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Articles on Atomic Rooster
'Atomic Rooster' - by Stuart Hamilton & Phil Jackson
Atomic Rooster, throughout a
convoluted series of line-ups and musical styles, remained until the end, the vision of
one man, Vincent Cheesman aka Vincent Crane. In the mid sixties, Vincent had been building
up a good reputation with his jazz group, The Vincent Crane Combo and made his stage debut
during the interval at a Rolling Stones Marquee date billed as 'the loudest piano player
in the world'. He hooked up with legendary lyricist Pete Brown and ended up playing in
clubs with the long forgotten Hedgehoppers Anonymous who in 1965 had a hit with ''It''s
Good News Week'. It was during this period that he encountered an ex teacher called Arthur
Brown. Throwing his lot in with Arthur, Vincent joined the Crazy World of Arthur Brown.
Mark Paytress writing some years back in 'Record Collector' takes up the story:
"Brown and Crane met up at a bohemian-flavoured household in West Kensington and the singer talked his way onto a Vincent Crane Combo gig in Brighton. Though it was Crane's band, Drachen (Theaker), who was in the audience remembers the billing as The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.
'It was very jazzy at that point,' he recalls. 'It was basically Vincent doing his set with Arthur squawking over it, coming on in a variety of different costumes and behaving like a maniac!'
Crane had his reservations about this new teaming but concluded, 'I felt compelled to work with this mad bastard because he had a rapport with and control of the audience that was quite remarkable!"
(Theaker by the way was previously the drummer with Wynder K. Frog and the VIPs and came very close to teaming up with Jimi Hendrix before Track offered him (Hendrix) a record contract)
The Crazy World with their improvisational and theatrical skills soon became a fixture of the London scene, which was centred round Joe Boyd's legendary UFO club. This is what Charles Fox of 'The New Statesmen'' wrote in his sleeve notes to the band's eponymous CD released in 1968:
"At first- with Arthur Brown being lowered by crane on to the stage- it looked like being just another piece of zaniness. But once Brown began his staccato dancing, his face concealed inside a glistening helmet and visor, a saffron robe floating from his shoulders, one became aware of a uniqueness. He belongs to a tradition which goes beyond Music Hall, right back to Mummer's plays. Yet there is a sinister element. For somehow Arthur Brown contrives to be both the malevolent Punch and.a psychedelic Judy."
Vincent Crane's abiding recollection of all this madness and mayhem was 'putting him (Brown) out' when his homemade helmet of colander and candlestick set the rest of him ablaze!
Zany or not The Crazy World of Arthur Brown were quickly signed by the Whos management team (Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp) to their Track record label after Pete Townsend witnessed the 'psychedelic punch and judy show' at the 14 Hour Technicolour Dream at Alexandria Palace.
As Theaker told Mark Paytress in the Record Collector interview they were basically an R&B band who 'overplayed to death'. Crane agreed: "Arthur was a soul singer then. We did psychedelic soul music. A lot of people used to think we were coloured!"
The formula was a great success as their one and only album reached #2 in the UK and #7 in the US. Vincent was on a creative high' at this point, co-writing 'Fire' (which went on to become a huge international hit topping the charts in the UK and reaching #2 in the US) and also featuring in the writing credits for 7 other tracks of the 10 on the album.
Live as well the band was hot literally and metaphorically! These must have been halcyon days supporting the likes of Jimi Hendrix, The Doors and Jefferson Airplane although the band probably didn't realise it at the time and it is well documented that Theaker was pretty pissed off with Kit Lambert's 'meddling' with the arrangements and musicians on the album
It was the treadmill of international tours though that became too much for Vincent, who suffered a breakdown, resulting in a period in Banstead mental institute. Later Vincent Crane's episodes of depression consistently recurred throughout Rooster music be it the early lyrical introspection of 'Winter', the anguished plea in 'Banstead' ('Please let me out of this place!'), 'Breakthrough' ('An invisible prison encircles my mind'), or the powerful left-hand bass-lines in'Death Walks Behind You', to the last days of Rooster in 'Dance of Death'.
On his return to the Crazy World in October, 1968 (Pete Solley, later to play on Procol Harum's 'Something Magic' album had been his temporary replacement), Vincent met their new drummer, who went by the name of Carl Palmer. They soon formed a strong musical bond, and feeling limited by the musical opportunities afforded to them, jumped ship in summer 1969 to form their own band, Atomic Rooster whose strange name was taken from an album by the US band Rhinoceros. After a long search for a bass player, Greg Ridley was chosen, only for him to head off to Humble Pie before a note could be played. After another two weeks of auditions, Nick Graham, until then best known for his civil engineering skills, was appointed bassist, allegedly for his flute playing skills! Signed to the B&C label, their debut album, "Atomic Ro-o-ster", was a fairly generic prog rock album that gained modest commercial success (Top 50 in the UK) and had some inspirational moments, such as 'Winter', 'Friday the 13th' (later to appear in an inferior version as 'Save Me' on 1973's 'Nice 'n' Greasy' LP), 'And So To Bed', an acerbic commentary on the groupie scene with its classic chorus, 'You don't want me, you don't need me, All you want is sex and fame' and 'Banstead', a chilling and utterly convincing musical interpretation of Vincent's stay at Banstead Mental Hospital. The album also includes the moving ballad (unusual for Rooster!) 'Broken Wings' complete with horns.
