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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf

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The Musical Life of Jon Hiseman

By Martyn Hanson

Temple Music 464pp.
ISBN 978-0-956686-3-0-5




After drummer Jon Hiseman's band, Colosseum, had played an important concert at London's Royal Albert Hall, Jon's mother asked him when he was going to get a proper job!

Musicians (and other artists and entertainers) are used to being considered by the outside world as not doing "proper" jobs. Thankfully, good musicians are so devoted to music that they stick at it - as Hiseman did with a variety of bands for many years. He is best-known as the leader of Colosseum but before that he had played with Graham Bond, Mike Taylor, Georgie Fame, and John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. In 1968 he formed Colosseum, a pioneering band with its mixture of jazz and rock. The group included saxist Dick Heckstall-Smith and keyboardist Dave Greenslade.

Colosseum made several successful albums but disbanded in 1971, possibly because of conflict between "the rockers and the jazzers", or possibly because of the tiring touring. Jon then formed a band called Tempest, playing "solid rock rhythms" and including guitar hero Allan Holdsworth. The band made two albums but had little impact and folded in 1974. Another guitar hero - Gary Moore - was in the newly-formed Colosseum II, which helped to record the album Variations with Andrew and Julian Lloyd-Webber, which became a big hit. Its theme was used as the title music for the long-running South Bank Show on British television.

However, the band only lasted for about three years and Jon's colleagues persuaded him to re-form the original Colosseum, which is apparently still going strong. In addition, in 1979, Jon joined Paraphernalia, the group led by his wife, Barbara Thompson. (I have just reviewed a DVD featuring both of them). So he was kept busy, especially as he was developing an interest in studio recording and producing, which now occupies a lot of his time.

Martyn Hanson's biography of Hiseman traces all these incidents in detail - sometimes the reader may feel in too much detail. Hanson doesn't quite avoid the danger of a music biography becoming a list of gigs, recordings and personnel changes. The book is heavy in content as well as in weight (nearly 1000 grams, if you want to know). Hanson's sources are sometimes dubious: he quotes such newspapers as the Chester Chronicle and the Watford Evening Echo. Too many paragraphs end with exclamation marks, even after unremarkable sentences, And the book is not free from misprints, referring to "Clarke Terry" and "Tony Hymus".

On the plus side, the book is lightened by the humour that habitually exists among musicians. For instance, Hiseman was proud of Buddy Rich's comment about Jon's drumming: "He sounds as if he fell down a flight of stairs carrying tympani!" And there is a generous selection of photos of Jon, Barbara and their various colleagues.

To sum up, I would say that this book seems really designed for keen fans of Jon Hiseman or his bands, rather than casual jazz fans. And drummers may pick up some hints from the appendix on "Playing the drums".

Tony Augarde

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