The Zombies - Photography by ALEX LAKE insta @twoshortdays WWW.TWOSHORTDAYS.COMThe Zombies – A Conversation with Colin Blunstone

SFL Music: Hi Colin. This is Tom. How are you today?

Colin Blunstone: Yeah, I’m fine. How’s things for you?

SFL Music: Very nice. Very nice sunny day here in South Florida. How about you?

Colin: Well, it’s been quiet and I don’t know if it’s actually sunny, but it’s not bad here. But of course we’re six hours on from you or six or seven hours, I’m not sure at the moment. So it’s just starting to get a bit dark over here, but not too bad, considering its winter. I envy you, your lovely winter weather in Florida. And obviously it’s a little bit more bleak over here I’m afraid.

SFL Music: I’m sure. Well, I can’t thank you enough. It’s quite an honor that you were kind enough to grant us this interview today. I’m interviewing for a South Florida publication, SFL Music Magazine, and we have two sister publications, one in Ohio and one in Pittsburgh. So this interview today is going to go towards all three areas to preview your upcoming tour.

Colin: Right. Excellent. That sounds fantastic.

SFL Music: So we’re very excited to see you guys back again and I hope you’ve done well through this tumultuous time we’ve been living in.

Colin: Well, it’s been a challenging time for everyone, hasn’t it? And I’m just very glad that musicians can get back to touring, which is what all musicians love to do. I’m really looking forward to getting back together with The Zombies and coming over to the States and playing live again. We haven’t actually played now in I think it was December 2019 was the last time. Oh no, maybe it was… I’ve lost track. Two and a bit years back. And we played in Spain and it was a wonderful tour. Really, really good. And thought the next year would’ve been 2021, I think is what I’m talking about. I was really looking forward to the next year of touring, especially after we’ve been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And of course it was all taken away from us and taken away from all musicians. It’s been really sad. It’s been sad for everyone and you have to just do your best to deal with it really, don’t you? That’s true for everyone.

SFL Music: Yes. I understand that you guys are working on a new album. Can you tell me a little bit about it?

Colin: I can. It’s just about finished. I believe there might be a couple of mixes that needs still to be done, but otherwise it’s finished. It’s mostly new material. I think there are two re-records on there, but they’re not songs that people would be particularly familiar with. They’re just songs that we wanted to have another go at. One is Rod Argent’s and one is mine.

SFL Music: Wonderful.

Colin: But otherwise it’s all new material. It was recorded in Rod Argent’s brand new studio. We were the first people to go in there. He just had a studio built in his house. And we made sure that all the band were in the studio together at one time to record. We did this on our last album, just made sure that everyone was together because we find that if we record together… and this might sound strange, but a lot of people nowadays will record their parts separately.

So the guitar solos will go down separately. Keyboard solos will go down separately. Vocal harmonies will go down separately and not everyone is there all at the same time. But on our last album, we thought let’s go back to how we used to record all those years ago. And we can feed off one another’s energy in the studio and it really does make a difference. And so we took that onto this album and made sure that we were all in the studio at the same time. Of course, it was a bit difficult because there were huge restrictions put on people being in the same room at the same time while the COVID-situation was going on. And it was especially difficult for us because our bass player, Soren, lives in Denmark. So whenever we recorded, he had to come from Denmark to the UK, which was a little challenging. But we got it done and I’m thrilled with the album and hopefully it will be released… it’ll definitely be released this year. And I would think in the next three or four months, it’ll be released. As I said, the playing is done. Possibly a couple of remixes, we have to sort out the artwork and then we’re off.

The Zombies – Photography by ALEX LAKE insta @twoshortdays WWW.TWOSHORTDAYS.COM

SFL Music: So you’ll have it virtually done before you come over for the tour then. So it won’t be interrupted by the tour.

Colin: No, it won’t be interrupted by the tour, no. As I said, it is all but finish now. I think one of the main things is the artwork that we have to sort out, but I’m sure we can get that sorted before we go on tour.

SFL Music: If I can ask and if you can tell, is it titled yet?

