Colosseum are a British jazz-rock
band, originally formed in 1967. Several of the musicians
knew each other before then, and were established jazz and/or blues players, playing with the
New Jazz Orchestra
, and the likes of John Mayall
, Georgie Fame
and Graham Bond
The band produced four albums between 1967 and 1971, when they split up, most of the
musicians pursuing solo careers and forming their own bands. Twenty three years later, they
re-formed, with almost the original line-up, produced another album and started touring. I
have seen them in concert several times, and they are full of energy and excellent
musicianship despite having aged.
Before the 1990s, Colosseum were often cited by R&B and progressive rock musicians as a
influence, but they never achieved fame. However, they did keep their core following, and many
fans found each other when the band started touring again in 1994.
- Jon Hiseman
- King of the drums, and leader of the band. Jon was responsible for
forming the band in the first place, and has supplied most of the sleeve notes. In
concerts, he comes into his own during a drum solo, juggling several sticks without missing
When the band split up in 1971, Jon formed Tempest, and in 1976 Colosseum II - although
taking the name, this had a completely different sound - heavy rock with added keyboards.
Also, Jon is married to Barbara Thompson (see below); between the two of them, they have
probably done more than anyone else to establish the genre of Jazz-Rock fusion.
- Dick Heckstall-Smith
- Saxophonist from outer space. Well, not really, just kidding.
Dick was the eldest member of the band, and was already an established jazz star before joining
Colosseum. He played tenor sax and alto sax - sometimes, both instruments in the mouth at the same time. He also played clarinet and trumpet.
After 1971, Dick did some session work, and also played in a few bands including Big Chief.
Dick was missed at the February 2004 concert, as he was not able to perform owing to being in hospital with stomach cancer. His condition did not ultimately improve, and he died in December 2004. There was a tribute concert taking place on June 6th 2005, with many musicians taking part who knew him: including of course Colosseum, but also Jack Bruce, and Pete Brown.
- Dave Greenslade
- Spooky organist par excellence. With his striking white hair, he
is a complete master of the Hammond organ and electric piano, and gives much atmospheric
quality to the ensemble. He is also a very capable lyricist, and provides backing vocals.
Despite the predominance of synthesisers from the 1970s onwards, Dave was never at home with
this technology. After 1971, he made his own solo career, using the name Greenslade.
- Tony Reeves
- Base guitarist. He was a friend of Hiseman's from 1960; they met at
a church youth club in Eltham, South London, along with Dave Greenslade.
- James 'Butty' Litherland
- Vocalist and lead guitarist. James was recruited by Hiseman
from Manchester when he formed the band in 1967. James was given the nickname 'Butty' by
Dave Greenslade, "as a result of his habit of squeezing anything between two large pieces of
bread" (this is from the sleeve notes to Valentyne Suite). A butty is North of England slang for a sandwich.
- Chris Farlowe
- Vocals. In 1970, the doleful Mancunian blues singer was replaced by some raw
Essex power. Chris had his own band in the intervening years, called "Chris Farlowe and the Thunderbirds".
Chris is quite a large fellow, looking like a boxing manager standing with a towel in one hand, ready to throw it in to the ring, to stop a fight.
- David 'Clem' Clemson
- Lead Guitar. Hiseman needed to replace Litherland's other role as guitarist, and brought in Clem, who was already quite well known.
- Mark Clarke
- Bass Guitar.Mark is the only non-Brit in the band, being an ex-pat American.
Mark demonstrates much talent as a virtuoso musician, and shows that the bass guitar can be as important an instrument in the band as the others. His duets with Clem are an inspiration to bass players everywhere.
- Barbara Thompson
- Saxophone. Barbara had her own career as a successful jazz-rock fusion musician, mainly playing flute, but also clarinet, saxophone and other wind instruments. She married Jon Hiseman in the 1980s.
Unfortunately, she is suffering from Parkinson's disease, which nearly brought her musical career to an early end. However, she has joined the band, full time, as a consequence of the death of Dick Heckstall-Smith.
It is a credit to the musicianship and professionalism of the band that they have been able to adapt their concert repertoire and arrangements to suit her difficulties playing.
Those Who Are About To Die Salute You - Morituri te salutant
Obviously themed on Roman gladiators at the Colosseum - We who are about to die salute you,
the debut album lacks a certain polish. However, there are some tracks of particular note:
Walking in the park (A Graham Bond composition), A good mood lifter - always popular at their
gigs, sometimes chosen as an opening number.
Beware the Ides of March (Greenslade/Heckstall-Smith/Hiseman/Reeves). A slow blues tune descends
into a Bach toccata with a blaring finale.
Those about to die (Greenslade/Heckstall-Smith/Hiseman/Reeves). A jazz instrumental - again
popular at concerts.
Valentyne Suite (1969)
I rate this as their best album. Besides Litherland's excellent guitar playing on "The Kettle",
and the social commentary of "The Machine Demands a Sacrifice", "The Valentyne Suite" is a
remarkable piece of music. This track lasts a full 16 minutes (probably longer at concerts where
it is a favourite), and forms three sections without a break: January's Search, February's
Valentine and The Grass is Greener.
Apparently, Hiseman was writing the sleve notes for this album at the time that Neil Armstrong was taking his one small step.
Daughter of Time (1970)
This was their last studio album prior to their break up. Despite a more polished feel to it,
I do not rate this album as highly as its two predecessors.
Colosseum Live (1971)
Besides the serious musicianship of live performance, we hear the humourous side, including
Farlowe's rendition of Bill and Ben the flowerpot men.
Bread and Circuses (1997)
This album contains completely new material, plus two covers of Graham Bond songs, and goes to
show that 30 years on, the band is going strong.
Tomorrow's Blues (2004)
- The Grass is Greener
- The Collectors Colosseum