Friday, November 8, 2013

Colin Richardson Interview Part 5 ( Formation of Colosseum and the Lanchester Arts festival)

07/05/2009 Follow Colin Richardson's blog here on Typepad

Colin Richardson Interview Part 5 -
Formation of Colosseum

by Colin Richardson

A few months after joining Bron Artiste Management, July I think, I got a call from Jon Hiseman to tell me that he was forming a band and asked if I was interested in being the manager. Dick Heckstall-Smith had left John Mayall's Bluesbreakers in early June, but Jon Hiseman had stayed on with Mayall for several more weeks. Dick and Jon had often talked about forming a band together...and this was their 'window of opportunity'. Dick apparently had said to Jon: "If we're ever going to form this band of ours, it's got to be  right now!" So, after mulling things over,Jon decided to 'bite the bullet' and let Mayall know that he was also leaving He then told Dick it was 'game on' and set about getting the other musicians. Tony Reeves, who had also been with Jon and Dick in the Bluesbreakers had left at the same time as Dick and he was Jon's first choice for bass. Then Dave Greenslade was recruited... he'd been with Geno Washington's Ram Jam Band for the past 18 months and was ready for a change. So, now the main part of the group was set. Perhaps it should be explained at this point, that Jon, Tony and Dave had known each other since they were teenagers growing up
in South East London. Jon and Tony had played together many times at the Jazzhouse in Blackheath, which I wrote about in an earlier section. Dick, of course, had met Jon when they were both in the Graham Bond Organisation a few years earlier. Jon and I had also known each other quite a while, having worked together during the Jazzhouse days, both musically and when I was one of the club managers, as well as the early days of the New Jazz Orchestra. This was probably the main reason he approached me to manage the new band, which he had named Colosseum. I was flattered...but had to explain that, as I had a family and a hefty mortgage, I couldn't afford to take that kind of risk. I could, however, talk to Gerry Bron and see if I could get him interested in signing them and that way I could still be involved, but from within the organisation. That way they would benefit from the agency/management/publishing expertise of the company. I told Gerry, who was impressed with their pedigree and agreed to go and hear them when they had some material ready. Jon was happy with that option and a few weeks later announced that they were ready to show what they could do. We took ourselves down to the rehearsal room and listened as they ran through a few numbers. We were both blown away by the sheer musical ability of the guys and

Gerry signed them up without a moments hesitation. He then proceeded to set up a bank account for them, with a hefty overdraft facility and they were off and running within a week, with gigging scheduled to start in October, a couple of months later. They were well received by both fans and the music press and over the next 3 years played all over Europe and America (though never really cracking the latter), released 3 strong selling albums...the last of which was a 'live' recording, which was probably their best. They folded in November 1971, when they ran out of new material (and steam), the catalyst being guitarist Clem Clempson's departure to join Humble Pie. Amazingly, the group re-formed in 1993, over 20 years later, with the exact same line-up as when they broke up! They made several more records (CDs now, of course) and made frequent tours of the German-speaking territories. Dick Heckstall-Smith died in December 2004, aged 70.

Available here on Jon Hiseman's site - The biography

January 24th 2010 marked the 40th anniversary of the historic performances by Colosseum with The New Jazz Orchestra and Jack Bruce and Friends at the Lanchester Arts Festival in Coventry 1970.

I was lucky enough to have seen that concert at 18, sat squat legged on the floor of the Student Union main hall and Colin Richardson who i have interviewed here (unbeknown to me at the time) was just a few yards from me on stage with the band. In addition to interviewing Colin, I suggested the title of Jon's book which was a quote from one of Jon's interviews and seemed to sum up his approach not only to drumming but to his life in general. He doesn't play the drums, he plays the band - there's a huge difference!

Colin, who edited Jon's book, gave permission to use this chapter from Playing the Band which focuses on Colosseum's momentus gig in Coventry at The Lanchester Arts Festival in 1970, which Colin also arranged both as the Bron booking agent and as Colosseum's manager. The concert features The New Jazz Orchestra and Jack Bruce and Friends.