Colin: Actually, it’s not. That’s a good point. I’m always thinking about album titles, but they’re not always received with great enthusiasm. So as things stand at the moment, we don’t have a title. That’s a very good point. I must put my thinking cap on about that.

SFL Music: Well, you spoke of that you’re redoing a couple of songs on this new album and you did that on your last album with Still Got That Hunger.

Colin: I’m trying to remember too.

SFL Music: Yeah.

Colin: Yes. I’m trying to remember, what tracks did we redo?

SFL Music: Well, the one that sticks out to me was, I Want You Back Again.

Colin: Oh yes. Yes we did.

SFL Music: And it went from the psychedelic first time to this really great jazzy full version. And I wondered if you could talk a little about that?

Colin: Well, I think that the real essence of why we did it is because we were so impressed with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers cover of that song. And it brought it back to what a really good song it was. I think we’d rather forgotten about it. And I sometimes tell it as a joke on stage that in many ways we are doing a cover of Tom Petty’s cover of an original song. So it gets a bit complicated. But it was through Tom Petty redoing it that we started doing it live and then we thought it would be a good idea to put it on the album as well. It’s a good song.

I’m all for revisiting songs if you feel you can give it something extra in rerecording it. I know it’s not always popular with everyone, but I quite like having a re-look at songs that you think are worthy of it. This might sound a bit corny, but I sometimes think songs are like your children and you never really lose responsibilities for them. You’re always looking for the best for them and it’s a lifetime commitment. When you’ve written a song, you always want the best for it. And so I’m often tempted to re-record songs, be it with The Zombies or on my solo albums.

SFL Music: And like children, I guess they grow and they change.

Colin: They do. They evolve and it can be… Yeah.

SFL Music: No two live performances are ever truly the same. They can be close, but they… But it’s so funny that you said that about Tom Petty because that was going to be my next question to you was what you guys thought about it when he actually covered that. And it made quite an impression on you, I guess.

Colin: Oh, absolutely. We thought it was fantastic. And it made us go back and listen to our version. And then we thought good enough for Tom Petty, it’s good enough for us. So let’s have a go at it. It’s really funny when you hear a cover of a song that you’ve recorded, it can sometimes make you see that song in a fresh light and then you want to go back and have another go at it and perhaps put some new energy into it.

SFL Music: Yeah. Well, I know on your last album, Still Got That Hunger, to me, I got the impression like it was the natural progression from Odessey and Oracle in a way, regardless of the similarity of the cover art. But the music itself, that’s how I felt when I heard it. And I don’t know what your take would be on comparing the two.

Colin: Well, there wasn’t a deliberate effort to show a progression from Odessey and Oracle. But when you think about it, you’ve got possibly the main writer from The Zombies, although on Odessey and Oracle, actually, Chris White, I think wrote one more song than Rod Argent did. But overall, Rod has written most of the better known songs. And you’ve got the lead singer from The Zombies on Odessey and Oracle, and this is us 50 years later. So in a way it’s only natural that people can see a connection between Odessey and Oracle and what we’re doing now. We’ve always tried to be as natural in our songwriting and our performances as possible. We’ve never tried to align ourself to a musical fad. And so I think it is quite natural that people should see a connection between Odessey and Oracle and Still Got That Hunger. And almost certainly they’ll see a connection with the next album as well, even though we don’t have a name for it yet.

SFL Music: Well, I sure can’t wait till it gets released because Still Got That Hunger is one of my favorites and I put it on regularly. So I can’t wait for-

Colin: Oh, excellent.

SFL Music: … this new edition. Speaking of stuff that’s been done during the pandemic, you re-released a 50th anniversary of your first solo album, One Year.

Colin: I did, it was in November. And it’s an album that was actually quite successful in the UK, but wasn’t particularly successful in America. It had a big hit single on it in the UK. And it was the beginnings of me as a solo performer and in some countries, I’m probably better known as a solo artist than as a singer in a band. And it was just decided to celebrate the 50th anniversary and re-release it. And then quite by chance, Chris White, the original bass player in The Zombies sons have been cataloging his vast catalog of songs that he’s written. He’s written so many songs over a 60 year career, and they found three tapes of demos of mine. And no one knew what these songs were. And we managed to… obviously the tapes were the worse for wear being 60 years old, but we managed to get them transferred onto a digital platform.

