A dismantled jazz rock band, a prog on the brink of explosion, a much sought-after guitarist: Colosseum and PFM at war.
How much is that guitarist?
It’s September 1971, and Colosseum already have a shining career behind them – brothers of those giants Cream and Fleetwood Mac, children of daddy John Mayall, coming out of his 1968 “Bare Wires”, inventors of jazz rock, five CDs in two years – yet that moment of huge success still escaped them. Their conquest of America had failed, but they still rule Europe.
For their Italian tour of this month, their promoters Pino Tuccimei, Francesco Sanavio and Franco Mamone have only booked pop festivals. Just like that one of the 23rd September, in Novate near Milan, a little town with 17,000 souls and a festival featuring the biggest names of Italian new rock: Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, Balletto di Bronzo, Nuova Idea, Trip Osanna and Premiata Forneria Marconi, soon to become PFM as of yet with no disks to their name. It seems like a lousy date, rubbish location, terrible acoustics of the gymnasium….all leave much to be desired.
Even the bootleg CD “Palalido Novate Milanese” that came out later is the least listenable in the universe. And yet, Mamone and Sanavio do an amazing job: not only do PFM go out live on the national TV channel RAI 2 (the only TV-radio channel in Italy) on the show “Tutti Assieme” (“everyone together”). The show was recorded in July, and presented by the superstar of the time Lucio Battisti, but in the evening the transmission switched to “Per voi giovani” (“for you young people”) of RadioRAI one of the few programmes dedicated entirely to rock and the must see show for under 30s. And that evening, the show went direct from Novate.
The rest is history: for the first time, what had been defined simply as pop was suddenly “progressive” – new, mutant rock. But the incredible drummer of Colosseum who had kept the group together despite six member changes, Jon Hiseman, is worried. His producer and discographer Gerry Bron is completely taken with the Hard Rockers Uriah Heep, who seem to be on the brink of usurping Led Zeppelin from their throne. Their acrobatic guitarist David “Clem” Clempson has had an offer to replace Peter Frampton of the Humble Pie by Steve Marriott, who are big in the USA.
He accepts. Hiseman can sense something great, however, and has a flash of inspiration when watching the guitarist of PFM: rock, jazz, folk, classic, Hendrix and Fripp fused with natural and impressive fluency. At the end of the live gig, Hiseman grabs Mamone under the watchful eyes of PFM. “How much is that guitarist? How much?” Mamone resists, Mussida runs and hides. Two months later Colosseum splits. And PFM? They hit the big time.