“I am the God of Hell Fire and I bring you/Fire, I’ll take you to burn/ Fire, I’ll take you to learn.” Lyrics eternally etched into the history of rock music. Lyrics not about destruction, but rather a shedding of societal conditioning and rebirth. Arthur Brown has mesmerized audiences with his theatrical psychedelia for over half a century. His 1968 hit, “Fire”, reached number one in the United Kingdom and Canada and entered the top ten in the United States and many parts of the world. The Crazy World of Arthur Brown is much more than a one-hit wonder from the late sixties. The band is an ongoing experiment in merging theatrical and musical performance and pushing limits of consciousness.
22nd August 2019 on the famed Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village. A hot summer evening in New York City. The crowd descends into Le Poisson Rouge, a venue housed in the lower level of what was once the legendary Village Gate nightclub. Musicians ranging from Miles Davis to the Velvet Underground have performed at this historic location. Excitement builds as The Crazy World of Arthur Brown returns to New York City. It is apropos this performance takes place on ground that is hallowed in jazz history. Arthur Brown came into his own heavily influenced by jazz. His blend of avant-garde and psychedelic music draws freely from spontaneous jazz improvisation. Arthur Brown is no stranger to New York City. As far back as 28th June 1969, at the zenith of his popularity, he performed a concert in Central Park, coincidentally the same day the Stonewall Riots erupted. Fifty years later, his spiritual energy on stage is as strong as ever.
The nightclub exudes an atmosphere of otherworldliness. A long passageway leads to the stage area and bar, which is shrouded in theatrical fog. Arthur Brown’s appeal knows no boundaries and the crowd reflects all ages and styles, including a couple with a young child ready to absorb the magic. Quicksilver Daydream opens the evening with an engaging set combining folk rock with a dreamy, synthesized flair. The moment then arrives as the God of Hell Fire himself, Arthur Brown, appears on stage adorned in full makeup and costume. Not just another concert, this is full immersion into theatrical psychedelia.
The Crazy World of Arthur Brown opened with “Nightmare”, a song he performed onscreen in director Peter Sykes’ 1968 experimental film, The Committee, starring Paul Jones (of Manfred Mann fame). The Committee is an abstract little film which also features Pink Floyd on the soundtrack. This black and white existentialist outing is well worth a view, especially for Arthur Brown’s manic appearance.
Arthur Brown’s influences also include rhythm and blues, and his fierce interpretation of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You” is essential at his concerts. Arthur Brown has been performing his version live for decades and he also recorded it for his debut album in 1968. Songs from his more recent 2014 album Zim Zam Zim (initially released in 2013 as part of a pledge campaign) featured at Le Poisson Rouge included “Want to Love”, “Touched by All”, and “Muscle of Love”.
Arthur Brown’s colorful excursions into musical theatrics date to his Parisian period in the mid-sixties, when he began performing at bohemian nightspots in Montmartre. Brown explains, “Until Paris, I’d been standing still. Flower power started there before it did in England. I lost all those inhibitions I had in England. I’d been consciously creating something between art and entertainment in Paris. When I came back to London, I wanted a multimedia club filled with statues and people in costumes, but I couldn’t find the money to do it.” These comments are included in Cherry Red Records’ 50th anniversary box set edition of his first album, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown (gathered in the companion booklet by author Mark Paytress). In lieu of opening his own club, Arthur Brown incorporated his newfound style into his stage act, “I’d decided to put my poetry into the music and extend the visual side of it.” During Arthur Brown’s stint in Paris, he also contributed music for the soundtrack of Roger Vadim’s 1966 film La Curée (UK/USA title: The Game Is Over), based on Émile Zola’s novel.
Back in the UK, with the success of “Fire”, Arthur Brown flirted with superstardom, often sharing the same bill with The Jimi Hendrix Experience. To this day, he is a masterful entertainer, who thrives on igniting his audience. Arthur Brown studied philosophy at the University of Reading in the UK, and his philosophical leanings have always shone brightly in his art. When performing, he attempts to literally stir the Universe, allowing audiences to step beyond their norms and embrace life and their surroundings. One can actually feel the intense energy as the performer and audience merge as one.
Standing near the side of the stage, one might glimpse Arthur Brown’s gloriously frantic costume changes between numbers. The outfits are glamorously bizarre and surreal, and although Arthur Brown helped pave the way for the glam rock pioneers of the seventies, his stage persona is not camp. With each costume, Arthur Brown is being exactly who he is in the cosmos. His wild appearance derives totally from his own soul. Alice Cooper has publicly stated Arthur Brown’s flamboyant appeal was a major influence on his own style. The two artists have shared a mutual admiration for many decades.
At the dawn of the seventies, Arthur Brown formed a new group called Kingdom Come, further pushing the boundaries of experimental rock. Songs from Kingdom Come featured at Le Poisson Rouge included “Gypsy Escape”, “Time Captives”, and “Sunrise”. The time was finally at hand which drew the audience into a frenzy. As vintage black and white images projected onto the stage screen, Arthur recited “Fanfare – Fire Poem”. This is his poetic prelude to “Fire”, which he then sang with unlimited passion, sparking the crowd into free-form ecstasy. The lyrics of this classic should not be overlooked, proclaiming a break from conformity…“You fought hard and you saved and earned/But all of it’s going to burn/And your mind, your tiny mind/You know you’ve really been so blind/Now’s your time, burn your mind/You’re falling far, too far behind…You’ve been living like a little boy/In the middle of your little world.” For avid fans reading this, yes, Arthur did indeed change the gender to “boy” this very night within his lyrics.
The Crazy World of Arthur Brown released a new album in 2019 titled Gypsy Voodoo and the band played the rocking title track from that collection. Gypsy Voodoo was recorded at Dripping Springs, Texas, USA where Arthur Brown recently spent some creative time. For an encore, the band did two more songs from Zim Zam Zim, “Jungle Fever” and “The Unknown”. Arthur Brown descended onto the floor of the nightclub at one point, singing within the crowd, spiritually at one with his audience. The show is a phantasmagorical event and an unforgettable experience. After the performance, Arthur Brown remained to happily greet his many admirers, autographing records, and making new friends. The positive energy was overflowing.
Earlier this summer, Arthur Brown reunited with drummer Carl Palmer (who previously had joined The Crazy World of Arthur Brown in 1969) on the Royal Affair Tour. This progressive rock tour also featured Yes, Asia, and John Lodge of the Moody Blues. It’s been a very busy year for Arthur across the United States, entertaining audiences coast to coast. His appearance at Le Poisson Rouge was his final stop before returning to the UK. At 77, Arthur Brown is keeping his flame burning bright, and his “Fire” shows no sign of diminishing any time soon.