30 Days Out Exclusive Interview: Colin Blunstone of the Zombies
One of the most distinctive voices of the British Invasion belonged to Colin Blunstone, lead singer of the Zombies. Hits like “She’s Not There,” “Tell Her No” and the international smash “Time Of The Season” were perfect showcases for Blunstone’s soaring, soulful singing.
In addition to Blunstone, the Zombies included drummer Hugh Grundy, guitarist Paul Atkinson, bassist Chris White and keyboardist Rod Argent. Argent wrote “She’s Not There” (1964), as well as the U.S. hit “Tell Her No” (1965), which brought the group stateside in the wake of Beatlemania.
In 1967, the group recorded the psychedelic album Odessey and Oracle, with songs written by Argent and White and powered by Blunstone’s remarkable tenor. This was the album that contained “Time Of The Season.” But even as that song climbed the charts, time for the Zombies had already run out – the group broke up a year before their biggest hit.
Odessey and Oracle (the first word misspelled by the album cover’s designer) was released in 1969 to commercial and critical indifference, but over the years it has come to be recognized as a masterpiece of the era. Songs like “Care of Cell 44” and “Friends Of Mine” have been covered by many artists and of course the Argent-penned “Time Of The Season” has appeared in a number of movies and TV shows.
Blunstone worked briefly out of music before starting his solo career with 1971’s One Year, an album that yielded the hit “Say You Don’t Mind” (written by former Moody Blues member and future Wings member Denny Laine). He worked extensively with the Alan Parsons Project, and sings “Old And Wise,” the final song on the 1982 album Eye In The Sky.
He has recorded 12 solo albums, including The Ghost of You and Me, a 2009 album of baroque pop released only in the United Kingdom and Europe. He talked with us over e-mail from England, about his recent tours as part of the Zombies, his duo tours with Rod Argent, and the pending re-release of his first three solo albums in a box set.
30 Days Out: Let’s begin with the present: we see on your website that your first three solo albums will soon be released as a box set. How much work did you do in preparing for that release – did you do any remixing, etc.? What are your feelings when you hear that material?
Colin Blunstone: I’ve just heard that the release date for the box set has been put back, which is a shame because as you know I will touring in February and we intended to feature many tracks from that era. The albums are owned by Sony and they have not contacted or consulted me about the release of the box set. As far as I know, there are no extra tracks or re-mixes, it really is just a way to have the three albums in one box set.
Of course when I hear those albums many memories flood back. Some are of the times we had in Abbey Road (studios) actually recording the tracks and of course others of the adventures I had growing up in the music business in the Sixties and Seventies. Listening to these tracks can be quite an emotional experience as I remember the ups and downs of my early recording career. The upcoming tour will feature songs from the whole of my solo career right up to the last album but I have also decided not to play many Zombies tunes.
30 Days Out: The Ghost Of You and Me is a great showcase for your astounding voice. How did you go about assembling and writing the songs for that project? How was it received upon its release? Do you have favorites among the songs on that album? Will it be released in the United States?
CB: I released an album in 1995 called Echo Bridge, produced by John Sweet, which is a great favourite of mine. Recently I was listening to some extra tracks that we recorded at about that time and thought it was a shame no one had ever heard them. John and I decided that we could use these tracks as the beginning of a new album. We also re-established contact with arranger Chris Gunning who had coincidentally worked on my early albums. Soon we were re-visiting the idea of playing brand new songs with a string quintet.
At one point I thought we would complete the whole album with this format but it was actually Chris Gunning who said he really liked those original early recordings exactly as they were, and so the album was recorded with half traditional arrangements and half string quartet. I think the title track is a brilliant song and of course there is always something special about recording your own songs.
30 Days Out: For those who may not be familiar with your solo work, can you tell us how you decide which songs are appropriate for your attention? Are you familiar with the work of current pop songwriters? Of the “classic” pop songwriters (Lennon-McCartney, John-Taupin, etc.) who are your favorites?
CB: I simply choose to record a song because it sounds really special to me and I hope that if it sounds special to me it will affect others in the same way. I’m probably not as aware of current current writers as I should be. Of the great writers over the years I always enjoy listening to people like Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, Sting and Elton and Bernie Taupin.
30 Days Out: Do you ever tire of performing“She’s Not There” and “Time of the Season,” as well as many of the other Zombie songs? Would you rather perform fresher material as opposed to songs that are decades old?
CB: I think I’m very lucky in that the Zombie classic tunes that we play regularly have a timeless feel about them. I never tire of singing and to me they sound as fresh today as when we first recorded them. However, I would never want to just perform old tracks and am consequently always trying to write new songs.
30 Days Out: What memories do you have of the Zombies era? What did working in a band teach you about being a performer, and a songwriter?
CB: I have enough memories of the Zombies playing in the Sixties to fill a book!! As a performer I learnt it’s not as easy as it looks and I also learnt that to have a career of some worth and longevity it’s essential for a performer to be a writer as well.
30 Days Out: Odessey and Oracle is a very good, classic album. Can you tell us a bit about its genesis, what was the creative spark behind it? It sounds like nothing else from the era, it’s almost like a fond look back … is it true that it was not well received upon its initial release? How involved were you in the re-release of Odessey and Oracle?
CB: The Zombies chose their material in much the same way as I do. Quite simply, to select songs that mean something special to record to the best of your ability. I don’t remember Odessey and Oracle having any sort of overall concept. As I remember, Odessey and Oracle did get some good reviews in the U.K. But it didn’t get a lot of airplay and certainly wasn’t a commercial success. After a few years, without any promotion or marketing it just started selling and still does. I think most of the energy with regard to Zombie releases comes from Rod Argent and Chris White.
30 Days Out: You left the music business for a time … why did you do that? And why did you eventually return?
CB: I think we all felt the band had run its course and it was time to move on. To make matters worse the three non-writers in the band were all broke and we all simply had to get jobs. When “Time of the Season” was a hit in the U.S. I was offered many opportunities to record again and slowly but surely that’s what I did.
30 Days Out: Do you plan any more tours/performances with Rod Argent? Can you tell us a bit about how it is working with him?
CB: Rod and I have concerts booked for most of this year. We are also starting to record a new album which will hopefully be ready for release in the autumn. Rod is a brilliant musician and is very tenacious, which are great attributes to have in the music business.
30 Days Out: What is next for you? Do you plan to make another studio album soon?
CB: I am doing a short solo tour after which I will be working on a new Zombies album and touring extensively with the Zombies.
30 Days Out: Finally, what would you like people to know about you and your work that maybe they don’t know?
CB: It’s never easy for an artist to talk about the merits of his own work so I think I’ll leave it to others who are more qualified than me to give an opinion.
YouTube: “She’s Not There” by the Zombies
YouTube: “Tell Her No” by the Zombies (Argent/Blunstone)
YouTube: “Time Of The Season” by the Zombies
YouTube: “What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted” by Colin Blunstone w/Dave Stewart