Colin: And then when they were playing to the record company, they really liked these demos, or maybe even just song ideas. Some of them are just little clips of ideas, perhaps one minute 50 seconds of songs. And so they were included in the package. So I think there are 14 demos that make up in a way a double album. So it’s One Year, which is my first solo album. And then there are 14 demos. Some of them actually made it onto the One Year album, and one track made it onto my next album, which was called Ennismore. But the rest of nine of those songs have never been heard before. So I think it was quite interesting for people and certainly was very favorably reviewed when it was released that these song ideas were included in the package.

SFL Music: That must have been quite a surprise to you when they found those tapes.

Colin: It was a surprise. Not only don’t… I remember the sessions with some of the songs when I first heard them. I didn’t really remember the song. I remembered that when I played them a few times, it started to come back. But it was a surprise in a really nice way to have these songs. It’s a record of the past, so many memories come back. In the same way that if you have a favorite song, it can conjure up many memories for you and for me and everyone. But when you’ve written a song it’s as intense if not more intense, because you remember how old you were at that time and what you were going through and all the things that have happened since. So it was a very interesting experience to me, made me smile and maybe a few tears as well, just quite an emotional experience.

SFL Music: Sure. Thinking back on those times, and as you said, it brings back a flood of memories of who you were, what you were doing and what was going on in your life at the time you recorded them.

Colin: Absolutely.

SFL Music: Well, that one is certainly great too. And the second disc is called That Same Year, with the 14…

Colin: That’s right.

SFL Music: 14 new ones on.

Colin: That’s right. 14 new, old ones.

SFL Music: New, old ones.

Colin: New 50 year old ones. Yeah.

SFL Music: Oh. What can the fans expect? Is there going to be any kind of a theme to this tour? Because I know you’ve gone before and just done Odessey and Oracle. Are you going to venture through a range from stuff that’s coming out on the new album all the way back? Is that kind of what this tour’s going to do?

Colin: It’s going to be along those lines. Yes. We will play three or four brand new songs from the new album and we’ll play a few sort of deep cuts that people may or may not remember from years ago and we’ll play all the hits as well. And then we’ll play a selection from Odessey and Oracle. So I like to think there’ll be something for everybody. We’ll cover our bases. But it is important to play some new songs from the new album. It’ll be three or four songs from the new album, definitely.

SFL Music: Oh, absolutely. I always enjoy that from an artist to hear their newest work and watch them perform it on stage. So-

Colin: Absolutely, yeah.

SFL Music: … very much look forward to that. So you guys are coming down, you’re doing the cruise first, but then you’re going to do five Florida dates. So you’re going to be in the sunshine for a little while.

Colin: That’s going to be nice, isn’t it? I’m looking forward to the cruise and I’m looking… We’ve done this cruise once before, Flower Power Cruise. It’s a great cruise and we’ve done another tour as well, quite regularly. And I always look forward to them because it gives you an opportunity to meet the people who come to the concerts because you are traveling with your audience. And I always enjoy… and I think the audience enjoys it too, because you are far more accessible when you are all on a ship together, than you are when you’re touring on land. And so it’s a very special relationship and I really enjoy it. And of course, we’re all looking forward to getting back on the road. So after the cruise, these dates will just be fantastic to get back to doing what we’re supposed to be doing.

SFL Music: Yeah. Well, I know I saw you guys the last time you were in town at Broward Center in 2019. And before that you were at Hard Rock Live in Hollywood as well. Do you have favorite venues that you’ve played over the decades in different states that you enjoy coming back to?

Colin: I think there are one or two, but more than anything, what I enjoy is a variety of venues. So I really enjoy playing small intimate clubs where the audience is right on top of you. And then also playing arenas as well, the bigger shows, where maybe it’s a little bit more difficult to connect with the audience, but it has an energy of its own because you are in a magnificent building. It’s probably got very sophisticated lighting and sound system. It’s just a different feeling. So I really like when we’re touring, when we’re playing a variety of different kinds of venues. And also because you have to slightly adjust the show as well. Everything just has to be bigger when you’re on a big stage. And when you’re in an intimate venue the slightest inflection, the slightest nuance is noticed by everybody.

