Colosseum was an English brass-rock band that released the 1969 albums Those Who Are About to Die Salute You (Fontana) and Valentyne Suite (Vertigo). They were led by drummer Jon Hiseman and reedist Dick Heckstall-Smith, fellow travelers in the Graham Bond Organization and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. As an instigator of pop’s shift into maximalism, they injected lavish big band arrangements into blues-based rock.
After Colosseum, Heckstall-Smith made the 1972 solo album A Story Ended with fellow alumni. Hiseman teamed with guitarist Allan Holdsworth in the rockier Tempest and later formed the (mostly) instrumental Colosseum II with Gary Moore. Bassist Tony Reeves and keyboardist Dave Greenslade formed the symphonic-rock quartet Greenslade.
Members: Jon Hiseman (drums), Dave Greenslade (organ, vocals), Dick Heckstall-Smith (saxophone, 1968-2004), Tony Reeves (bass, 1968-70), Jim Roche (guitar, 1968), James Litherland (guitar, vocals, 1968-69), Clem Clempson (guitar, vocals, 1970-71), Louis Cennamo (bass, 1970), Mark Clarke (bass, vocals, 1970-71), Chris Farlowe (vocals, 1970-71)
Colosseum was formed in mid-1968 by drummer Jon Hiseman (b. 1944) and saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith (b. 1934). The two interacted earlier in the New Jazz Orchestra (NJO) and a late-period lineup of the Graham Bond Organization, where Hiseman replaced Ginger Baker after the latter departed for Cream (with fellow GBO alumni Jack Bruce). That spring, they were reunited on the Bare Wires album by John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, where Hiseman replaced Keef Hartley.
Bare Wires also features bassist Tony Reeves, who stepped in for departing Bluesbreaker and eventual Free bassist Andy Fraser. Hiseman and Reeves both had earlier stints in The Wes Minster Five, an R&B/beat group that also featured keyboardist Dave Greenslade. As teens, the three jammed house-to-house in Eltham, where Hiseman built his first drum kit out of paint cans. Hiseman also played with Reeves on the 1966 Columbia release Pendulum by the Mike Taylor Quartet.
During 1968, while Greenslade gigged with Chris Farlowe & the Thunderbirds, Hiseman interacted with Reeves in the Peter Lemer Quintet (Local Colour, ESP Disk) and with Heckstall-Smith behind folk singer Davy Graham (Large as Life and Twice as Natural, Decca). Meanwhile, Heckstall-Smith played on albums by The Deviants, Chicken Shack, and Wynder K. Frog.
1969: Those Who Are About to Die Salute You
Colosseum debuted with Those Who Are About to Die Salute You in March 1969 on Fontana (UK, Europe, Oceania) and ABC/Dunhill (North America). Half the tracks are instrumental (“Debut,” “Mandarin,” “Those About to Die,” “Beware the Ides of March“); the other half are sung by Litherland with backing by Greenslade.
The album includes four group-written numbers, including the blues rocker “Plenty Hard Luck” and two instrumentals: the galloping “Those About to Die,” marked by frenzied snare rolls and sputtering Hammond; and the reed/organ exchange “Debut,” built on a two-bar ostinato that Reeves concocted in the Bluesbreakers (while vibing off Mick Taylor).
Another band instrumental, “Beware the Ides of March,” starts as a slowed down, sax-led progression (chords reminiscent of Procol Harum‘s “Whiter Shade of Pale”), then inserts a harpsichord rendition of Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D minor.”
Greenslade and Reeves co-wrote “Mandarin,” which alternates between multi-keyboard fugues and dirgy, effects-laden bass solos. Heckstall-Smith contributed “The Road She Walked Before,” a jumping barroom blues with African rhythmic elements.
The album starts with the sprightly Bond composition “Walking In the Park,” a song twice recorded by the Organization: first in 1965 with Heckstall-Smith and the Bruce/Baker rhythm section; and again in 1966 during Hiseman’s brief tenure. This version features guest trumpeter Henry Lowther. The penultimate track (and other non-original) is the slow, lengthy recorded with Roach.
