The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, in session for John Peel at BBC Radio 1 – from sessions recorded on October 3, 1967 and April 28, 1968. As much as I waxed enthusiastic about the sound of last night’s Georgie Fame/Rolling Stones BBC appearance, its as much as I caution everyone tonight not to expect the same pristine sound from this session. No. Truths to tell, this is what many of the John Peel sessions sound like – recorded by fans and kids with tape recorders and enough tape to last them a half-hour. Luckily for everyone, Peel and his engineers preserved a lot – unfortunately not all, particularly the early sessions like this one. It’s not a complete mess, it’s listenable and clear in places. But the point is; this is a historic session and a rare one.
The Crazy World of Arthur Brown were an English psychedelic rock band formed by singer Arthur Brown in 1967. The band included Vincent Crane (Hammond organ and piano), Drachen Theaker (drums), and Nick Greenwood (bass).
Their song “Fire” (released in 1968 as a single) sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc reaching number one in the UK Singles Chart and Canada, and number two on the US Billboard Hot 100 as well as its parent album The Crazy World of Arthur Brown which reached number 2 on the UK album charts and number 7 in the US.
Brown quickly earned a reputation for both his powerful operatic voice (which spanned four octaves) and his outlandish performances, including the use of a burning metal helmet, which led to occasional mishaps. During an early appearance at the Windsor Festival in 1967, Brown wore a colander on his head soaked in methanol. The fuel poured over his head by accident caught fire; two bystanders doused the flames by pouring beer on Brown’s head, preventing any serious injury. 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. He was also notable for the extreme make-up he wore onstage, which would later be reflected in the stage acts of Alice Cooper, Peter Gabriel, George Clinton, and Bruce Dickinson among others.
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. 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”, and more recently in Death Grips’ “Lord of the Game”, from 2011.
Brown’s incendiary stage act sometimes caused trouble, even getting him kicked off a tour with Jimi Hendrix. 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 a 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.
Theaker was replaced because of his aviophobia in 1968 by Chris Farlowe & The Thunderbirds drummer Carl Palmer, later of Atomic Rooster, Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Asia for the band’s second American tour in 1969, on which keyboardist Vincent Crane also left—although he soon returned. When I saw him, playing in L.A. in 1969 he had broken his foot during an earlier San Francisco appearance and, even though the pyrotechnics were much the same, he was hobbling around on a crutch, so I had to imagine what he looked like really animated as well as on fire.
The lineup practically dissolved on the band’s US tour in June 1969. Crane and Palmer left to form Atomic Rooster, Greenwood (known as Sean Nicholas during his stay in CWOAB) went on to Khan (as Nick Greenwood), Theaker to Love and then Rustic Hinge, and Brown to Kingdom Come.
So, despite the marginal sound, in case you’ve never heard of Arthur Brown before and certainly never heard or even seen The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown live, here is at least a reasonable attempt at giving you an idea what all the fuss was about in 1968.
Enjoy, and keep your fingers crossed someone unearths the masters from this sometime.