SFL Music: Right. And one of your upcoming dates, speaking of small venues, and I’m going to ask if you’ve played there before, but it’s a very old venue called Ludlow Garage in Cincinnati. And that’s only a few hundred people if I’m not mistaken.

Colin: I don’t remember the name off the top of my head, but I’ve noticed that as I’ve got older… I hate to admit that it has happened, I remember things more by sight than by name. If we’ve played there before, I will recognize the venue
but I don’t always remember the name of venues. And I’m not sure we’ve played there before, but I’m really looking forward to it.

SFL Music: Yeah. Well, I think it’s going to be a phenomenal tour. I know you just went over stuff that you’ll cover in the set. Do you think that you would introduce any of this stuff from your first solo album and maybe Rod do some of his solo stuff as well in the set?

Colin: I think there’s a chance we might do that. I mentioned to you that from my first album, there was a big hit single in this country. It’s a Denny Laine song called, Say You Don’t Mind-

SFL Music: Oh, yes.

Colin: … and The Zombies sometimes do it. And I think we are going to do that with The Zombies. When I recorded it, I recorded it with just strings, it’s totally different, but it’s a great song. Denny is a great writer. And it’s a wonderful song and you can do it in any number of different ways and it still sounds like a great song. So I think we might do that. And we’ll probably do a couple of songs from Rods band Argent. We usually do. And I would imagine that on this tour, that will be the case.

SFL Music: Yeah. When do you guys start rehearsals?

Colin: Well, I think people are often quite surprised how little rehearsal time goes into it. We will probably… if I work backwards from our first date, we will have a day off the day before in America. We’ll travel the day before that. We’ll probably have a day off the day before that. And then we might have sort of two afternoons rehearsal. So really you have to familiarize yourself with the set, what we’re going to play. You have to do that on your own, away from the band. And then when we get into rehearsals, really, you pretty much got to know the stuff at that point. And we’re just honing the set really. We’re just making sure everybody’s completely up to speed when we start rehearsing. I know some bands might have a couple of weeks rehearsal, but we’ve never had the luxury of doing that. One day I’d like to do that. But most of the hard work of rehearsing is done before we actually get together.

SFL Music: Right. Do you guys tend to change your sets much or do you have a start to finish, this is night after night, or do you throw in some variations?

Colin: I think usually on a tour it stays pretty much the same, but we do try to vary it from tour to tour, obviously. And it’s quite sort of a delicate maneuver, if I can put it that way, in that there are some people will definitely want to hear the hits and will want to hear some songs from Odessey and Oracle, and then there are other people that definitely want to hear new material. And getting that balance right, is quite an art in itself. And that’s what we have to try and do the best we can.

SFL Music: Right. When you talked about that Denny Laine song, I wanted to bring up one of the other songs that really amazed me on your first solo album. And I wanted to ask how you chose it. It was the Tim Hardin one, Misty Roses. I thought you did such a phenomenal job of that. But just how that song came to you in order to put it on that album, I’d love to know.

Colin: Well, it might be a more interesting story to me because it’s quite a personal story. But I had a friend who lived in Chicago called Pinky Jennings and she sent me that Tim Hardin album because she really loved it. She sent it to me as a gift. And I also love that Tim Hardin album, and I love all Tim Hardin albums. And that song, Misty Roses really stuck out to me and we recorded it in two distinct sessions. It was one of the first things we recorded for the album. And we had a pal come along and play the original guitar, it’s just voice and guitar to start with. And we thought, “Yeah, it’s got a slightly Latin jazzy feel about it.” We thought, “That’s really good.” And then when we listened back to it, it’s only about one minute and 30 seconds long.