Those Who Are About to Die Salute You was co-produced by Gerry Bron (Bonzo Dog Band, Manfred Mann, Tony Hazzard) and Reeves, who’d already produced albums by the London Jazz Four and several CBS pop acts (The Beatstalkers, Danny Street, Marilyn Powell, Maureen Evans). The album was engineered by studio vet Adrian Kerridge (The Animals, Don Rendell / Ian Carr, Don Shinn, Scott Walker).
The framed cover shows the band falling backward (front) before the mosaic of a Roman gladiator (back). On the inner-spread, a faux-mosiac collage of live pics frame the credits and liner notes, written by Hiseman. The album’s title is a translation of the Latin phrase morituri te salutant, words addressed by gladiators to ancient emperors prior to Colosseum death matches. ABC/Dunhill copies show an irregular grid of performance pics within a simpler frame.
Fontana issued “Walking In the Park” on 7″, backed with “The Road She Walked Before.” ABC backed it with the album’s title track. “Walking” appears on That’s Blues-Rock, a 1969 two-LP Mercury comp with cuts by the Buddy Miles Express, Cuby & Blizzards, and Jerry Butler. It also appears on the Italian Philips comp Hit Parade Vol. 2 with tracks by and Ekseption.
Hiseman and Heckstall-Smith (and Lowther) appear on Bruce’s 1969 debut solo album Songs for a Tailor, which contains the first version of the Bruce/Brown original “Theme for an Imaginary Western,” which Colosseum would cover on their third album (below).
Heckstall-Smith also played tenor saxophone on two tracks (“The Old Man,” “Travelling Blues (Or the New Used Jew’s Dues Blues)”) on A Meal You Can Shake Hands With In the Dark by the Battered Ornaments, led for that album by Bruce’s lyricist partner, Pete Brown. With members of the Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation and the John Dummer Blues Band, Heckstall-Smith partook in a jam session that yielded the 1969 Mercury release credited to Sweet Pain. He also backed Brummie soul-psychsters Locomotive on their album We Are Everything You See, recorded in early 1969 and released in 1970.
Colosseum released their second album, Valentyne Suite, in November 1969 on Vertigo (UK, France, Germany), Fontana (Italy, Netherlands, Oceania), and Philips (Japan). Litherland wrote two numbers: “Elegy,” a jazz-rocker with locomotive brush-drum precision; and “Butty’s Blues,” a slow 12-bar exercise with swelling big band brass, conducted by Neil Ardley. Hiseman and Heckstall-Smith co-wrote “The Kettle,” a Hendrix-like rocker that opens the album. Both parties pieced together “The Machine Demands a Sacrifice,” a rotation of billowing reeds, swirling organ, and pagan percussion with lyrics by Brown.
Side two consists of The Valentyne Suite, a 16:49 instrumental whirlwind composed by Hiseman, Heckstall-Smith, and Greenslade in three parts: “January’s Search,” “February’s Valentyne,” and “The Grass is Always Greener.” Greenslade sprinkles in vibraphone amid the flurry of organ, sax, and drums. Originally, “Beware the Ides of March” was the intended third part.
Valentyne Suite was recorded during spring–summer 1969 and co-produced by Reeves and Bron, who worked concurrently on the debut by Juicy Lucy.
Original copies sport a gatefold designed by
(aka Keith MacMillan). It shows a platinum-haired hippie woman standing in a valley near a tall candle pole, flame aglow. On back, the pole stands unaccompanied with the glow beaming sun-wide. The dark brown inner-spread shows a xerox of Hiseman, who wrote liner notes about each track, stating “The Valentine Suite has the feeling of a love affair, the sort which flares up hotly then consumes itself.”
Valentyne Suite was the first release on Vertigo (cat# VO 1), a label launched in late 1969 by Philips as an outlet for Britain’s post-psych underground. As such, this marks the first appearance of the iconic swirl logo (LP labels and inner-sleeve). The album was directly followed by Juicy Lucy (VO 2) and Manfred Mann Chapter Three (VO 3). Keef, who earned his first credit on Valentyne Suite, became Vertigo’s in-house cover designer with credits on 1970 albums by Affinity, Beggars Opera, Black Sabbath, Rod Stewart, and Warhorse.
ABC/Dunhill released “The Kettle” as a single (b/w the earlier “Plenty Hard Luck“), despite not issuing the album stateside.
