Coming to fruition as psychedelic rock hits its mainstream peak in 1968, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown delivered a somewhat demented formula to an already absurd genre.
Fronted by bizarre showman Arthur Brown, the band shunned psychedelia’s preferred instrumentation (electric guitar) for organs and brass amongst harsh orchestral sections.
Key to this enigmatic approach were Vincent Crane (Hammond organ and arranger), Drachen Theaker (drums) and bassist Sean Nicholas.
Although their 1967 début single “Devil’s Grip” failed to capture the imagination of audiences (it’s worth an awful lot today if you happen to cross it), The Crazy World of Arthur Brown found success with their follow-up offering – “Fire”.
Produced by Kit Lambert and overseen by The Who’s Pete Townsend, “Fire” went on to sell over one million copies, garnering the top spot in the UK singles charts, as well as reaching number 2 in US Billboard charts.
The song was also a big seller in Australia and several European territories, prompting success for the group’s eponymous début album.
Brown’s reputation for outlandish live performances began to spread. Indeed, the shows surrounding the release of “Fire” were simply dangerous stunts.
Performances often commenced with Brown wearing a burning helmet. The helmet’s – essentially improvised leather skullcaps bolted to a metal dish – were doused with petrol and set on fire as Brown took to the stage.
With insulation not a consideration, the flames often superheated the plate on Brown’s head, causing severe pain and occasionally setting his hair ablaze. This trick proved to be problematic, with numerous promoters and artists fearing Brown would set stages on fire. The act even proved too much for Jimi Hendrix, who kicked the group off a tour in 1968.
Aside from the stunts, Brown’s work held strong religious connotations, with the band’s live show comprising of a mini-rock opera examining the fear of Hell and the comfort of sin.
Unfortunately, the group began to disintegrate during an American tour in 1969 when first Theaker was replaced by Carl Palmer (of Emerson, Lake & Palmer fame). Shortly afterward Crane also left the fold, effectively ending the group.
At the same time, Brown and Crane were sued for stealing the basic tune for “Fire” from the Mike Finesilver and Peter Ker song “Baby, You’re a Long Way Behind.”
Arthur Brown set up a new Crazy World band, recording the album Strangelands in 1969, although it would be shelved until 1988. After that failure, Brown played with various projects, resurfacing occasionally to perform The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.
Brown still performs to this day; however both Crane and Theaker have since passed away. Despite their relatively brief existence, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown will always be remembered as “the God(s) of hellfire.”