Colosseum

ARTICLE ABOUT Colosseum from New Musical Express, August 9, 1975

What a terrible start to the year of 2016 – not before we had come to terms with the loss of Lemmy, then we had to cope with losing another great artist – David Bowie. Many have tried to express in words what these losses mean for them, but there really ain`t no words doing them justice. We will just have to be grateful for the music that they brought to the soundtrack of our youth and to our life as adults. In this interview we meet another great artist that the world lost in 2011. Have a good read and may the rest of the year be better than the start of it!

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`What we have here, I think, is quite extraordinary (It bloody well better be)`

Colosseum, dismembered 1971, comes together again under the guiding fist of drummer Jon Hiseman. Steve Clarke was there (and glad of it).

Like a brand new love affair, the most optimistic part of a band`s history is just after its being formed. There are exceptions like the recent Jack Bruce/Mick Taylor-/Carla Bley falling out, but usually that`s the rule. And Jon Hiseman`s Colosseum II are no exception.
Ever since the original (well, hardly original because the first Colosseum had four line-ups) split up back in 1971, Hiseman`s credibility has suffered measureably. Tempest, the band Hiseman formed to play rock `n` roll as opposed to the synthesis of rock, blues and jazz which was Colosseum, went through personnel changes almost from its inception.
And while there was nothing wrong with the musicians who made up the band (two of England`s finest Seventies guitarists Alan Holdsworth and Ollie Halsall served in the band for varying lengths of time) the music was hardly entirely successful.
The material wasn`t that strong, the concept behind the band didn`t suit Hiseman`s playing the way Colosseum`s or, come to that, John Mayall`s music had and the band often seemed at odds with each other musically.

Tempest fell apart last year, each musician, says Hiseman, getting involved in different projects on their days off; Halsall gigging more and more with Kevin Ayers and bassist Mark Clarke working with Uriah Heep`s Ken Hensley until it became clear that the musicians weren`t that keen to work together.
Nevertheless, Hiseman refuses to admit that Tempest was a failure even if he does concede that the band were exceedingly erratic in performance.
Jon`s new partner in Colosseum, Gary Moore, thinks otherwise and, what`s more, believes Hiseman, himself, thinks otherwise. While we chat in the band`s publicist`s flat waiting for Hiseman to show up – delayed because of an accountant`s meeting – he postulates as to Hiseman`s true feelings on Tempest. “Jon didn`t enjoy that at the end,” confides Moore, an exceptionally affable Belfast-born Irish guy with a certain hippy ambience, long straggly dark hair and patched jeans.
“That band got silly. Any criticism you could level at that he`d shake your hand on it. It`s the endless search for finding people to play with and to write with.
“I thought Tempest was a failure,” Gary concludes.

Moore, you may remember, originally appeared on British shores with an Irish three-piece heavy-metal outfit back in `68 called Skid Row. Moore was their rather extravagant guitarist.
But, like almost everybody else, they split, Moore forming his own band for a time called, aptly enough, The Gary Moore Band. They recorded one album for CBS which according to Moore wasn`t very good. “You get bands complaining about record companies, saying they lost our last album. That`s bullshit, if an album is good enough it`s going to sell. That wasn`t good enough.”
Moore subsequently joined that other Irish band, Thin Lizzy, with whom he parted company last April because their music was too simple for him “It wasn`t enough of a challenge. I wanted something more interesting”.
From then on Moore would be more choosy about just who he played with. “I didn`t want to get into anything permanent unless it was with the best musicians I could find,” he says.
Moore had, in fact, been a long-time admirer of Hiseman, Blackheath-born, now in his 31st year, and one of the numerous musicians responsible for the British r`n`b movement of the mid-Sixties when he gigged with the late Graham Bond, taking over from one Ginger Baker.

“The first thing I like about Jon`s drumming is the sheer power behind it,” explains Gary. “You really feel that when you`re playing with the guy. It`s not just a thing you hear. It`s a physical thing.
“He`s a very misunderstood musician. People always regard him as a jazz musician (Hiseman spent some of his early days playing in various jazz combos). He doesn`t want to know about playing that kind of stuff. He`s a rock `n` roll drummer. A rock `n` roll musician today isn`t someone who bashes chords out and plays them four-four all the time.”
And here Moore digresses to talk about just what he thinks is going on in music these last few years: “Whereas before you had all the old Yardbirds things and John Mayall and a big blues thing happening, you`ve now got people like John McLaughlin who`ve really opened up a lot of doors for people. It was there all the time but no one would kind of step out.”
So who`s gone through these doors? “There`s been a lot of little counterparts since the Mahavishnu. You`ve got Billy Cobham coming out of that with his band. You`ve got Larry Coryell and Chick Corea getting into new forms of music.”
But surely that`s not a dominant force, but part of the whole diverse scene? “I don`t think it is that diverse any more. I think that kind of thing is going to set the direction. If you look at what Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix were doing seven years ago, that was very diverse in its way because it wasn`t the kind of guitar playing people heard on 45s.