From the chapter - A Giant Leap for Colosseum - Martyn Hanson writes -

Jon Hiseman with author Martyn Hanson

“This remains one of the best gigs I was ever involved in. I was so proud that all my old mates from Tamworth were there to see it.” Clem Clempson on the Lanchester Arts Festival"

A Giant Leap for Colosseum (An Extract from Playing the Band)
“This remains one of the best gigs I was ever involved in. I was so proud that all my old mates from Tamworth were there to see it.” Clem Clempson on the Lanchester Arts Festival"

The first few days of 1970 found Colosseum back on the road doing TV and live dates in Europe, including their first gigs in France…2 shows at the famous Paris Olympia, where they received a standing ovation from a euphoric audience. The feeling of satisfaction at having acquitted themselves so well in such a prestigious venue was slightly tempered by having to be up and away early the following morning in order to make it to the next gig, which was at the Winter Gardens, Weston-Super-Mare. Back to earth with a bump!

The heavy work schedule continued, but with a slight difference. Wearing his agent’s hat, Colin Richardson was the booking consultant for the Lanchester Arts Festival, a student-run, mixed media project in Coventry… a role which, the following year, would give him the opportunity to bring off something of a major ‘showbiz coup’…the first ‘live-on-stage’ appearance of Monty Python’s Flying Circus…three shows at the Belgrade Theatre as part of the 1971 Festival programme. For the current year though, he had already booked the UK premiere of Jack Bruce & Friends, featuring American stars Larry Coryell and Mike Mandell, together with ex- Hendrix drummer Mitch Mitchell. Also on the bill were Colosseum and the New Jazz Orchestra, playing live together for the first time…an idea that partly stemmed from the NJO brass and reed sections playing on the studio version of Butty’s Blues. Given the close musical relationship that had always existed between Neil Ardley and Jon Hiseman, it was a naturally symbiotic combination, which would prove to be both musically satisfying and exciting. For Jon it was all part of the plan, as he told Melody Maker: “When I formed Colosseum I was consciously trying to create an environment in which we could involve a band of this size.” His real ambition went even further: “The ultimate goal is to produce a 20-piece band whose members are individually as well-known as Colosseum. It’s impossible, of course”.

On the night, the New Jazz Orchestra opened proceedings with Dick, Tony and Jon in their ‘big-band’ roles. The Lanchester College newspaper reported: “The Mike Gibbs composition Rebirth, showed what a ridiculously accomplished set of musicians they were, while Dusk Fire, by Michael Garrick, had Tony Reeves playing the best bass solo I’ve ever heard”. The Guardian and Melody Maker echoed this praise in their reviews, MM going on to report: “Jon Hiseman swung beautifully through every number giving one of the most tasteful displays in drumming and stamping his style memorably on everything”. Ronald Atkins of the Guardian was equally impressed: “Few drummers in this country can touch Hiseman for sheer technique, and he obviously takes every chance to vary his patterns.”

This NJO gig was also something of a milestone for Barbara Thompson as she got her first chance to play a solo in public, in a duet with Henry Lowther. Jon recalls: “She played on Mike Taylor’s Study a very hypnotic slow ballad and it brought the house down. I learned the big lesson that night that you didn’t have to go in with a sharp stick to get an audience reaction. I couldn’t apply it to Colosseum as I always had trouble in keeping the tempos down, but I applied it to Barbara’s later career. She was fantastic that night, I was so proud of her.”

