The Zombies have contributed to the music scene for over five decades. That they’re still playing together (albeit after a significant hiatus) is impressive to say the least.
Equally impressive is the overwhelming magnificence of St Albans Cathedral; a huge building that has existed since the 8th century, which holds so much history that it is impossible to not be in absolute awe of it.
When it was announced that Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent, members of The Zombies were to play a homecoming concert at this venue, the significance and sentimentality of the night was not lost on anyone, and the cathedral was indeed packed to capacity for the concert – though ‘capacity’ at a cathedral takes on a whole different meaning to the usual small gig-spaces.
A makeshift bar was set up at each side of the nave, as well as a merchandise desk along the wall. The journey to the bathrooms took audience members on a long adventure to the other side of the cathedral, past the gift shop. This was anything but a regular Friday night gig!
A kind announcement brought everyone to their seats as everyone prepared for ‘A Very Special Evening With Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone of The Zombies’, as stated on the front of the sleek, white programs, everyone was holding (for those with the most expensive tickets, these were autographed). The audience gasped as they were told that in the front row of the audience sat Argent’s 100-year old mother!
The booms of the church organ filled the stone space as Argent started to play the prelude to ‘Rejoice’ from his album ‘Ring of Hands’. Having spent his youth as a chorister in this cathedral, he was clearly very natural within these walls.
Haunting silence filled the air before everyone realised it was time to applaud. After a short pause, the two appeared onstage. Argent apologised for the wait to finish the next part of the song (‘Rejoice’), but explained that he couldn’t pass on the opportunity to utilise the church organ to commence the set. And indeed it set the scene for the grand majesty of the night (which was of course unavoidable anyway, given the location).
After Argent’s solo intro, Blunstone took his spot behind the microphone at centre stage, with Argent on Grand piano. Watching Blunstone all those years ago in that video clip of ‘She’s Not There’ from 1965, you see an awkward young boy, unsure of himself, probably overwhelmed by the thought of it all. Now all these years later, he is so natural onstage. Standing in front of the audience singing ‘Breathe Out, Breathe In’, it was obvious he absolutely loves it; engaging the audience completely and capturing the essence of the song in his performance.
The first half ended with a string quintet appearing onstage. The musical arrangements were by Christopher Gunning, an English composer who had worked with Blunstone during the 70s and 80s, and from the first sustained note of the cello in ‘Misty Roses’, the strings transformed the song, painting a cathartic picture of harsh winters and dark days, entwining in an absolutely captivating, mystifying musical dance.
As well as three Blunstone singles, they also presented a completely new arrangement of The Zombies track ‘I Want to Fly’ with the strings. ‘We’ve only done this one a couple of times’ said Blunstone, ‘hopefully we all end at the same time. If not, I hope you understand!’. No apologies were necessary as it was perfect, and the strings truly embodied the feeling of the song.
The second half was reserved for all those classic tracks, including a run of 5 songs from their second album, ‘Odessey and Oracle’.
‘Tell Her No’ was more heartfelt than ever before, but worked very well. ‘Time of the Season’ was jazzy, with Blunstone coaxing the audience into a clap to accompany the music. And finally, ‘She’s Not There’ soared, as Blunstone’s voice took it to the very peaks of its melody.
The timelessness and strength of the music of The Zombies, and of Argent and Blunstone separately, meant that the repertoire worked well, spanning the decades of their careers. The sparseness of the musical arrangements perfectly complemented the strong vocals and delicious harmonies, and allowed the acoustics of the magnificent venue to contribute to the overall sound and experience. Before the show Blunstone had spoken of a feeling of anxiety and pressure about this concert, however it turned out to be an exceptional and unique experience for the audience, and hopefully for the performers too.