AUTHOR: EDDY BONTE eddy.bonte@hogent.be
PUBLISH DATE: 15th February 2001

CHRIS FARLOWE & COLOSSEUM: ROCKIN’ THAT JAZZ 

Having been a Chris Farlowe fan for more than thirty years, I was, of course, quite excited by the advertisement in MOJO announcing a concert by Colosseum with the complete 1971 line-up (no fakes added), i.e. with Chris Farlowe as lead singer. Colosseum were a most popular jazz rock group that released no less than five albums between 1969 and 1971 and then broke up. Chris Farlowe joined them as their lead singer in 1970 and stayed till the end of the story in 1971. I decided not to miss the opportunity, so I booked a room, bought a hovercraft & train ticket and found myself at the London Astoria 2 on Friday 29 September.

I knew Farlowe was in true form. Earlier in the year, he had done a successful tour in the UK and joined Van Morrison’s UK tour as a support act. Also, I had attended his show as top of the bill at the R&B Festival in Harelbeke, Belgium, in July. His voice was still intact and so was his feeling and love for soul and R&B.


HISTORICAL LINE-UP

From the first notes I realised that the whole band was equally in true form. I was witnessing the real thing, i.e. the "historical" 1971 line-up (the year they broke up) and not some replacements cashing in on someone else’s name or reputation. From the first notes, Jon Hiseman (drums), Dick Heckstall-Smith (sax), Clem "Dave" Clempson (lead guitar), Mark Clarke (bass), Dave Greenslade (keyboards) and Chris Farlowe (voice) were swinging. They did a most professional yet exciting set, helped by the small venue’s atmosphere and a few hundred enthusiastic fans. The band and each of its members wrote a part of rock’s history and have nothing to prove, but they showed true enthusiasm and communicated with the fans throughout the set. The band also took risks as they began the set with two songs from their 1997 album before switching to one oldie (Tanglewood 63) and immediately going back to the title track of their recent CD which was first performed live on this tour. A flash-back ("Those About to Die")was again followed by a recent and rather untypical song with an untypical vocal by bassist Mark Clarke.


MIXED BAG

Halfway through the set, the retro party started for good, including such "progressive" characteristics as long pieces (courtesy of Hiseman), heavy vocals, a ten minute’s drum solo and lots of sax excursions. The encore hasn’t changed: they did yet another improvised version of Stormy Monday Blues, a blues already on the play-list in the early days of Farlowe’s career. This mix of old material from their 1969-71 period (with the inevitable Valentyne Suite and Those About to Die) and stuff from their 1997 CD "Bread and Circuses" went down well. Their "hits" brought back the progressive rock years, whereas the recent songs (many written or co-written by Dave Greenslade) are more compact in terms of composition and duration; also, they have a classical pop feel with a jazzy flavour rather than the other way around. This blend excluded pure nostalgia, demanded attention from the audience and produced a swinging set. "Bread and Circuses" also proves that a band can stick to its roots and be creative at the same time.


A REAL TREAT

How about Farlowe’s performance? As Colosseum’s repertoire relies heavily on instrumental compositions or passages, 90 minutes of pure Farlowe vocals is out of the question. Still, the set is a real treat to Farlowe fans, as his singing and phrasing is quite different from his solo shows and albums. In fact, Chris uses the power and the range of his voice like an instrument, an instrument that has to be in gear with the overall sound and complement it at the same time. Here, he is not a solo star with a backing band, but one sixth of a most talented band. Jon Hiseman rightly points out that – in true 60s fashion – the music of this band is the result of a collective effort.
Check them out on record or on stage.


NINETIES COLOSSEUM

The group reformed in 1994, toured extensively and released a live album (The Reunion Concerts, 1995) which is mainly an update of their classical stuff. The band continued and released a studio CD full of new songs, most of them shorter and more in the pop idiom (Bread and Circuses, 1997)


THE CONCERT

London Astoria 2, Charing Cross Road, London, Friday 29 September, 8.30 p.m. Duration: about 90 minutes


THE SET

(1) No pleasin’ (2) Watching Your Every Step (3) Tanglewood ’63 (4) Bread and Circuses (5) Those About to Die… (6) The Playground (7) Theme For An Imaginary Western (8) Lost Angeles / Solo Colonia (9) Valentyne Suite (10) Stormy Monday (encore).

Tracks 1, 2, 4, 6 (Mark Clarke on vocals) are from Bread and Circuses, the title track being new to this tour.


ALBUMS featuring CHRIS FARLOWE

  • Daughter of Time (LP, Vertigo, 1970)
    Colosseum Live
    (LP, Bronze, 1971)
    The Collector’s Colosseum
    (LP, Bronze, 1971)
    The Reunion Concerts
    (CD, Intuition, 1995)
    Bread and Circuses
    (CD, Cloud Nine, 1997)
    A Story Ended
    (Dick Heckstall-Smith solo album: LP, Bronze, 1972 & CD Sequel, 1993).