‘I wore fiery headphones to sing it’… how Arthur Brown’s The Crazy World made Fire | Culture

Arthur Brown, singer, songwriter

I have always loved flames. I don’t know if it had anything to do with moving to London at the end of the war, when I was three and the East End was on fire. If you look into the center of a fire, you get stillness within yourself. It’s like meditation, and it inspired me.

Later, after moving to Leeds, I enjoyed walking in the hills and singing, to feel the energy. I had read metaphysical poets like John Donne and one day I wrote The Fire Poem. After forming Arthur Brown’s The Crazy World, I turned the poem into the song Fire with Vincent Crane, our organist. He eventually ended up in a mental hospital after a bad acid trip, but before that he was a cornucopia of endless choral melodic inventions. I would simply say to him: “That thing you just played, that’s it!”

We were creative guys in surreal, folk, jazz and a bit of classical. Drachen Theaker, the drummer, played an African rhythm and Vince played it in chords on the organ. In the building where we were rehearsing, two other guys [Mike Finesilver and Peter Ker] were rehearsing with an Indian singer, Elli. They had a song that I really liked [Baby, You’re a Long Way Behind], so we mixed it with Fire for the “Da da daaaa” horn riff. They are now in the credits of the songs.

Pete Townshend came to see us at [legendary psychedelic haunt] the UFO club and introduced us to Who’s managers, Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp. We did a demo at Pete’s studio, with him playing guitar. Then Kit and Chris signed us to Track Records: Kit produced us. Ronnie Wood [from the Rolling Stones] says he played bass on Fire, but I think he’s confusing it with John Peel’s session version, which he played on.

I wore fiery headphones to sing it, which proved popular in clubs, but after the song went to number 1, there were a lot of incidents. The flames could reach 1.20 meters high: many clubs left burn marks on the ceiling. At a concert, my coat caught fire and I was running around with a burning arm. Health and safety was not important back then.

Phill Brown, band operator

I was a 16 year old tape operator at Olympic Studios in London, trained by Keith Grant, Glyn Johns and Eddie Kramer. We did a phenomenal amount of amazing sessions – Traffic, the Small Faces, the Move, Jimi Hendrix. I was learning to make records and I had the chance to be Arthur’s tape recorder.

When we were setting up the equipment, this very tall figure came in, wearing robes. I’ve never seen him in jeans or a T-shirt. Makeup aside, he looked exactly like he did on stage. Before we started recording, he didn’t exactly sing, but he did a lot of vocal gymnastics to warm up. He was such a character but a lovely guy, not selfish but also trying to push boundaries.

On Fire, there’s a kick drum upside down, which is pretty far off for 1968. We flipped the tape and played the drums so that when you turned it the right way, it went “pfft, pfft. ..” There was no plug-in effects sound back then, so if you wanted a different sound, you had to go somewhere that wasn’t the studio. The effect on “I am the god of hell and I bring you… fire!” the intro is a mix of those beautiful EMT echo plates [artificial reverb] and recording in the toilet, which gave a room-like sound.

The fire was made on a four track, then bounced to another four track to give more tracks to record on. Vince was playing bass pedals on his organ. Kit Lambert – who was more music-conscious than many managers at the time – decided he needed a few extra tricks, so horns were added.

Working on a No. 1 record at 16 was a fantastic feeling. Unfortunately, Arthur never collected royalties, which was often the case at the time. I then spent a lot of time working with my heroes [as a producer] but I don’t have autographs and obviously neither of us had cell phones. I have a photo of me with Sly Stone. You do a job and sometimes you become friends. It’s only much later that you look back and think, “What a week that was.

Arthur Brown’s new album, Long Long Road, is out on Magnetic Eye Records on June 24, his 80th birthday. The band will play at Bush Hall in London on June 25. Details thegodofhellfire.com

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