- "One of the best groups you'll ever hear or see - Colosseum" (John Peel, "nameless show", 28 May 1969)
Colosseum were a pioneering English progressive jazz-rock band, mixing progressive rock and jazz-based improvisation. The band was formed in September 1968 by drummer Jon Hiseman (1944-2018), tenor sax player Dick Heckstall-Smith and bass player Tony Reeves, who had previously worked together in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers on the Bare Wires album. Dave Greenslade, on organ, was immediately recruited, and the line-up was completed by Jim Roche on guitar, although Roche only recorded one track before being replaced by James Litherland, (guitar and vocals). Hiseman and Heckstall-Smith had also previously played in Graham Bond's band, and Colosseum utilised several of the songs from that period.
The band made their live debut in Newcastle and were promptly recorded by influential BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel for his Top Gear Radio program. This appearance gained them valuable exposure and critical acclaim. (Read more at Wikipedia)
Links to Peel
When Colosseum emerged on the scene in 1969, Peel was already familiar with the work of the band members who had contributed to the John Mayall's Bluesbreakers LP mentioned above, which he had played on Top Gear. The DJ was very taken with Colosseum's music, introducing them on sessions for Top Gear and Radio 1 concerts, and enthusing about them on-air and in print. In issue 54 of International Times, dated 11 April 1969, he reviewed their first album:
The second essential LP is the first of, I hope, several thousand from the Colosseum on Fontana STL 5510....Several evenings ago I ventured to their reception at Ronnie Scott's (I have been too scared of the place to go and see Roland Kirk - discredit to me, not the place. Quite honestly Jon Hiseman makes most group drummers look grossly inadequate - he makes the drums into a musical entity rather than solely a basis for rhythm. The rest of the group are as good and must be the most exciting group you'll see for some time....Buy it, steal it, treasure it - play it loudly and often to those dear to you.
At the time, Roland Kirk, whose style had influenced the flute-playing of Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson, was one of the few jazz musicians with appeal to a rock audience, which was why Peel wanted to see him. But 1969 was the year when jazz-rock became a fashionable genre, with many artists who had done Peel sessions (including Jimi Hendrix, Jethro Tull, Jeff Beck and Ten Years After) playing America's Newport Jazz Festival. CBS Records heavily promoted US bands Blood, Sweat and Tears, Chicago and The Flock.
Yet although Peel played the occasional US jazz-rock track, he stated on a 1969 Top Gear (ref.) that he preferred British styles of jazz-rock, citing as examples Colosseum, Soft Machine and Blodwyn Pig. Of these groups, it was Colosseum who seemed to have the potential to gain a following in the USA, but unlike other groups who had recorded Top Gear sessions, their one US tour was unsuccessful, although they did develop a loyal audience in Europe. In Melody Maker of 20 December 1969, Colosseum bassist Tony Reeves (who later produced albums for Peel's Dandelion Records) credited the DJ with helping the band gain a following:
- "And we all owe a lot to John Peel. He helped to make music like ours popular with the public, first by his policy on Radio London and then with the BBC....And he is now in such a position that a lot of people will like you just becasue he does"
Greenslade, the band formed by keyboardist Dave Greenslade, appeared in a 1973 Peel playlist, made a couple of In Concert appearances and did Sounds of the Seventies sessions for Bob Harris, but Dave Greenslade became better-known as a composer of music for BBC TV drama series, including Gangsters and A Very Peculiar Practice.
Colosseum reformed in 1975 under the name Colosseum II and did one session for Peel. They reformed again in 1994, and continued performing into the twenty-first century, but Peel showed less interest in later incarnations of Colosseum, despite his admiration for the original 1968-1971 band.
Peel, using the name Eddie Lee Beppeaux, co-produced the eponymous 2nd album by another jazz-influenced band, Burnin Red Ivanhoe. together with Colosseum bassist Tony Reeves.
- Three sessions. "A Whiter Spade Than Mayall" from session #1 officially released on the deluxe expanded edition of "Those Who Are About To Die Salute You" (Sanctuary Midline – SMQCD096, 2004), "Arthur's Moustache" and "Lost Angeles" from session #3 on the deluxe edition of "Valentyne Suite" (Sanctuary Midline – SMEDD097, 2004) and on "Morituri Te Salutant" (Sanctuary Records – 2709352, 2009).
- The Road She Walked Before / Those About To Die / Backwater Blues / A Whiter Spade Than Mayall (first broadcast 02 March 1969)
- Elegy / Grass is Greener / Hiesman's Condensed History of Mankind / February's Valentine / Butty's Blues (first broadcast 31 August 1969)
- Arthur's Moustache / Lost Angeles / Grass is Always Greener
- 08 March 1970 Sunday Concert show, recording date and venue details unknown - No known commercial release.
- Lost Angeles
- Downhill and Shadows
- Theme from an Imaginary Western
- 08 November 1970: In Concert show, recording date, venue and tracklisting details unknown. Featured the new line-up with Mark Clark on bass and Chris Farlowe on vocals. No known commercial release.
Other Shows Played
(Please add any missing info)
- 27 April 1969: Those About To Die (LP - Those Who Are About To Die Salute You) Fontana ST5510
- 11 May 1969: Walking In The Park (LP - Those Who Are About To Die Salute You) Fontana ST5510
- 28 May 1969: Plenty Hard Luck (LP - Those Who Are About To Die Salute You) Fontana ST5510
- 01 November 1969: Elegy (LP - Valentyne Suite) Vertigo VO 1
- 13 December 1969: The Kettle (LP - Valentyne Suite) Vertigo VO 1
- Soft Machine - Peel session - Top Gear 15/6/69: Mandarin
- 21 November 1970: Downhill And Shadows (LP - Daughter Of Time) Vertigo 6360 017