Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Focus at Exeter Phoenix

Last week two legends appeared at the Exeter Phoenix: Arthur Brown and Thijs van Leer of Focus.

First up was Arthur Brown, who didn't seem to have changed much physically from those old 1968 performances of Fire.

I am the God of hell fire and I bring you ... Fire!

He started the set in a black hood and then had regular quick-changes of clothes throughout the set. Howard Marks, in his foreword to Polly Marshall's The God of Hellfire: The Crazy Life and Times of Arthur Brown, says:
The Crazy World of Arthur Brown were the first psychedelic soul spectacle, a memory that neither experience or drug could ever erase ... the cops busted Arthur because his music made people take drugs. They were right. It did.
Brown's life has been every bit as incident-packed as that of Marks. Arthur Brown was there when pretty much when everything important happened back in the sixties.

Fire is still the serious stoners' favourite anthem
Not only did he have huge success in America, but he played with all the big names, lived a life of excess, was arrested and jailed, and has generally had an incredible life (try reading the whole of Howard Marks' foreword on Google books - or better still buy a copy of Polly Marshall's book and be amazed).

Today's show is a pretty tame compared with those heady days, but is enjoyable and great nostalgia for an audience of a certain age. His band - The Crazy World - are all young. The keyboard player, Lucie Rejchrtova, acts as a foil to Arthur's antics on stage, along with Angela Fallon who dances with the band. They started the set with Dylan's Hard Rain and included an excellent version of Kites - the old hit for Simon Dupree and the Big Sound - who went on to become Gentle Giant.

Apologies for the sound quality - I was right in front of the speaker stack

The remainder of the set included I've Put a Spell on You and of course Fire! (with no combustion - although he was apparently performing with the flaming headdress as recently as 1997), as well as some numbers from his psychedelic repertoire. It was a good show - especially when you consider that Arthur is 69 years old. There was, disappointingly, no time for an encore as the stage had to then be reset for Focus.

Thijs van Leer, the sole remaining original member of Focus is 63, but the rock and roll lifestyle has not treated him well - He was barely recognisable as the guy from the 1970s as he shuffled on stage with a plastic carrier bag containing his stuff - his flute, melodica etc.

The artist as a young man

But once they got going it was clear that he has lost none of his passion for Dutch melodic rock, or his jocular approach to the full range of whistling, nonsensical vocals, falsetto singing, and yodelling that he is known for.

The hits were all there: Sylvia, Hall of the King, and Hocus Pocus.The guitarist,
Menno Gootjes, and the bass player, Bobby Jacobs are both talented players and at their best you could hear the roots of later work by the likes of Steely Dan (self-styled jazz-rock ambassadors to the galaxy). The veteran drummer Pierre van der Linden also put in a lot of effort and did the obligatory - and dull - drum solos.

The fans loved it but, honestly, I would have preferred more Arthur Brown. Nevertheless here's some vintage Focus, with Jan Akkerman doing the honours on guitar, while Thijs van Leer yodels ...

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