HIT CHANNEL EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: October 2019. We had the great honour to talk with a legendary singer: Colin Blunstone. He is best known as the founding member and lead vocalist of The Zombies, one of the most influential bands of the ‘60s. Since the early ‘70s, Colin has a successful solo career and has also collaborated with The Alan Parsons Project and Dave Stewart. In 2015, The Zombies released their latest studio album called “Still Got That Hunger” and this year (2019) they were inducted into the Rock and Rock Hall of Fame. In November 2019, Colin embarks another solo tour. Read below the very interesting things he told us:
What fans should expect from the upcoming solo concerts in The Netherlands and Belgium?
Well, of course it’s quite different to do these concerts. In my concerts I try to exclude Zombies material just to make them very distinct from what I do with The Zombies. So, there will be a few Zombies tunes, but otherwise I will be concentrated to newer tracks that I am recording as a solo artist. So, there will be some new stuff and several of my records over the years have been hits in Holland and also maybe songs from The Alan Parsons Project and some songs that I have never performed before. I am hoping to do only two or three songs that I have never performed in public before. So, I think that there is something there for everybody: Old classics and some songs that I have never recorded before, some quite obscure stuff that not a lot of people will be familiar with.
Could you explain to us why you are so popular in The Netherlands as a solo artist?
Well, I think The Netherlands is a place that I have always wanted to tour, so hopefully people approached me to go over there and they enjoy the music that I play with my solo band. It’s quite interesting, I used to play there more often than I play anywhere else, probably because I have more hits over the years. It’s always intriguing why you are popular in one country and not in another and it’s not just me, it’s all of us just like that. With The Zombies, for instance, we are probably more popular in America than we are anywhere else. But no-one can really explain why; it just happens and of course you have to be really grateful when you have a bit of success in one particular country and that gives you the opportunity to go back there and perform on a regular basis.
Are you satisfied with the response you got for your latest solo album, “On the Air Tonight” (2012)?
Yeah, I mean I think it went really well. Around the world, it got a lot of airplay and it got to get into some charts. Of course, it’s some time ago now and I am actually recording tracks for the next solo album. So, my intention is always, in all projects, to look more to the future than to the past. Yes, I think that it was very successful and currently I work on the basics for the next album.
You had a little trouble with the tabloids when you released the song “Caroline Goodbye” from “One Year” (1971) solo album. What really happened?
When I start writing songs they can be quite literal. You use an idea from what can be happening in your live to start off with an idea for a song. It was something that happened to me when I was in my early 20s and I have actually wanted to use another name, because the girl’s name was Caroline. It was a lovely girl, very-very beautiful and a very lovely person. I wanted to use another name, but I thought that was the name that fitted in the song and at the time I thought that no-one else would know, only my close friends would know that this really happened. But then it got a lot of exposure, especially in England, in the UK, it got a lot of exposure in the media, because this girl was quite famous. She was a famous model and she got into films, as well. It got quite a lot of exposure, so everybody knew the truth of the story, that I had a love affair with a girl named Caroline and it came to an end and that intrigued an idea in my mind that became a song. In some ways, I wish I could have found another name because 45 years later people are still talking about a heartbreak that happened when I was in my early 20s and if I had used another name, of course I wouldn’t have to go through this (laughs) with explanations, over and over again. But anyway, that’s how it happened and it’s funny what really happened to me and the girl in question was called Caroline.
How much artistic freedom did you have when you released albums for Elton John’s Rocket Record Company?
I had complete artistic freedom. Rocket Records were very good like that. They supported all their artists and they let their artistic freedom to develop. It wasn’t only me, I think it was all artists they had then. They were a wonderful label and very supportive and they let you completely free to achieve the path that you wanted to set with your albums.
Was it an interesting experience to do “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted” (1980) single with Dave Stewart which reached #13 in the UK charts? It’s a very addictive song!
