They may not be the most familiar of famous 60s bands but you can be pretty sure that you’ve heard The Zombies. Think of era-defining classics such as She’s Not There and Time of the Season. When you do, the choirboy voice you’ll be recalling is that of Zombies lead singer Colin Blunstone.
The original band went their separate ways in 1968 after only seven years of active service. Occasional semi-reunions followed but it was only in the wake of a retrospective CD box set, 2007’s Zombie Heaven, that they began to reassess their legacy properly.
Talking exclusively to Northern Soul, Colin Blunstone says: “That was a very expensive box set. These figures are only just very rough, but I think it cost about £30 and I remember it really surprised everyone that it sold 20,000 copies very early on. So that was one of the first wake-up calls that we got.”
Another factor was that, since 1999, Blunstone and fellow ex-Zombie Rod Argent had been touring together again, albeit under their own names rather than as The Zombies, and they began to realise the esteem in which the band was held.
“Talking to all the audiences where we were playing, we realised that more and more people wanted to hear Zombie tunes, and often very obscure songs, sometimes songs that we’d almost forgotten, that we’d recorded and never played live.”
Sure enough, they began to add more Zombies classics to their set, and eventually went the whole hog and used the Zombies name – sometimes with the original fellow band members, but most often with a new regular line-up. “The core of this band has remained the same since 1999, so we’ve been together for a long time, five times longer than the original band,” says Blunstone. “There was no intention to ‘reform’ The Zombies in the first place, that’s just something that’s evolved over time, something that we didn’t really anticipate. It was a kind of a strange situation, but after a period time we felt very happy and confident in calling ourselves The Zombies and revisiting many of the old classic tracks, as long as we were free to go on and write and record new material as well.”
The band recently released a new crowd-sourced album, Still Got That Hunger, which harks back to their original sound and has garnered positive reviews. Having returned from a US tour, they’re currently touring the UK.
Arguably the keystone in the band’s achievements, even more than their terrific singles, is the 1968 album Odessey and Oracle (so-called, spelling pedants, because the band’s pal Terry Quirk, who provided the cover artwork, made a glaring typo which they liked and decided to stick with). It’s the psychedelic era in capsule form, a suite of wide-ranging, highly original songs boasting glorious musical arrangements and drenched in blissful harmonies. At the time it was recorded, though, it was the band’s last-ditch attempt to create something on a minuscule budget with cooling enthusiasm.
“Some of the guys in the band felt that it had probably run its course and they wanted to finish with a brand new album,” Blunstone recalls. “I wasn’t really of that opinion. I hoped that the band would go. It did get some good reviews but as a commercial project it was totally and absolutely unsuccessful. It wasn’t ’til about 10 or 12 years later that it started to sell and to pick up critical acclaim. Now Rolling Stone has named it as one of the best 100 albums of all time.”
The band went their separate ways soon after the album was released – although there was no major falling out between them.
“No, it wasn’t that. I think there was just a perception in the band that there was no demand, no interest in us. It was a very different world then and we tended to judge people’s reactions by the UK market and the American market, but of course it’s a big world out there. With no internet it was very difficult to know that we were being successful in other countries and in a way we were completely wrong. From the minute we started recording in ’64 to the minute we ended in ’67, we always had a hit somewhere. We just didn’t realise it.”
Now The Zombies are very much an active unit again, and Blunstone continues to work as a busy solo act. “It’s great to have two careers that you can you can explore equally. It’s really just a matter of getting the diary straight so that there’s no conflict in your commitments.”
Of course, many die-hard Zombies fans must never have expected to see the band touring in 2015.
“I don’t think they were – and I don’t think that the Zombies were expecting to be on tour! It’s been a huge surprise to be playing live at this time in our careers but it’s been a wonderful surprise as well.”
By Andy Murray
The Zombies play Manchester Club Academy on December 9, 2015, Liverpool Arts Club on December 10, and the Riverside in Newcastle upon Tyne on December 12. For more information, click here.