The God of Hellfire, Arthur Brown talks about Emile Zola, Gurdjieff, the Crazy World, painting, the music business and his generation

"Let's face it, we all know about love, but most of us prefer to live in dreams."

Welcome to the Crazy Wisdom of Arthur Brown

Arthur Brown first came to prominence in swinging London in 1967, after spending some time on the Paris underground scene Arthur was quickly signed to Track Records at the instruction of The Who’s Pete Townshend and released the single Devils Grip, regarded by some as the record that gave the birth of Heavy Metal. Arthur is best thought of for his 1968 Number one single Fire that still gets regular airplay all over the world and has been covered by the likes of Ozzy Osbourne, Die Krupps, The Prodigy and The Who. Arthur's next band Kingdome Come performed as the main act at the first filmed Glastonbury Festival in 1971 and in 1973 Arthur Brown was the first person to base a live band round a drum- machine, dispensing with a drummer altogether.

All the others are part of the music history. Let’s talk with Arthur Brown about… everything…

Interview by Michael Limnios

Do you believe that nowadays there’re things to change in any level?
I am the same one who was there when I was born and will be there when I die. Apart from that, there is nothing in this world but change. Everything that looks permanent is slowly crumbling. I change with everything that changes, and stay unchanged by it. I respond to everything in each moment.
The World becoming one through the Internet has already changed the balance of power in politics. The awareness that we can no longer see any race or sex as superior to another is borne out whenever we see new achievements coming out of supposedly" backward or developing countries". And realize the constant drive to achievement among women. Tensions and conflict arise with those who still see the world through the eyes of the past.
What we are seeing is all the universe being represented as information, in a digital virtual image.
What now will happen is the battle between those who seek to use this to amass great power and wealth for themselves, and those for whom it becomes part of a way of liberating people from oppression, poverty and disease.
It is a drama of human nature, played in the theatre of consciousness. Whether or not there will be a physical war about it, who knows?
I think maybe one change will be to recognize that beneath the opposite sexes lies a person. So, what are now male or female characteristics will be accepted in both sexes. Not only will the difference in races be subsidiary to the content of their character, as Martin Luther King said, but the difference between the sexes will also be subsidiary to the content of their character.

How would you spend a day with Jimi Hendrix?
When I last spent time with Jimmy, he was thinking of playing a set with classical music behind him- Wagner- and a theatrical presentation. In a way he was doing what Coltraine had done before him - looking at the European roots of the music of our day. This didn't satisfy Coltraine for long. He decided to find his own roots, music that came before European.In his case he found these roots in Indian music (Asian).
I think Jimmy would  also have gone for his roots. (as it happened, because people in the line- up I mentioned got sick, he nEver did the classical thing. Instead, he went back to his blues RnB roots with Band of gypsies.)
However, if he had stayed alive, I think he would have explored Indian, African, gipsy, and all the other musics of the world, because he was a traveller in all the realms of the body and spirit.
So, with that in mind, he and I would play some music,( which is what we did when we got together). We would go to a club or a flamenco evening or something. We once shared a girlfriend briefly, so I know with him, we would have also some female company.
We would start in the afternoon, just hanging out. Relaxing, talking about the world, war, spirituality and such, who knows if he would still be doing drugs?
We would go to a friend's house where we were cooked for, and eat in company. If possible we'd find some place next to a waterfall or some stunning natural feature.

What would you say to Hephaestus?
If you make me a new Fire Helmet, I'll return the nightgown that Aphrodite left under my bed.

What advice would you give to the God of Hellfire?
"Buy a car with a sun-roof!  "

To which person would you like to send some of your burn?
Well, we are talking, not of me, Arthur Brown, but of the God of Hellfire. He will send it at the moment to all those torturing people.

What would you say to Emile Zola?
Are you still optimistic about humanity, Emile?
When he had answered my first question, I would ask him if he would like to go on Pop Idol or a similar show, and sing either John Lennon's imagine, or Leonard Cohen's "the Future!"

Which is the most interesting period in your life, and why?
Now. Because I am always amazed at my life.

From whom have you have learned the most secrets about the art and music?
From Ganga Decoux in Portugal. Her whole life is a creative act.

When did you last laugh and cry?
A friend just sent me a dirty joke. I laughed and laughed.
Last night I sang in Hamburg with The Hamburg Blues Band. Clem Clempson's solo in one number was so passionate and beautiful, tears poured from my eyes.