Yes, it was very interesting. I have to admit that the whole track -the ideas of the song, the whole arrangement, everything- was recorded before I got involved. And then, when I heard the track I loved it and it was great to put a vocal on it and I was absolutely thrilled about it. I thought it was a really interesting track, so I put a vocal on it. I think it was probably about a year later -nothing happened immediately, there was quite a delay before it was successful- that it started getting airplay and in the end it was a big hit. So, that was a very successful project and I’m really glad that I got involved in it.
You did three solo Peel sessions and also John Peel hosted the 1981 Top of the Pops Christmas show where you performed “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted” with Dave Stewart. What memories do you have from John Peel?
Well, I don’t think I spoke to him during the TV show, but I had spoken to him over the years and I really admired him because he was someone who was so committed to his love and his interest in music. He became a DJ for the right reason because he loved music. Sometimes DJ’s are not particularly knowledgeable about music or even interested in music, but he was certainly one of those guys from the time of the early radio stations, that he was really-really interested in listening to music and he was very knowledgeable. He was also very interested in young bands that were just starting out. He really liked and he got to find bands that hadn’t any success at that time and so it was really great to break them into people’s consciousness and eventually helped them to break into the charts. There are many bands that he helped on their way. So, I was a big fan of his.
How did it happen to record the song “Old and Wise” (1982) for The Alan Parsons Project?
In actual fact, when the original Zombies were recording their last album, “Odessey and Oracle” (1968) in Abbey Road, Alan was an engineer in Abbey Road at that time and that’s when I met him. And then, later on, we realized that we lived in the same area of London and we used to see one another occasionally and so, we would meet up and talk about what was going to happen in the future and he got this idea on creating an album where the producer was the central figure. He was bringing a guest artist to sing the song on every track and it just has been very natural, as we knew one another, that he would ask me to perform on the album. The actual album was their very first album, which was called “Tales of Mystery and Imagination” (1976), but I was living in America at the time, so I couldn’t do it. But then, I did record on the third, when I had come back to the UK. The third album was called “Pyramid” (1978) and I did a lovely song called “The Eagle Will Rise Again”. Then, I recorded on “Eye in the Sky” (1982) album. Probably the best main track is “Old and Wise” and I got a call from Alan that I had to come to the studio and listen to the song. Obviously, it was a really beautiful song and I am still proud that I have done it. It’s one of the favourite songs that I have ever recorded.
I think Eric Woolfson (Alan Parsons Project songwriter, lyricist, pianist and vocalist) played you this song at Studio Three at Abbey Road.
You are absolutely right. Just the two of us we went to Studio Three, where I recorded with The Zombies and also recorded the first three of my solo albums, in that particular studio. Alan Parsons used to record at Studio Two, which is the studio the Beatles used most often. But we went to the Studio Three and Eric Woolfson, he was the main writer, the silent partner in The Alan Parsons Project, some people don’t know Eric’s name, but he was actually the main writer for The Project, and he just sat down at the piano and played and sang that song to me and immediately I was captivated by. I thought it was absolutely beautiful and I was really pleased that he asked me to sing it.
Did you enjoy the recent “Something Great from ‘68” tour of the Zombies with Brian Wilson (The Beach Boys)?
It was fabulous. I mean, we just came home from that. I think we are home now for about three weeks, but all in all the current line-up of The Zombies were in the States for nearly three months and at least half of that, we were on tour with Brian Wilson. He had a fabulous band and it was so wonderful that every night he played such magical Beach Boys tracks. You know, “God Only Knows”, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and “Good Vibrations”, just so many wonderful songs and I got to hear those every night for five or six weeks. He has a big influence on our music. He is one of the most important people in rock ‘n’ roll and he has written some of the most beautiful songs that have been written in the last half century.
It seems that you had a lot of fun recording “Still Got that Hunger” (2015) album. What was the difference in “Still Got that Hunger” compared with the previous Zombies albums?
