Arthur Brown’s Kingdom Come – Eternal Messenger
Released 25 June 2021
Boxset bringing together all the albums recorded by “God Of Hellfire” Arthur Brown with the band he formed in 1970 Kingdom Come. This collection comes with bonus discs detailing their first recording jam and BBC sessions. Ian Canty finds out if this was a further blaze of glory…
Whitby native Arthur Brown rose to international fame as some kind of satanic psychedelic banshee sporting a flaming headdress when his band The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown hit number one in the UK and number 2 in the Billboard charts in America with their single Fire in 1968. Before this burst of glory Arthur had sung in many groups on the London gig circuit, being the owner of a powerful voice, plus a flair for theatrical performance. This ensured plenty of interest in the young vocalist, leading to engagements as far afield as Paris. In addition he recorded with The Diamonds and The Arthur Brown Set in the mid sixties and as part of The Magicians, who issued three singles on Decca in 1966. A year later he formed a longer-term proposition The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown with bassist Nick Greenwood, drummer Drachen Theaker and organist Vincent Crane (later of Atomic Rooster).
This new aggregation’s incendiary stage show quickly gained a coveted reputation on the brand new underground psychedelic scene. They were soon signed up by The Who’s management team Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert for their Track Records imprint in the UK, with Atlantic doing the honours in the US. Their first single Devil’s Grip stiffed, but the self-titled debut LP made the top ten on both sides of the pond. When Fire was extracted as a 7 inch, it became a massive hit in several countries. Though the sky seemed the limit for the band after this success, things rapidly went downhill, including their second album Strangelands being rejected by Track after recording. The band spluttered to a complete halt in 1969.
Brown quickly embroiled himself in a number projects, but come 1970 he was putting together a new band. Ex-Crazy World drummer Theaker came up with the name Kingdom Come and a jamming session cum audition was arranged, which was recorded and makes up disc four of this set. A more stable line up was gradually put in place. Guitarist Andy Dalby was to become the other pivotal band member and was joined a six piece line up by rhythm pair Desmond Fisher and Martin Steer, plus keyboardists Michael Harris (who was part of the “jam” version of the band) and Julian Brown, plus Brown himself. Dennis Taylor, another important element in Kingdom Come, was in control of the band’s light show. This helped them made a big impression as a live act and were snapped up by Polydor, after some protracted wrangling stemming from the fallout from Arthur’s previous work for Track (who were distributed through Polygram in the UK). With this concluded, the band’s debut album Galactic Zoo Dossier duly arrived in the autumn of 1971.
Being generally an admirer of Arthur Brown’s work but not having explored his archive fully, the first LP in this set Galactic Zoo Dossier was rather a voyage of discovery for me. The unusual and sometimes awkward rhythms utilised by Kingdom Come on this record strangely put me in the mind of the shambling bands of the mid-1980s, the elastic swing of Stump for example. If Arthur’s singing style occasionally borders on self-parody, even recalling Vic Reeves here and there, it all adds to the record’s charm. He’s also full of soul and a real conviction in his work. The man’s wild personality shines through on a set of songs which expressed his disillusion and despair at humanity, brightening what could have otherwise been a sombre experience. The rest of Kingdom Come are right on the money too, providing the perfect kind of totally committed and explosive instrumental onslaught to follow their leader swiftly down every odd path he chose to negotiate.
It may seem a little glib, but Galactic Zoo Dossier really does set up its own world through sound. Once inured to this somewhat unusual environment, the album reveals itself as a constant source of imagination and bursting at the seams with the kind of invention seldom found elsewhere at the time of recording, or indeed anywhere. It certainly blazed a trail of its own. The first side features seven pieces that segue into each other and to be honest it is pretty pointless to pick out highlights, as this really has to be taken as a whole. Having said that, Internal Messenger was a natural choice as a single, starting with a rambling religious invective, before a heavy guitar riff slams in and Arthur rides the crazy funk percussive assault.
