Meet Arthur Brown a pop icon, Berkshire resident and friend of YPWD

The name may not be immediately familiar, but the song 'Fire' should be as it was a global hit in 1968. Arthur provided lead vocals and co-wrote the song too. He recently spent some time as a guest on our Music Reminiscence workshop and then kindly took the time to answer a few of our questions. Our thanks to Arthur, it was a pleasure to meet him.

When did you first become interested in Music, and why?

I’ve been interested in music for a long time. As a child I listened to my father’s piano playing. He was a self- taught jazz pianist. in Whitby, where I was born, there were amusements by the edge of the sea, and there was  a lot of music played in there. Mainly American style. The rhythm of the Sea and Seagulls were like music to me and still are to this day. The English Music Hall was inspiring to me. So was  The Harmonica Gang. They were from America with their Eastern European traditions. I also used to be part of a Welsh Choir – so learnt to sing in Welsh whilst living there. Welsh was fairly similar to Italian, in the way that it used to roll off the tongue. I found music and singing and dancing took my mind away from my daily troubles.

What inspired you to write Fire, and did you anticipate it being as bigger hit as it was?

I’ve always had a fascination with flames and fire. Back in those days (when I was growing up) we never used to have iPhones or anything like that. So one of the things I used to enjoy doing was to look in to the fire and to see all of the different levels of it; the flickering, the blues and greens etc., and the way it turned white in the centre particularly fascinated me. When it came to writing the different tunes for the first album The Crazy World of Arthur Brown,at first I wasn’t as keen on the song Fire as the rest of the material that we were working on at the time. I didn’t feel that it sounded like the rest of the album.But after playing gigs at local venues, there became an increasing level of interest in it -people coming up after the gig, saying they really liked that Fire tune. So, it was decided that it would be released as a single. Now I think it’s a great tune!

Is it right that you were kept off the top spot in America by The Beatles ‘Hey Jude’?

Yes, although it depends which chart you looked at. On some we in fact knocked them off the top spot!

What was it like appearing on Top of the Pops?

It was the first time that I had been on TV. There wasn’t really a lot of live recordings back in those days. I remember the production crew were having a lot of fun making it. 

What is the most memorable Gig/Festival that you played at and why?

The White Knights festival in Russia. Where approximately 360,000 people attended and it was beamed into nine million homes, as the Russians only used to have one TV channel in those days. I was on a panel to decide which band was best. But it transpired that in the end once someone came up with a Bootleg album cover showing that I played with Frank Zappa and they wanted me to perform a track for them. They wanted to me to make a band from the members of other bands performing- Joe Cocker, Sheryl Crowe, and various other big stars. I said I would do it without a band. They said “Solo?” in surprise. They said “will you accompany yourself on guitar or keyboards?” I said “Just my voice.” They thought I was crazy. As soon as I began singing the whole stadium was jumping up and down! It was a beautiful piece and an amazing experience just singing solo without any backing band or track. I got a twenty-minute standing ovation!

We heard through the grapevine that you attended Reading University and formed a band named ‘Blues and Brown’? What is your fondest memory of University life?

My fondest memories are of The Jazz Club and the Poetry Club. Where I was editor of the broadsheet. I took classical singing lessons, learnt to play the bass and formed my own little jazz quartet and was asked to sing with one of the big tran-Jazz bands who were from Southampton. They used to draw 2,000 people to their concerts, but musical tastes were changing and when we performed there were only about 40 people listening. We later realised that the rest of their audience were in a hall on the other side of the building listening to Manfred Mann!

What are your memories of Reading and did you ever venture into Wokingham?

I never visited Wokingham. But I remember if you were out in Reading after 11pm you were likely to get stopped by the Police in the days before all the festivals were around. I have fond memories of my Student days.

Is it right that your head once caught fire during a festival in Windsor?

Yes it is! It was during the Windsor Jazz and Blues Festival. I was standing in the bucket of the crane that was about to lift me onto stage and some of the petrol from my Fire helmet spilled down on to my head so my head caught fire. I was saved by someone who poured two pints of Newcastle Brown Ale on to my head which in-turn put out the fire which allowed me to go on to stage. Just a bit wetter than I had initially anticipated! It turned out to be a good thing as we received a lot of positive press due to the incident.