We thought we would have an outside producer (ed: Chris Potter – The Verve, The Rolling Stones) working with us and he pushed us to perform it, more or less, live. We went into the studio where it was really adapted in a way that it was easy to play live. We were just working from the sidelines and even though there were barriers, we could see one another. So, that album was recorded for the most part live. The backing tracks, the lead vocals and the solos were all recorded live. Only the backing harmonies were added afterwards. I think there is a special energy that comes to a project when everyone is in the studio at the same time. So often nowadays musicians go into the studio, one at the time, they are not there at the same time. There is so much energy in the studio that you ‘ve got when everyone is playing together. I think we all really enjoy that: Playing together and performing the songs mostly written by Rod Argent (ed: keyboards). It was a very enjoyable album to record it. It came together very quickly and it was really like recording in the ‘60s. For instance, we rehearsed quite extensively before everybody enter the studio, exactly as we did with our last album in the ‘60s and then we performed it live exactly as we did in the ‘60s. We did that on purpose. It was a deliberate plan to record this album in a different way. We have started recording our next album and I think we will go back and try recording in the same way, that we are all in the studio at the same time and we can create that same special energy again as we record.
Is the song “New York” from “Still Got that Hunger” a kind of tribute to your American musical heroes and also the fans who embraced the band since your first American tour?
Well, absolutely. I think it’s line by line what happened to us in America when we played at The Brooklyn Fox over Christmas 1964 and into New Year 1965. It was called Murray the K’s Christmas Show at The Brooklyn Fox and there were so many wonderful artists on that: The Shangri-Las, Ben E. King, Patti LaBelle. There were about 15 or 16 acts on the bill at that time. The Shirelles… Μany-many wonderful artists and of course it was our first time in America and we were 19-year-old boys. For all of us, it was the first time we were out of the UK. I think we might have been to Norway and then we came back and went to America. It was very exciting for us, because America obviously is the home of rock ‘n’ roll. It’s where Elvis came from. Chuck Berry and Little Richard, all came from America. So many of our musical heroes came from America. It was very-very exciting for us to go and play there, but also a little intimidating. We weren’t really sure how people would react to us, because all our musical heroes were Americans and here we are, an English band going to America and playing to Americans. We weren’t really sure how they would react to us, but we got incredible response from the fans and also from our fellow artists. It was a very special time because all the artists were away from home over Christmas, so there was camaraderie backstage, which was really wonderful. Of course, we were away from home, we were even away from our own country over Christmas. We opened on Christmas Day and played for 10 days after that and it was a very special show for us. It was the first time we were away from home over Christmas and it was great to be supported by all the wonderful American acts that were on that show.
Were you surprised when the first Zombies single “She’s Not There” (1964) reached #2 on the Billboard charts?
It’s incredible. By the way, it made #1 in Cashbox. Sure enough, The Zombies always did better in Cashbox than they did in Billboard. It didn’t top Billboard. In a way, I think we were surprised. It’s a strange thing: When we recorded that, I think I was 18, most of us was 18, our guitarist (ed: Paul Atkinson) was 17. We were so young. I don’t think we realized how hard it was to get a hit record and it just happened so quickly. It almost seemed quite a natural thing for us. We hadn’t realized how many pitfalls there are in the whole process of recording records. But at the time, it seemed quite natural. Although, I have to admit, I was a little taken aback when it became a hit in America and all around the world. I don’t think I was quite expecting that. So, it was a wonderful surprise on one hand, but also I have to say that when you are 18 or 19, you kind of expect things to happen. We just did it and it wasn’t until later that we realized really how hard it is to have a hit record. So, it was a wonderful surprise and I think we really-really enjoyed it. I mean, we really appreciated it. But we had this opportunity to go and play the music we loved all around the world and have this wonderful adventure with my best friends.
What was it like to record “Odessey and Oracle” (1968) at Abbey Road Studios right after The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s” sessions?
