Astonishing music: Arthur Brown’s Kingdom Come

arthur-brown-kingdom-come-journey-coverThose who know me well know that I have a penchant for liking strange and experimental electronic music. Not any old electronic music, but truly challenging uses of synthesizers and processed sounds, especially produced between the mid 1960s and mid 1970s. Synths were new instruments back then, and many of the kinds of sounds that they produced had simply never been heard before. Musicians were discovering them and what they could do.

Some of the groups and artists that I admire most are the Silver Apples, Gong, Steve Hillage Band, Hawkwind, Pink Floyd (Dark Side of the Moon), Zorch, Kraftwerk, and of course Tim Blake. There are others (plenty of them)! But what do I like about their music? The sheer experimentation of it all. The “what happens if” attitude. Feeding instruments through synths to totally change how they sound. A time of great imagination musically and with production. The fusion of new electronic instruments with rock and processed sounds (echo, reverb, phasing, etc) that organically found its own sound sometimes defined as the genre called ‘space rock’. Genres are so restrictive, aren’t they?

Today, by sheer chance, I can add a new band to my list. Whilst beavering away at updating a website for work I had Spotify on playing an album of mixed psychedelic music. Arthur Brown‘s famous track “Fire” came on. It struck me just how good a track it is, so I clicked on Arthur Brown’s name and listened to more tracks by him. Over coffee, I had a quick look at his biography and discovered that between 1970 and 1974 Arthur Brown’s band was called Kingdom Come, and that their final album “Journey”, recorded in 1972 (released in 1973), was the first to feature percussion generated entirely by a drum machine (a Bentley Rhythm Ace). This is the sort of geeky electronic music trivia that I just love! It also featured EMS VCS3 and ARP 2600 synthesisers. I had to hear this!

Unfortunately, Spotify didn’t have any of their albums in their catalogue, but a quick look via revealed that the Kingdom Come albums were on iTunes. I listened to the sample tracks on YouTube and 30 second previews, and bought “Journey” (a bargain at £4.49, with bonus tracks) and “Intergalactic Zoo Dossier” (£7.99). The music on “Journey”  is among the most astonishing that I’ve ever heard, and I’m rapidly becoming a fan of Arthur Brown’s theatrical singing voice. He’s absolutely fantastic.

I think “Journey” might be one of those one-off albums that was way ahead of their time. Electronic beats, driving bass, different types of synths, processed guitar, reversed sounds and wild vocals make this album really stick out for me. It’s one of those rare, obscure and unsung works of sheer creative genius, which is why I was moved to write about it here. I don’t think that the makers of the Bentley Rhythm Ace ever envisaged one being used in quite the way Arthur used it, often driving the tempo to machine-gun speeds.

Journey’s opening track, “Time Captives” (although Arthur appears to sing “Time Captains”), is embedded below for your delectation (or confirmation that I do indeed have ‘specialist’ taste in music!). I strongly recommend headphones to appreciate the sonic wizardry that goes on in this track.



Pilgrim’s Progress – a new album by Kula Shaker

Kula Shaker have recently released their fourth studio album, Pilgrim’s Progress.

Their first two albums, ‘K’ and “Peasants Pigs and Astronauts” before their split at the eclipse in 1999 are amazing. Their 2007 comeback album “Strangefolk” is quirky, psychedelic, and wonderful. Upon hearing about the release of Pilgrim’s Progress, and after a quick first listen on Spotify, I went out and bought the physical CD. From a real shop (how retro!). Some music deserves to be bought in hard-copy, and this is one of those albums.

Rather than describe their current sound in inadequate language, watch and listen to the video below and I think that you might agree that it’s a rather wonderful track. If you like it, you’ll love the rest of Pilgrim’s Progress.


