Talking Music: Colin Blunstone of The Zombies - Part 1
Iconic British pop legends The Zombies are back on tour in the UK, fronted by founding members, vocalist Colin Blunstone and keyboardist Rod Argent.
The band’s live performances, take fans on a journey through time, from their early hits, She’s Not There and Tell Her No through their 1968 masterpiece Odyssey & Oracle via post-Zombies solo favourites right through to today with Still Got That Hunger.
Ahead of the bands date at Cardiff's Tramshed on June 12, Andy Howells chatted with vocalist Colin Blunstone who, along with Rod Argent, are the remaining founder members of the group that formed in St Albans in 1961.
What do fans expect from Zombies shows? Do both Rod and yourself feel you have to feature some of your solo work?
Because we've been doing it for quite a while now, this incarnation of The Zombies has been going for nearly 20 years. They are really familiar with the backbone of the show and they realise we will feature almost exclusively Zombies tunes.
I think with The Zombies, this time are going to play two solo songs, that’s my understanding. Rod's on holiday at the moment, he's in Crete, so we need to get down to this when he gets back!
Otherwise it's going to be exclusively Zombies material. Some from the original band way back in the 60s and some more recent stuff. We've actually recorded four albums since we got back together again so there's plenty of material.
Winding back to your childhood, did you come from a musical family?
To be honest, its only in interviews quite recently that I've realised that yes I did. My uncles and aunts were all very musical. Not particularly my mother and father. My mother was a dancer in her 20s but my dad wasn’t musical at all. My mothers family were all musical so in my formative years up until 12, there was a lot of music in the family and it might sound completely bizarre but I'd forgotten about it.
What led you to joining a band?
Maybe that was something to do with that I did love the contemporary music of the time, thinking about rock n roll really. I managed to talk my parents into buying me a guitar when I was 12 or 13. It wasn’t easy for them to find the money to do that, but they did.
That led directly to me participating in The Zombies because the guy who sat next to me in class, Paul Arnold, had got friends that went to another school that were trying to put a band together.
He just said to me "You've got a guitar havent you?" And I said "Yes!" And he said "Do you want to be in a band?" That was sort of my audition really. (Laughs) "You've got a guitar, you're in!" That’s how I joined what was to become The Zombies.
Who were your early music influences?
It was Easter 1961, we were all enamored with the rock n 'roll greats. Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Elvis... Later on, it would be The Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly and I particularly liked Ricky Nelson. It was those kind of people we were really interested in.
Where did the name The Zombies come from?
Paul Arnold was the original bass player, he came up with the idea. Its quite a problem for new bands trying to think of a name. Its got to be memorable, catchy and we'd had a few false starts with strange names. Paul was the only guy to leave the original band.
He's now a Doctor in Edmonton in Canada. We've played there quite a few times and he always tries to come along. We always try and put a spot on him so he can stand up and take a bow.
The Zombies signed to Decca records in 1964. Your first single She's Not There, has a distinguishable style of its own with a great bass line and riff, jazzy keyboard and your vocals. How did the song come about?
It is quite different isnt it? Again, like so many of these things, it came down to chance, we'd been introduced to Decca Records and a producer called Ken Jones and he was talking to us about two weeks before we went in for our first session. On the spur of the moment he said "You know, you could always write something for this session if you want."
We were thinking along the lines of recording rhythm and blues standards as most bands did in those days. The Zombies were originally called The Zombies R & B but we dropped the R & B. Rod (Argent) and Chris White, the bass player, took Ken at his word and they went away and both wrote really fine songs. Rod wrote Shes Not There and Chris wrote what became the B side, You Make Me Feel Good.
We knew as soon as Rod brought that song (She's Not There) , I was amazed, I had no idea he could write songs! When he played it to us, I think we all knew it was special. We felt very honoured to get into a commercial studio at that point. We were very young; Rod and I were 18 and Paul Atkinson our guitarist was 17.
She's Not There was a hit and it also broke you in America where along with other bands you were part of The British Invasion
It’s a very important music phenomenon in America although not talked about so much in this country. It was all because of the impact the Beatles had. British bands owe a huge debt to the Beatles because they opened the floodgates for everyone. Just to be a British band in America at that time was quite something. If you had a hit record as well, really, you could do no wrong.
You had more success in America than back home in the UK.
Strangely enough we did and its still true now. I've never quite understood that but I'm a strong believer that as a band to sustain a career you really need to have a success in one country. A lot of people want world domination,
I think even if it's only a small country, you can sustain a career with a little bit of chart success. Of course, a huge country like America if you're going to have chart success that’s the one country to have it in.
The Zombies play Cardiff’s Tramshed on June 12. Tickets available from www.thezombiesmusic.com/tour-dates
For the second part of this interview, check back tomorrow.