The Zombies were one of the most popular bands of the British Invasion in the mid-1960s. Their vocal harmonies and simple but sophisticated songwriting on hits like “She’s Not There” and “Time of the Season” struck a chord with audiences. In 1967, the Zombies recorded the classic album Odessey and Oracle at Abbey Road Studios, just days after the Beatles recorded Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band there — but the group broke up before the record even came out. Bandleaders Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone went on to pursue solo careers, but in 1999, they started playing shows together again, and earlier this year, the Zombies released a new album, Still Got That Hunger.
The Odessey and Oracle Tour, now making its way around the U.S., features two versions of the band: The current Zombies lineup, which includes former Kinks bassist Jim Rodford and his son, drummer Steve Rodford, along with Argent and Blunstone, is performing newer material during the first half of the show, while the four remaining original members, including bassist Chris White and drummer Hugh Grundy, are performing Odessey and Oracle as well as older Zombies tunes during the second half. We recently spoke with Blunstone about recording at Abbey Road, and about how, for him, writing new material is linked to artistic integrity.
Tom Murphy: You recorded Odessey and Oracle at Abbey Road Studios right after the Beatles recorded Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band there. Was there much camaraderie between the two bands at that time?
Colin Blunstone: Unfortunately, they had left a few days before we went in. [But] we got very close, in that John Lennon had left his mellotron behind and we used it on Odessey and Oracle. If you listen to the album, there’s mellotron all over it. There were also percussion instruments all over the floor, and we used those as well. That’s as close as we got. We used the same engineers as them — Geoff Emerick and Peter Vince. I think it was a very fortunate thing for us to get into Abbey Road at that time, because it was certainly one of the best studios in the world, and they had some of the best engineers there. They’d made huge technical advances when they were recording Sgt. Pepper’s, so we benefited from all the advances they had made.
Many bands that have been around for several years seem to rest on their laurels and perform only their classic material live. What sparked your interest in restarting the Zombies as an actively recording and touring band?
It came about by chance. Rod and I had agreed to six concerts together, but there was no intention to use the Zombies name. Rod and I both had solo careers, but not so much in America. So we started out doing those concerts. We enjoyed it so much, we just kept going, and eventually started recording together as well. There was huge interest in us playing Zombies material. When we first started, we weren’t using the Zombies name and we weren’t playing many Zombies tunes. As we started playing more Zombies compositions in sort of recognition of people’s interest, promoters started billing us as the Zombies. That had started in 1999, and by 2006 or 2007, we had a talk with the other original members of the band and we told them what was happening with us playing more and more Zombie tunes and being billed as the Zombies whether we wanted to be or not, and we asked them, “How would you feel if we started performing concerts under the name the Zombies?” They said, “Great — go ahead and do it.”
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Since then, we’ve been playing concerts as the Zombies. It’s only in the last couple of years that we’ve used [the name] in everything we’ve been doing. Right from the beginning, we were never going to just play the old songs. We’ve written three albums since then, and we always include new songs when we play. But we’re happy to play the hits as well.
Why is it important for you to write and perform new songs?
Oh, we couldn’t just keep playing the same songs over and over again. If you do have any artistic integrity, I think that you would always want to be writing and performing new material. I don’t want to criticize people that don’t; it’s just how you see your vision of being a performer. For Rod and I, that would include performing new material.