Two names, perhaps not immediately recognised by everyone, but a quick delve into their vast careers will inevitably leave anyone exclaiming ‘oh, that song! I love that song!‘
Rod has been described as one of the most influential musicians of the last five decades, and Colin has one of the most amazing voices that has ever graced the music world with its presence.
Together, these two are known as members of The Zombies, a band who were part of the first wave of the British Invasion back in the 1960s, and who, after a long hiatus, are still making music now. Two lifelong friends, they have created music that has spanned the ages.
It really all started in 1964, when ‘She’s Not There’ was released. It was the third song that 18 year old Rod Argent had ever written, and Colin Blunstone still remembers hearing it for the first time.
‘I was shocked. I didn’t know he had written the first two songs, and I think for a long time he even forgot that he had. But when he turned up with that song, I was amazed; I had no idea he could write songs. And as soon as he played it to us, I think we all knew that it was special. And it was an incredible way for us to start our recording career.’
In fact, that ‘start of a recording career’ shot them rapidly into the limelight as their record climbed quickly up the charts. And as was typical for the British Invasion Acts, they were sent on international tours; before long they were playing to hysterical screaming girls in America. But despite all the sudden fame, they seemed to take it all in their stride.
‘There was so much going on but it was all we’d ever known. A whole avalanche of events started happening to us and when you’re young, it all seems quite natural. it’s only when you look back you think that was really quite extraordinary what happened.’
After three years of stardom, their second album didn’t really take off, which left them penniless and with no choice but to end the band. They went their own ways and for many years concentrated on their own projects. But much to everyone’s surprise, fifteen years after its 1968 release, their second album Odessey and Oracle suddenly picked up and has now become a cult classic.
After The Zombies broke up, Blunstone and Argent kept working, together and apart, on their various musical endeavours, and started playing together again in the early 2000s. They were surprised to hear that people were still interested in The Zombies, and eventually they found themselves back under that name, building up the band once again; a coming together of old mates.
‘Originally Rod and I only got together to perform six concerts. But we enjoyed it so much that we just kept on going and then that grew into recording. We didn’t plan to relaunch The Zombies, but when we started playing, people were asking for more and more Zombies songs and it really took us by surprise to realise that there was a worldwide interest in the repertoire. We started to explore some of the more obscure tracks and then gradually we realised that we were playing pretty much an evening of Zombies music. So we asked the original surviving members for their blessing to use the name and it was only after about 6 or 7 years of playing together again that we became The Zombies. We were very wary of doing it because it wasn’t our intention in the first place at all.’
But they soon demonstrated that it was a worthwhile venture when they started recording albums that were just as strong as the originals, still sounding miraculously like the old Zombies, but with a refreshing new edge. Three albums down in the new iteration, and they are still going strong. In fact their latest album shows that more than ever, and the poignancy of the title ‘Still Got That Hunger’ isn’t lost on anyone: ‘I think it’s really important for people to know that we do still have that hunger. We’re still writing and recording, and it’s what we love doing.’
‘Still Got That Hunger’ was crowdfunded. Not for financial reasons, but as a show of how appreciative they are for the support of their fans. Colin explained how this shaped the recording process and turned it into a work that they felt brought everyone together.
‘I think it added something to the recording process to know that people were following what we were doing. It’s wasn’t for raising capital, it was to engage our fans in the whole process of recording the album; they could follow what we were up to and it was good for us as well to know people are following us. It energised us and enhanced the experience and I think we would do that again.’
It is always a wonder that bands are still happy to play songs that they wrote so long ago, when they were so new to the music world. But it is clear from speaking to Blunstone, or even just from watching them live that these two still love playing together just as much as ever, and that they haven’t grown tired of any of it.
‘I’m really lucky in that a lot of The Zombies repertoire has a timeless feel to it and it really helps that we’re finding new nuances to put into the performance even after all these years. I’m very happy to play the classic songs as long as it’s in the context of playing new material as well, and we’re lucky that the two match well. We all really enjoy playing; it’s a magical time, a magical experience to play onstage together with a very tight, very energised band, which The Zombies are. We’ve always loved playing concerts together, and we really look forward to it. I’m sure that we’ll keep playing as long as we’re physically able.’
In what seems a particularly sentimental move, Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent are going back to their roots, playing a very special gig in the very town where they started, taking to the stage in the overwhelmingly majestic St Albans Cathedral. A night of organs, piano, a string quintet… or as Blunstone describes, ‘just me and my mate’. For anyone in attendance, it is likely to be a very memorable occasion. And the importance certainly isn’t lost on them either.
‘It’s incredibly exciting. It’s where we started, it’s where the band first met, it’s where we played our first few gigs. Because of the history, it starts to get quite important in your mind that you really really want it to be good, which can lead to a bit of anxiety!’
After all this time, Blunstone looks fondly on pretty much all the places he has played in, and explains that The Zombies like to put a lot of effort into making sure their shows are the best they can be for the audience they are entertaining.
‘I don’t really have a favourite place to play. I love the UK because this is where I live. I love to play in America because the audiences are so enthusiastic. I love playing in Europe; I particularly like playing in Holland because the audiences are very knowledgeable and enthusiastic. And it’s the same in the far east; they like us to play different songs there because different songs were hits and that is very interesting for us. So I think each area, each part of the world that we play in has its own intrinsic beauty for us. One of the real plusses of what we do is that we get to play in so many different parts of the world and that’s what we all enjoy. We try to ask in advance about what songs were hits wherever we’re playing. Sometimes it’s difficult to get the information, but it’s amazing that in some countries completely different songs were successful, sometimes what I would think of as obscure tracks. We’re always happy to play those songs, it makes a great change for us.’
The most important thing that comes across from talking to Colin Blunstone is his absolute enthusiasm for making and performing music, his gratitude to everyone who has supported him along the way, and a sense of happy mentality about the years he has spent both in and out of The Zombies. They will be around for some time yet, and they definitely still have that hunger.
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