What links rock music, resurrection, suggestions of devil worship and the art of setting one’s self ablaze in the name of entertainment to Whitby?
The answer is Arthur Brown, one of the town’s most famous sons, the pioneer of shock rock who famously ‘rose from the dead’ after the Gazette reported how he had perished alongside most of his family during World War Two.
Arthur – dubbed the God of Hellfire – best known for his 1960s number one record Fire, was born in Whitby in 1942 and is set to return to the town later this year to perform at the Musicport Festival.
“It has been a while, but I always like coming back to Whitby,” he said.
“It is still beautiful in its own rugged way and it’s nice to return to my place of origin.”
Prior to his education at Roundhay Grammar School in Leeds which preceded his studying of law at philosophy and university, Arthur spent a large part of his childhood in Whitby.
Born during an air raid, as a child Arthur’s family home – the Harbour View Hotel – was bombed by the Luftwaffe.
With the building reduced to rubble, all of the family were reported by the Whitby Gazette as being dead, however they were in fact sheltering in the cellar and appeared among the ruins hours after the paper went to print.
Arthur said:“Being bombed aside, most of my memories of my childhood in Whitby are happy ones.
“I remember fondly the morning fishing fleet coming in, picking bilberries on the Moors, gymkhanas, sheep dog trials and fishing from the pier.
“I’ve always found Whitby to be a very real place, it’s one of the reasons why I enjoy coming back.”
When he returns in October, Arthur is hoping for a warmer welcome than he received prior to his appearance at the Dracfest in 1997.
By this point, he was almost 30 years into a career in the music industry which had seen him achieve notoriety as the flamboyant frontman of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Kingdom Come.
A few days before he was due to perform, Arthur’s manager informed him that objections to him appearing in Whitby had been raised by both the Bishop and Mayor of Whitby.
Arthur said: “The then Bishop of Whitby asked me ‘was I not known as the God of Hellfire ‘and if I was ‘requesting his permission to sing my devilfire songs in his diocese.’
“He also mentioned that he had seen me perform in 1967 and the experience had persuaded him to join the church.
“The problem was that what we were doing was quite revolutionary at the time and some people did genuinely think that we were devil worshippers.”
Arthur acknowledges that shock tactics were a necessary way of grabbing an audience’s attention, but is dismissive of any notion that there were ever sinister undertones to his stage act .
“We were aware that we were presenting a lot more than people were bargaining for,” he explained.
“We intended to be shocking to help get our point across. It was all a bit pantomime really, and nothing to with any of this demonic stuff.”
It is no great surprise that there was a darker side to the performances of Arthur the entertainer, given some of the fates that befell him during his formative years.
As mentioned previously, Arthur’s family home in Whitby was bombed and then later his mother’s house in London was blown up during World War Two, a conflict which his father fought in.
His uncle Arthur - who he was named after- died at sea, his grandmother threw herself out of a window and was killed and his grandfather developed Parkinson’s Disease after being blown across a road by a bomb in Whitby.
“All of this had a huge affect on my family. Emotionally, it wasn’t easy,” Arthur said.
“I remember coming home one day as a 12-year-old and there was a bicycle in the hallway that I didn’t recognise.
“My father introduced me to the owner of the bike and said ‘this man is going to teach you a form of meditation.’
“With everything that had gone on, it helped me to cope.”
Arthur eventually turned to music and songwriting.
He added:“Writing an album was like an inner journey for me.
“In order to carry it through I decided to create characters such as the God of Hellfire. I’ve done this again on my most recent album, with the character of Zim Zam Zim.”
Arthur will be performing songs from his latest offering– entitled Zim Zam Zim – as well as plenty of old favourites when he takes to the Whitby Pavilion stage at Musicport.
The prospect of performing in his home town has him excited.
Arthur revealed: “I am honoured to be performing at Musicport and very much looking forward to it. This will be a new challenge for me, trying to harness the local energies and bring something to life.
“The town seems to have chosen the character of its festivals very well. Goth weekends and folk events fit perfectly with the image of Whitby and Musicport is the same.”