Colin Blunstone’s voice reanimates the Zombies

[13 August 2007]

By Len Righi

The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.) (MCT)

Of all his peers on this year’s Hippiefest tour, Zombies lead singer Colin Blunstone knows only one from back in the day—Denny Laine, once the voice of the Moody Blues (that’s him on the 1964 hit “Go Now”) and Paul McCartney’s guitarist and songwriting partner in Wings.

“But,” adds Blunstone during an interview from a tour stop in Atlanta, “I loved the Rascals and the Turtles, too. We (the Zombies) used to cover `Happy Together.’ ... So two of our heroes are on the bill with us.”

As for Laine, Blunstone recalls being interviewed with him several years ago and Laine bringing up his 1967 song “Say You Don’t Mind,” which the Zombies covered when it was new and Blunstone turned into a U.K. hit in 1972, performing it with only a 21-piece string orchestra.

“Denny said, `I never got a penny for writing that song.’ So I said, `If it makes you feel any better, I never got a penny for singing it.’ ... That’s the way it was in those days.”

For the second consecutive year, Hippiefest is offering people old enough to remember “those days” a nostalgia sampler. This year, Mountain, Mitch Ryder, Badfinger and Country Joe McDonald will join The Zombies, The Turtles and The Rascals in rolling out their biggest hits.

Since beginning a 21-city North American tour in Toronto in late July, the Zombies have been grabbing the best notices, thanks to Rod Argent’s keyboard wizardry and Blunstone’s breathy, velvety vocals.

Asked if he follows a special regimen to keep him vocally fit, Blunstone says yes, noting that five years ago, he began working with renowned London voice coach Ian Adam, who for almost three decades before his death on May 10 specialized in helping actors in West End shows.

“To make their pitch more accurate and voices stronger, he taught them how to properly use their diaphragm—and the muscles below the diaphragm,” says Blunstone. “It’s very effective. It hasn’t changed my voice, but has made it stronger.”

Blunstone carries a cassette of exercises with him. “If there is a sound check, I do a 30-minute warm-up. It’s the same before a show. ... As you get older, it’s a little like being an athlete. You have to stay in shape.”

At Hippiefest the latest edition of the Zombies—Blunstone, Argent, bassist Jim Rodford, his drummer-son Steve and guitarist Keith Airey—will perform “She’s Not There,” “Tell Her No” and “Time of the Season,” plus Argent’s “Hold Your Head Up.” Blunstone offers these memories:

“She’s Not There”—“I sang `She’s Not There’ when I was 18, in July 1964. We were in Decca Studios, our very first time in the studio, with a producer called Ken Jones and an engineer who was very, very drunk. He had been to a wedding and was acting very, very aggressive. I remember thinking, `If this is what recording is like, it’s not for me.’ He passed out and after we carried him up two flights of stairs, he went home. His assistant took over. It was Gus Dudgeon, who went on to work with Elton John. His first session as an engineer was with the Zombies.”

“It’s remarkable the way `She’s Not There” was written. We were gonna do a jazz waltz version of `Summertime,’ which was unusual for a rock band to do. But Ken Jones said, “Why don’t you try and write something?” Rod went away and wrote `She’s Not There.’ It was only the second song he ever wrote. `It’s Alright With Me’ was the first.”

“Tell Her No”—“It was recorded very late in the evening. I was sitting in the control room, fast asleep. We were on the road at the same time we were recording, so we were all very tired. It was after midnight, when someone woke me up and dragged me into the studio. In the middle of the second chorus, just before the `no no no’s’ come in I mumbled a line. I thought we would do it again. But Ken Jones liked it, and said to leave it in. After the single came out, I liked to think people were at home trying to work out this line. It’s mumbo jumbo—`Don’t love this love from my arms,’ I think.

“Time of the Season”—“It was the last track (the Zombies) recorded. In 1967 (when the song was recorded; it was a hit in America in 1969, after the group had disbanded), we were lucky to get into Abbey Road studios, because we weren’t signed to EMI. We were really fortunate to use some of the same engineers as the Beatles, including Geoff Emerick and Peter Vince. They really did try to stretch recording techniques as far as they could.

“Rod finished writing it that morning. I hadn’t really got the melody in my head. Our sessions were fairly relaxed, but in this instance Rod was making me go over and over the vocal. It got a little bit heated and I told him, `Listen, if you know the song, you sing it.’ He told me, `You’re the bloody singer, so you’re going to sing it until you get it right’ ... It was ironic. I’m singing `It’s the time of the season for loving’ and thing were getting very, very fiery. We were going at it hammer and tong.”

“Hold Your Head Up”—“Early on we discovered that we had two very prolific and talented songwriters (Argent and bassist Chris White) in the band. ... Chris was hearing (the post-Zombies group) Argent in its very early days in Germany, and noticed they went into a specific riff during `Time of the Season.’ He thought he could use that riff to start another song, and he did. That riff became `Hold Your Head Up.’ “

Assessing his long-term partnership with Argent, Blunstone says, “Rod says he learned to write songs with my voice in mind. I learned to sing professionally singing his songs. They had to be sung in the right way. We worked very hard on them. We both learned a lot from one another. There is something in our relationship that allows us to both speak our mind.”

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/article/colin-blunstones-voice-reanimates-the-zombies/