His stage persona may be maniacal, but Enda Mullen finds sixties soul sensation Arthur Brown is more mild-mannered in real life.
When musical highlights of the swinging sixties get shown, arguably the most theatrical of them all is Arthur Brown uttering his immortal line: “I am the god of hellfire, and I bring you...” .
Resplendent in devilish make-up and a helmet with flames shooting from it, the wide-eyed singer then launches into the opening verse of Fire – the hit with which he will forever be associated.
One could be forgiven for thinking The Crazy World of Arthur Brown frontman was one of the sixties’ more maniacal characters – in a decade renowned for its larger than life personalities. Yet the man himself is a world away from that wild alter-ego – more mild-mannered than maniacal. So, how much of the real Arthur Brown is in the Crazy World of Arthur Brown character?
“Well, it’s a kind of channelling of energy like a shaman,” he says. “But I suppose the humour is something I carry in both stage performances and real life. But I’m pretty laid back in everyday life.”
That everyday life these days involves living in a yurt in East Sussex and an existence that is busy not just in musical ways.
“I am involved in some eco-groups and am experimenting building structures with new materials,” he explains. “I spend time in different countries and I like dancing. Sometimes I still dance all night. I occasionally teach meditation and sometimes I give singing lessons. I am writing various things and I find each moment fascinating.
“I also have a masters degree in counselling. I have been residential family counsellor at a drug unit in Texas. Also, in that state, surprisingly, I managed to persuade the authorities to let me take trance-dancing into the federal prison system with huge speakers and great dance music. It was well received by the prisoners, the prison psychologists endorsed it and it produced some really tangible positive results.”
During that decade of decadence when he shot to fame, Arthur jam?med with Jimi Hendrix and John Lee Hooker and hung out with the likes of Jim Morrison, Pete Townsend and Keith Moon. In the seventies he lived down the road from David Bowie and the two would get together frequently. He was also close to Frank Zappa, Lene Lovich and Peter Gabriel.
So does he still see many of his rock ‘n roll friends?
“A lot of them are dead, but there is a camaraderie amongst those still out there doing it.
“Last year I met Robert Plant just outside the airport in Austin, Texas, quite by accident. It resulted in going with him to a concert of his and then hanging out a while at the after gig party. I have had interesting train journeys with Jimmy Page, and interesting conversations with Lemmy on the plane – all quite spontaneous.
Arthur’s lengthy list of musical influences encompasses everyone from Elvis and Little Richard to Jaques Brel and Charles Aznavour and anyone who has ever seen him cannot fail to be impressed by his powerful voice and extensive vocal range.
So what’s the secret in hanging on to it?
“I rehearse still – say four days a week when I’m not gigging,” he says. “I sing in a way that is natural for me – so I don’t overstrain the voice. I keep my mind open and fresh and do a 40-minute physical workout each day because you sing with your whole body.”
Though he has toured continuously, Arthur’s current tour is the first time he has performed with a full band for a while and he admits the crowd’s enthusiasm took him by surprise.
“With the full electric band things are fun, exciting, and musically inventive,” he explains. “Almost immediately I formed the electric line-up, crowds started to grow and the response is more intense. And of course, sonically it’s more diverse and danceable.”
His recent Voices of Love album met with critical acclaim and another, with special guests yet to be announced, is due for release shortly.
Perhaps the most bizarre thing about the 21st century Arthur Brown is the fact that technically he is a ‘reverend’ - a title he acquired while working as a counsellor in the US.
“I am a reverend and if I inform the church in any particular country I can marry people,” he says. “I also do ceremonies for people who have done the registry office bit and want something more personal.
“Recently one couple asked me if I would do this for them wearing a fire helmet and could they also wear one. So, three were made and we have some great photos!”
* Arthur Brown plays the Robin 2 in Bilston on Saturday To book tickets visit www.therobin.co.uk.