When Colosseum launch into Walking In The Park, one of their calling cards from back in 1969, the scalp starts to rise, not necessarily because this will be their last ever concert – in fact, you forget that for a moment – but because the band swinging en masse over such an irresistible, swaggering bass line still sounds so new and exciting.
The song, written by Graham Bond, is a re-imagining of rhythm’n’blues, an early prog statement with its rhythmic stabs and syncopation. Drummer Jon Hiseman might not be quite as brash and flamboyant as he was back in his 20s, but his incisive playing is one of the highlights of the evening. And the most heartwarming sight, of course, is that, despite the band calling it a day due to the unpredictability of saxophonist Barbara Thompson’s health, she’s up there onstage and ripping into the song.
Hiseman chats to the audience, announcing that they have played a Jack Bruce song at every single concert, and this time it will be Morning Story from his 1971 album Harmony Row; a performance made more poignant by the bass guitarist’s death last year. After that, apart from a few more drolleries from vocalist Chris Farlowe, they concentrate on the music, navigating a brisk version of keyboard player Dave Greenslade’s serpentine No Pleasin’, while Hiseman and Thompson’s daughter Ana Gracey duets impressively with Farlowe on Blues To Music, from last year’s valedictory album Time On Our Side.
Valentyne Suite may lack a really big theme, but makes up for it with some inspired playing.
The highlight of the evening is the lengthy Valentyne Suite, which may lack a really big theme, but makes up for it with some inspired playing. Hiseman’s statement of intent for the band from the outset was “jazz solos over rock rhythms”, and on pieces like this there is that and more besides. Thompson plays a soprano solo full of exquisite touches, Greenslade contributes some baroque flourishes on Hammond organ and just when it seems like it might start to drift, Hiseman increases the intensity. It finishes in grand style with guitarist Clem Clempson starting off bluesy, then wigging out with high-velocity flourishes and extravagant string bending, spiced with plenty of wah-wah.
After a huge ovation, Hiseman returns to play a drum solo, the first this writer has seen live for longer than he would care to remember, and a particularly musical example of the genre. The whole band return for Lost Angeles, a blues rock hybrid dating back to 1971. Hiseman was determined that this singular band would go out on a high and while there may have been a few discreet tears, hearing ‘You’re the top/You’re the Colosseum’ by Cole Porter over the PA as the crowd filed out echoed this idea in a nicely wry way.