The more laidback, cool style of Space Plucks provides the listener with a fine instant respite from the manic mayhem that preceded it. The album twists up and relaxes the tension at will, as we soon find out. Metal Monster swaggers out ungainly in art rock fashion with ray gun zaps, with Night Of The Pigs almost sounding like something by forgotten indie band The Noseflutes in 1987. Arthur shows his enviable vocal smarts fully on Sunrise. Building from a sad, crushed voice, he gradually increases intensity, testifying, shouting and screaming like a Cosmic Tom Jones to the ethereal climax to the album’s original side one.
The acoustic folk stylings of Trouble set the second side of the vinyl going, this is possibly the most straightforward song on the record. Then there’s the distant, brief chant of Brains before the three part Medly which touches on Space Plucks again. This is profoundly odd and oddly profound, with menacing and highly energetic edges looming forward out of the mix. A short Creep and the jazzy and unsettling buzz of Creation distorts all the way home. A mad quick keyboard riff kicks off Gypsy Escape and then hard rock guitar and funk percussion comes in – Galactic Zoo Dossier is actual quite danceable, which may be the strangest thing about it. No Time ends what is a brain-buster of a record with a tune as punky as prog rock ever got. Presented here in a facsimile of its original gatefold sleeve, Galactic Zoo Dossier makes more sense today than it did at the time, it could have been made yesterday.
A retitled version of Internal Messenger Eternal Messenger was issued as a single with the jokey cut-up I. D. Side To B. Side The C Side on the flip. Both are presented as bonuses on this disc, along with different versions of album tracks Sunrise, Metal Monster and Space Plucks Dem Bones, which are a tad punchier and more focussed, which may or not be a good thing.
The self-titled Kingdom Come album emerged a year after the debut in October 1972. By this time Phil Shutt replaced Desmond Fisher on bass and this record used the theme of water tying together its concept. As it goes on, it becomes evident soon that Kingdom Come the LP is a little more tight of form than its predecessor. Having said that the record begins with party sounds and then a sea shanty. As soon as a chilled piano and rhythm band appears to establish itself as a standard prog rock sound, it weirds right out with a savage edit. Then a phone rings and Brown bellows “Captain I am and Captain I stay matey!” and we’re into the mournful soul of Love Is A Spirit That Will Never Die.
The sea shanty/telephone call is resurrected in City Melody, until a fast dancing pulse and an organ work out spills forth. The school piano sound of The Teacher is playful and like a piece of musical theatre, before the cut-up havoc and maddening tempos of The Experiment (Including Lower Colonic Irrigation) bursts through. The Whirlpool has a clutch of strange sounds, perhaps a jungle atmosphere with animal hoots, then strident art rock takes over with grunted voice sounds, which is suddenly edited out to a ticking clock. Then the art rock returns as suddenly as it went, with a stream of consciousness lyric “a pedal car made by my dad, crystal radio…the landlady’s nose”. Damn eerie. Nothing is straightforward on this album, but it is better for the unpredictability. Kingdom Come by this point had clearly gone far beyond being Arthur’s backing musicians if that was even ever the case, with each member growing in their role with total commitment.
Finally Kingdom Come closes with The Hymn with synth washes, but then changes tack towards something in Roxy Music territory. Arthur’s deep voice proclaims a simple wish for change for the better in human life as Andy’s guitar skitters on soloing away. The confidence in his delivery could surely make even a bit of a cynic dewy-eyed. Which all makes up for a very nice way to end the record. This disc has as bonuses different versions of album tracks Traffic Light Song, The Hymn and The Experiment.
If the first two Kingdom Come LPs had shaped up as genuine real mindblowers, their final album Journey is the knockout punch. If all you knew about Arthur was Fire and dismissed him as a mere hippy novelty merchant, well you’re in for a bit of a shock. Here they unexpectedly embraced electronics and drum machines in an austere manner somewhat akin to what David Bowie and Ultravox! did a good deal later on. Dave Edmunds came in to help the production and the band’s line up fluctuated. Arthur, Phil and Andy were joined by synth specialist Victor Peraino to makeup the new four piece Kingdom Come and a Bentley Rhythm Ace provided drums.
