When Colosseum played their final gig on 28th February 2015 at Shepherd’s Bush Empire they brought to a close the career of one of the first and most influential U.K. jazz rock bands. Fittingly, the line up that played the final gig is the same as featured on this sumptuous reissue of the band’s double LP Colosseum Live, released some 44 years earlier. The album was also the last of their earlier incarnation, the band eventually reforming in 1994.
Colosseum was formed in 1968 by drummer and de facto band leader Jon Hiseman and saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith, who had previously worked together with Graham Bond and John Mayall. Incidentally, Heckstall-Smith may have been the first to introduce double sax blowing into a rock band. Add to those two organ player Dave Greenslade and you have the core trio of both the original line up and the reformed group of 1994.
Prior to this double live album, an obligatory format back then for any hard working band, they had recorded For Those About To Die, We Salute You in 1969 and later the same year the equally storming Valentyne Suite, the latter having the honour of being the first release on Philips’ “underground” subsidiary Vertigo, a label that was something of an obsession of mine during my vinyl collecting days. For those with the inclination my snapshot of every “Spiral” release can be found HERE.
Both those albums featured the highly talented but sadly underrated James Litherland on guitar, who left before the third studio outing, Daughters of Time. This LP was released in December 1970 and introduces singer Chris Farlowe and bass player Mark Clarke to the line up, and guitarist Dave “Clem” Clempson who appears on only one track, and notwithstanding other comings and goings during that somewhat patchy album’s gestation, what was known as the classic line up of Colosseum was born.
I admit I have never been a fan of Chris Farlowe’s theatrically showbiz vocal style, I suppose you could describe him as a rock version of Tom Jones, although oddly I quite like the Welsh miner! Maybe that chest beating style suits R&B better than rock? Farlowe does a scat solo spot during Skellington where he breaks, albeit mercifully briefly, into an Al Jolson “tribute”, and in another track he treats us to a Bill & Ben* impersonation, interludes that have always made me cringe! Luckily the others in the band are such top-notch players that I am able to mentally gloss over Farlowe’s over the top vocals.
Opening with the Jack Bruce and Pete Brown song Rope Ladder To The Moon, this live album is a foot to floor experience from beginning to end, with an emphasis on the rock element of jazz rock. All three front line musicians and drummer Jon Hiseman get plenty of individual time under the spotlight, the highlight for me being Clempson’s blistering fretwork in Lost Angeles. The album captures a band at the top of their game, full of relatively youthful vim and a dashing joie de vivre that makes Colosseum Live a delight to listen to. Mind you, if you’ve read this far you probably know all that, it’s not like the album is a rarity. Sadly, playable original versions are scarce these days, as the odd pseudo velvet-edged inners of the original cover design often reacted with the vinyl leaving an audible mark across the first track of each side of the two LPs! I never got around to getting this album on CD, and it’s good to hear it as intended after all this time, and it sounds fabulous!
The real draw here is the bonus CD which contains tracks recorded on the same tour as the original album, the highlights being the tracks not on the original records, namely Time Machine segued into The Machine Demands A Sacrifice, a large part of which is Hiseman’s drum solo. I have never seen the point of interminable drum solos no matter how good the sticksman, but hey, this was the ’70s, everybody did it! Last but certainly not least is the other “new” track, a complete and blistering rendering of The Valentyne Suite, a side-long composition from the album of the same name, and as close to prog as this band ever got. Dave Greenslade’s superb organ work stands out on this track, although they all get to flex their muscles, collectively and individually, but no drum solo, thankfully. The tune builds to a PA-bursting climax, and the audience leave with their heads ringing… marvellous!
The sound on the bonus disc is not quite up to the exemplary standard of the main album in places but it is more than decent, and the second CD again shows what a powerful live band Colosseum were in their ascendancy.
01. Rope Ladder To The Moon (9:47)
02. Walking In The Park (8:24)
03. Skellington (14:59)
04. I Can’t Live Without You (7:52)
05. Tanglewood ‘63 (10:15)
06. Encore… Stormy Monday Blues (7:32)
07. Lost Angeles (15:48)
Total Time – 74:41
01. Rope Ladder to The Moon (10:57)
02. Skellington (14:43)
03. I Can’t Live Without You (21:51)
– Time Machine
– The Machine Demands A Sacrifice
04. Stormy Monday Blues (5:13)
05. The Valentyne Suite (21:20)
– i. January’s Search
– ii. Theme Two – February’s Valentyne
– iii. Theme Three – The Grass Is Greener
Total time – 73:56
Jon Hiseman – Drums
Dick Heckstall Smith – Tenor & Soprano Saxes
Dave Greenslade – Organ & Vibes
Dave “Clem” Clempson – Guitar & Vocals
Marke Clarke – Bass
Chris Farlowe – Vocals
Record Label: Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue#: ECLEC 22545
Date of Release: 5th August 2016