Zombies still alive and well

Dave Woodhall talks to legendary singer Colin Blunstone.

A few years ago I spoke to Colin Blunstone, a genuine legend and a massively influential figure on the British music scene. With so much happening since then, not least to the Zombies, it was time for an update.

“Except for the last few months it’s been phenomenal. We’ve generally gone to the States three times a year and that’s really re-launched the band completely, to the point where we were inducted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame in 2019, which is incredibly prestigious. It has a really high standing and there are two votes – the public, where we got 328,000 votes, then there’s the vote that really counts which is from your peers, other bands and artists that have already been inducted plus heavyweights from the music industry in the United States.

“We played the Barclay Centre in Brooklyn, in front of seventeen thousand people. We walked out on stage and right in front of us were the great and the good of the music industry. It was a magical, wonderful evening. We were nominated four years out of seven, you’re rarely inducted first time but by four you do start to think maybe it’s never going to happen so it was so good.”

The Zombies do have something of a track record when it comes to taking their time being acclaimed.

“They do. I don’t think there’s another band with a history like ours. We had a short career, from the summer of 1964 until summer ’67 and it seemed it was time to move on. With the benefit of hindsight we realised later on that we always had a hit record somewhere in the world. It’s really important to realise that the music industry is international, don’t focus to much on the UK, or even the US, because there are many territories around the world where you can create a lifetime career.

Photo by Stanley Bielecki/ASP/Getty Images

“The Zombies concentrated too much on the UK and the States and we felt it was time to move on. Maybe we should have kept things going because it was two years later that Time of the Season went to number one in the States. It’s never been a hitin the UK, it’s been used in films and in commercials and it’s our biggest-selling record ever. But it wasn’t a hit here.”

“By the time it did well in the US we were all committed to other projects so we couldn’t do anything with it but it did inspire interest in Odessey and Oracle, although that wasn’t a hit either. I looked it up and it was in the charts for one week at number 98 and then disappeared but subsequently many media have have named it as one of the top three albums of the sixties along with Pet Sounds and Sergeant Pepper. Rolling Stone named it in their top hundred of all time, and round it there’s the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Simon & Garfunkel. It’s just incredible.”

The band haven’t done much in the UK over the past couple of years.

“I have as a solo artist but the Zombies haven’t. The time we played was at the Palladium and we sold it out which was great.”

The UK tour you have scheduled for early next year is called The Invaders Return. That seems like a nod to the British Invasion.

“I didn’t play a part in that name but it does put me in mind. There’s still a huge fascination with the British Invasion of the sixties. It was such a cultural change, America had dominated music worldwide, then the Beatles happened and everything changed. They opened the door for so many bands and we were one of them. It had been quite tough for British artists to tour anywhere in the world before them but after the Beatles everybody wanted British bands and it was very good timing on our part.”

The upcoming tour, it’s going to be a massive challenge, not least to see what the state of venues will be when they can open again. The Artrix here, for example. That’s gone already.

“The Artrix? Oh no, that’s a lovely venue. I’m really sad to hear that. The Robin 2 is another venue I hope carries on, I’ve been playing there for twenty years. It’s going to be very difficult but we’ll just have to wait and see. We were going to do this tour and it’s been pulled from under our feet. We should have been going over to the States in the autumn but I’m not sure if that’ll be going ahead to go ahead, we’d have only just come back from playing there and right now we’d have been in Scandinavia.”

Being in a band at the moment must be like being a footballer. You have to keep match fit, you have to keep in contact with your team-mates but you don’t know when you’ll be able to play properly again.

“It is like that. Rod (Argent) and I talk about it an awful lot. He has to stay match-fit playing keyboards and I have to keep fit with singing exercises. When we’re on the road I do them twice a day and when we’re not I do them maybe four times a week. As you get older you have to keep working at it.”

It’s something to keep busy while there’s nothing else to do.

“Keep fit, keep match fit. I’m trying to write, we’re hoping to record a new album and it’s difficult to put a date on it but you’d hope that by the end of June we’ll be recording again. I’m trying to record a solo album as well and that’s on hold. There’s so much to do when we’re free to travel.”

There’s also the matter of earning money at this time.

“Rod and I are very fortune because we do have a royalty income stream. It will be affected but we can still keep our heads above water. Many musicians don’t have that, they rely on playing live and it’s really tough for them. No-one can be confident about the future. No-one knows what the live circuit will be like.”

The present isn’t too clever, either.

“We’ve lost a years work. We were going to be doing two cruises on huge liners. That’s a big business, acts like Art Garfunkel and Justin Hayward were due to be performing. We were going to be playing the southern States, then Canada, before coming back to do some UK dates, Scandinavia which is where we should be now, and back for more UK dates. That would have been three months work and it’s all gone.”

But you are rescheduling your UK dates that we know for February and March next year, and more will no doubt be added to them.

“It is very worrying but it’s important to stay positive and stay energised, keep writing, keep playing and keep singing so that when we’re free to travel we’ll be ready to go.”

The Zombies will be touring the UK in early 2021. Ticket details and further information can be found at thezombiesmusic.com