "I Put a Spell on You" by Screaming Jay Hawkins, a similarly bizarre showman. "Fire" sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc.[12] The song has since seen its opening line "I am the God of Hellfire" sampled in numerous other places, most notably in The Prodigy's 1992 rave anthem "Fire".

In a recent interview with music journalist Ray Shasho on 20 May 2014, Brown reveals the origin behind his huge hit "Fire". When Ray Shasho asked what the writing and recording scheme was behind the song, Brown answered: "I suppose it came out partly because in the war my parents both suffered. My mother was at a hotel with her mother on Whitby Bay that was blown to dust. Then moved to London and that was blown to dust, and her father was blown across the street and developed Parkinson's. Her brother was killed in a submarine. My father was out shooting planes down and taking speed to stay awake, that's what they gave him in those days. So when they both came back to the family, it wasn't the easiest emotional family to be in."[citation needed]

Brown's incendiary stage act sometimes caused trouble, even getting him kicked off a tour with Jimi Hendrix.[citation needed] On one tour, Brown waited until sunset, when his band was playing, and then he had a winch lower him onto the middle of the stage from above, wearing a suit and helmet welded from sheet metal. Parts of the suit were completely lit in lighter fluid and sparklers. In due course, Brown created the perception that he was always on the verge of setting fire to the stage, leading some concert organizers to demand he post a bond with them, if he could not show he was adequately insured against uncontrollable fire and fire damages.[citation needed]

Theaker was replaced because of his aviophobia in 1968 by drummer Carl Palmer, later of Atomic Rooster and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, for the band's second American tour in 1969, on which keyboardist Vincent Crane also left - although he soon returned.[10] However, Crane and Palmer eventually left in June 1969 to form Atomic Rooster, spelling the end for The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.[10]

Arthur Brown's Kingdom Come[edit]

Though Brown never released another recording as commercially successful as "Fire", he did release three albums with his new band Kingdom Come in the early 1970s.[10][13] The Kingdom Come albums featured a wild mix of progressive rock and colorful theatrics, and the accompanying live shows caused some controversy over Brown's simulated crucifixion and accompanying hypodermic syringe motifs.[citation needed] The third and final Kingdom Come album, Journey (1973), is noteworthy for being one of the first (if not the first) rock albums to feature a drum machine, especially on the track "Time Captives".[8]

Later career[edit]

In later years, Brown released several solo albums. In 1975 he appeared in The Who's rock opera movie Tommy as "The Priest".[10] 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, and can be heard on the albums Dune, ...Live..., and Time Actor.

In the 1980s, Brown moved to Austin, Texas, and obtained a master's degree in counseling. On 17 January 1987, Brown performed "Fire" on the "Flashback" segment of the television program Solid Gold.[14] Together with former Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention drummer Jimmy Carl Black, he also became a painter and carpenter for some years,[10] and released an album with him, Brown, Black & Blue, in 1988.

Arthur Brown playing at the Wickerman Festival, 2005

During the mid-1990s Brown and fellow counselor Jim Maxwell co-founded Healing Songs Therapy, a unique service that culminates in Brown creating a song for each client about their emotional issues.[15]

Brown returned to England in 1996. In 1997, he re-recorded "Fire" with German band Die Krupps, while in 1998, he provided a spoken-word performance on Bruce Dickinson's The Chemical Wedding album, reading a portion of three poems by William Blake, and appeared as Satan in Dickinson's music video for "Killing Floor". He was narrator for The Pretty Things' live performance of their S. F. Sorrow album at Abbey Road Studios in 1998. He also appeared on TV, guesting on Kula Shaker track "Mystical Machine Gun" several times during 1999.

A further change of musical direction occurred, when he formed an acoustic band and went on tour with Tim Rose in 1999. This band then added Stan Adler (cello and bass) and Malcolm Mortimore (percussion) and produced the Tantric Lover (2000) album. However, the lineup did not last, and Brown put a new band together with guitarist Rikki Patten and multi-instrumentalist Nick Pynn. In 2002 Brown was asked to support Robert Plant on his Dreamland Tour. By now Patten had been replaced by guitarist Chris Bryant.

Brown was getting some more media exposure now. His band was briefly called the Giant Pocket Orchestra, and also Instant Flight. In the middle of this, in 2003, Brown released Vampire Suite (2003), an album with Josh Philips and Mark Brzezicki of the band Big Country, released on Ian Grant's Track Records. Also around this time, Brown's back catalogue was re-released by Sanctuary Records.

Brown reunited the surviving members of Kingdom Come (except Des Fisher) in 2005, for a one-off concert at The Astoria in London, performing material from Kingdom Come's album Galactic Zoo Dossier, with an encore of "Spirit of Joy". This show won Brown the 'Showman of the Year' award from Classic Rock magazine.

In 2007, Brown and Pynn released Voice of Love on the Côte Basque record label, featuring a number of original recordings.

In August 2007, during a concert in Lewes, Sussex, Brown once again set fire to his own hair. While trying to extinguish the flames, Phil Rhodes, a member of the band also caught fire. Brown carried on after the fire was put out; he had however lost a few chunks of hair.[16]

He appeared as a priest in the video for The Darkness song, "Is It Just Me?"

In 2009, a roll-out re-release of Brown's back catalogue was commenced by Cherry Red Records' subsidiary Lemon Recordings and continued from 2010 onwards on their sister label Esoteric Recordings.

