Interview with Colin Blunstone of The Zombies

Legendary 1960’s rockers, The Zombies reveal their St Andrews heritage, playing at Abbey Road alongside The Beatles and their continuing cult fame.

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The hugely influential 1960’s rock group The Zombies have had numerous hit singles (“Time of the Season”, “She’s Not There”) and released an album (Odessey and Oracle)  which almost every major music magazine places in the top 100 of all time.  We had a chat with lead singer Colin Blunstone about how The Zombies got their name (from a St Andrews alumni); recording in Abbey Road directly after The Beatles exited post-Sgt Peppers recording session; and breaking up the band and getting 9-5 jobs even as their single shot to number 1.

Describe the St Andrews connection that The Zombies have?

The original bass player in The Zombies was St Andrews alumni Paul Arnold and he actually thought up the band’s name. He left the band after a couple of years…we were still amateurs, this was maybe ’62, ’63 and he said, “I can’t stay in the band and do the rehearsals and little shows because I need to study” and he came up to St Andrews to do Medicine. Before that, we’d all gone to school in a little town called St. Albans, North London.

Describe how you became lead singer?

At our first rehearsal, I was the rhythm guitarist, but to be honest I played only two chords.  We had a coffee and in the break Rod went over to an old broken down piano and he played this song “Nut Rocker” by B. Bumble and the Stringers and I was just staggered,  I’d never heard anyone play the piano like that.  I said to him “You have to play keyboards in the band”. A little bit later that same day, I was just singing a song to myself and he said, “I tell you what, I’ll be the keyboard player if you be the singer”.   I had no intention of being a singer, to be honest I wanted to hide in the back of the stage and be the very ordinary rhythm guitarist, it wasn’t in my nature to be the lead singer, but that’s how it worked out.

How did the band evolve?

Our label, Decca, immediately wanted an album, but in some ways, I think it took us three years on the road to build up a musical identity and I think that came to fruition with our last album Odessey and Oracle which had the single “Time of the Season” which was a number 1. But by the time it was a hit, the band had disbanded.

You recorded “Odessey and Oracle” in Abbey Road Studios just as The Beatles were finishing Sgt. Peppers in the same room.  What kind of impact did that have on your recording? 

It was a wonderful time to be in Abbey Road because pretty much as they left, we went in so we had the benefit of using  the same engineers that they used Geoff Emerick and Peter Vince working on Sgt Peppers.  The Beatles were very inventive in  the studio and they were always trying to push the limit technically and we benefited from that as well because we followed them literally into the studio.

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When did things start to unravel for the band?

We’d spent three years constantly on the road; we were 18 when we recorded “She’s Not There” and we relied very heavily on our manager and our agent and I don’t think we got the best advice or protection that we could have had.  At the end of three years, we all felt a bit exhausted by continual touring and especially as we hadn’t been managed particularly well.

Odessey and Oracle has grown a cult following through the years and was recently named in the top 100 albums of all time by NME.  How does it feel to get such great acknowledgement for the record?

It’s fantastic that it has got that recognition over a period of time. It’s a strange feeling really because I can remember thinking that that album was definitely as good as we could do but it wasn’t a commercial success.  It just seemed to be telling us that it was time to move on. My only regret is that if we had had just a little commercial success, just a little bit of encouragement, maybe the band would have played on. I mean, life happens doesn’t it? It is still great though to get the recognition that we get for that album. Neither Rod Argent nor myself thought that we’d still be playing live at this time in our lives. It’s been a fantastic, wonderful surprise.

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