These changes were part of what was undoubtedly a whole new ball game. The flat, thudding electronic intro to Time Capsules even screams Cabaret Voltaire. There’s completely different world of sound at work here, something must have even foxed a few who managed to negotiate the changes of pace, odd concepts and rough edits of the two previous LPs. The instrumental Triangles follows and confirms KC were way ahead of their time, all alien noise and synth drum beats. Gypsy is more of the same, with Brown’s voice only showing up ar about 3 minutes in. There’s another trademark savage cut to a hammering rhythm and choral sound, then some Fripp/Ultravox guitar. Superficial Roadblocks even starts like The Residents on a sub-exotica tip, before touching on glam rock at the refrain.
Lost Time starts with another sparse beat and is a mix of guitar, synths and screams. After a chilly electro start, Spirit Of Joy bursts through, a great single that embraces the new technology, whilst also providing some continuity with the band’s previous records. Come Alive ends the album with playful bounce and slashing guitar lines. Again this is one of the albums more accessible tracks, but that is not to demean the rest of Journey – a truly visionary and excellent work. The single version of Spirit Of Joy, its b side Slow Rock and alternate takes of Time Capsules, Conception and Come Alive make up the bonuses on this platter.
As mentioned above, the fourth disc of this set has the early pre-Kingdom Come jam session from 1970. Though jamming by its very nature is hit or miss, Arthur provides a dynamic point of focus when his voice is heard, managing to retain the interest of the listener when as the music starts to meander. He keeps things moving along well and typically is never short of an idea. The hints of a Bo Diddley beat provide Water with a structure and the lively sound of Beholdin is a treat. But for me the prog/soul number Water Is My Friend, reflecting Art’s abiding obsession with the stuff, is a highpoint.
I really like the “old school” BBC design that the sleeve of this final disc has been given here, someone has done a great job on the artwork. Though the songs are featured are mostly from the three albums and singles, they’re still well worth hearing here. Great, wild versions of No Time and Sunrise come from the Top Gear radio show and the latter is prefaced with a Brian Mathew introduction, a lovely “period” touch. Then we have a trio of from the Mike Harding song, the wistful acoustics of the beginning Eternal Messenger giving way to a razor sharp piece of acidic rock nicely and a deranged and strange Creep impresses too.
The next selections come from the Alan Black show, the last of the 1971 selections on this disc being a further four efforts from the Galactic Zoo Dossier LP. No Time features again and Space Plucks segues into Creation, which harks back to Kingdom Come’s initial jamming roots. The final trio come from a John Peel show recorded on 19th September 1972. There’s the marked difference you would expect with the songs being drawn from Journey and its accompanying single. Slow Rock is a grit-lined bluesy guitar stomp all synthed up which segues into a touching, more folkie coda and is followed by an irked John Peel outro where it is clear he expected the track to be a tad longer. Then a rambling Spirit Of Joy sounds like a great hard rock pop song buried in a warren of ideas, but the true strangeness is reserved for the downbeat electronics of Triangles
Kingdom Come perfected their own unique sound which they constantly amended as time passed. The thing about the Galactic Zoo Dossier and Kingdom Come albums I took away was how rich sounding they are and full of ideas. Bearing in mind that at the time bands would stretch out one notion over the side of an album, the manic and hyperactive way they flitted through things is breath-taking. By the time of Journey in 1973 it could be argued they were ahead of anyone in the UK with regard to electronic experimentation, a good three years would pass before anyone caught up. Eternal Messenger is a great collection that demands attention, an education to anyone who only knew the one thing about Arthur Brown. A fine testament to a band that richly deserves more recognition as genuine pioneers.
All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here