I think we were very fortunate to be there at that moment because there were quite a few technical advances that were made by The Beatles while recording “Sgt. Pepper”. In the UK there was no 8-track recording machine, there were always recording on 4-track, but at Abbey Road during “Sgt. Pepper” they managed to put two 4-track machines together, which in effect, when they were set, they gave 7 tracks. With these advances, we really benefited by going in the studio after The Beatles and we also used the same engineers with The Beatles. They used mostly Geoff Emerick and also an engineer called Peter Vince. Mostly, we used Peter Vince, but occasionally we used Geoff Emerick, as well. I think those two were the best engineers in the world at the time and we were very fortunate to be recording at the time with those engineers in Abbey Road.
Was it a wise decision the Zombies break-up after the release of “Odessey and Oracle”?
I mean, I am not too sure about that. I think most of the other guys in the band were always certain that it was a right thing to do. In fact, I have to say that at the time the music industry was still very much dependent on the singles market. In the end of the ‘60s everyone was doing favourite albums, but at that time singles were really dominant in everyone’s thought and we released as the first single of the album a song called “Care of Cell 44” in the UK and it wasn’t a commercial success. That made everyone feel that it was time to move on and get involved in other projects. So, we had actually the band finished before “Odessey and Oracle” was even released. That had a lot to do, as I said before, because they were putting so much emphasis on singles in those times and maybe the band had run its course. Maybe it was time to move on. But of course, looking back you can also say that it would have been interesting to see what might have happened next, if we had managed to keep the band together. I think the other guys in the band always thought that it was the right time to finish, but from my own point of view, I am just curious what we might have done next if we had stayed together.
Are you proud that “Odessey and Oracle” is now considered as one of the greatest albums of all time?
I am incredibly proud that it has received the accolades that it has and that Rolling Stone named it as one of top 100 albums of all time. Of course, that is a wonderful accolade to have. It justified and mystified me that it didn’t get the acknowledgement at the time and yet over a period of time, this album seems to have a life of its own. No-one has been promoting it, no-one has been marketing it, and yet it has become quite an iconic album and it seems to have done it on its own. There is no question that this album is a living thing, because no-one has been working on the album, it just happened all of its own. Probably through word of mouth I suppose, that kind of happened. But now, all around the world people are aware of this album. Of course, I am very proud for my contribution on the album and on behalf of the other guys in the band, I am proud of them too.
What does the recent Zombies induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame mean to you?
It is one of highest levels in the rock ‘n’ roll industry. There are only 300 acts that have been inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, to be one of those, it seems to me quite a big achievement. In a way, in our days everything is done. When the original band finished in the ‘60s, we finished because we perceived that we were perceived as unsuccessful. So, at this time in our lives to become inductees in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it kind of validates everything we have done and makes us feel that we weren’t so unsuccessful at the end of the ‘60s, but we were still creating very proud work, very proud products, and it has now been recognized, which is incredible. It’s a wonderful thing as a professional that I have a hand in my life.
Is it flattering that The Zombies influenced musicians like Paul Weller and Tom Petty?
Of course it is. It is very pleasing, in particular, but recently I have been told by young, very cutting-edge bands that we have influenced them and I think one of the greatest things that any artist can be told is that your appearance has been a motive in what other people are doing and that they have been influenced by your work. Of course, it makes everything worthwhile when you hear people say these kinds of things.
What is the secret of your lasting friendship and collaboration with Rod Argent?
We are very good friends and I think we initially admired one another and he is a good professional. We are both workers. I think probably Rod more than me. We both like to work on a project and we are absorbed into it. I just think that we work well together. I remember Rod saying once that -even though we weren’t always working together- subconsciously he was always writing for my voice and he can always write songs for my voice and I learned to sing professionally to his songs. I will never forget something like that because of our history together and I think we work really well together and long may it last.
Did you get a little bit jealous when Rod Argent joined Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band?
