Arthur Brown: ‘From Slipknot to Lady Gaga, there’s room for everyone’

Arthur Brown
Arthur Brown
Have your say

He’s the God of Hellfire and a musical pioneer with a career stretching back nearly five decades. Chris Broom caught up with maverick performer Arthur Brown.

Since his band The Crazy World of Arthur Brown achieved fame in 1968 on both sides of the Atlantic with the iconic single Fire, the performer has ploughed a singular path through the music business.

And tonight he will be at The Cellars at Eastney, delivering his An Evening With... show, along with his long-serving dancer Angel Flame.

The Guide chatted with him on the phone as he relaxed at The Buttercup Cafe in his adopted home town of Lewes in East Sussex.

So, what’s the idea behind this show?

‘It actually germinated about six years ago. Pete Brown, who wrote all the lyrics for Cream and was involved in the early poetry and jazz scene, he called me up and said he was doing a tribute to Jack Kerouac, and would I write something for it?

‘What popped out is the basis of what I’m doing now. It’s bits of my life, bits about music and whatever, and it’s done more in, not a straightforward, or written form, but some interaction with Angel – that’s an event in itself, projections and stuff. I thought it was a nice new way of looking at how to present events from your life.’

While his career never reached the commercial peaks of the ’60s again, he has released or been involved in dozens of albums and his theatrical style has influenced many.

And even now in his seventies, he continues to push at creative boundaries. For his 2013 album, Brown created the character of Zim Zam Zim, relating to Brown’s take on quantum physics.

‘It’s where you enter into a sort of the ultimate dimension, where all time is there, all objects, but there’s no movement through time, it’s all in the now. Zim Zam Zim is able to enter that at will and can create worlds and fine crafts through the quantum jewel, which the latest theory in quantum physics.

‘You no longer have the dimensions of time and space, they’re just images of something that’s a lot simpler, a lot more basic, and he creates things out of it, but it’s also about how when he’s introducing it to other people, they have their own life experiences which they bring to it, so you have your junkyard king, your tantric sex expert, your forlorn lover – all different kinds of human beings.’

That’s a fairly broad canvas to work with, isn’t it?

Brown giggles gleefully: ‘I thought it would be a nice little thing for an afternoon with a cup of tea.’

Brown has often been a keen early-adopter of new technologies. His 1973 album, Journey, with Kingdom Come is widely considered to be the first to use a drum machine. And if you look at the front of today’s Guide you will see Arthur wearing his latest creation: psycho-sonic thought control headgear.

He explains: ‘That’s a theatrical representation of an actual helmet which allows you to trigger music from brainwaves and if you manipulate brainwaves with sufficient subtlety you can create melodies in real-time.

‘We have a helmet that will already do all the creation from triggering, and as we speak we’ve just moved into the element of creating in real time, it’s going to be within a year it will be on stage live. I like new things. It’s very much been a case of: here’s some new technology, what can I do with it?’

With his fondness for over-the-top stage antics, from wild make-up to the flaming crown, and even stripping naked, how does he feel about those who’ve taken some of his ideas to greater success?

‘The person who was closest to me initially was Alice Cooper, but he’s always said he owes a lot to Arthur and the Crazy World, so I’ve never felt bad about the way he did it. It was an idea, and I liked it and it was natural for me, and now I look around and there’s all these other forms out there, it’s brilliant.

‘Everyone does a different take on it – Peter Gabriel, Kiss, and then you come down to the Slipknots and the Lady Gagas and it’s all part of the same movement.

‘It’s just nice to watch how it grows into different beasts – some are more pantomimeish and some retain an earthy and disturbing element – there’s room for everyone out there.’

As for the famous flaming headpiece he wore on stage when singing Fire, Brown recalls its origins from living in Paris in the mid-60s: ‘The original crown came into my possession by accident. There were these, you would call them ladies of the night, who used to hold parties in the hotel where I was living and one of them left this crown with candles in it.

‘I put it on and went to the club that night, and from there came the idea when I got together with an English artist called Mike Reynolds of putting all the pagan symbols to it and using it with proper flames.

‘A lot of the other stuff, like the dances was from watching travelogues about going through villages in Africa and watching the witch doctors, so I copied that, and then there was mime from Marcel Marceau, and from all the artists and folklore I could find.’

Even though he would often accidentally set himself alight when using it, he regrets that health and safety laws have largely put the mockers on the flaming helmet. ‘Yes indeed, it’s no longer possible in most places.

‘We’re lucky to have Angel whose costume creates images and excitement in that number in a different way, but I do look back fondly on the days when you could burn down clubs without anyone batting an eye,’ he chuckles.