In 2010, Brown played a set at the Glastonbury Festival in the Glade, and he also played at Lounge On The Farm (with Lucie Rejchrtova on keyboards). On 10 June 2011, days before his 69th birthday, he played at the Ray Davies Meltdown Festival at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London where he invited Z-Star to duet with him. Six weeks later, again in London, he played the High Voltage Festival; the 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 - a curious, cross-dimensional adventure facilitated by a flaming helmet.

Hawkwind association[edit]

Brown has had a number of associations with Hawkwind. In 1973, he was one of the performers on sometimes Hawkwind vocalist Robert Calvert's album Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters, together with a number of other Hawkwind members.

In 2001 and 2002, Brown made several guest appearances at live Hawkwind concerts, subsequently touring with them as a guest vocalist. On their December 2002 tour, Hawkwind played several songs by Brown from the Kingdom Come era, along with "Song of the Gremlin", which Brown had sung on Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters; this was documented on the Hawkwind DVD Out of the Shadows.

Brown also provided vocals on two of the tracks on Hawkwind's studio album Take Me to Your Leader, released in 2005. One is the spoken-word "A Letter to Robert", where Brown recalls a conversation with Robert Calvert. Brown continued his association with Hawkwind, touring with a support set for them on their 40th anniversary tour in the UK in 2009.

Selected discography[edit]

Singles[edit]

  • 1967: "Devil's Grip" / "Give Him a Flower" (Track 604008 UK)
  • 1968: "Fire" / "Rest Cure" (Track 604022 UK), (Atlantic 2556 US)
  • 1968: "Nightmare" / "Music Man" (aka "What's Happening") (Track 604026 UK)
  • 1968: "I Put a Spell on You" / "Nightmare" (Track 2582 US)

Studio albums[edit]

  • 1968 – The Crazy World of Arthur Brown (by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown)
  • 1971 – Galactic Zoo Dossier (by Kingdom Come)
  • 1972 – Kingdom Come (by Kingdom Come)
  • 1973 – Journey (by Kingdom Come)
  • 1975 – Dance
  • 1977 – Chisholm in My Bosom
  • 1979 – Faster Than the Speed of Light (with Vincent Crane)
  • 1981 – Speak No Tech (re-released by Craig Leon in 1984 as The Complete Tapes of Atoya)
  • 1982 – Requiem
  • 1988 – Brown, Black & Blue (with Jimmy Carl Black)
  • 1989 – Strangelands (recorded in 1969) (by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown)
  • 2000 – Tantric Lover (by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown)
  • 2003 – Vampire Suite (by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown)
  • 2007 – The Voice of Love (by The Amazing World of Arthur Brown)
  • 2012 – The Magic Hat (with Rick Patten; limited edition of 200; an accompanying comic of The Magic Hat by Matt Howarth is also available)
  • 2013 – Zim Zam Zim (released as the result of a successful pledge campaign)

Live albums[edit]

  • 1993 – Order From Chaos (by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown)
  • 1994 – Jam (recorded in 1970) (by Kingdom Come)
  • 2002 – The Legboot Album - Arthur Brown on Tour
  • 2011 – The Crazy World of Arthur Brown Live at High Voltage (vinyl only release, limited edition of 1000)

Compilation albums[edit]

  • 1976 – Lost Ears (by Kingdom Come)
  • 2003 – Fire - The Story of Arthur Brown

Soundtrack contribution[edit]

  • 1966 – The Game Is Over (two songs)

Other contributions[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Polly Marshall, The God of Hellfire, the Crazy Life and Times of Arthur Brown, ISBN 0-946719-77-2, SAF Publishing, 2005, p. 25.
  2. ^ "Official UK Singles Top 100 - 16th February 2013 | Official UK Top 40 | music charts | Official Singles Chart". Retrieved 16 February 2013. 
  3. ^ a b "Guitarist/Composer". Alan Warner. Retrieved 16 February 2013. 
  4. ^ Marshall, 2005, pp. 85 and 153.
  5. ^ Marshall, 2005, p. 175.
  6. ^ Marshall, 2005, p. 172.
  7. ^ Marshall, 2005, p. 103.
  8. ^ a b c Marshall, Polly. "The God Of Hellfire, the Crazy Life and Times of Arthur Brown". SAF Publishing. ISBN 0-946719-77-2. 
  9. ^ Unterberger, Richie. Urban Spacemen and Wayfaring Strangers, p. 46.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i Larkin, C., Virgin Encyclopedia of Sixties Music (Muze UK Ltd, 1997), ISBN 0-7535-0149-X, p. 77.
  11. ^ Peisner, David (February 2007). "Rock Stars Who've Caught Fire Onstage!". Blender Magazine Online. Retrieved 27 February 2007. [dead link]
  12. ^ Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins. p. 236. ISBN 0-214-20512-6. 
  13. ^ Arthur Brown's Kingdom Come has no link with the American/German hard-rock/glam band of the same name.
  14. ^ "Solid Gold - Season 7, Episode 16: Solid Gold 87 Show 16 w/ Chicago". TV.com. 5 February 2008. Retrieved 16 February 2013. 
  15. ^ "Arthur Brown". Nndb.com. Retrieved 1 January 2012. 
  16. ^ "God of Hellfire Arthur Brown burnt in stage stunt - Local". Sussex Express. 30 August 2007. Retrieved 16 February 2013. 

External links[edit]