“The Machine Demands a Sacrifice” appears on the 1970 cassette comp Vertigo, which also contains tracks by Fairfield Parlour, Gracious, Magna Carta, and Nucleus. Colosseum appear on side two, subtitled Depression, along with Cressida (the titular “Depression“), May Blitz, and Uriah Heep. “The Kettle” appears on Do It Rock, a Japanese comp of Island and Vertigo acts with cuts by aforementioned labelmates, plus Hotlegs, Spooky Tooth, and Traffic.
Festivals, New Lineup
In June 1969, Colosseum were one of two rock acts (along with Ten Years After) to play the third annual Montreux Jazz Festival, a five-day event (18th–22nd) with sets by Alan Skidmore, Eero Koivistoinen, Eddie Harris, Frode Thingnæs, Les McCann, and Volker Kriegel.
On June 28, Colosseum played the Bath Festival of Blues at the Pavilion Recreational Ground in Bath, Somerset, England. The Saturday event drew 30,000 attendees and also featured sets by Blodwyn Pig, Chicken Shack, Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin, The Nice, and Principal Edwards Magic Theatre, plus the then-current Bluesbreakers lineup with Jon Mark and Johnny Almond.
That August, Colosseum toured the US with repeat engagements at the Boston Tea Party and multi-night stands at Ungano’s in New York City and the Fillmore West in San Francisco, where they played a triple-bill with Chicago (then known as Chicago Transit Authority) and the Youngbloods.
On September 13, Colosseum played the RAC POP Festival 1969 at Heysel Hall in Brussels with Eire Apparent, Gun, and The Web. In October, they played Festival Actuel 1969, a four-day event scheduled at Les Halles in Paris but held instead at the Belgian village of Amougies with rock and free-jazz showcases. More than 30 acts played, including Ame Son, Archie Shepp, Blossom Toes, Caravan, Don Cherry, Fat Mattress, Joachim Kuhn, Martin Circus, The Pretty Things, Robin Kenyatta, Sam Apple Pie, Soft Machine, and Yes. Colosseum appeared on the first day (the 24th) with Aynsley Dunbar and the Art Ensemble of Chicago.
In May 1970, Colosseum played Joint Meeting at the Eisstadion in Düsseldorf, Germany. Billed as a “modern music festival,” the three-day event featured sets by Amon Düül II, Edgar Broughton Band, Fashion Pink, Ginger Baker’s Air Force, Humble Pie, Jackie Lomax, Love Sculpture, Octopus, Rare Bird, and Status Quo. Colosseum played on the third day (Sunday the 18th) along with Arthur Brown, Family, Free, and Taste.
The success of the Somerset event led to the Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music, held at the Royal Bath and West Showground in Shepton Mallet on June 27–29, 1970. Colosseum played the first day (Saturday) along with Fairport Convention, It’s a Beautiful Day, the Keef Hartley Band, Pink Floyd, and Steppenwolf. Zeppelin headlined the second day, which featured sets by The Flock, Santana, and Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention. (Another scheduled Sunday act, The Moody Blues, failed to appear.)
By the time of Joint Meeting, James Litherland cleared out for guitarist Clem Clempson, recently of the Harvest one-off Bakerloo. Colosseum immediately went into the studio to redo three Valentyne Suite tracks with Clempson on guitar and vocals. To relieve him of future vocal duties, they hired Greenslade’s old boss, singer Chris Farlowe, who recently fronted The Hill on their 1970 Polydor release From Here to Mama Rosa.
Farlowe’s arrival signaled the departure of Reeves, replaced initially by bassist Louis Cennamo from the original lineup of Renaissance. He stayed long enough during the summer of 1970 to play on four songs for the upcoming Colosseum album. They then hired Liverpudlian bassist Mark Clarke, a 20-year-old newcomer to the scene. (Cennamo surfaced in Steamhammer and its offshoot, Armageddon).
In August 1970, Colosseum played the Ruisrock Festival in Turku, Finland, along with Argent, Burnin’ Red Ivanhoe, Flamengo, Kalevala, Made in Sweden, and Wigwam. In 2020, archivists Repertoire Records issued Colosseum’s 40-minute Ruisrock set on CD; it features a 10-minute rendition of “The Machine Demands a Sacrifice.” In the liner notes, Greenslade recalls playing vibes with one hand and Hammond with the other.
