Tempest's Storm Warning (Melody Maker 1973)

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Tempest’s Storm Warning

Melody Maker, January 13, 1973

By Chris Welch

"For seven days we were tempest tossed." That's the opening line from "The Swiss Family Robinson," a tale much loved and frequently read as a mere child. The word “tempest” has always sounded so much more emotive than “storm or "gale force nine in Shannon and Cromerty." A tempest is a living, natural force, a pageant of the elements. Black skies, mountainous waves and howling wind!

So it was last week, on a night when one tended to think what an appalling time sailors must be having at sea, that Jon Hiseman, the human hurricane of percussion, hove to and signalled the name of his new band ... Tempest.

And it seemed a fitting title for what forecasters predict will prove one of the sensations of '73.

In common with several other musicians who came up in his era, Jon spent much of 72 in thoughtful retreat. He had been on the road years enough to earn a rest. He needed to forget the traumas of Colosseum, rethink his situation, and enjoy some time in the company of a proud new addition to the Hiseman household, one Marcus, infant, born to him by wife Barbara, also a respected musician, and saxophonist.

There was little saxophone playing or drumming in evidence the night I called upon their new household, just off the Kingston By-pass. As the rain lashed around the eaves, and lightning split the sky asunder (actually there was light drizzle and fog patches), the Hisemans gathered around the kitchen table for dinner, several hours late, due to my scouring the countryside for the right exit road, and enjoyed a rare evening of domesticity.

As both Barbara (nee Thompson) and Jon are working musicians, often they only pass each other on the stairs, either returning or leaving for gigs. Both have to cope with cooking, and during the course of our excellent meal, Jon and Barbara took turns at the oven and sink, the master of the house, flipping over a particularly fine selection of hot pancakes, with the skill of a corden bleu chef.

Would Marcus follow his parents' footsteps and become a musician also? " Good heavens no," said Jon. "He's going to be a bank manager." Marcus expressed a gurgle of delight that indicated he had no desire to travel the motorways in a Transit van.

As we withdrew to the withdrawing room, Marcus [sic] gave me a detailed account of the reasons for the breakup of Colosseum, what had been happening in the intervening months, the formation of Tempest, and future plans, with occasional interruptions from Jon.

"I had no thoughts at all after Colosseum broke up." said Jon, getting a word in edgeways. "I'd had enough, temporarily. I'd been on the road for five solid years. With Graham Bond, Georgie Fame, and John Mayall, for two years and Colosseum for three. It's not a record by any means. Dick Heckstall-Smith has been on the road for double that length of time. But it was quite enough for me."

Did Jon feel depressed or bitter about the way Colosseum ended, after all his hard work?

"No. I knew a year before we broke up we had got the best out of Colosseum. "

"When Chris Farlowe joined, it pushed the life of the band on. He came in when the band was doing really well. It's nothing to do with Chris but something happened. They were all such great players — witness the fact they have all formed their own bands now - but no one knew where the band was. Nobody would say: ‘What does it need to keep going,' or decide what type of material should be played. Each member was producing stuff totally from their own point of view. If we could have said what material was needed, the band could have survived. But all the new material was personal and the band went by the board. "

"Dave and Dick both write material Colosseum couldn't use, but they are all using in the new bands. It became impossible to provide new material and the band got bored and died inside itself. "

"I was enjoying tremendously the things Clem, Mark and myself were playing and we even thought of forming a trio. But when Clem (Clempson) got the offer from Humble Pie, that knocked it on the head. I lost the desire to organise the band and was leaning towards much smaller thing. "

"To give you an example ... when we started the group I bought a PA system that cost £350 and I loaded it into the car and took it away myself. That lasted us for six months. Three years later we had a PA system worth six and a half thousand pounds and four road managers. When the band broke up I set the roadies up in a business called Colosseum Acoustics and loaned out the PA system. We've hired it to Sandy Denny, Sha Na Na, and Steppenwolf. We call it ‘Colac' for short."

"So what I'm doing now is to hire all the equipment we need from Colac. The roadies are now company directors and they run the firm. I can hire from them and don't have a payroll."

MARCUS at this point emitted a series of delighted chuckles, applying his bank manager's shrewdness to appraise the situation. "Sorry about the noise," said Jon. "It's as bad as the Red Lion. A real extrovert, and only six months old. The great thing is, we can earn money when the PA isn't being used by Tempest. We won't be doing one-nighters - definitely not. We're going to do tours, set up in advance. "

"If ever the office offer me a one-nighter, well I just say I'm sorry. They can't understand it! Colosseum once did Sicily as a one-nighter. Can you imagine that? No way do we want fly from Newcastle to Sicily for a gig. The wear and tear on people in a band by that kind of work is tremendous. "

"We're going to do tours, and then we'll make LPs. We'll actually have time to do LPs properly! We've never been able to do that before, without breaking off a session to do a gig - whole tours, never mind one nighters."