New Gong album “2032” coming soon

Pioneering psychedelic space rockers Gong, who have been making music for well over 40 years, are soon to release a new album, entitled “2032”. This track, “How to Stay Alive”, along with its outstanding video, is a taster of what is to come when the album is released on 21 September 2009. From what I have heard so far (i.e. 45 second samples and this track), 2032 is going to be jaw-droppingly good.

[Edit] I now have the 2032 CD, ordered from Planet Gong, and it is jaw-droppingly wonderful. I urge you to buy this album at once!

The lineup for “2032” is incredible:

  • Daevid Allen – guitar and vocals
  • Miquette Giraudy – synthesizers
  • Steve Hillage – guitar and vocals
  • Gilli Smyth – vocals
  • Mike Howlett – bass
  • Didier Malherbe – soprano sax, flute
  • Theo Travis – sax, flute
  • Chris Taylor – drums
  • Yuji Katsui (Rovo) – electric violin

Head over to Planet Gong to find out more.


Jamendo: Creative Commons music

Jamendo is a music website where artists release their music for free download, under a Creative Commons license. There are community features such as commenting, personal playlists, favourites, ratings, and forums, and from experience, it’s a very vibrant community indeed.

I’ve been using Jamendo since it was launched, and a visit to the site today reveals a whole new redesign. It’s much easier to download albums now (no more BitTorrent wizardry) and the whole site seems to be much faster.

Well done to the Jamendo team!


80s gothysynthpop

David J Knight has posted news that some videos of A Single Voice recorded in 1987 are now on YouTube.

This is the kind of thing I’m on about – a raw gig filmed on beta – but with bags of energy:

And one of my favourites from A Single Voice:


Apple Music

Apple, EMI, and DRM

Eric Nicoli (CEO, EMI Group) and Steve Jobs (CEO, Apple Inc) took to the stage for a press conference in London today. There has been much speculation about what would be announced. Some hedged their bets on an announcement that the Beatles would be available via iTunes, while others thought that it would be an announcement about digital rights management (DRM) being dropped from EMI tracks available on iTunes. Optimists felt that both would be announced.

I’ve just finished listening to a live webcast of the event, where EMI and Apple announced a new product available from iTMS: Premium digital downloads. These will cover the entire existing EMI catalogue, will be DRM free, and at a higher quality.

Premium tracks will cost $0.30 (20p) more, be at 256kbs AAC, DRM free. You will be able to upgrade existing tracks to the premium quality by paying the difference. Videos distributed by EMI will also be DRM free.

Existing tracks will remain at the same price, with DRM.

The iTMS will support this new ‘feature’ from May. Steve Jobs said that this is the “next big step forward in the digital music revolution”. You will be able to set a preference in iTunes for your preferred quality.

Steve also addressed the issue of interoperability. He recognised that people want to play on devices other than iPods. When questioned about ‘severing’ the dependency of iPods from iTunes purchased music, his response was that he believes that people buy iPods because they are the best music players on the market. They have been able to play plain mp3s from the beginning, and that people will continue to buy iPods. If they don’t “we’ll have to work harder”.

Steve said that they will offer same opportunity to the other “big 4” distributors. He talked about the widespread cynicism since his open letter about the futility of DRM. Apple couldn’t really want to break their dependency between iTunes and iPods!? Well, now they have, and when Mr Jobs discussed this, there was a definite tone of “so there” in his voice.

In the question round afterwards, a Sky News reporter asked when the Beatles catalogue will be on the iTMS. Eric Nicoli mumbled that EMI were working on it, and hoped that something might happen soon.

Adam Webb (freelancer) asked a very poignant question. Why keep DRM on the $0.99/79p tracks? Why not take it off entirely? Why pay more to have DRM free music? This rather important point was neatly sidestepped by Steve, who said they didn’t want to raise prices. A politician’s answer, if ever I’ve heard one.

Why should DRM free music be more expensive? Well, at least it’s a start. Maybe one day all distributors and internet music stores will operate a model as sensible as

Read the official EMI press release.
[Update] Here’s Apple’s press release.