Colosseum performed two segments on Germany’s Radio Bremen music program Beat-Club: “Walking In the Park” (1/20/70, Litherland) and “Take Me Back to Doomsday” (11/28/70, Farlowe).
1970: The Grass Is Greener
In April 1970, Colosseum’s North American label, ABC/Dunhill, issued The Grass Is Greener, a mixture of new songs and retouched material from Valentyne Suite, which didn’t get a US or Canadian release. Sessions took place in the late autumn of 1969, just after Clempson’s arrival.
The Grass Is Greener contains four songs from Valentyne Suite, three of which (“Butty’s Blues,” “The Machine Demands a Sacrifice,” “The Grass Is Greener”) feature re-recorded guitar and vocals by Clempson. A fourth, “Elegy,” retains Litherland’s input.
The album also contains four unique tracks, including “Lost Angeles,” a five-minute Greenslade/Heckstall-Smith number that became a popular live piece, typically stretched to 10–15 minutes. The remaining tracks are covers; two with personal ties to Colosseum:
- “Jumping Off the Sun” — co-written by Mark Taylor and Dave Tomlin, colleagues of Hiseman and Reeves from the Mike Taylor Quartet. Taylor composed three Baker-penned songs on Cream’s third album, Wheels of Fire. Tomlin surfaced in the Third Ear Band and a later edition of High Tide.
- “Rope Ladder to the Moon” — a Bruce/Brown composition, originally found on Songs for a Tailor. Ironically, this is one of two songs on that album that neither Hiseman or Heckstall-Smith play on.
The remaining track, “Bolero,” is a five-minute take on the famous piece by French composer Maurice Ravel with Hiseman on swift 3/4 snare.
The Grass Is Greener sports a dimmed, blue-green tinted modification of the Valentyne Suite cover. The b&w inner-spread displays a cluster illustration of the member’s heads (multiplied) and a larger high-contrast pic of Hiseman, sticks in hand. Each member comments on at least one track in the liner notes.
Daughter of Time
Ardley conducted a seven-piece string and brass section on two numbers: the Greenslade/Hiseman “Time Lament” and the appears on both tracks.
Clempson sings the group-written “Take Me Back To Doomsday” and the album opener “Three Score and Ten, Amen,” co-written with Greenslade and Hiseman with narration by Heckstall-Smith. Side two features a pair of Clempson/Greenslade co-writes, the instrumental “Bring Out Your Dead” and “Downhill and Shadows,” bookended by the Bruce/Brown “Theme for an Imaginary Western” and Hiseman’s solo showcase “The Time Machine.”
Four tracks (“Time Lament,” “Doomsday,” “Daughter,” “Bring Out”) feature on bass. The remaining studio tracks (“Three Score,” “Theme,” “Downhill”) feature Clarke. Farlowe sings on all the studio cuts apart from Clempson’s number and the instrumental. “Time Machine” comes from a July 1970 live performance at the Royal Albert Hall. It’s an eight-minute drum solo featuring Hiseman alone, joined only at the intro and outro by Greenslade.
Daughter of Time sports a gatefold cover that depicts a low-relief Roman bronze carving of the name and title (front) and an ancient goddess (back): possibly Canens, the personification of song and the daughter of Janus, the god of time. The artist, Robin Nicol, also designed covers for 1969/70 albums by Kaleidoscope and Uriah Heep (their cobwebbed debut, …Very ‘Eavy Very ‘Umble…). Under the pseudonym Colin Hare, Nicol played in popsters Honeybus and made a solo album, March Hare, released in 1971 on Penny Farthing.
The inner-spread (also bronze) features lyrics and a ledge-set photo of the six-piece group. However, only “Three Score and Ten, Amen” features all six members. Hiseman’s life partner, multi-reedist Barbara Thompson, plays flute, saxophone (alto, soprano, tenor, baritone), and sings backing vocals throughout side one.
Vertigo culled one single for the French market: “The Daughter of Time” (b/w “Bring Out Your Dead”). “Downhill and Shadows” appears on Just a Taste, a 1971 ABC/Dunhill sampler with cuts by Alice Coltrane (with Pharoah Sanders), Demian, Genesis, James Gang, and Van Der Graaf Generator. The rare comp is housed in a suggestive b&w sleeve with a nude woman down on all fours making an oral gesture at the tip of an outheld spoon.
