If your first sight of psychedelia was watching BBC One’s Sounds of The Sixties, then the memory of a man screaming I AM THE GOD OF HELL FIRE’ while actual flames flickered out of his head is probably etched on your memory.
The man with the burning helmet, Arthur Brown, is one of those legendary names from the period which, thankfully, we still have the odd chance to glimpse and pay tribute to. He reached number one in 1968 with Fire (later sampled famously by the Prodigy) and ever since has been labelled something of a one-hit wonder – despite a 40-year career that has seen him work with The Who, Robert Plant and Kula Shaker – while also gaining a Masters degree in counselling.
Jamie Bowman caught up with him ahead of this weekend’s eagerly anticipated show with local scenseters The Wicked Whispers. Just don’t touch the brown acid, OK people?
SevenStreets: What can people expect from the Arthur Brown experience these days?
Arthur Brown: Plenty of exciting music, good visuals, some new material – it’ll be reasonably wild!
Why do you think ’60s psychedelic music still resonates so strongly with many new bands?
I think it’s a parallel with comedy, where you’ll find a strong Monty Python influence. Psychedelic music opened a door way to a certain kind of approach to sound and visuals. There was a lot of experimentation and different influences so it’s no wonder people go back to look at it. Of course there were the psychedelics themselves which helps!
It was an exciting time and deals with areas of the psyche that still confront young people. It came from the underground and I think it’s become a template for how a lot of people live their lives. I’m proud this style of music is still alive and it proves to me that the whole scene is a living occasion. Really good music is not limited to the time it was written in.
Did you feel you were changing the world at the time?
It was just fun to begin with. When things started spreading out from [legendary ’60s club] UFO then you did feel there was some change being generated. You never expected though that your life as a musician would last more than a few years!
There was a real sense of the drama and performance to your music. Do you think that’s lacking in music now?
The things that get exposed on TV and the media and form public taste are not experimental. I was at the Brighton Music Awards the other night with Jimmy Page and Roger Daltrey and there were some quite experimental bands playing there so I think it’s there but it’s not what people are given to look at.
We need a new figure who is totally outrageous but with something to say, then maybe there would be a lot of energy and it will happen all over again. I’m sure it will – look at the Eurovision Song Contest being won by Lordi a few years ago. That one came from out of the blue! I listen to a lot of flamenco music, which has the passion I enjoy.
Is Fire a millstone for you or are you proud of it?
I think it’s fantastic! It allows me to play festivals and headline gigs and it allowed me to explore whatever I wanted musically so most of my albums are very different from each other. I still have enough of a market to go out and do it and it doesn’t worry me!
You were genuinely scary at the time – you seemed to really mean what you were doing?
The album was created with a story to it and one of the characters was The God of Hell Fire. Pete Townsend decided Fire would make a good single – it was that or this kind of piss-take song we had called Give Him A Flower which mocked the whole hippy thing. I wanted to act the part as I had a background in theatre and it was serious.
At the same time there was a bit of buffoonery about the whole thing. It was dangerous to set light to my head! People came thinking they were going to get this nice pop band but they got a crazy atmosphere, costumes and make up. To a lot of people it was very disturbing!
What are you up to at the moment?
If you go on Youtube you can see my latest song The Bridge. I have a new band that is very young and they’re great.
I’ve also recently recorded a track for a tribute album to [singer of sixties garage group The Seeds] Sky Saxon. Iggy Pop’s done one too. I have three DVDs ready to come out too so it’s a very active period. I’ve also recently sung at Glyndbourne Opera house which is a bit different!
I pop all round the world – I have a yurt on top of a hill in Portugal, a yurt here in an orchard near Brighton and a place where I stay in the mountains in Spain. My son and I have also just built a wooden cabin in his back garden in Texas. I spent five years in a terraced house so you can never tell what’s going to happen next. I’m a bit of a wanderer!
What are you memories of playing Liverpool?
We played the Cavern once which was great. Liverpool is a sea-voyaging city so there’s that spirit of adventure there still.
We’ve played a lot of great concerts there. I have a recording of a gig we did in Liverpool with my band Kingdom Come when we doing all sorts of weird electronic stuff – our history with Liverpool goes way back!
The Crazy World of Arthur Brown are appearing as special guests of The Wicked Whispers at The Butterfly’s Ball and The Grasshopper’s Feast taking place Saturday 27th November at The Static Gallery, Roe Street, Liverpool.
Also appearing are Eva Petersen, El Toro while Echo and the Bunnymen’s Will Sergeant will be spinning the tunes.