After the NJO left the stage, Dave Greenslade and Clem Clempson came on and Colosseum played their set. They kicked off with Lost Angeles, by now considerably longer than the studio version, followed by the old Graham Bond staple Walkin’ in the Park. Next came The Machine Demands a Sacrifice, which featured Jon’s drum solo, inspiring the college paper to write: “For those of you who saw the first solo, the second was even better and for those who saw the second, Jon had been on stage for over six hours when he started”. It’s quite likely that most of the crowd were there to see Jack Bruce, but already they were experiencing some seriously powerful and memorable music…but the best was yet to come! the NJO musicians returned to join Colosseum for the final two numbers, the first of which was Butty’s Blues, featuring some forceful playing from Dick, but the highpoint of the performance was always going to be the closing piece, Valentyne Suite, scored for the augmenting musicians by Neil Ardley. At one point during the performance, Dave Greenslade was suddenly aware of the significance of the moment: “This was amazing for me Jon and Tony, as we had seen all those great big bands all those years ago. And I found myself playing Hammond in the middle of this great brass section - it gave me a great buzz.” The suite’s climactic ending prompted lead trumpet Bob Leaper to hurl his trumpet high in the air, deftly catching it on its return flight. It was a fitting climax to a memorable collaboration. Jon congratulated Clem after the show saying it was the best he’d heard him play and the college paper also singled him out for his outstanding performance. There was good reason for Clem to be so fired up and playing so well that night: “This remains one of the best gigs I was ever involved with. I was so proud that all my old mates from Tamworth were there to see it.” Colin Richardson concurred: “It was an amazing concert…without doubt, one of the highlights of my music biz career.” The Guardian’s Ronald Atkins was amazed by the crowd’s good humour, as they sat shoulder to shoulder in stifling heat: “No one grumbled and no one collapsed; they sat quietly while the music played and clapped and cheered when it stopped. As a veteran of FA cup ties and smoky jazz clubs, I offer them my envious congratulations.”

Dick also considered it a milestone for Colosseum: “Of all the outrageous things to attempt – the NJO incorporated in the set, playing Neil Ardley’s arrangements to some of our recorded numbers. The hall was packed to the rafters and the reception we got started off as enormous and ended up gargantuan.” The Lanchester college paper went into overdrive: “But then, back came the NJO for the final 40 minutes of the best music I have ever heard here…words cannot do justice to the reality. Quite simply, it stopped the show.” The last word is from Jon: “Lanchester was just amazing. We played to a total of 5000 people in the two shows. Dave Gelly told me that was more people than he’d performed to all year.” The success of this collaboration ensured that there would be further such joint concerts later. Jack Bruce’s set was also well-received, with Jon joining the audience to dig it, enthralled by the drumming of Mitch Mitchell. “He was just wonderful that night – his was a talent I much admired but I think he got lost somewhere along the way.”

Barbara had, in fact, played in Coventry on another occasion. In the early part of 1969 she had formed the Barbara Thompson/Art Themen Quintet. Art Themen was a very talented tenor saxophonist who had known Jon and Dick Heckstall-Smith for many years (he’s also Arthur Heckstall-Smith’s godfather). They played at the Belgrade Theatre and Melody Maker reported: “Opening with John Coltrane’s Promise they played some interesting modern jazz with Barbara and Art both blowing fluent tenor, soprano and flute.” The audiences tended to be on the small side, but Barbara enjoyed the artistic freedom. She told Melody Maker: “Musicians have got to get the idea they can make a living out of jazz out of their minds…it’s a pipe dream,” In spite of this remark, since her Cabaret experience, she had made the decision never turn down the opportunity to play jazz just because it didn’t pay. Barbara always kept several projects on the go, including composing music and writing arrangements. She also seems to have had a thing about drummers, as she also played on Keef Hartley’s album Battle of North West Six. To promote it, Hartley had performed a John Peel ‘live special’ with a 14 piece big band, which featured Barbara in the sax section. Two days after the memorable Lanchester Festival gig, Barbara made her first public appearance with Colosseum on Beat Club a German TV show, filmed in Bremen. Colin Richardson was a good friend of the producer/director, Mike Leckebusch having previously booked Manfred Mann and the Bonzos on the show. Barbara remembers she wore a strange outfit: “It was the time when the Indian Squaw look was really in, and the make-up department at the German TV station went to town on me.”

Barbara reprised her flute playing on The Machine Demands a Sacrifice which she had performed on the Valentyne Suite album. Clem, who had by now settled in and had gained in confidence, gave an inspired vocal performance.
1970 had certainly got off to a good start, but unfortunately, another crisis was already looming on the horizon! "

Martyn Hanson (From Playing the Band)

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