1971: Colosseum Live
During the winter-spring of 1971, Colosseum toured Daughter of Time. They taped their shows at Manchester University (March 18, 1971) and the Big Apple, Brighton (March 27, 1971) for the double-album Colosseum Live, released in June 1971 on Bronze Records Ltd., launched that year by Bron with albums by Juicy Lucy, Paladin, and his main client, Uriah Heep.
Colosseum Live features six long songs, including jam-intense versions of the set perennials “Rope Ladder to the Moon” and “Walking in the Park.” Side two consist of the unrecorded Clempson/Hiseman blues jam “Skelington” (14:52), which features a feedback solo and a yodeling spot.
The third side has two covers: “Tanglewood ’63,” composed by Rhodesian band leader Michael Gibbs and found on his 1971 album of the same name; and “Encore… Stormy Monday Blues,” a descriptively titled chestnut by American bluesman T-Bone Walker with spacey, winding interplay by Clempson and Clarke. An elongated “Lost Angeles” consumes side four with rapidfire basslines, sputtering organ, and wailing, speedy guitar runs.
Colosseum Live sports a gatefold with liner notes on the inner-spread by Hiseman, who writes “From the inside Colosseum can be a pretty exhilarating experience… Close your eyes, turn it down to deafening and these tracks will put you in the driver’s seat.”
In 1992, archivists Sequel Records issued Colosseum Live on CD with a bonus track, Litherland’s galloping windmill jam “I Can’t Live Without You,” also recorded in 1971 by his own band, Mogul Thrash.
Colosseum appeared at large-scale events for another six months after their live album. In May 1971, they played the Freedom Rock Festival in Langelsheim, Germany, which featured sets by Ashton Gardner & Dyke, Can, Faces, Frumpy, Gary Wright, Murphy Blend, and Nektar. Colosseum played on day three (Monday the 31st) along with Eloy and Scorpions. (Several acts billed for the event — Brinsley Schwarz, Bronco, Man — were no-shows.)
Colosseum disbanded in October 1971.
Dick Heckstall-Smith released a 1972 solo album, A Story Ended, on Bronze. It features Clarke on all tracks along with drummer Rob Tait (Pete Brown & Piblokto!), pianist Gordon Beck (Nucleus, Piano Conclave), and guitarists Chris Spedding (Battered Ornaments) and Caleb Quaye (Hookfoot, Elton John Band). Guests on the album include Hiseman (“The Pirate’s Dream”), Greenslade (“Crabs”), Bond (two tracks), and onetime Wes Minster Five vocalist Paul Williams. Heckstall-Smith co-wrote four tracks (side one) with Brown and two tracks (side two) with Clempson and Hiseman.
Also in 1972, Heckstall-Smith played in a big band along with Beckett, Hiseman, Karl Jenkins (Soft Machine), Lowther, and Barbara Thompson on A Symphony of Amaranths, a Regal Zonophone release by Neil Ardley. During the early 1980s, he played on blues-rock albums by Brian Knight and Mainsqueeze.
Jon Hiseman played on 1971/72 albums by the Keef Hartley Band, Wolfgang Dauner’s Et Cetera, and Strawbs frontman Dave Cousins. In late 1972, he formed Tempest with Williams, Clarke, and ex-‘Igginbottom guitarist Allan Holdsworth. They released a self-titled hard rock album in 1973 on Bronze, followed in 1974 with Living In Fear, recorded in a trio configuration with guitarist/singer Ollie Halsall (Patto, Boxer).