What experiences in life make you a good artist?
It is not experience that makes you an artist, or even a good one. We are born with different potentials. What we do with them depends on nature, our will, our capacity to love, our intelligence. And all these affect the way we deal with our experiences.
The universe is a creative expression. If we embrace freedom, we are as expressive as the universe. The more limited we are, the less creative our expression will be. For the free ones, life itself is a creative expression, a "work of art."
The truly creative moment is one where we are free from all experience, from ourselves. We stand outside everything. Then, the truly creative energy takes on whatever form it wishes, this can be the form we have in our mind at the time. Then the work of art IS what it expresses.
So then when someone looks at a painting expressing anger, they feel anger, because the painting itself is anger.

What experiences in your life make you a GOOD artist, how do you want to be remembered?
Fucking hell, isn't this moment enough?

Which memory from The Crazy World of Arthur Brown makes you smile?
Ah, yes, so many great memories!
Once when I was performing in France on a tour with the Crazy World of the day, I performed naked. My manager for the tour was Giorgio Gomelski, who was a giant figure in more experimental music. He was sitting at the back of the audience, next to an old woman.
When I came on naked, she clutched herself and cried out. Giorgio leaned towards her and asked "are you alright, madam? " worried that she had had some kind of seizure. She smiled blissfully and said, «Oh yes, now I have seen two naked men in my life- first, my husband, and now, at last , this man."
Perhaps this could be the beginning of a new form of therapy?

Are there any memories from Blues and Brown, which you’d like to share with us?
Yeah, that was the beginning of playing blues and rhythm and blues for me. We played in the university Jazz club a smallish room in the basement of the students union building .Everyone smoked, daring women wore tights. It was kind of a shifting of the audience from Modern Jazz in which “coolness" was the attitude. You didn't want to look excited with that lot. But the RnB was so sexual, so raw. So the dancing was more erotic, and the atmosphere more explosive. We played Howling Wolf, Jimmy Witherspoon, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker- with whom I finally got to sing on stage 7 years later- magic names conjured up exotic universes - Slim Harpo, Jimmy Reed, Ray Charles, Alexis Korner, Sonny Boy Williamson, and so many others.
The emotional honesty of this music was a lesson to me, and the freedom I felt when performing it- I played double bass and sang- was an organic part of my whole student life. The experimentation in life and music burst the bubble of my upbringing.

What is the “think” you miss most from Jimmy Carl Black?
Jimmy Carl Black was a "rough diamond." He had a real human warmth. He also liked to bitch about Frank Zappa's stealing his money. He also might proposition your girlfriend or wife while you went away to do something for a few minutes, and then when you returned, tell you you were his best friend - and mean it. We had so many adventures, drunk, stoned, sober. We laughed so much together.
One thing that always comes to mind when his name comes up is his use of language. Everything, from the most horrible to the most sacred was interspersed with cuss- words. He would say, not "beautiful", when he got excited, but " beauti- fucking- ful", and not "stupid", but "stu- fucking - pid, man!"
He liked to amaze people by pulling out his false teeth and telling them how the army took them out against his will during his time of service.
As a person, he was non- stop entertainment, and shameless. This, coupled with his warmth and a certain wickedness in his humour, made him irresistible to most people.

What mistakes of your generation would you want to correct?
The mistakes of my generation are the same as those of any.
When people en masse had, through drugs and a rising tide of revolutionary energy, visions that showed freedom, love and compassion were the true bases of existence, pretty soon, selfishness and greed became the voices people listened to. In the UK Thatcher spawned a whole culture based around "me!"
Let's face it, we all know about love, but most of us prefer to live in dreams.

Which of historical personalities would you like to meet?
I would love to hear King David (from the Bible) improvise one of his songs on the harp. I would love to meet Queen Boudicca who rode naked in her chariot when it pleased her. I would love to meet Lightning Hopkins. Oscar Wilde would have made me laugh. Rasputin would perhaps been an egotist, but interesting all the same. Marlene Dietrich. DH Lawrence. Cleopatra. Gurdjieff. Galileo. Lao Τsu. Ibn Arabi. Pythagoras. Mary Magdalene. Emily Bronte. Dostoevsky. Sappho. Plato. Bessie Smith. Joan of Arc. And many others

Of all the people you’ve meeting with, who do you admire the most?
Ganga Decoux of Portugal. What can I say? Love, truth, freedom, it is all there. And a true human being.
Carl Johnson- a missionary in Burundi, Africa. He was one of the most courageous people I know. Once when the men of the village were lined up to be shot by enemy troops, he stood in front of them all and said "kill me first"
He was also courageous in another way. He was steeped in converting people to Christianity.
One night he tried to convert me. Eventually, he dropped all of it, all of his training, and dropped all his belief and we stood in silence. He accepted me as I was, because, in the silence, it was the same as he was.