No, of course not. I really encouraged him to do it. It’s not generally known, but at one point I was asked to do it as well, but they asked me thinking that I was a better guitarist than I am. I mean, I write songs on guitar but I am not really someone that can perform in a rock band of that quality on guitar. I was actually approached to do this at the same time, but I declined because I wasn’t a good one guitarist. But I knew that Rod was doing it and I’ve always encouraged him to do other things. I think it’s good for him and it’s good for The Zombies project that he does other things and of course, he can always come back and do deliveries to The Zombies project as well, but I think he is great when he does other things.
How much impact did the Rolling Stones concert at Studio 51 in April 1963 have on you as a young musician?
It was one of the best concerts I have ever seen. The Studio 51 was a very small club. It doesn’t exist now. I know exactly where it is. I can see the door of it. It’s probably about 50m2 or something like that and it was absolutely packed. There might have been 300-400 people in there and The Rolling Stones were all sitting in stools. They weren’t running around at all. I think they thought of themselves as serious rhythm ‘n’ blues musicians and they were absolutely wonderful. It was very inspirational. I think they just had a record in England, really-really good. Absolutely brilliant and yes, it did make a big impact on me. It’s one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen, although it was in a very-very small club, but they were probably accustomed to it because we were physically very close to them.
Do you think popular music that was written in the ‘60s and ‘70s was much better than today’s music?
I put a theory that you have an involvement with the music in your formative years, from your mid-teens to your mid-20s. You ‘ve got a commitment, a relationship with that music, that for me it would be the music from the mid-’60s to the mid-’70s. You are always attracted to music of that period and it will be the same with the people who want to do that now, people who are 15 to 25 now. The music of today, that is their music and it will always be. That’s my theory. I’m not saying that the music from the ‘60s and ‘70s is better than the music of today -it was different- but I think that if you were in your formative years during the ‘60s and ‘70s, that music will always stay with you. It will always be special for you.
What was your reaction when you saw the actor Billy Murray backstage after The Zombies concert at Stubb’s at South By Southwest Festival in 2015?
He came backstage and had a chat with him. It was a big surprise, I didn’t know he was there and he’s a lovely guy. He’s really-really interested in music. I think he went to a lot of concerts. It was a thrill that he came to see our show and then he came backstage until the time we came back and we had a chat with him. Lovely guy! Absolutely great man!
Is there any crazy Keith Moon story that would like to share with us?
We played with The Who a few times in the ‘60s and one time we were playing at the University of Southampton. Shortly before we go on stage, he threw us a tear gas bomb when we were literally were going on stage and he threw a bomb and we had to go on stage with our eyes dripping. We shared the dressing room with The Who and the whole dressing room was full of smoke. I couldn’t see anything. We couldn’t play for a while. It took some time before we could actually see what we were doing, but you know the show must go on, so we just had to go and do it. That’s my memory of Keith Moon.
Do you think social media like Youtube and Facebook have helped younger listeners to learn about your music?
I think it’s nice. There is the good and the bad about social media, but the very good side of it is that all music is available to everyone. So, anybody who can get on line, could find out any music that they are interested in and I think that’s a wonderful thing. I think the other interesting thing is that no-one realizes that you don’t need to be played on major radio stations anymore and you don’t need to be in the charts, as people can find you on the Internet. If they can hear interesting things in your music and if they are attracted to it, they will come and see you when you play live, regardless of what is being played on major radio stations and whether you are in the charts. It opened up a completely new way of people finding out about music and in that respect, I think it’s a wonderful thing.
A huge “THANK YOU” to Mr. Colin Blunstone for his time and to Mrs. Cindy da Silva for her valuable help.
Official Colin Blunstone website: https://www.colinblunstone.net
Offical Colin Blunstone Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/colinblunstone
Official The Zombies website: https://www.thezombiesmusic.com
Official The Zombies Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/thezombiesmusic