In 1976, Hiseman formed Colosseum II with bassist Neil Murray (Hanson, National Health), keyboardist Don Airey (Rainbow), and Irish guitarist Gary Moore (Thin Lizzy). They released the album Strange New Flesh on Bronze with singer Mike Starrs (later Lucifer’s Friend), then signed with MCA for the 1977 albums Electric Savage and War Dance. In 1978, they played on the MCA release Variations, an album of classical-rock compositions by playwright Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Dave Greenslade backed Liverpudlian singer-songwriter Tony Hazzard on two early ’70s titles on Bronze. He then formed the namesake symphonic-rock band Greenslade with Reeves, ex-Fields drummer Andy McCulloch, and Web/Samurai keyboardist/singer Dave Lawson. They signed to Warner Bros. and released the 1973 albums Greenslade and Bedside Manners Are Extra, both with cover art by Yes/Osibisa illustrator Roger Dean. Clempson guested on their 1974 release Spyglass Guest, the last with Reeves. After 1975’s Time and Tide (with musician Martin Briley), Dave Greenslade went solo with the albums Cactus Choir (1976) and the instrumental two-LP set , a 1979 collaboration with writer/illustrator .
Clem Clempson replaced Peter Frampton in Humble Pie for a four-album stint (1972–75) on A&M. In 1975, he played on Roger Daltery‘s second solo album Ride a Rock Horse, comprised of material by Paul Korda, Russ Ballard, and . During 1977/78, Clempson partook in the hard-rock supergroup Rough Diamond and its followup Champion. Between 1979 and 1982, he played on albums by Colin Blunstone, Cozy Powell, Jack Bruce (I’ve Always Wanted to Do This), and Jon Anderson (Animation).
Chris Farlowe sang “The Pirate’s Dream” on A Story Ended. He then joined Atomic Rooster for their 1972/73 albums Made In England and Nice ‘n’ Greasy. In 1975, he assembled the Chris Farlowe Band for the Polydor release Live!, featuring singer Madeline Bell (Blue Mink) and guitarist Albert Lee (Heads Hands & Feet). He sang one track (“The Request”) on The King of Elfland’s Daughter, a 1977 folk-rock concept album by Steeley Span members Bob Johnson and Pete Knight; it also features vocals by Mary Hopkin, Frankie Miller, and actor Christoper Lee. In 1988, he was one of three vocalists (along with John Miles and Robert Plant) to appear on Outrider, the debut solo album by Jimmy Page.
Mark Clarke briefly joined Uriah Heep for their 1972 release Demons and Wizards. After Tempest, he played on albums by Heep keyboardist Ken Hensley and joined the Badfinger spinoff Natural Gas. During the early ’80s, he played on albums by Billy Squier (Don’t Say No) and ex-Blackjack singer Michael Bolton. In 1984, he sang backing vocals on Cast the First Stone, the first of two albums by New York hard-rockers Urgent.
Between his stints in Colosseum and Greenslade, Tony Reeves played on 1971/72 albums by John Martyn, Paul Kent, Sandy Denny, and the Woods Band. He produced two albums on the Scandinavian Sonet label for the Danish combo Day of Phoenix. After leaving Greenslade, he backed Chris de Burgh on the Irish singer’s 1975 release Spanish Train and Other Stories. Reeves then joined Curved Air for their 1976 swan song Airborne.
After his early departure from Colosseum, James Litherland formed Brotherhood, a similar brass-rock band with Eclection trumpeter Mike Rosen and a young singing bassist, John Wetton. They changed their name to Mogul Thrash and released a self-titled album on RCA Victor, produced by Brian Auger. Litherland later backed Leo Sayer and formed the funk-rock supergroup Bandit with singer Jim Diamond.
In 1994, Colosseum regrouped with the same six members as its 1971 configuration (Clempson, Clarke, Farlowe, Greenslade, Heckstall-Smith, Hiseman), plus Barbara Thompson. They gigged regularly on the UK/European circuit and released two discs of new material: Bread & Circuses (1997) and Tomorrow’s Blues (2003). The latter marked the last appearance of Heckstall-Smith, who died in 2004 at age 70. The remaining band continued for 11 years and released one final disc, Time On Our Side, in 2014.
Hiseman died in June 2018 at age 73.
- Those Who Are About to Die Salute You (1969)
- Valentyne Suite (1969)
- The Grass Is Greener (1970 — U.S. only)
- Daughter of Time (1970)
- Colosseum Live (1971)
- Discogs: Colosseum
- Concerts Wiki: Ruisrock
- Festivals.com: Festival Tour of Colosseum
- Concerts Wiki: Joint Meeting 1970
- Concerts Wiki: Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music
- tvdb: Beat-Club (All Seasons)
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