Crazy World of Arthur Brown

October 1968: It was the annual student RAG Week, and the Crazy World of Arthur Brown was in town to celebrate the culminating event on Saturday evening (October 12) with a headlining concert at Sheffield City Hall.

The whole week’s series of events had been a lead-up to the climax, the Student RAG Parade, which started at Sheffield University, then snaked through the streets to the city centre, where the Lord Mayor and various dignitaries judged the floats as they passed outside the Town Hall. It then descended the Moor towards a stretch of wasteland, where the floats were dismantled and burnt on a huge bonfire. Thousands of spectators lined the streets, and the atmosphere was electric. Even more so when it became known that the star guests of the parade were the psychedelic Crazy World of Arthur Brown, who’d hit #1 in the pop charts a few weeks earlier with their scorching hit, ‘FIRE.’

The madness indigenous to Arthur Brown had taken over Sheffield for the day, and the spectacle was unforgettable. As a teenager, I was mesmerised by Brown’s performance. I followed his float on foot, dancing to the music, singing, throwing flowers to the passers-by, and waving my arms akimbo like a demented rabbit. Although Arthur’s band was miming to a looped backing track continuously playing ‘FIRE,’ Arthur sang live through the amplification. It was one hell of a feat; the song must have played over twenty times during the time I was following the float.

Arthur wore devil’s horns and was togged out in his trademark cloaked garb, as were his fellow musicians, while flames blew out of a machine, adding to the impression they’d just stepped out of the bowels of hell.

Their concert that evening at the City Hall was sold out. My friends and I didn’t have tickets, so we headed up to Sheffield Uni instead, where The Who was giving a concert later that evening. We didn’t have tickets for that show either, but as luck would have it, it was pandemonium when we arrived as thousands of students descended upon the Uni bar to celebrate the final day of RAG. Later that evening, when the doors swung open in the lower refectory to admit ticket holders for The Who concert, everyone piled in, tickets or no tickets, and we were fortunate to get carried in with the crowd. We sat cross-legged on the parquet wooden floor and watched the band perform a spectacular set that included a searing rendition of ‘I Can See For Miles.’ Roger Daltrey’s vocals surpassed anyone’s I’d ever heard live before–his crescendo high notes hit like a sonic boom. Pete Townsend roamed the stage like a leaping gazelle while Keith Moon pummeled his drumkit into the stage floor.

I’d never experienced a day like it before, and the memory of it has remained with me ever since. Little did I know, it was just the forerunner of many brilliant concerts I would experience over the next fifty years.

Iain Williams