How and where did you get the inspiration for your art? Who were your mentors in painting?
Often it comes while I am walking. Or someone asks me to do something. Then I get very quiet and something starts to form.
Seeing albums full of paintings by the great masters of Europe from classical through to modernism, has always been the way for me. Also, standing in front of a Picasso, Dali or Diego Deriviera, I enter the livingness of the painting, and it becomes part of me. Then i strive to be able to paint from that same place. Not in a particular style, but from the same degree of inspiration. I do it for fun only.
Tribal art- drawing painting and carving- in Africa, the Middle east.
When I studied the Gurdjieff method in one of his centres, one of the art teachers showed me how to get in the" quiet place" whilst drawing.

Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?
Best was singing totally unaccompanied, just the voice, in St. Petersburg, at the White Nights Festival in 1995 (on a bill with Joe Cocker, Terence Trent Derby, Sheryl Crow, and other luminaries, and getting a ten minute standing ovation. As for the worst moments I've had several. One was back in The Crazy World, we were developing our second stage - act, and including some pieces in the Fire Act. One of these was where I wore a huge cloak and a false head on top of my own. So, I was 8 feet tall. The bass player would come over and with a blow from his bass guitar, which he swung round his head, strike off the false head. Because the shoulders of the cloak were raised, it looked as though I had lost my head.
This was done under a fast strobe, which gave the whole thing a shimmering effect. On one night on tour, by the mistake, someone put the strobe on a slow speed. This caused the bass-player to misjudge his blow, he hit my real head and knocked me out.
I woke some time later. Lying on my back on the stage, with Julie Driscoll - who had also performed that night looking into my eyes. The concert was delayed for some time, and I was taken off to have stitches in my right cheek!

How has the music business changed over the years since you first started in music?
That is a vast question.
In the sixties, blues and rock were driven by developing a fan base through live performances.
You went on to one of the gigging circuits. The two major ones for this music reached out from either the Marquee lead by Harold Pendleton, or the Flamingo club, managed by The Gunnel brothers. The Marquee featured the Stones, Alexis Korner, Yes, John Mayall. The Flamingo featured Georgie Fame, Zoot Money, Graham Bond. It was partly the difference between guitar based bands and keyboard bands. It also had to do with music styles. If you wanted anything of a carribean flavour, the Flamingo was the place. If you wanted Sonny Boy Williamson, The Marquee was the place.
It also had to do with, what kind of dope you were interested in.
As a new band you struggled against all the other new bands to get a support slot in one of the clubs on that circuit.then eventually, after a year or two, you would build up enough of an audience to headline.After headlining for a year or two you were considered popular enough to maybe record.
Recording was in the hands of the studios and the major record companies.
In the underground, we felt  "why should 20 bands make a million, and most of us have to be semi-pro? Why can"t we have 2000, bands each making 10, 000 pounds?
It was a period when suddenly rock music , and electric sound generation was making musicians
rich. As soon as that happened, the accountants and lawyers pounced on it all and carved it up and made music into a commodity. The manager of The Sex Pistols was able to use this to generate a whole Punk movement.
One of the great changes came through Peter Grant. He managed to reverse the normal sharing of concert monies by the band and promoter. With the high demand for Led Zeppelin, he was able to say to promoters, " I know you usually get 70 per cent of the door money. But with my boys you will get only 30 per cent. "So vast sums of money were made at live gigs by performers.
One of the main differences in giving then and now was that in those days there was one scene at a time. So if a famous band came to a town, everybody went to the same gig. Now, if you live in a small town on any night there will be 6- 10 different kinds of music going on in different venues. So the audience is divided.
It was during the time that I was gigging in clubs that electronic amplification became the norm. Feedback was born. Things got really loud.
In those days the musicians paved the way for the kind of lifestyle footballers now have.
I think now is healthier, although many mourn the passing of the Golden Age of The sixties.
It was a time when Major Record Companies were making vast sums of money through sales of singles and especially vinyl albums. They could afford to take artists under their wing for " development" and nurture and control their expression to a large degree. Most artists were financially screwed in that period .

