Arthur Brown (born Arthur Wilton, June 24, 1942, Whitby, Yorkshire) is an English rock and roll singer best known for his flamboyant, theatrical style and significant influence on shock-rockers Alice Cooper and Kiss, and for his Number One hit in the UK Singles Chart and Canada, “Fire” in 1968.
Brown attended the University of London and the University of Reading and studied philosophy and law, but he gravitated to music instead. He was a temporary member of a London-based R&B/Soul/Ska group called The Ramong Sound which would soon morph into the hit making soul group The Foundations. By the time the Foundations had been signed to Pye Records Brown had left the group to form his own band.
Brown earned a fast reputation for outlandish and often macabre performances, which included the use of a burning metal helmet that led to occasional mishaps, such as a Windsor, England, show in which the methanol fueling of the helmet crown poured over his head by accident and caught fire; two bystanders doused the flames by pouring beer on Brown’s head, preventing any serious injury.
By 1968, the debut album, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown by the band with the same name, became a surprise hit on both sides of the Atlantic. Produced by The Who’s manager Kit Lambert, and executive-produced by Pete Townshend (the album was issued on Track Records, the label begun by Lambert and Chris Stamp, in the UK), it spun off an equally surprising hit single, “Fire”, a song whose infamous opening line “I am the God of Hellfire” would be sampled in numerous other places, and also included a macabre cover of the Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ oldie “I Put a Spell on You”. The band included Vincent Crane on Hammond organ, Drachen Theaker on drums, and Nick Greenwood on bass. Theaker was replaced by Carl Palmer, later of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, during the band’s second American tour. Crane and Palmer eventually left to form Atomic Rooster.
Though Brown never managed to release another recording as commercially successful as “Fire”, he did release three noteworthy albums with his new band Kingdom Come in the early 1970s (Arthur Brown’s Kingdom Come should not be confused with the hard rock/glam band of the same name from the 1980s). Kingdom Come albums featured a wild mix of progressive rock and demented theatrics, including Brown’s simulated crucifixion. Kingdom Come often performed in full costume with makeup, and photos of Brown from this period clearly show him sporting a distinctive eye makeup scheme. The third and final Kingdom Come album, Journey, is noteworthy for being one of the first (if not the first) rock albums to feature a drum machine.
In later years, Brown released several solo albums and also contributed vocals to the song “The Tell Tale Heart” on the Poe-based concept album Tales of Mystery and Imagination by The Alan Parsons Project. In 1975, Arthur Brown also had a small but meaningful part in The Who’s rock opera movie Tommy as “The Priest”. Brown moved to Austin, Texas, for a time, in the 1980s, and obtained a Master’s degree in counseling.
In 1979, he provided the vocals for the German synth musician Klaus Schulze on his album Dune, and he toured with Schulze in 1977 (as can be heard on the live-album ...Live...).
Brown returned to England in 1996. In 1997, he re-recorded “Fire” with German band Die Krupps. In 1998, he provided a spoken word performance on Bruce Dickinson’s The Chemical Wedding album, reading a portion of three poems by William Blake.
Brown then went on another musical journey of performing with an acoustic band, initially with Rick Patten on guitar and went on tour with Tim Rose in 1999 (around the same time a fan called Matthew North set up Brown’s official web site). This band then added Stan Adler (cello and bass) and Malcolm Mortimer (percussion) and produced the Tantric Lover album.
This line up did not last, and Patten and Brown put a new band together with multi instrumentalist Nick Pynn. Straight away they started doing festivals and international tours, and in 2002 Brown was asked to support Robert Plant on his Dreamland Tour. By now Patten had been replaced by Chris Bryant.
Brown was getting much more media exposure now as well as playing many gigs all over the world, mostly with his Giant Pocket Orchestra but also with new band Instant Flight, who perform in the same style as the original band in the 1960s. In the middle of this Brown released Vampire Suite, an album with Josh Philips and Mark Brzezicki of the band Big Country, released on Ian Grant’s Track Records. Also around this time Brown’s back catalogue has been re-released by Sanctuary Records.
Brown reunited the surviving members of Kingdom Come (except Des Fisher) in 2005, for a one-off concert at The Astoria in London, performing material from Kingdom Come’s album Galactic Zoo Dossier, with an encore of “Spirit of Joy”. This show won Brown the Showman of The Year award from Classic Rock magazine.
In 2007, Brown and Pynn released Voice Of Love on the Côte Basque record label, featuring a number of original recordings.
The music of Kingdom Come has often been compared to Hawkwind, a band with which Brown has had a number of associations. In 1973, he was one of the performers on Robert Calvert’s album Captain Lockheed and The Starfighters, together with most other Hawkwind members of the time. In 2001 and 2002, Brown made several guest appearances at live Hawkwind concerts, subsequently touring with them, though usually billed as a ‘guest vocalist’.
In their tour of December 2002, Hawkwind played several songs by Brown from the Kingdom Come era, along with “Song of The Gremlin” which Brown had sung on Captain Lockheed; this was documented on the Hawkwind DVD Out of The Shadows.
Brown provided vocals on two of the tracks on Hawkwind’s studio album Take Me to Your Leader which was released in 2005. One is the spoken word “A Letter to Robert” where Brown recalls a conversation with Robert Calvert.