Colosseum: Time On Our Side

The jazz-rock pioneers’ unlikely return.

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At one point on Colosseum’s first new album for 11 years, Chris Farlowe asks: ‘What will you do when the sun goes down? Maybe a last walk in the park?’

Such ruminations on mortality aren’t very rock’n’roll, but the days when this was a young man’s game have long gone. The age of most major festival headliners is the wrong side of 40, the generation that grew up with Elvis, The Beatles and the Stones are already picking up their pensions, and many of their heroes are being signed up for the great gig in the sky.

One reason for the silence since Colosseum’s last album, 2003’s Tomorrow’s Blues, is that soon after its release, virtuoso saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith passed away. He was ably replaced in their live shows by Barbara Thompson, long-time friend of the band and wife of drummer Jon Hiseman. But then, tragically, Thompson was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, and her ability to continue in the band was in doubt until a recent course of treatment helped her control the symptoms more effectively.

So it’s hardly surprising that Time On Our Side is imbued with a real sense of nostalgia, and of taking stock of a well-lived life in music. And as the optimistic title suggests, they sound like they’re having as good a time as ever. So natural and easy-listening does much of it feel that long-time fans might well feel it’s lacking in many of the jazzy complexities and trippy experimentalism that they loved in the band’s original incarnations.

The slow, smoky Southern boogie Blues To Music is the kind of immediate tune that will charm newcomers, and Nowhere To Be Found is a sublimely melancholic lament, full of reverb-drenched midnight guitar and despondent piano. Yet there’s just as much to like in the defiance of lyrically pointed jazz-rock numbers such as The Way You Waved Goodbye, as Chris Farlowe’s weathered but fighting fit vocal cords rage against the dying of the light (‘Don’t tell me there’ll be no more delights for us’). And on Dick’s Licks the spirit of their fallen comrade is nostalgically summoned, and we’re asked to picture ‘Jazz and blues with holes in your shoes’ with a suitably meandering sax solo adding colourful accompaniment. _‘You said it was there in her shining hair,’ _sings Farlowe. ‘That’s the way it made you feel.’

So at its heart, this is something you don’t hear too often: a band with nothing to prove, just playing from the heart, expressing joy, fear and wisdom by turns. For that we should be thankful, and relish the sound of Colosseum rolling back the years and beating the odds.

Johnny Sharp

Johnny is a regular contributor to Prog and Classic Rock magazines, both online and in print. Johnny is a highly experienced and versatile music writer whose tastes range from prog and hard rock to R’n’B, funk, folk and blues. He has written about music professionally for 30 years, surviving the Britpop wars at the NME in the 90s (under the hard-to-shake teenage nickname Johnny Cigarettes) before branching out to newspapers such as The Guardian and The Independent and magazines such as Uncut, Record Collector and, of course, Prog and Classic Rock