Arthur Browns Kingdom Come – Eternal Messenger An Anthology 1970-1973
Esoteric Recordings/Cherry Red ECLEC52752
As well as reissuing some ‘album only boxed sets’ (Curved Air, Patto, Greenslade, Third Ear Band) shorn of their bonus tracks, Esoteric have now started putting out complete boxed sets of artists entire careers, complete with replica album sleeves, in-depth booklets and a plethora of bonus tracks.
This comprehensive collection of Arthur Browns Kingdom Come collects everything recorded between 1970 & 1973 onto 5 discs and brings these long out of print albums back to life complete with a CD of BBC tracks, the majority of which have never been (legitimately) released before, alongside the original three albums, and the Jam CD that first appeared in 1995 on Voiceprint.
After the dark psych of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown had split up in 1969 (& their only album is available in 50th anniversary edition from Cherry Red, I highly recommend you seek it out) Arthur Brown returned to the UK, and in typical uncompromising fashion decided to start a new band called Kingdom Come.
The first sessions were recorded in 1970 with Arthur, Michael ‘Goodge’ Harris on keyboards, Bob Ellwood on guitars, Dave Ambrose on bass, Rob Tait on drums & Pete Bailey on percussion, as Arthur states in the booklet, they recorded everything to see how they gelled and what would come out of it, these recordings were put to one side, and finally emerged in 1995 as Jam, an album I recall reviewing back in the day for the CRS, I haven’t got my review to hand, however I strongly suspect that 17 year old me wouldn’t have got it at all.
However as part of the overall story of Kingdom Come, it’s a fascinating snapshot of a period, showing how the musicians were finding their way with each other, and whilst the material isn’t as polished as later albums, it’s a brilliant selection of improvisation, freewheeling and as it was never intended to be an album, or released at the time, it is more like a ‘behind the scenes’ documentary of the band at the time, and of course there’s going to be a few hits and misses, but that’s all part of the fun of the album, and it’s an important part of the Kingdom Come story.
By the time Kingdom Come (as the band were always known) had managed to get a record deal through Polydor (via some amusing subterfuge as detailed in the booklet) the band had coalesced round Arthur Brown, Andy Dalby on lead guitar and vocals, Desmond Fisher on bass, Michael ‘Goodge’ Harris on organ, Martin Steer on drums, Julian Brown on the VCS 3 synthesiser and Dennis Taylor (no, not that one) on lights.
Always an arresting presence, and a far more versatile and visionary vocalist and musician than is given credit for (particularly if you only know the hit Fire) Arthur really hit a rich seam of creativity with Kingdom Come, pushing his take on psych and the blues into new, unchartered territory.
With a band who were absolutely on fire (pun intended) their debut album Galactic Zoo Dossier released in October 1971, inspired in part by the current state of society, and what Arthur had witnessed whilst living in the states in the late 60’s, it’s a heavy and intense piece of work.
That said having the combination of organ and synthesiser, not to mention the fluidity of Dalby’s guitar work, there is a lot of musical dexterity and power on this album, Gypsy Escape for instance is a sublime piece of work, with some astonishing Hammond drenched work, and riffs that push and build to a mighty musical conclusion, and I admit this is the sort of stuff that really excites me, as I love the sound a Hammond organ brings to a hard rocking band. Meanwhile Space Plucks leads into Galactic Zoo and its reprise Medley – Galactic Zoo(pt. 2), Space Plucks (pt2), Galactic Zoo (pt. 3) are superb pieces in their own right that aid the concept.
Original closer No Time is a really tight and funky piece of music, and as the sleeve notes state, the band worked together in a warehouse working and refining on these songs between the hours of 10am and 6pm as if they were going to work, and this discipline shows throughout this tightly constructed and intense album.
Every song works well as it flows into the others, and topped by Arthurs distinctive and versatile vocals, this album should be rightly acclaimed as the classic of the era that it is, I’m just surprised I’ve never heard it before.
Rounding the remastered album off are the re-recorded Internal Messenger that opened the album, released as a single entitled Eternal Messenger and its B-side I.D side to be B side the C side (previously unreleased on CD) and a couple of outtakes from the album as well.
With the gatefold sleeve reproduced as well, this is a mighty album.
During this period the band also played Glastonbury Fayre, and as Arthur said in the book some were expecting Fire, which he didn’t do, so they had to find a new audience.
By 1972’s self titled second album, the band had slimmed down to a 4 piece with Phil Shutt joining on bass and vocals to complement Brown, Dalby, and Harris (who also added the VCS 3 synthesiser to his repertoire) recorded again at Rockfield studio and self-produced by the band, it’s not as intense and dark as the debut, however it shows the increased confidence and skill the band have, as they’d honed their craft playing live.
