With his flaming headdress, pre-KISS facial makeup and wild dervish dancing, Arthur Brown was one of the most exotic characters on the 60s London underground scene.
Back in the early part of the decade, Arthur was a philosophy student at Reading University, playing bass part-time in a Charles Mingus-influenced jazz group and singing in local folk clubs. Then he saw Long John Baldry and hatched a plan, decamping to Paris with a new band and adding theatricality to his onstage performances.
Returning to England at the end of 1966, he was picked up for Track Records by Pete Townshend. Brown should have made an impact with his September 1967 single Devil’s Grip, but it was to be nine months before Fire – a dose of proto-Gothic psych-rock and acid paranoia lyrics – took his incendiary stage act from the bowels of the underground to the top of the charts (which produced one of the most memorable Top Of The Pops appearances of all time!).
The original Crazy World line-up featured Brown, an ex-philosophy student called Vincent Crane on organ, and drummer Drachen Theaker (who got the gig after failing to show up for an audition with Jimi Hendrix).
Crane (who also worked as co-writer with Brown) had a history of manic depression while Theaker was a wild free-spirit dubbed “The Psychedelic Gypsy” by manager Kit Lambert.
The line-up didn’t last and Theaker was replaced by a pre-ELP Carl Palmer. Palmer and Crane left during a US tour in June 1969 and formed Atomic Rooster.
In 1970, Brown put together a new group, Kingdom Come. They rehearsed obsessively for three months in a warehouse in Covent Garden. Like the original Crazy World, Kingdom Come employed a driving Hammond organ sound, but incorporated guitar and synthesizer textures to create music of great complexity.
1971’s debut Galactic Zoo Dossier was inspired by the chaos and violence Brown had witnessed on tour in the USA. Their 1972 self-titled follow-up LP was sloppy but led to notable live performances in which the group appeared onstage wearing absurdist home-made costumes including a giant telephone and a set of traffic lights.
As a reaction against the complexity of their first two albums came 1973’s Journey with a drum machine defining the album’s mechanical minimalism. Kingdom Come disintegrated soon thereafter.
The authorship of Fire became a matter of dispute. Its similarity to a song written by two of Brown and Crane’s housemates led to an eventual co-credit for Mike Finesilver and Peter Ker, though it appears Brown saw little of the money, mostly due to record company wrangles.
In a bizarre later twist, Theaker eventually won a settlement from Track for back royalties for his part in Fire, gaining all rights to the song, then selling them to Polydor for £100,000.
Theaker died of a brain tumour in 1992, while Crane killed himself three years earlier.