Opening up the dossier on the Galactic Zoo
At 17, Arthur Brown stuck out his thumb and hitch-hiked his way from Leeds to Hamburg.
There, his heart broken by his best friend and the girl he loved, he underwent a profound spiritual awakening. It was the beginning of a journey that has never ended, and which brought him to The Cellar on a nippy Saturday night.
Brown is, of course, the God Of Hell Fire, his Crazy World having set the world’s music charts ablaze in 1968 with the hit single and album Fire.
Now in his 73rd year, he’s still touring with the latest version of The Crazy World. In between gigs, he’s also bringing this gentle wander through his memory to intimate venues around the country.
But it’s not that gentle. He’s never been one to make it easy to flag rides along with him.
His reminiscences unfold as he is interrogated in a police cell. The back projection shows glimpses of the official machine attempting to reprogramme Arthur’s brain,
As his old 'Kingdom Come' song goes: ‘We want your brain, it belongs to the nation…’
In the beginning, the once whirling, howling shock-rocker appears weary and slightly confused. Anxious eyes peer from either side of the still imperious nose. Is it an act, or is he actually beginning to feel the pace of a life examined at every turn?
Then, left alone on the battered stage, he reaches down to pick up a boxy, seemingly home-made guitar. He starts to play a sliding, wailing blues, à la Seasick Steve. (Actually, à la Fred McDowell and Bukka White, really).
And suddenly, there is the real Arthur Brown, with that huge power and incredible range. Pacing and dancing across the stage, he gives us tales of Sicilian gaols, UK police fit-ups and his dice with death in the 90s (fittingly, a brain haemorrhage). There’s the crucible of the 1960s underground, the UFO club, and a cartoon snapshot of life on the road in areas where the counter-culture had yet to reach. One song, 'The Hitch Haiku', establishes a theme of journeying and exploration.
At key moments, Arthur is joined on stage by dancer Angel Fallon, who plays a sultry interrogator.She also brings gracefully to life his experience of the Earth Goddess during that first revelatory journey.
Arthur Brown has made his life a shared hike into meaning and spirit. For those of us who climb aboard with him, this opportunity to slip along his neural pathways as he plucks memories from the sides of the road is an uplifting privilege.
Thumbs up, Arthur.