October 19, 2023

Let’s be honest: Dance With Arthur Brown is unlikely to be voted the best album in Arthur Brown’s lengthy career. And yet, when you read the history behind its creation, all spelt out in the excellent booklet accompanying this CD release, the music takes on a different light, not just thanks to Esoteric’s attentive remastering but also because you can sense the heroic but flawed attempt to write a world music album a decade before the phrase ‘world music’ had been coined.

Dance With Arthur Brown was written in 1974 and released the following year. The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown had been a one-hit (and one album) wonder back in 1968 but Brown had soldiered on, producing three albums as part of his next band, Kingdon Come, with music that offered flashes of progressive brilliance combined with moments of madness and deranged humour.  For his next outing he decided to produce an album of dance music. Keep in mind this was before the disco boom and Brown’s intention was, to use his own words, ‘to make an album of dance styles from all over the world’. 

While Arthur Brown hadn’t been setting the charts alight for a number of years, he did still have good contacts, and remarkably he managed to get Stevie Wonder to agree to produce the album and Steve Winwood to play on it too. Sadly, that stellar combination was torpedoed by Brown’s own label, Gull Records, who simply couldn’t afford those big names, even if in compensation Gull offered Rodger Bain, who was fresh from producing Judas Priest’s debut album. The second issue that arose for Brown was guitarist Andy Dalby. Now Dalby had been a key member of Kingdom Come so it was inevitable that Brown would ask him to play on this album, but Dalby’s agreement came with strings attached. He wanted to arrange four of the tracks (two covers and two of his own songs). Brown agreed but in doing so seriously weakened the concept behind the album.

Let’s look first at the seven tracks that were written by Brown, starting with the near-title-track Dance. It’s a slow-paced rhythm & blues piece, driven by the electric piano of Ken Elliot and underpinned by some funky bass from Steve Yorke (one of four different bass players used on the album). Brown switches between soulful singling and sleazy spoken sections in what is probably the most successful of his self-penned pieces. At the other end of the quality scale is Crazy, a weak attempt at a music hall / cabaret song which falls rather flat. The reggae track, Soul Garden is more successful, and again Brown was ahead of his time since it wasn’t until later in 1975 that Bob Marley’s live rendition of No Woman No Cry brought reggae to the masses. In a similar style, there’s the ska rhythm of Is There Nothing Beyond God during which Brown hypnotically chants that title repeatedly. The Lord Will Find A Way is another strong song, containing some of Brown’s most soulful singing and a cheerfully upbeat gospel chorus.

In contrast to the above tracks, which despite being a mixed bag in terms of quality, do represent a vaguely coherent concept, there are the four Dalby ‘choices’. The two covers that were included at his behest were the old Animal’s hit, We’ve Got To Get Out Of This Place, and the Rolling Stones’ Out Of Time. To give Dalby credit, the souped-up Soul version of We’ve Got To Get Out Of This Place works quite well, and it’s very danceable. It was released as a single but didn’t chart. Out of Time gets the soul treatment too and is full of energy, thanks also to unexpected but excellent sax work.

The two tracks written by Dalby (jointly written, to be precise, along with Leslie Adey who had been the lighting guy with Kingdom Come) clearly stand apart in a different sound world. Quietly With Tact is in almost a dance beat (6/8 I believe) but the vocalising and guitar work push it into prog rock territory. And prog is definitely the space occupied by the seven-minutes of Helen With The Sun, which mixes bombastic guitar and keyboards with bluesy acoustic vocal sections. One could imagine its poetic lyrics as a tribute to Helen of Troy although it seems the Helen in question had a more mundane source: she was simply an acquaintance of Dalby.

The CD is completed by six tracks from a BBC Radio One In Concert which took place on 23rd April 1975. The most interesting amongst this set are two songs which deviate from the studio versions:  We’ve Got To Get Out Of This Place, where the striking sax work (played by George Khan) gives a very different texture to the sound; and Is There Nothing Beyond God which is preceded by a spoken rap, and then after a live fade out…there’s a fade in for a last chorus. Very Arthur Brown!

Musicians were allowed to do lots of things in 1974 that by the ‘80s were no longer feasible. Dance With Arthur Brown is a good example of the sort of experimentation that was still permitted.  As such, this is an album that should be savoured with pleasure, both in its good moments and even in its less inspired ones.