This Charming Man

An Evening With Arthur Brown
11th March 2016
The Ruby Lounge, Manchester, UK
To the uninitiated, the title on the flyer suggests an event of essential Britishness, a talk about allotments, a discourse on gardening, or maybe the latest findings of the local historical society. Such is the distinctive ordinariness of the name Arthur Brown, as English as roast beef, and harking back to a time of tweed, flat caps and whippets. This is indeed an aspect of the truth, for the Mr Brown in question has elements of all of the above, but he is much more besides, and is quite simply one of the unsung national treasures, a living legend, the godfather of heavy metal and shock rock, and influence on acts with distances in longevity as Alice Cooper, Marilyn Manson, and the Prodigy. With a four octave range that even now, at the tender age of seventy three puts most "knackers in a mouse trap screechers" to shame. He also possesses a wonderfully rich, almost fruity speaking voice that makes him sound like a prophet or a priest, or an actor about to wander along the finest aspects of Shakespeare.

When he steps on stage his eyes are shadowed dark with make-up, and he is resplendent in a red bowler hat. What follows is a trip down memory lane with a back drop of video montage and a few songs. It is at times delightfully batty, but is thoughtful and well constructed, and Brown as a narrator of his own eventful life, captivates the watcher. He is remarkably spry for a man of his years, given that he had to learn to walk from scratch after a brain haemorrage in the '90s. His story begins in Whitby in 1942, and very soon afterwards almost ended there. His grandmother ran a hotel in the seaside town where Bram Stoker created Dracula, and during an air-raid the infant Brown and his family took shelter in the cellar. It was the fashion of German bombers to drop their excess deadly cargo over the coast before returning home. The hotel took a direct hit and the loss of such a distinctive local focal point and the perishing of the family made the local press. When they finally surfaced from their cellar sanctum to a scene of immense chaos, they simply added to the shock of the proceedings, as everyone has presumed them dead. Even as a child Arthur was something of a comeback kid.

Brown was also hyperactive, and given bromide to calm him, and any other urges that might transpire. It didn't work. In 1959 he hitched to Germany to visit the girl he felt was the love of his seventeen brief years, only to find her shacked up with his best friend, the captain of the school rugby team, and instead of a night of amour, he spent it under the stars in a nearby park, and experienced what could only be described as an epiphany, the first of many insights and conclusions. After a stint in Paris in the mid 60's he returned to London, became regular feature at the UFO Club, the home of Pink Floyd, and where he originated the hugely successful The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and success of staggering immensity followed all over the world with the release of his trademark single "Fire." His visit to Bradford didn't fare so well, the band were almost lynched, such was the reaction of the local yobs to Brown running around with his head aflame. You forget how innovative and provocative a statement, both visually and verbally, that this action was in 1968.

It would be pointless to outline all of his tales for the sake of embellishing a review, and steal future viewers of this fascinating night the pleasure of a story in its first telling to them In over two hours he barely scratches the surface of fifty years. His experience of being arrested after appearing naked on stage in Italy, and being slung into prison with murderers and rapists, the involvement of the Mafia in his subsequent release is priceless in both it's content and it's unravelling. He really ought to write a book, for he has a wise insight into his at times chaotic sojourn, and an interestingly shocking take on the end result of all his spiritual quests.

Arthur Brown it would seem from the nights proceedings, is at one with himself, but is not at peace with the actions of many in the world he is forced to share it with. His song addressing a suicide bomber has immense pathos, as well as exasperation. He is a charming presence, a lovable English eccentric, who isn't half as crazy as the moniker he chose half a century ago might imply. He is both a showman and a shame, an almost Dickensian presence, and a treat to the senses, who sadly will probably only be properly assessed, revered and valued in the blueprint his inevitable, but hopefully distant absence will leave.

One evening from a lifetime of them, especially one as extraordinary as his, simply isn't enough.