So obviously there was a problem because it’s a bit on the short side. And then we were introduced to a wonderful string arranger called Chris Gunning. And he came up with this Bartok inspired string quartet section that follows the guitar section that I was just talking about. And it absolutely took my breath away. I don’t think I really knew what he was doing to start with, but it is absolutely wonderful. And then at the end of this two or three minutes of wonderful string arrangement, I then have to come in and sing over some quite modern harmonies that the strings were playing. And when I first heard it remembering this is the beginning of my journey as a vocalist, I wasn’t sure I could actually sing over that. But it’s so well written that it leads you and it’s not as challenging as you might think.

And I just think the track came together. Maybe there’s elements of chance. We were introduced to Chris Gunning almost by chance. And-

SFL Music: Really?

Colin: … then he took this route of arranging. I’ve never heard anyone else arrange strings like that. And I think Misty Roses will always be a beautiful song, whoever records it. But it sort of took it in a really unique direction that I’ve never heard anyone else record songs like that. So it was a strange set of circumstances, just a friend of mine in the States sending me the album and that track stood out to me. And then as I said, the introduction to Chris Gunning and there we are. We’ve got a four, five minute version of a two minute 30 song that’s taking into a completely unique direction.

SFL Music: Well, that album stands out because one, the title reflects how long it took you to record it. And it really shows, I think, how detailed everything was. And thank goodness for the chance of Chris Gunning coming along because to me that added… it was ahead of its time to me.

Colin: I think it was. I can remember coming over to the States and promoting that album. And I’ve got to be honest and say, I didn’t get the responses I was hoping for because it’s so unusual. I think it was a bit much for people to take in. And I can remember sitting in a radio station in New York and this DJ played Tim Hardin’s version of Misty Roses and then mine. And he was quite obviously favoring the Tim Hardin version in quite a resolute fashion, which made me feel a little uncomfortable because I didn’t think we were in competition. I admired Tim Hardin’s version of the song and that’s why I recorded it. It’s a tribute to Tim Hardin, it’s not competition. But there was just a general feeling that American radio wasn’t ready for that kind of music. And I can understand that in a way, because it’s so different to what was being recorded at the time. And it took people by surprise.

SFL Music: Yeah. For 1971, it certainly was, but a brilliant work. Because-

Colin: Thank you.

SFL Music: … I personally have always considered you one of the defining voices of the ’60s.

Colin: Thank you.

SFL Music: Very recognizable, and it carried on in that first solo album tremendously. And just what you did back then with The Zombies, you guys were to me cutting edge when you came out in the early to mid ’60s. And unfortunately in my opinion, too short lived, but it led you to a great solo career. Do you have any new solo projects in mind?

Colin: Yes, the answer is. I’ve started a new album, either three or four times, I’m looking for a way forward. And each time I’ve started, it just didn’t feel right. It’s so funny when you are younger… Actually why I called One Year, the album One Year was, I was amazed that we actually took a year to record that album. And to a large extent that’s because Rod was involved with his band Argent, and he wasn’t always available and so everything just took longer. In The Zombies, we recorded incredibly fast.

And now I’ve gone to the other extreme. I’ve actually started a solo album four times and just thought, “No, this is not working.” And so I suppose this is what happens as you get older. You start analyzing things so much more and it’s especially just finding a general way forward, it becomes less spontaneous as you’re older. You’re thinking about things more deeply, and that’s not always a good thing with music. Sometimes it’s best to be more spontaneous and just-

SFL Music: And just do it.

Colin: … get on with it.

SFL Music: Right.

Colin: Yeah.

SFL Music: Well, given what you’ve said, maybe the next one should be titled Four Years?

Colin: Yes. Quite possibly. In actual fact, I did have an album… I can’t remember when it was, but I think it was considerably more than four years. So if we carry on down that road with naming albums, I might frighten myself and realize it’s probably been about seven or eight years since I had an album out. But we’ll see.

SFL Music: Well, Colin, I hope that when you guys get to The Parker in Lauderdale, I’m able to at least come by and say hi and shake your hand and thank you in person for this interview. Is there anything you’d like to tell all of our fans and readers in Florida and Ohio and Pennsylvania about The Zombies coming to their town?

Colin: Well, I don’t think there’s much that I haven’t already said, but all I would say is that The Zombies are a really energized band and we will be playing new material as well as all the hits. And I think that there’ll be something for everyone. So please do come and see us play when we come through your town.

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