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The Road She Walked Before - Colosseum

When I was a teenager in the late sixties and early seventies, one of I and my friends' favourite pastimes were long discussions as to who was the greatest guitarist, bassist, keyboard player and drummer of the time. While some of these answers may seem, with hindsight, obvious to us now - Jimi Hendrix and James Jamerson spring to mind - others still are subject of healthy disagreement. Back then, the relative obscurity of the musician you were championing, also helped define to enhance your own reputation - the more "difficult" the band he or she played for, the more hip you were. When it came to drumming, presented with advocates of the likes of Ginger Baker, Keith Moon or even Mitch Mitchell, others would cite the solos of the likes Bill Bruford, Billy Cobham or Carl Palmer, but I would cough gently into my cuff and intone "aren't you forgetting Jon Hiseman?"

By the end of the 60's sales of 12 inch LP's were outstripping those of 45 inch singles, and this created a market for a wide range of rock music. People bought albums for the musical and conceptual themes expressed over two long playing sides, trusting that the quality of what was on offer would be sustained rather than be just a bunch of random songs of varying standard with the obligatory hit.

The album charts became extraordinarily musically diverse and the record buying public more adventurous so that extraordinarily "uncommercial" (ie non hitmaking bands) such as the Groundhogs, Man, Uriah Heep and the Incredible String Band could have top twenty LP hits. In 1968 Jon Hiseman formed jazz/rock band Colosseum and released their debut album "Those Who Are About to Die Salute You" early the following year. The sheer energy, invention and variety of the record from start to finish was a shot in the arm for the burgeoning rock scene. Every track was excitingly different, infused by Hiseman's immersive drumming. I could have chosen any track, but "The Road She Walked Before" is a particular favourite for the intensity of Hiseman's drumming attack, Dave Greenslade's tempo setting piano and James Litherland's unobtrusive vocal. Much of what was achieved in terms of jazz/rock fusion on this album has been copied since, over and over, but the freshness and excitement of a bunch of talented young musicians breaking into new territory is still there, audible, caught for all time in the vinyl.

Looking back, the fact that "Salute You", and the band's two subsequent albums, "Valentine Suite" and "Daughter of Time" all made the UK Album Charts reminds us of a dawn more broadminded, less channelled into particular genres and opinions. The people who were buying this record and going to Colosseum's concerts weren't jazz enthusiasts, they were just young people who liked good music. I wonder where that all went.


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