I made a special trip to Chicago this past weekend to see a performance by the remnants of my 2nd-favorite british invasion band, The Zombies. Singer Colin Blunstone and Keyboardist Rod Argent have assembled a backing band and taken the Zombies back-catalogue on the road. They played nearly everything I had hoped to hear, including a good 80% of “Odessy & Oracle,” all the early hits, and even their arrangement of Gershwin’s ‘Summertime.’ There was a slow patch in the middle of the set consisting of material from their much-maligned new album, an Argent song (‘Hold Your Head Up’), and a song from an earlier Blunstone solo effort.
The backing band consisted of Argent bassist Jim Rodford (Rod’s Cousin), his son on drums (ridiculously talented), and some faceless dude who looked like Jessica Simpson’s Dad on guitar. Save for a gratuitous guitar solo by Mr. Simpson – who had managed to remain pretty understated for the bulk of the set, everyone was very tasteful in their reproduction and occasional accentuation of the original parts. A few purists on the Zombie Heaven mailing-list were whining about the blasphemy of performing Odessy & Oracle songs without a live mellotron, but that’s to be expected from old-guy pop-fan crybabies.
I should probably say that the primary reason I was there was to hear Colin Blunstone sing some of the classic Zombies songs live, so I was pretty happy to find that his voice is still in great shape, and the vocal harmonies by Mr. Argent and Mr. Rodford were spot on.
At any rate, the next day, a “friend of the band” posted the following message on the Zombie Heaven mailing list. I can’t vouch for its credibility, of course.
“You know the reason I love this list we’re on is that we’re all passionate about The Zombies and most of us know what we want to see and hear. That’s one of the reasons why ‘As Far As I Can See’ saddens me so much. I suppose that first of all, it being listed as a Zombies album really gets to me. I know people will come back and point the finger in the direction of New World, but there is a difference between the two. When New World came about all of the Zoms (Rod included) had a chance to reunite the group. It was an open invitation to all, but Rod made it clear that he didn’t believe in going back, and everybody respected that. He gave the project his
blessing and so Colin, Chris, & Hugh moved along with it and brought in
other people who could help. It may not have been the greatest album of all
time but it was put together with the very best intentions.
‘As Far As I Can See’ comes across as a little bit of a joke. When Chris White sang some backing vocals on it he had no idea at the time that this was going to be a “Zombies” album. He thought it was another Rod & Colin album. Rod had told him of his dream where he saw (in lights) the names Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone with the words “are Zombies” underneath, but never once let it slip that they would be selling and touring this under the Zoms name. Paul knew but understandably didn’t care due to his own situation [Original guitarist Paul Atkinson died of cancer early this year. There’s a memorial here -ak], but Hugh didn’t have the foggiest. There wasn’t even a phone call out of basic common courtesy to let him know about the whole thing.
It wasn’t until the Paul Atkinson benefit concert that either Hugh or Chris got an inkling of what was going on. All that aside, do you want to know what the very worst thing about all of this is? I’ll tell you anyway. The most upsetting thing is that, more than anything else in the world, both Hugh Grundy and Chris White want to tour O & O with Rod and Colin.
Hugh and Chris are waiting to tour America doing the whole of O & O much in
the same format as Brian Wilson is doing with Smile, and Rod and Colin know
it. I have personally spoken to three of the four Zombies about this recently and I get the same responses every time. The man standing in the way is Rod Argent. He still doesn’t believe in “going back” except of course when it helps him sell a few extra ‘solo’ records. There have been discussions with Rod about an O & O tour (and whatever could come of that, but one step at a time) and his response has been an insult to the rest of the Zombies.
So far, he has said he will consider it but only if Hugh and Chris agree to letting him use his current touring band. He would like to give Hugh a tambourine and let Chris sing backing vocals and of course his lead on Butcher’s Tale and a verse of Brief Candles.
My last conversation with Rod was about 18 months ago and is more revealing now that it ever was then. He believes one of the main reasons that The Zombies “failed” was because nobody (apart from him) was a good enough musician, which was what he tried to correct when putting Argent together. His main argument for not putting an O & O tour together is pretty much all related to that. He says that neither Hugh or Chris have played professionally for well over 30 years and that they’re just not good enough. His short sightedness bemuses me, it really does. It even scares me. It’s one of those things that I had kept to myself because I believed that
perhaps it wasn’t my place to stir up trouble, but I’m just so sick and
tired of it all now.
