3 October 2015

The Crazy World of Arthur Brown at the Borderline was another fantastic gig from the youthful God of Hellfire

I last saw Arthur Brown in concert almost exactly a year ago, and then I had to travel up to Leamington Spa to do so.

Thankfully this mini-tour started with a London gig and there was never any doubt that I would go to it. Even the prospect of watching England losing at rugby union or the last-minute offer of going to the theatre with an actress that I admire greatly were temptation enough to keep me away.

I was not sure what the timetable for the evening was going to be, other than the doors opened at 7pm and there was a 10:30pm curfew, so I played safe and went early. The memory of arriving late at the Borderline for a Stackridge gig still haunts me, then the band started promptly with no support act.

Travelling through Richmond was likely to be slow because of the England v Australia game at Twickenham that evening so I left home slightly before 6pm. The buses were not kind to me and I walked just over 1km before an empty bus caught up with me (a full one drove past without stopping for more passengers) and I then bailed out about 1km from Richmond Station when the bus hit almost stationary traffic.

The train coming into Richmond was billed as "Full and Standing" so I stood on the platform where I knew the crowds for Richmond would be getting off to be sure of being able to get on. I had to stand all the way to Waterloo but I always do when commuting so that was no hardship.

I had the time to do so, so I walked up to the Borderline from Waterloo Station, mindful that I was still short of my 14k step target for the day. It was only 1.5km or so, I did not take the most direct route, and the main problem was trying to avoid the worst of the crowds of tourists. After a couple of deliberate and accidental detours I arrived safely at the Pillars of Hercules just after 7pm which allowed me time for a leisurely pint of Wainwright before crossing the road.

A poster on the door of the Borderline told me that there would be two support bands and Arthur would not be on until 9pm. I could have gone back to the pub but I thought that I would give the support bands a try and pay more for beer that I liked less.

Motorcycle Display Team opened the evening. They were a loud and bouncy power trio who played familiar sounding but original rock songs. They did nothing wrong but were not really my sort of thing. Still, they passed the time well enough and I have heard plenty of support bands that failed to do that.

The Slytones were the second support act and were something quite different. The first clue was the black and white face make-up that they all wore, which unintentionally mirrored the Zal Cleminson t-shirt that I was wearing. They looked to be a cabaret style band and they were.

There were, I thought, also some prog rock touches to their music and one tune that I heard seemed to come straight from Tales from Topographic Oceans. Again, not really my cup of tea but they were fun to watch and the music was OK.

Around then Angel Flame came into the audience, presumably to look for friendly faces, and I was the happy recipient of an extravagant and extended hug. Peter wondered what was going on until he recognised Angel and then he got his own hug.

We were running a little late by then and The Crazy World of Arthur Brown hit the stage about 9:15pm. That stage was suite sparse this time with no totem poles or other exotic props. The band were arranged in an "L" shape across the back of the stage and on the right side; across the back were Nina Gromniak Guitars and colourful face paint), somebody whose name I did not get (drums) and Jim Mortimore (bass and long dress) and on the right edge was Matt Guest (keyboards).

That left a lot of space centre and left stage for Arthur and Angle Flame to move in. This was in market contrast to other bands that I have seen at the Borderline, notably Space Ritual, who find the stage somewhat small for their large cast and their many instruments.

This was a familiar line-up for The Crazy World, with the probable exception of the drummer who had been playing with The Slytones, and they were obviously very comfortable with the music and with each other, even with Arthur's antics which included carrying the keyboard around the stage while Matt was trying to play it. I remember Nina telling me that she had been very nervous at the QEH gig in 2011 as that was her first and was a large stage to debut on but now she was part of a solid and confident unit.

The setlist contained a lot of favourites that Arthur had been playing for a few years, songs like Kites (always a great favourite of mine) and Spell on You, though Devil's Grip was missing.

The surprise, though it was trailed in the tour announcement, was the inclusion of two songs from the seminal Kingdom Come album Journey from 1973. This album has been important to me ever since then and I remember clearly the joy of finding a copy of the album in WH Smith in Southampton, Until then I had had to make do with various tape recordings from John Peel shows.

The songs they played from Journey were Time Captains (labelled Time Captives on the album), which was the obvious track to choose, and Gypsy. Time Captains starts with a distinctive drum beat backed by whirling electronic sounds and the crowd erupted with joy when they heard this.

The album may have been 42 years old but it was well known and loved. The song ends with a few simple lines like "Ahhh-ahhh-ahhh-ahhh" which were repeated more than on the album and we were encouraged to join in by Arthur waving a microphone at us. I needed little encouragement.

The biggest surprise of the evening was Arthur himself.

He wore the now traditional multi-coloured face paint and the familiar salmon suit under a black coat but this time he also started with what looked like a blue dress under his jacket. Then, like Bowie in the 70s, he changed costumes several times including this one on the right with colourful fibre-optics and the one above with the god-like silver and white poncho which threaten to outshine Angel's wings above that.

To make time for these costume changes some of the songs were extended, again reminding me of how the Spiders from Mars played on when Bowie left the stage. I liked the longer versions as I have always though if you have a good musical idea then it is worth sticking with it for a while, people like Neil Young have always done this.

They closed the set with Fire Poem and Fire which had us all joining in again with shouts of "Fire" at the appropriate moments. It was a higher note to end on in a set that had lots of high notes.

I knew that Arthur Brown was 73 years old but it would have been very easy to forget this as his voice was as strong and his movement as frenetic as it always had been. If there was any concession to his age it came in the breaks for the costume changes.

A Crazy World of Arthur Brown gig has everything, good songs, a fine band and a stupendous front-man. All this made for an absolutely thrilling evening that was rapturously appreciated by the packed crowd. Once you've seen an Arthur Brown gig you want to see an other one and to tell your friends to go too.

The end of the setlist was reached just before the 10:30pm curfew and the band walked off after taking lots of bows. The cheering continued and they were persuaded back on for one more number which they seemed to choose there and then. They were rewarded with more cheering and shouts of "Arthur. Arthur.".

I was on a high after the gig and it was good to be able to share this with some of the people there who I knew from other gigs before heading back to Kingston to take advantage of the Willoughby's friendly opening hours.

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