Focus and Arthur Brown: The Caves, Edinburgh, Friday 29 October 2011
Admit it: you probably thought Arthur Brown was dead, right? Well, he's very much alive, though 69 years old now. Still with the amazing face paint which inspired Alice Cooper and Kiss, but no longer setting his head alight to perform "Fire". He has a young band: Lucie Rejchrtova on keyboards was outstanding, also Sam Walker on drums. The guitarist (who seems to be new to judge from the internet) was female, unusually: Nina Gromniak. Tall, dark and clad in tight shorts (Lucie OTOH was in skin-tight wet-look trousers - when she walked out through the audience at the interval a guy behind me reckoned he'd died and gone to heaven....) she was a great accompanist and took some good solos: self-effacing, I'd say, not a bad trait in a band member. The bass player should have been Jim Mortimore to judge from the web site, but the bassist in my photos looks nothing like him. There was also Angel Fallon who supplied dance. As well as being a very tight band, they really got into the spirit of The Crazy World of A.B.. At one point during "I Put A Spell On You" Arthur lifted Lucie's keyboard off its stand and backed away with it, Lucie following him and continuing to play.
I didn't recognise everything they did: after all, I last encountered them when "Fire" was number one 43 years ago. I recognised "I Put A Spell On You", given a very wild interpretation by the whole band; the finale "Fire", with the real flames of yore replaced now by Angel Fallon's fantastical costume with flame-like swirling wings; and "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" which was their encore. Also noteworthy was the lyrical "Angels In My Mind": one doesn't associate arthur with love songs, but there you are.
After the interval came another survivor propped up by a new band. This time it was Thijs van Leer, remnant of the original Focus line-up and just the same forty-odd years on, only fatter (aren't we all...) and wearing a Canadian-style winter hat with ear-flaps. they opened up with "House of the King", during which Pierre van der Linden hit his drum so hard that he actually broke a snare drum head and had to borrow Sam Walker's snare for the rest of the set. Van der Linden was easily the best of the band, better even than van Leer: rock-solid, giving his kit serious grief, producing some of the most amazing fills I've ever heard, and all with an air of world-weary resignation but no sign of tiredness. He turns out to be another survivor from the famous 1970s Focus line-up (and he was famous for his fills then). Menno Gootjes had Jan Akkerman's large footsteps to fill, and he did an excellent job. When the band did "Sylvia" it was Thijs who did the opening chords (on his splendid Hammond organ) rather than the guitar, but while no slavish copier, Menno produced a performance of the main theme fully up to the Akkerman standard. (I noticed members of the crazy World of Arthur Brown taking pictures and videos from the wings during "Sylvia": clearly hearing it every night doesn't spoil the magic.) Bass was Bobby Jacobs, also outstanding: I guess to get into Focus you have to be pretty special. We had the yodelling, the flute playing (sometimes at the same time as the Hammond organ). Nice to see a real Hammond again: last one I saw was either Georgie Fame or Gary Brooker (they were both in Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings and one of them had a Hammond).