Of all the places for a beat band to come from during the swinging sixties, genteel St Albans was certainly one of the more unlikely and for Colin Blunstone and his four school friends, the image of well-heeled students was one garage rock legends The Zombies, have struggled to shrug off ever since.
“I’m sure we’d have sold more records if we’d come from Daytona Beach or something,” says Colin today.
Promoted as the “brainest band in pop” by their record label, who claimed they had 50 ‘O’ levels between them, photo captions of the band still invariably use words like “clean cut” and “posh”; something Colin believes severely restricted the band’s rock n roll credentials.
“People want their bands to be rebels, wild and unpredictable, not the classroom nerds. It limited what we could do and affected us very badly – we’d jump about and pull faces and that did us no favours. The Stones understood how to present themselves but we didn’t.”
Despite these image problems The Zombies burned brightly, if briefly. First single She’s Not There made the British Top 20 in 1964 and did even better in the US, reaching number one and ensuring the group’s legendary status. However, further success was not forthcoming and the group folded in 1967 within weeks of completing their Odessey and Oracle album.
It’s the postscript to that remarkable album which really defines the band’s extraordinary career. Recorded in Abbey Road on the same equipment the Beatles had used for Sergeant Pepper, the album’s extraordinary mix of baroque and psychedelic pop soon began to attract attention in America, where Time of the Season hit the top three, over a year after the band had split.
“The Zombies stopped recording in 1967 and we thought we’d be forgotten,” says Colin. “By the time Odessey and Oracle was released – complete with misspelt title – we didn’t even exist.”
Since then the album has had a life of its own. Regarded as a classic, it frequently receives the plaudits from critics and musicians alike, with NME recently calling it the 32nd greatest British album ever. After reuniting to play the album in its entirety in 2008, The Zombies have continued to be feted by a new audience, eager to glimpse this piece of sixties magic in the flesh.
“We were taken by surprise that audiences wanted to even hear Zombie material. It’s evolved and we’re not trying to cash in because we still play new material. When you haven’t played for so long it’s amazing. We’ve stayed away from the nostalgia circuit so there’s still a real energy onstage.”
“Paul Weller has said that Odyssey and Oracle is his favourite ever album. There was a feeling in the band when we split up that we’d lost any appeal we ever had so to find an appreciative audience is very exciting. “
These days, Colin is splitting his time touring solo and with the band and he visits Liverpool this weekend for a special show celebrating the 40th anniversary of his first solo album One Year, which spawned the much-loved UK hit Say You Don’t Mind.
Coming back to Liverpool is also a treat for Colin, bringing back happy memories of the times The Zombies joined the Beatles at the vanguard of the British invasion.
“There was a magical evening Rod and I had way back when we were with the Zombies. We had the night off in Liverpool and we found the Cavern. They were actually filming in there that night; it was packed and very hot and we couldn’t really see the stage but I’m certain it wasn’t the Beatles. It was 1964 or 1965 and I can’t tell you how exciting it was to visit Liverpool then.
“For us it was the centre of the rock’n’roll universe. We were just out of school and the thought of travelling around the UK was exciting enough, but to know we were visiting Liverpool was magical and we got to spend a few hours in the Cavern where it all began.”
Liverpool Stanley Theatre
Sunday 13 February