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Sunday 4th February 2024

The Forge, Camden, London

Veteran Progressive Jazz/Blues rockers Colosseum are back on the road for four UK dates before heading to Europe in March for a further seven dates, of which tonight was their second stop. The current lineup, which has been together for almost four years now, consists of Chris Farlowe (vocals), Clem Clempson (guitar), Mark Clarke (bass), Malcolm Mortimore (drums), Kim Nishikawara (saxophone) and Nick Steed (keyboards). Their latest studio album of all new material ‘Restoration’ was released in 2022.

Colosseum were formed in 1968 by drummer Jon Hiseman, tenor sax player Dick Heckstall-Smith, keyboardist Dave Greenslade and bassist Tony Reeves. The band's initial lineup was completed by James Litherland on guitar and lead vocals. They recorded two studio albums in 1969, 'Those Who Are About to Die Salute You' and 'Valentyne Suite'. Litherland quit the band just before the 1970 US only release of the 'The Grass Is Greener' album. Dave "Clem" Clempson (Bakerloo/Humble Pie) replaced Litherland, with Louis Cennamo (Renaissance) briefly replacing Tony Reeves on bass, before being replaced by Mark Clarke within a month. Hiseman then recruited powerhouse vocalist Chris Farlowe to enable Clempson to concentrate on guitar. This lineup recorded the 1970 album 'Daughter of Time'. After the release of their live double album 'Colosseum Live' in 1971 the band broke up.

Hiseman, Greenslade, Heckstall-Smith, Clempson, Farlowe and Clarke reunited Colosseum in 1994, twenty-three years after the band split. The first reunion concert was on 24th June 1994 at the Freiburg Zelt Musik Festival, then, on 28th October, they played the E-Werk in Cologne, which was recorded for a TV Special and later released in 1995 as a CD and video. It was then re-released on DVD in 2004 as 'Colosseum LiveS: The Complete Reunion Concert Cologne 1994'. A new studio album 'Bread and Circuses' was released in 1997 with a further studio album 'Tomorrow's Blues' being released in 2003. Devastatingly Heckstall-Smith died of liver failure in December 2004. Hiseman's wife, saxophonist Barbara Thompson, stepped in and then joined the band full-time. Sadly by 2011, Thompson's Parkinson's disease started to affect her ability to perform and so it was decided that the band would come to an end after the 2014/15 tour to promote their final studio album 'Time on Our Side' which was released in late 2014. The very last gig was at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire on the 28th February 2015. In 2017 Hiseman formed a new band called JCM featuring Clem Clempson and Mark Clarke. They recorded one album, 'Heroes', released in April 2018, and started a tour to promote it. Unfortunately, after a few dates Hiseman became seriously ill and they had to stop. Shockingly Jon Hiseman died of a brain hemorrhage after surgery to remove a brain tumor in June 2018.

In 2020 Farlowe, Clempson and Clarke made the decision to reunite as Colosseum and hit the road. Joining them on this new journey were Kim Nishikawara on saxophone, Nick Steed on keyboards and Malcolm Mortimore (Gentle Giant) on drums. After a couple of years of well received touring, the band feeling refreshed, were inspired to write new material which would surface on a brand-new studio album entitled ‘Restoration’ released in 2022.

With no support band tonight, the evening’s proceedings got under way with some tasty Jazz shuffling in the form of ‘No Pleasin'’ from the 1997 ‘Bread & Circuses’ album. With the musicians suitably warmed up it was straight on with two newer tracks, the mid-tempo rocker ‘First in Line’ and the R&B tinged ‘Need Somebody’ from the 2022 ‘Restoration’ album; with lyrics by the late great Pete Brown who sadly passed away in May 2023. The time came to dip back into the fabulous 60s for the elegantly tranquil ‘Elegy’, after which Farlowe was gifted a well-earned break from singing while the rest of the band dived into the majestic sixteen-minute epic that is the ‘Valentyne Suite’: ‘January's Search’, ‘February's Valentine’ and ‘The Grass Is Always Greener’, as featured on the band’s second album ‘Valentyne Suite’ released in 1969. An outstandingly breathtaking performance that had the audience well and truly transfixed! With no break between sets it was straight on to the up-tempo rocker ‘Story of the Blues’ from the 2022 ‘Restoration’ album. A superb track that laid the ground for some enthrallingly vibrant guitar and saxophone solos.

Taking to the mic, Clarke enthusiastically introduced the next track they were going to play ‘Call It Stormy Monday but Tuesday Is Just as Bad’ only to be told by Clempson that they were in fact going to play ‘Walking in the Park’ (The Graham Bond Organisation cover) instead! Undeterred the band zealously launched into the performance of this song with unbattered determination and vigour. The energy levels were in top gear with each band member locked in and clearly having a ball!

Clarke, a formidable powerhouse singer in his own right, got the chance to take lead vocals for a few verses on the riff heavy ‘A Cowboy's Song’ from the 2022 ‘Restoration’ album. An electrifyingly groovy rendition! Being that Colosseum are affectionally known as a Jazz/Blues Rock band, they exhibited their improvisation skills to the max on ‘Stormy Monday Blues’ (T-Bone Walker cover). Farlowe was having much fun impressing us with his expressively quirky vocal improvisational scats. If that wasn't mind blowing enough the mammoth ‘Lost Angeles’ from the 1971 ‘Colosseum Live’ album dazzled us further and completed the main portion of the set. A truly mesmerising track that sees Clempson taking his inventive guitar solos to new dizzying heights. A big shout out must go to Nick Steed for his remarkably dextrous Hammond flourishes. For the encore Farlowe gave it his all on ‘Theme for an Imaginary Western’ (Jack Bruce cover) from the 1970 ‘Daughter of Time’ album. He might be eighty-three, but he shows no signs of slowing down or taking it easy. Chris’s voice is still as deep and soulful as ever it was! Long may he continue.

Steven C. Gilbert

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