The band's first gig was headlining at the Lyceum, London, with Deep Purple as support. However, prior to the first album's release, the first of many personnel changes occurred, with Nick Graham departing to join Skin Alley. He continued to work in music, and ended up writing a US Number 1 hit single for Cheap Trick, "The Flame". The first and last bass player in Atomic Rooster, his departure was compensated for by the arrival of John Cann, a seasoned recording artist, who had previously been with Andromeda and Five Day Week Straw People. Andromeda, described by Martin C Strong in his 'The Great Psychedelic Discography' as an 'R&B acid-rock band' signed to RCA in 1969 and released one album that is highly rated and highly collectable today.
With Cann installed on guitar, Vincent Crane also took on bass pedal duties, and things looked to be on the up. And then Carl Palmer whose tremendous potential is very much in evidence on the first Atomic Rooster album left to work with two guys by the name of Greg Lake and Keith Emerson. I wonder whatever happened to them?
As Carl Palmer later said, "From the first time that I started working with Atomic Rooster I realised that I wanted ideally to work within a trio format. I was influenced by great jazz drummers such as Buddy Rich, Art Blakey and the like. Atomic Rooster gave me the chance to put that into practice, but more than anything else gave me a band format in which I could put a whole lot of my own thing in there."
His initial replacement in a lengthy game of musical chairs was Ric Parnell, fresh from a stimulating engagement with Engelbert Humperdink, but he was barely through the revolving door, before being replaced by Paul Hammond. Finally, in a position to record new material, "Tomorrow Night" was released in December, 1970 as a taster single for album number 2, "Death Walks Behind You" released in January, 1971. Astonishingly, in today's here today, gone tomorrow world, the single took nigh on 6 months to nearly creep into the UK Top 10. On the strength of that, the album also reached no 12 in the UK album chart and broke into the US Top 100 (on Elektra).
Things were looking good for Atomic Rooster.
The follow up single, 'Devil's Answer' did even better than 'Tomorrow Night', reaching no 4 in the UK. The band had even expanded to a four piece with the arrival of ex Leafhound and Big Bertha vocalist Pete French. There was a new album, "In Hearing Of" recorded and ready to go, and they played the Oval with The Who headlining.
The b-side of 'The Devil's Answer', The Rock' (again with a horn section added) was on the LP but the band decided not to include a version of 'The Devil's Answer' which is a great pity. The arrangement on the single is unconvincing and surely the wonderful 'riff' would have leant itself to an extended arrangement.
The 'spark' that had ignited Atomic Rooster on the first two albums was already beginning to dwindle although 'A Spoonful of Bromide Helps the Pulse Rate Go Down' is a brilliant instrumental that highlights the band's musical ability well, especially their underrated drummer Paul Hammond. 'Breakthrough' also ranks with the best that the band has done.
However, there was no getting away from the disintegration within the band personnel wise. Within days of "Devils Answer" entering the charts, Cann upped and left the band, taking Hammond with him to form a new band, Hard Stuff. With a US tour scheduled, new guitarist Steve Bolton arrived, and drummer Ric Parnell returned.
'In Hearing Of' still managed to reach the UK Top 20, but it was the end of Rooster as a viable commercial force, especially considering the very strange days that were to come.
Atomic Rooster, despite the internal machinations, had carved out a reasonable niche for themselves, with a bleak, world weary, driving rock sound, owing much to the generic progressive rock sound, a sound that had reaped commercial success. However, Vincent Crane had musical desires to sate, and he had tired of the very sound that had brought fame. When Pete French headed off to join Cactus, his replacement stunned everyone. Chris Farlowe (born John Deighton) was the epitome of the 60s white soul boy. A veteran, who had been gigging since the fifties, he had reached the top of the charts in 1966 with a Jagger / Richards song, "Out Of Time", and in a neat twist had been an early employer of a young drummer called Carl Palmer. He had of course recently boosted his credibility with 'underground' or 'progressive rock' fans by singing on Colosseum's 1970 studio LP 'Daughter of Time' and the 1971 double LP 'Colosseum Live'. Farlowe did fit in better with Atomic Rooster than with Colosseum but it was hardly a 'marriage made in heaven'!
