When you talk about landmarks in this crazy world you may think of such iconic structures as the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal, the Pyramids of Giza, the Empire State Building, or Red Square, Moscow.
If you think about musical landmarks, and are of a certain age to really appreciate their historic impact, you will probably have many contenders running through your mind.
One of the most ground breaking albums of its time has just been re-released by Esoteric, part of the Cherry Red label. Its groundbreaking significance cannot be understated despite being often overlooked except by those who were profoundly influenced by it.
Travel, if you will, back to the London of 1968. The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, one of the most controversial acts of the time, are on stage. Arthur stripped to the waist, face painted like some demonic witchdoctor, and with his head crown ablaze screams "I am the god of hellfire."
It's a spectacle that once witnessed will never be forgotten. Arthur Brown literally blazed a trail for the many who subsequently followed his macabre and, at the time, controversial vision of theatrical rock.
Arthur Brown was born in 1942 in Whitby, on England's north east coast, a place already noted for Bram Stokers Dracula. Moving with his parents to Cardiff he played in several local bands and even sang in the church choir. He then went via Reading University to London before moving on again in 1966 to Paris.
During his time as part of the underground scene in the French capital his on-stage persona began to take shape. He even helped with the soundtrack album for Roger Vadim's film La Curee.
Soon after he returned rather swiftly to London after he had accidentally set fire to a Paris nightclub he was appearing at. Even more worrying for him was that the venue was reportedly owned by the Mafia. It was not the shrewdest of moves.
Teaming up with classically trained keyboard player Vincent Crane (d. 1989) and avant-garde drummer Drachen Theaker (d. 1992) he set about forming a band. Theaker also introduced additional influences gathered together from his vast collection of African records.
The band took the name The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown. Pretty soon the world would see just how crazy that world could be.
The bands image was way ahead of its time. This was 1968, a year which, in many ways, shaped our modern world. Certainly the fall out from that year would be felt for a very long time after.
It was a year when the older elements of society was trying to get to grips with the not so cuddly Beatles admitting to taking LSD. There was TV footage of student riots, ground breaking and increasingly controversial cinema, assassinations, Vietnam, and the Satanic Majesty of the Stones. Just about every barrier, both socially and artistically, were being destroyed in this wave of near revolution.
The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown soon became a regular feature at an acid soaked UFO club in London where the likes of Sid Barrett?s Pink Floyd and Soft Machine were on the way to establishing the clubs legendary status. Signing to Track Records at the recommendation of Pete Townshend they released their first single "Devil?s Grip" which was backed by "Give Him A Flower."
Work soon began on their self title debut album which had The Who connection in full swing with Townshend listed as Associate Producer alongside manager Kit Lambert as Producer. Townshend even played rhythm on "Rest Cure."
The trio needed a bass player for the studio sessions. One renowned sessions man, better known as John Paul Jones who would soon be part of Led Zeppelin, and Ronnie Wood later of The Faces and The Rolling Stones were tried out. The latter can be heard on the bands John Peel Radio One Sessions, some of which can be heard on this sets additional disc.
Eventually Sean Nicholas was brought in and provided bass for the album. Vincent Crane's classical training was put to good effect through his string and brass arrangements, even though this move would prove to be a step too far for Theaker.
There were also some artistic disagreements between Brown and Kit Lambert. Arthur wanted the whole album to be a concept written, unsurprisingly, around the theme of "Fire" whilst Kit thought otherwise. The album arrived with a side to satisfy both of those viewpoints.
The detailed album notes of the Esoteric re-release come in fold out form with a host of excellent period artwork and photographs. Written by rock journalist Malcolm Dome they cover the story in superb detail. He points out the irony of the dispute between Lambert and Brown which emerged when their single "Fire" literally blazed its way to number one at home in the UK, and second slot in the US.
The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown album was a lot more than one, albeit memorable track. Always a visually unpredictable and groundbreaking live act the album surprisingly captures the bands ability in the studio to dramatic effect.
The album is re-released in double CD format which benefits from the inclusion of the single "Devil's Grip" and "Give Him A Flower." There are previously unreleased tracks such as "Music Man" along with an earlier version of "Fire" with a different 'psychedelic' ending.
There is more, including an interview with Brian Matthews, and a recording of "Come & Buy" taken from those John Peel Radio One Sessions. Also of note is the inclusion of "Nightmare" which was written for the soundtrack of the film The Committee which also appears for the first time.
In short, this is a treasure trove from rock history, representing a breakthrough album by a band that took a major leap into territory that would later be occupied by the likes of Alice Cooper, Peter Gabriel, and generations of metal bands.
It opens with the disturbing "Prelude – Nightmare" a track that introduced the power of the vocal presence of Arthur Brown to the unsuspecting world. "Fanfare – Fire Poem" leads to "Fire" a track that has been covered by many bands, The Who and Prodigy included.
With Cranes jazz soaked keys to the fore, and Theaker coping admirably with the constant time shifts, and Browns whole persona leaping from your speakers, this is an album whose place in history is confirmed.
This is, after all, a man who, quite literally, was often burned for his art. His macabre obsession with fire taps into our primeval fears and when he screams "you're gonna burn" it's a truly unforgettable moment.
"Come & Buy" opens like a UK version of The Doors and again shocks with its graphic depiction of the effects of flame. "Time – Confusion", enhanced by Cranes string arrangements has a stunning vocal performance, part spoken, part sung, and semi-screamed, it draws you in like a gothic horror film.
"I Put A Spell On You", "Spontaneous Apple Creation", "Rest Cure", "I've Got Money", and "Child Of My Kingdom" all underline the creative weirdness that was so far ahead of most other bands of the era.
There is just a touch of the very early Uriah Heep, splashes of jazz fusion, and brief glimpses of the Doors. Above all of this there is the whole world, the crazy world, of unique creativity that could only be from the mind of Arthur Brown.
Dated? Yes, of course. Part of the reason is that this has been a root source of influence for so many subsequent acts. The sound is as best as it can be for a re-mastered 1968 album. The set is enhanced by the inclusion of CD 2 which, as we have seen boasts a host of additional gems.
If there was a rock museum to go and visit, one of the most memorable glass cabinets will have Arthur Brown in all his face painted, god of hellfire, glory.
Esoteric have also re-released three albums from his next venture, Kingdom Come, and some of his later solo albums including Speak No Tech, Requiem, and Brown Black & Blue. Tantric Lover a later Crazy World album is also available. These are also available digitally via Lost Tunes.
Please check out this and other releases from the Esoteric catalogue at their website. Arthur Brown his an official website which has a fascinating wealth of information regarding this one off legend.Powered by Sidelines