What did Jon do during his period of splendid isolation after Colosseum? “I did a lot of practice for two or three months. I changed my style completely from the orthodox grip to the matched grip. I found I couldn't really make the change while I was playing regularly. So I didn't play for four months at all. Then I practiced with the matched grip. The orthodox grip is a disadvantage when you are playing a big kit. With the matched grip its physically easier to get around.”

For a long time Jon practiced keeping time with his left hand and accenting with his right (he is right handed), which now enables him to play time with either hand.

"You don't get your arms crossing up. But it took me four months to get my matched grip as good as my orthodox."

"I went to Germany for a while and played with Wolfgang Dauner and that was quite enjoyable. We did the Frankfurt jazz festival, and later I did some things with Keith Emerson for his solo album. Keith rings up occasionally and says we ought to finish it off, but God knows when either of us will find time. I'm going to have too much to do in the next six months."

“Lastly I talked to Bob Fripp and we said we ought to do something. We talked and he started off with a very loose idea. I would have liked to give it a whirl, but it was obvious that he is used to being a leader and so am I. He went to • America and when he came back, he was sure of what he was going to do, so our thing didn't happen. Then I thought it was time to get back on the road. I was missing playing and getting in front of an audience."

"I heard about a ridiculous player that was blowing everybody's mind, Clem was a great guitarist, but his area was well defined. He's a superb player, wasted in Humble Pie. His potential was never realised in Colosseum, and he has always came into bands that are already established."

"Alan Holdsworth, our guitarist, is limitless. He's got it all there. I heard about him on the grapevine, and apparently when he played at the guitar festival' at Ronnie Scott's, the other guitarists couldn't take it. Barney Kessell kept investigating the guitar to see if he had special strings. Alan couldn't understand it either - he just does it."

“The emotional range of the guitar is colossal, and that's why it's so popular. But Alan is outside the normal range of standard electric guitarists."

"On bass is Mark Clarke. He was the best of a whole team of bass players. In the last few months of Colosseum his playing became excellent. And his voice came on extraordinarily well."

“Alan sings as well. So the band will be Alan, Mark and Paul Williams singing, with me at the back on drums doing nothing spectacular. When we started the voices sounded very light and clear, and we needed a heavy, pushing singer."

"We had tried to get Paul in Colosseum, but contractual things got in the way. In the back of my head, I always thought Paul had incredible potential. He and I did a demo disc together years ago. And now we are together in a band. I always thought he was underrated."

“We started talking about the band last June, when the baby was born. We started rehearsing, and Paul came in quite late in the day, when most of the material had been written. We got into the studio and recorded the first album from last October."

HOW will the band develop?

" What you ever intend a band to be, it always changes on the road. I don't know what it will be yet. We know what's on the album, and it's the best I've ever made. We enjoyed making it more than anything any of us have done before. But this is one band I'm going to play by ear let it come out. I don't think I've ever been got down on an album. I just don't come across on record. But then, you can't win then all."

"Colosseum got too serious, and as the pressures grew greater, I expected too much of the musicians. It was an error of judgement on my part. With Colosseum we would write things and then have to orchestrate it and that's very difficult. We had to do things to feature each musician on every tune and if you listen to the last LP the band kept breaking into bits."

"I thought it was a super band," said Barbara valiantly.

“Yes, I thought it was the best band I ever heard. But it didn't make good records. And some nights it could be awful, atrocious. We had to take such musical risks all the time. The things that made it work - you couldn't guarantee. Sometimes it all came together, sometimes it was a complete disaster. We'd do a successful gig, and next night go on stage hoping it would happen again. If if didn't, we'd all get brought down. Then there would be a Godsend gig, and then another bad one and everybody would be talking about leaving."

"I have always felt audiences very strongly, and that's what I want back. But as soon as you get a band too perfect, irrespective of the audience, then you might as well be on TV."

"We've bought a set of lights for Tempest, but they won't be used for psychedelic lighting, to use an old fashioned expression. They will be to complement the music. We'll be starting off with a ten day Scandinavian tour, followed by dates in Italy and Germany, and the first English tour will be in March. We've been turning down so much work already, it's terrifying. We're fighting it off! The office think I should be rushing off all over the country ... but anyway, I'm getting old."

Tempest's first album is out on January 27, and having heard it already, I can only say - watch out! More of that when the time comes. And in the meantime, it's nice to know that one of the best drummers Britain has produced is back in action. The storm warnings are going out over Europe!