Still 'Made In England' released in October, 1972 did provide a unique fusion of American soul and British progressive rock. Contemporary Brian Auger whose distinctive Hammond sound drew obvious comparisons to Crane was to attempt such a fusion with his Oblivion Express on their 1973 album 'Closer To It' with limited commercial success but little or no artistic appeal. Like Atomic Rooster the more straightforward rock approach on their self titled first LP suited the band better.
Now on Dawn records 'Made in England' sold poorly, and the single, "Stand By Me" was lost in a world dominated by glitter rock. It was clearly time for a new approach, and the inevitable personnel change.
So it was goodbye Steve Bolton, later to be spotted playing Pete Townshend's riffs on the Who's 1989 world tour, and hello to John Mandala / John Goodsall for 1973's 'Nice 'n' Greasy'.
Unfortunately this album didn't hit the same musical heights as 'Made In England' and with their commercial level at rock bottom, Dawn dropped the band. A parting shot was fired across the bows in 1974 with a single called "Tell Your Story, Sing Your Song", on Decca, billed to Vincent Crane's Atomic Rooster, but noone took much notice. And that should have been that.
Over the next few years, Vincent worked on a variety of projects, including "Dracula" at the Shaftesbury Theatre, the Ghost Train" at the old Vic, the "Old Country at the Queen's, "Stevie" at the Vaudeville, Rolls Hyphen Royce" at the Shaftesbury Theatre, was Musical Advisor to the Royal Court's Children's Theatre Festival, and Vocal Coach for a South London Children's Festival and was also Musical Director for "Rain Dog", Stomu Yamashta's Red Buddha Theatre Company.
In 1978, Vincent met up with Arthur Brown again and they began writing together and performing. By 1979, they had material together for a new album "Faster than the Speed of Light" recorded in Germany at Klaus Schulz's studio and Vincent also recorded with Klaus on the "Dune" album and with Arthur and Klaus on "Wahnfried".
Rock was beginning to stir from hibernation in the UK in 1980, with the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, picking up on the darkness in Rooster music, especially around the time of "Death Walks Behind You". With so many new bands utilising occult concepts, John Cann and Vincent Crane reconvened, with Preston Heyman filling the drum stool for a single on EMI, "Do You Know Who's Looking For You?" and an album also called 'Atomic Rooster' (although a very different vintage in 1980 compared to 1970!). Immediately dropped, they were picked up by Polydor for two singles. Despite extensive tours, and with the inevitable line up changes (Heyman out, Ginger Baker in, Baker out, the return of Paul Hammond), it wasn't to be. This was a musically unadventurous period for Rooster, one dimensional, rather than the pan dimensional sounds of the seventies. But there was to be one final act played out.
With John Cann leaving, 1983 saw the final chapter written in the history of Atomic Rooster. "Headline News" had Vincent Crane taking Rooster in yet another direction, employing an up to date keyboard sound, and experimenting with a new style. Drawing in such guitar talent as John Mazarolli, Pink Floyd's Dave Gilmour and Bernie Torme (who played on the subsequent tour), "Headline News" is an under appreciated album, deserving of a much wider audience, but coming out on the tiny Towerbell label, it was lost.
After Rooster were laid to rest, Vincent Crane recorded with Fleetwood Mac's Peter Green as Katmandu, joined Dexy's Midnight Runners for the "Don't Stand Me Down" album (1985) , and worked in theatre productions. Tragically, the personal demons that had bedevilled Vincent over the years, and which formed an integral part of the music of Atomic Rooster, finally caught up with him, and he committed suicide on 14th February 1989.
Atomic Rooster remain an under appreciated, if influential band, with acts like Paradise Lost, Census of Hallucinations and Atomic Bitchwax (featuring Monster Magnets Ed Mundell) all having recorded Rooster tracks. Tracks do appear occasionally on progressive rock compilations like 'Supernatural Fairy Tales'. However, their legacy has been ill served over the years with a series of shoddy, sub standard compilations usually called "Devils Answer". The 1997 retrospective 'In Satan's Name- The Definitive Collection' on Snapper Music is as good a place to start as any. It is remastered, includes a brief history of the band and is reasonably priced. As with most compilations it has some serious omissions (like 'Winter') and the second CD pales in comparison with the first- a sign of the times!
Thankfully, things are getting better with Italian reissue specialists, Akarma, putting out a box set of the first three albums, and CD and vinyl issues of the first 5 albums. There is also a new compilation called "Heavy Soul" out on Sanctuary Records which covers everything up to and including the Decca single on 2CDs.
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Lyrics Memories Community Humour Arthur Brown Links