This is obvious from the slow burning opener Water, which is a far more mellow piece than anything on the debut and ends with a wonderfully surreal exchange ending in the phrase ‘Captain I am, and Captain I’ll stay’.
This period of Arthurs career is where he purposely went into the underground, not wanting to be a rock star, and instead following his muse where it took him, and this confidence in both his and the bands vision is what drives Kingdom Come, and his vocals are absolutely sublime, especially on the wonderful Love Is a Spirit that Will Never Do, a superb soulful blues tour de force, full of moments that have plenty of contrasting light and shade.
Whilst the recurring Captain of the ship battle reappears on City Melody, and it’s these entertaining interludes (which I imagine worked well on stage) are all part and parcel of the album, taking something that on the surface is pretty straightforward, and nicely subverting it.
The album as a whole is more experimental than the debut, and this shows in the use of musique concrete and linking narration between the songs, and the use of more electronic sounds to counterpoint the straighter edged rock sounds, and the mad, almost Bonzo esque sounds of Traffic Light Song.
There is a rich vein of English surrealism which runs through this album, and its concept was developed from the live show, where the theatrics were as integral to the performance as the music, and if you look at some of the costumes the band wore on stage that are reproduced in the booklet you wonder how on earth they managed to perform.
Bonus tracks on here are alternative versions of Traffic Light Song, The Hymn and The Experiment which again show how the songs were developed in the studio.
An assured sound of a band comfortable with who they are and what they want to perform, unsurprisingly like the debut it didn’t trouble the charts.
But again, that’s not what Kingdom Come were about.
The bands final album Journey, released in April 1973, saw them with yet another new line up, with only Arthur Brown and Andy Dalby remaining from the original band, Phil Shutt remained and was joined by Victor Peraino on Mellotron, Piano, synthesiser, theremin and percussion, whilst Arthur picked up the Bentley Drum Machine.
This line-up change is what makes Journey a unique album, in that it relies entirely on the drum machine for percussion, which was quite unusual in the early 1970’s and it’s metronomic beat and the bands reliant on more electronic sounds almost foreshadows bands like Ultravox! Tubeway Army or the Human League in the mid to late 70’s.
One thing you forget about Arthur Brown, is how much of a musical pioneer he’s been, even flying under the radar, and that’s where he does his best work.
Produced by long term associate Dennis Taylor and mixed by Dave Edmunds (who, as Brown rightly points out in the sleeve notes had a great knowledge of the electronic sounds) Journey is their most visionary album yet, recorded completely with the drum machine, which they also toured with.
For 1973, where contemporaneous releases included Deep Purples Who Do We Think We Are? Rick Wakemans The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Pink Floyds Dark Side of the Moon, Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield, Journey was as far removed from any of those big beasts as is possible and is about 5 years ahead of its time.
Blending the electronic sounds, and the organic guitar, bass, and vocals it creates a sonic soundscape unlike any other at this point.
From the opening 7 minute plus Time Captives, to the minimalist synth dominated Gypsy which blends the best of both worlds with some blinding guitar work and fantastic synth work to tracks like Conception, this really is music so far ahead of it’s time that it’s timeless in its power and presentation.
This album has some amazing tracks in it, like Spirit of Joy (which is also included on here in its single form with B-side Slow Rock, as well as alternative versions of Time Captives, Conception and Come Alive as bonus tracks.
This final album by Kingdom Come is genuinely progressive and by far the strongest of the three, with the band performing as a tight knit musical unit, managing to combine the experimental electronica and sonic approaches of their previous albums into an epic and coherent whole.
Yet Journey disappeared without a trace, after which point Arthur Brown disbanded the group feeling they’d gone as far as they could, but blimey what a journey from post psych rock to electronica pioneers in a space of three years, it really was one hell of a musical trip.
The final delight in this box set is the 5th disc that contains everything the band recorded for BBC radio 1, running from the first to last album, and every line-up, and this is a perfect accompaniment to the albums, showcasing how the band pushed the songs and let them fly in a live setting, and it’s the closest you’ll get to hearing a Kingdom Come concert, so it’s the perfect end to this impressive boxed set.
This progression from the first line-up to the last is also impressive and it proves that Kingdom Come were equally as powerful on the stage as well as in the studio, and it’s this versatility and virtuosity of the bands evolving line-ups, anchored by the distinctive guitar sound of Andy Dalby and the versatile vocals of Arthur Brown, that make Kingdom Come such an exciting and individual band.
If all you’ve heard of Arthur Brown is Fire, then this boxed set will blow away any preconceptions you have about him and his restless muse and is worth the time spent immersing yourself in it.
As Arthur is still out there performing, if you get a chance to go and see him do so, he still puts on an uncompromising and eclectic show, still following his muse wherever it takes him.