“When Hendrix came along, people said, `No. That`s going too far`. And the next thing you know… Look at singles today and you`ll see that everybody`s playing that kind of guitar, even Mud. They`re all playing Sixties blues guitar.”
True enough, but I think we`ve lost the point. Carry on though. “John McLaughlin has just taken it one stage further. He`s brought a new approach to playing. I don`t like John McLaughlin. I never will but he has taken the whole thing a stage further. And if ever there was a new Cream I feel it was the Mahavishnu. Cream to me was a collection of the best musicians in their respective fields who came together and burnt themselves out after a few years.
“The Mahavishnu did the same things `cause there was so much creative energy involved in that project…”
But to get to the point… because believe you me this is a story of how true searching won in the end… Moore had quit Lizzy and was looking for the perfect band. Hiseman wasn`t doing too much in particular apart from watching his band go off with other people.
Then Moore read that Hiseman was looking for new musicians to re-form Colosseum in “of all papers” (Moore`s words) Melody Maker. So he called him up. And that was about last spring/early summer.

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Over to Hiseman who has now turned up from his accountant`s meeting, apologising and sweating most profusely. He asks his lady publicist for a cold drink. There`s no beer so he settles for an orange squash.
As he tells it, he, Moore, Mark Clarke – Hiseman`s bassist since about two-thirds of the way through Colosseum Mk. 1 – and Graham Bell, a singer who was once signed to Charisma Records and has been seen at various ligs a little on the legless side, got together for “exploratory talks and a quick knock”.
It didn`t work out though, Clarke splitting to America to work with Hensley and Bell losing interest. The two of them stayed together though.
Moore: “Jon and I decided we had a very good basis for forming a band.
“We hit it off musically and wanted to do something that nobody else was doing – to find a hot instrumental-based band with strong vocals. You`ve got people like the Mahavishnu who do great instrumentals and you`ve got Zeppelin who`ve got a good vocalist, but there`s no one doing both.”
Page, Paul-Jones and Bonham might have something to say about that, but to continue: “At this time you could categorise everyone`s material. They`re either into funk or they`re into jazz-rock… You can put them all into little bags of their own. We want to do something different, to get away from the easy categorisation.

“We decided to stick it out till we found the right people. I`d written a few things for Jon at the time. He was writing the lyrics and I was putting the music to them and we had to find someone with a tremendous range to cope with the material.
“I`m one of these people who, when I write on the guitar, I tend to forget people`s capabilities. And the next thing you know is that you`ve written this amazing collage of notes that people can`t really reach unless they`ve got a wide range.”
Hiseman and Moore then spent a rigorous few months searching the pubs and clubs of the land until, Geronimo, Mike Starrs was discovered singing in some East End pub… a Scotsman who in the past has sung with such non-entities as The Debonaire Showband and Spinning Wheel.
Meantime some guy called Duncan McKay, then with, of all bands, Cockney Rebel, was due to come in on keyboards. He didn`t make it, though, and after auditioning something in the region of 55 keyboard players they found Don Airey, formerly of Cozy Powell`s Hammer. Neil Murray, also from Powell`s band, completed the line-up on bass.

Colosseum II have been rehearsing as a band for two and a half months now and apart from new material, composed by Moore and Hiseman, they`ll probably include the old Graham Bond/Colosseum chestnut “Walkin` In The Park”, Jack Bruce`s “Morning Story” from his “Harmony Row” album and, would you believe, a version of Joni Mitchell`s “Down To You” from her “Court And Spark” album. They reckon it`ll be better than how Nazareth covered Joni`s “This Flight Tonight”.
It needs to be.
Unlike some artists who`ve previously tasted mucho acclaim, Hiseman`s band`ll start at the bottom, touring British clubs and colleges in November after which they hope to go into the studio (they`re signed to Bronze records) in time to have an album out in the New Year. Tickets for these gigs will be kept to a minimum, says Hiseman.
Regarding the decision to call the band Colosseum – it contains only Hiseman from the original band – Moore says it was mostly his decision: “A lot of people were pushing Jon to use it. It was my decision if anything because he felt obligated to the others from the old band. He didn`t want to feel as if he was riding on their backs.”

Of the band, Hiseman has this to say: “What we have now, I think, is quite extraordinary. It bloody well better be or there`ll be trouble,” he grins. “I think for a start we`re playing in an area of music which isn`t being played by anyone else.
“I still think it`s worth calling it Colosseum II because it has this quality about it which makes it quite different – just as the first Colosseum was something totally extraordinary in terms of what it was playing for the time.
“The various influences and the crosses that were in it, I feel there are in this band too.”
He does, however, say that you can`t compare the two bands musically. “I think the people who enjoyed the first band will enjoy this. And it wouldn`t have surprised me if with a few judicious personnel changes we wouldn`t have been playing roughly in this kind of area had the band continued in the first place.
“The key to it was Gary who seemed to think about things the way I do. To be absolutely honest in the first Colosseum I never found anybody who was exactly where I was at which is why it broke up so quickly.”
Gary says that he and Jon haven`t had one single cross word in a year. “It`s never even got like an argument,” he says. Ah, true love.

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I have personally transcribed this from the original paper and you are free to use it as you like. If you use it on your own webpages – please credit me or put up a link to my blog.

This number of New Musical Express also contains articles/interviews with these people: Gary Holton, Rod Stewart, The Who, Aston Barrett, Isaac Hayes, Mike Gibbs, Tim Hinckley.

The original music paper this article came from (pictured at the top) is for sale!

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