This was due partly to the record companies' control of the media and the bands' monies, and partly because the artists got so involved with drugs and the hedonistic lifestyle, that they lost all financial control. Nevertheless great music was produced, and the birth of the independent record companies and pirate DJs meant that bands could experiment in a way never before possible - with the added realistic hope that it might be successful.
Myself, trawling through different music scenes today, going Dubstep dancing, or a Prodigy concert, or listening to the Black Keys or the House That Dirt Built, I find among them just as much creativity as was seen in the sixties. Each decade has its own concerns, and the music expresses that. The sixties put out a spiritual hope. The succeeding decades witnessed a coming to grips with the fact that the outer and inner worlds - the so called material and spiritual worlds have to co- exist. They are two sides of the same coin.
I admire those people who come to grips with technology and create a new kind of music.
Of course, they need to base it on something that works. That something has so far been the meeting of blues and folk, from varying cultures- although mainly dominated by the American and pan-European  tradition. They were after all the cultures that produced and embraced the new technologies.
Finally of course, owning a record to hold in your hand has become history. Sounds now come from virtual sources. While politicians fight nationally, and religions find it difficult to,accept each other, and companies try to find their niche markets to control, people are quietly,listening to musics from all over the world, without reference to politics religion or geography. Hey, maybe once again that language that has no words, music, has already gone where others dream of going. The world of music is already one.

What is your “secret” music DREAM?
I want to create a spherical club with transparent floors. It will have 360 degree projections, and be a symbol of the totally free spirit which can accept all will have a transparent floor.
Sound comes from all directions and can be located anywhere within the sphere. Because of the visual projecting capacity, you can stand at the centre of a projected thunderstorm, hear the sounds of the storm all around you- including beneath you. Now that's a dance club! You could also suddenly be beneath the waves in the ocean.
For anyone interested, please go to my website: Where in the next two months they will find plans for this. Anyone is welcome to join in this Project.
I saw it once in a dream. It is now possible because of the exploration of virtual worlds.
At the moment it is called an ecosphere. But if a better name comes along, I am open.
I would like it to be a communal public project run along the same lines as the AVAAZ Organisation.

You have been traveling all around the crazy world. What are your conclusions?
Most people want the same thing - freedom, love, and a good life. The expressions are all different.
Each religion has spawned different culture.  
I think conversations between all religions, including the modern scientific religion, is necessary.
It is inevitable we will in the end have a World Government. The Internet shows how flexible it all can be, when everything is at once global and local. Most nations want what the culture developed in Europe and America produced- modern technology of a Knowledge based society. (or more correctly an Information based - society). They will all produce different versions of the same thing. Everything is influencing everything else at the moment. Revolution in one place is immediately communicated across the world.
I think although there is fear as old beliefs and structures are challenged, and maybe seen as no longer needed, there is also an embracing of the possibility of all nations, all peoples, being recognised.also of the possibility that we have embraced change, and we don't know where it will lead us. This brings confusion for a while, and a tendency to want to return to the devil we know.
But I feel there is an overall energy which is driving us to find a planetary vision. This may mean leaving behind many of our old ideas. Maybe, even, religion itself will be seen as having been a form of slavery of the mind, which has led ultimately to division and slaughter.

Do you think that your art comes from the heart, the brain or the soul?
Well art happens when they all act as one, expressing the inexpressible mystery.

Why did you think that Arthur Brown continued to generate such a devoted following?
I sometimes ask myself that question. Sometimes I think maybe because I was innovative and daring, sometimes I think it was the surprise of seeing theatre in rock at that time,sometimes I think it was luck, but to tell you the truth,I actually don't know why.

turns you on?  Happiness is……
Great dancing, singing, painting sculpting, architecture. Beautiful women and men.  Great athletes being humble. Monty Python. Beauty of character. Sincerity of spirit. Mountains , rivers, forests. The sky full of stars. Going dancing.
Sometimes, just being on my own. Other times, sitting with friends in different cultures.
And the embrace of the well -beloved.
Happiness comes and goes, but I am still here.

Home - Arthur Brown, The God of Hellfire

                                                                                 Photo Credits: Seánk


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