I apologise for the length of this rant, I really do but I leave you with this thought. The Zombies want to reform, Rod doesn’t respect them enough to even give it genuine consideration. You can draw your own conclusions.
Naturally, this got a pretty big reaction on the list. Another member suggested:
“Perhaps, as a compromise, The Zombies could tour again, and half their set could be older material, with Hugh and Chris, and the remainder with the new band.”
…and Roger responded:
“This was suggested by Hugh and Chris. They would have Rod, Colin and the new
band up for the first half doing newer bits and pieces and the second half
would be The actual Zombies doing O & O and a couple of others that people
may want to hear. Rod didn’t like that. New band all the way or nothing.
Hopefully there’s some life left in this yet as the last thing that anybody
wants is a legal fight. That would just dash any hope of anything ever
happening and we would be the people that suffered most. Nobody would like to see that.”
The next day, this message appeared:
“After reading with amazement, as probably most of you did, Mr. McClair’s message from October 10th, I decided to forward this to Rod. In a first e-mail he told me he never heard of Mr. McClair and that he would make time, inspite of his busy schedule, to mail me a detailed reply. And so he did.
I appreciate this very much, because the travelling and playing concerts almost every other night must be very exhausting. That Rod takes the time to write to us proves to me once again what a great guy he is and that he does not take his fans, and especially this group, for granted.”
Here is an explanation, as detailed as I can make it, of our current situation./ Could you post it on the group so that people can get a true
I don’t normally reply to this sort of stuff, but this message makes me really angry – I just cannot let the mis-information and inaccuracy stand.
Firstly – I HAVE NEVER SAID, OR FELT IN ANY WAY THAT THE ZOMBIES ” FAILED” (!) BECAUSE THE MEMBERS WERE NOT GOOD ENOUGH. THIS IS NOT ONLY DAFT BUT OFFENSIVE. In fact, Chris will tell you that on first hearing the box set in 1997( the first time for years that I had re-listened to Zombies material), my first call was to him to say that I had forgotten just how good his bass playing was!
Secondly, I would welcome a much heavier involvement from Chris and Hugh in the event of performances of O & O. Again, Chris will tell you that I
phoned him just before our current U.S. tour to suggest that he and Hugh might start familiarising themselves with the songs with a view to us
getting together after our current period of touring, to see how we play together after all these years . As some of your members know, I personally get my energy from creating and playing new songs. However, within that context, both Colin and I are delighted to play the old stuff as well. If we do O&O, I would regard it as
a “period piece”, and would like to recreate it as faithfully as possible.
However – you have to realise that we haven’t tried anything like this for many years, and we HAVE to see what is practicable. IT IS NOT ME WHO INSISTS THAT WE SHOULD NOT PLAY AS A UNIT. Colin will tell you that it is me who has been arguing strongly to him for ages that if we do it at all, we should try to recreate it with heavier inv olvement from Chris and Hugh.
PLEASE !!!- “I’m using The Zombies name to sell a few more solo records!! I have never been motivated by money, and am not now. If so, why would I spend
a year doing a classical album which can only bring me back a quarter of the money I laid out to record it?
Colin and I are trying to do what we are doing at the best level we can This means that, far from making a lot of money, the whole effort is about a
struggle to break even! We are not complaining – playing and touring hard with this great band is a joy, and absolutely what we want to do. I can tell
you though, that we are many thousands of pounds away from a break even point. If I want to make money I can stay at home, collect royalties from my
back catalogue, and not have to use them to subsidise what we are doing now!
The context of cost also brings to bear on the possible O & O performances. If we do it, we have to involve extra singers and at least one extra
keyboard player. I would see us being able to bring this off in two or three places – London, New York, L.A? – but touring extensively with such
forces would be financial suicide. I can tell you we would not pull the size of audience that Brian Wilson has to make it viable.
The fact is that we haven’t “reformed” anything. Our situation has evolved naturally, through delight and enthusiasm, and it’s only the fact that we
are working together in such a band situation that has led us to acknowledge our inevitable Zombies connection . We are always at pains to tell reporters
that this is our, current, take, and we always insist on our own two names on albums and publicity so that people are in no doubt. This does not
reflect on the original incarnation of the band – in fact I can tell you that it has already stimulated sales of O & O in the U.S. No body is in any
Well , that’s it. I have absolutely no interest in replying to this “Roger McClair” personally, but I do not want your members to suffer such
personally offensive mis-information.
Kempa.com – your #1 source for ’60-year-old dudes squabbling about their band’ gossip.