Colosseum – Colosseum Live
Released 29th July 2016
Jazz Rock Supergroup’s double live offering that made number 17 in the UK album charts back in 1971, with a bonus disc of rare tracks from the same era…..Ian Canty puts Louder Than War’s mission statement “We Are Punk” to the test with quite possibly the least Punk record reviewed on here!
Colosseum – a pretty hard sell to most Louder Than War readers I would have thought. But actually I know you lot are hardy musical adventurers, so will give me at least a fighting chance before you draw your own conclusions. This band did, I would grant you, spin a little out of control into the murkier waters of Jazz and Progressive Rock, but before you run away with your hands over your ears, there’s a story to be told and it’s not quite what I myself at first thought it was either…..
They were actually an offshoot of the Graham Bond Organization which is something that we need to bear in mind as it has a distinct influence on their subsequent career. Dick Heckstall-Smith and Jon Hiseman had split with the increasingly erratic Bond and looked around for colleagues to launch their own outfit in a similar Jazz/Blues mode, but updating their approach for the more “progressive” late 60s. Pulling in the likes of keyboardist Dave Greenslade and ex-Bakerloo guitar virtuoso David “Clem” Clempson (who I last saw at the storming KPM gig at Islington Town Hall a few years back), by the time this live recording was taped at gigs in Brighton and Manchester they had been joined by strong voiced 60s hit-maker Chris Farlowe on vocals (Farlowe had scored a big solo success in 1966 with his version of the Stones’ “Out Of Time”). In Bond’s band Heckstall-Smith and Hiseman had been playing extended versions of the Blues and Jazz favourites in clubs up and down the country, in the main to keep the Mod dancers happy and grooving, often fleshing these pieces over the 10 minute mark by filling in with solos etc.
In effect that is what they carried on doing with Colosseum, but on a much larger scale. While there is no doubting the chops that these fellas possessed, but while it must have gone down a storm live, listening at home now they could have cut down the length of most tracks by half and have lost virtually nothing. Still at the time that wasn’t really the point so we have to approach this record as we hear it, as a live recording from 1971 aimed at people who wished to follow the Blues to its natural conclusion and wanted long songs to do it.
There is no doubt for me that Colosseum made a mighty noise: their stock in trade of Blues mixed with more than a pinch of sax mayhem and Hammond organ breaks made them a tasty prospect at their concerts and the boiling hot atmosphere of the gigs comes through on what is offered here. Though they have been subsumed under the general “Prog Rock” umbrella, what really sets them there is the soloing and track length, as the songs themselves lend themselves more to dancing than standing about admiring the musicianship. There are no concepts about spaceships or fairies either – they really were more or less a stretched out version of where they had came from – the Mod Club obsessions of Black Music from Jazz to Soul extended and amended for the 70s greatcoat crowd.
The long solo breaks during most of the songs such as the parping Saxophone on “Tanglewood ’63” stops their momentum somewhat. This doesn’t seem to make much sense in this day and age, pausing when they appear to be steaming along to good effect, but those were the times I suppose. People liked and were impressed by stuff like that, until Punk came along to say “no more”. A bit more of Farlowe’s banter would have been agreeable as well, but on the whole it’s a hot and heavy live set. The second disc of this set fills in the gaps of the two gigs recorded, plus their grandstanding three part “The Valentyne Suite” and “Time Machine” which segues with another version of “I Can’t Live Without You”. These are even longer versions which give band members free reign to riff on a theme and veer off down various musical paths, before (thankfully) returning to the beat and groove.
Colosseum were different from the usual Prog Rock pack in that they didn’t overthink things like they were all part of a highly cerebral game – at its root their music came from the dance floor and the heart, which means that “Colosseum Live” holds up rather well in 2016.
All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here