Iconic singer Colin Blunstone talks to Dave Woodhall.
Colin Blunstone is one of those sickeningly-youthful performers who refuse to look, or sound, their age. Now aged 68 he’s as busy as he’s ever been, both with the Zombies as well as enjoying a successful solo career. Maybe that was why he was talking to us at 9.30am, a time of day most musicians regard as just a nasty rumour.
“I always get up early and I like to do interviews early because they get them out of the way. I am a bit unorthodox though; I’ve been up since six and it gets complicated because I’ve just got back from two months in the States. The jet lag has been quite extraordinary.
“I did five weeks with the Zombies. We started off with a Caribbean cruise; us, the Moody Blues, the Strawbs and Roger Daltrey, that was amazing. A 130,000-ton liner with music from midday until midnight. Then we did a tour of the southern states, Miami across to Texas. Rod Argent and I flew to New York to do some two-man shows including one at the British Consulate, then we played for a magazine party. We’re featured in a fashion shoot, which has come quite late in life for us, for a glossy coffee table magazine called Spirit and Flesh. They had a party to celebrate the magazine coming out where we performed, then we played for a charity called Music Unites. We did three concerts in 24 hours. Then the solo band arrived and we did six weeks in the eastern States, before flying home.”
The US has always been good to you.
“The Zombies were popular there in the sixties, during the British Invasion, then again when Rod and I started to do shows under our own name in 1999, and the whole thing evolved from there. We started by doing six concerts and we’ve ended up doing fifteen years so far. We were really pleasantly surprised at the interest in the Zombies. When we started we were playing maybe a few Zombies songs but for whatever reason we didn’t understand that there was this huge interest. We played more and more songs, which was interesting for us because we were hearing songs that we hadn’t listened to for almost fifty years and we were finding material that could translate into modern concert pieces. Then four or five years ago we just thought we were justified in calling ourselves the Zombies.
“We talked to the surviving members of the original band and they gave it their blessing. Until then we’d tried to stop promoters calling us the Zombies, we’d have in our contracts that we couldn’t be called the Zombies and yet we’d get to the gig and there it was on the posters. What can you do about that? It was a very pleasant surprise that we weren’t forgotten, that there was still a huge interest in the Zombies and so we’re very happy now to play so much of the band’s material and particularly that last album Odessey and Oracle, which Rolling Stone named as one of the top hundred albums of all time.”
Even though it took some time…
“You have to write the best songs you can and put on the best performances you can, and that must be your reward. Life’s not fair in any business and you have to prepare yourself for that. You might not get the critical or commercial acclaim you think you may be entitled to so your reward must be in the work you do.”
The Zombies are a true cult band. In the way that everyone who bought a Velvet Underground album was said to have formed a band, so it seems that many Zombies fans are musicians themselves.
“Many artists have cited the Zombies – Tom Petty, Dave Grohl, Paul Weller has been a fantastic support for us, often saying Odessey and Oracle is his favourite album and it’s very rewarding to be so accepted and respected by musicians. We do find our American audiences are much more mixed age-wise and we do find that very often the local bands, particularly young ones, are at our concerts.”
That could be because so much of your material sounds like it could have been recorded yesterday.
“I don’t know. I’ve read that a lot of our music does sound of its time but also sounds relevant to the modern era. It sounds as relevant and as fresh now as it did them. I don’t know if that’s a contradiction, and I don’t know how it worked, but that’s how I feel.”
You’re playing a solo tour now. What sort of material will you be performing?
“I try to keep things separate but there will still be a couple of Zombies tunes, and otherwise I concentrate on my solo career, which started in around 1970. There are three or four hits which I had in the UK but there are others which were big around the world and I do try to feature them, I explain them as I go along. It always amazes me how well they did in other territories – in the Far East for example, some of the hits out there were just b sides in Britain. No-one has heard of them and this is true of myself solo and with the Zombies so I try to explain a story about some of the songs and then give a bit of background about what I’ve done over the years.”
Fifty years, thousands of performances and your voice sounds as perfectly-pitched as ever. Witchcraft, or hard work?
“I started using a singing coach, relatively recently in terms of a fifty year career. It was around ten or twelve years ago I began using Ian Adam in London, who is sadly no longer with us, but he specialised in West End theatre singers, people who are in musicals and have to sing night after night so their voices have to be strong. I was fascinated by the work he was doing, in no way did he try to change your voice but he tried to make it stronger and possibly a bit more accurate. So on a concert day I will do half an hour warm-up for sound check and then half an hour or 40 minutes before the show so I do put in quite a lot of singing exercises, and I think that as you get older you have to work at it. Your voice is a muscle like any other muscle and I’m sure there are exceptions but whereas you used to be able to run for a long time, as you get older it’s more challenging and that’s true with singing as well. You have to work a bit harder.”
Watching your live shows, you always come across as though it’s a pleasure to be performing in front of this particular audience, as though they’ve been hand-picked for your own enjoyment.
“Both bands love to play and I think that’s obvious to the audience. As you get older sometimes people get a bit tired with the continual travelling and performing but there’s no-one in my bands who doesn’t just love to play.”
And in the future. Is there anyone who you’d like to work with?
“The honest answer is that there are many musicians who I admire but I do prefer to work with people I know and who I’ve been playing with for a long time; I feel more confident and it works better. You never can tell, but our new Zombies album is being recorded and also we’re in the early stages of putting together a new solo album but no guests have been approached. You’ll be the first to know if there are.”
Colin Blunstone plays the Robin 2 on 8th June. www.therobin.co.uk