Colin Blunstone, singer, songwriter and musician, chats with Kevin Cooper about the untimely death of Jim Rodford, touring with Uriah Heep, making a Motown covers album and his forthcoming solo tour.

Colin Blunstone is an English singer, songwriter and musician. In a career spanning more than fifty years, he came to prominence in the mid 60s as the lead singer of the English rock band The Zombies. Blunstone began his solo career in 1969, releasing three singles under a pseudonym of Neil MacArthur. Since then, he has released ten studio albums and one live album under his real name.

Blunstone’s voice was considered one of the main factors in making The Zombies single, She’s Not There, a big hit worldwide. In 1968, the band broke up over management issues, shortly after completing the baroque pop classic album, Odessey And Oracle, which he and the original members played in its entirety when they performed four reunion concerts in April 2009.

Blunstone continues to tour with Rod Argent as The Zombies. He also pursues a very successful solo career.

Whilst busy preparing and rehearsing for his forthcoming tour, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Hi Colin how are you today?

I’m fine thanks Kevin how are you?

I’m very well thank you and let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

It’s my pleasure.

And how is life treating you at this moment in time?

I have to say that life at the moment is treating me very well, very well indeed. I have just recently got back to the UK as I have been touring the East Coast of America for four weeks with The Zombies. We started in New York and we gradually worked our way down to Atlanta, Georgia then we went up to Nashville and Chicago and then back over to the North East. I have to say that whilst I enjoyed the time over there, it really was quite a journey (laughter). Now it is time for me to change hats and start thinking about the solo band. We are heading off to Holland where we will be playing eight dates over there together with one in Belgium then we come back home to the UK where we will be playing another seven dates and I have to say that for me, it will be great to be playing here in the UK once again. So at the moment it’s very busy but it’s always far better to be busy and working than not.

Before we move on, we sadly lost Jim (Rodford) back in January and I have to ask you, just how big a loss is he?

Jim is a huge loss. As a person he was wonderful; he was a true gentleman and he was extremely supportive of everyone, especially youngsters, who were coming into the business. He always had time to speak to them. Jim had a wealth of experience to pass onto them because as you are no doubt aware, in the past he had been in so many huge bands; The Kinks, The Animals, together with nineteen years with The Zombies; he was just a wonderful person. As a musician he was so well respected. I often tell the story, a little bit tongue in cheek but it’s true, that whenever we used to play festivals the other bands would always want to come to our dressing room where they would see Rod (Argent) and me, and they would say “hello, where’s Jim” (laughter).

They would gently move us out of the way because they would all want to talk to Jim simply because he commanded so much respect. On a personal level it has been absolutely devastating especially for Steve Rodford who is the drummer in The Zombies and also in my solo band. At the end of the day Steve has lost his father and it was such a huge blow to all of us. Musically Jim was the cornerstone of the band for the last nineteen years, and while we were all still in shock we had to make a decision about whether we were going to do this American tour or not. We had come back home from America but we knew that we were going back out there in around three weeks.

We had come home on the Tuesday and Jim’s accident happened on the Friday night. We had about two weeks to prepare for the tour, if we were going to do it. I have to say that I think that we were mostly influenced by Jim’s approach to the music business. It was always very much a case of the show must go on. We thought that we should do the tour simply because that is what Jim would have wanted if it had been different circumstances and it is what Jim would have wanted us to do. So we decided that we were going to do it. However, we were then faced with the task of finding someone, not to replace Jim, you could never replace him, but we had to find someone to play bass in the band and we were just so lucky.

We were introduced by a series of wonderful people to a Danish bass player who was a huge fan of The Zombies so he already knew the repertoire and he is also a wonderful bass player together with being a great harmony singer. As you know we do a lot of harmonies in The Zombies. There are not that many people around who can do it and we had no time really to get things sorted out. But we manged to get him over. He played through the set once with us, and the next time that we played it we opened in New York and he was note perfect (laughter).

No pressure then (laughter).

(Hysterical laughter) well just a little bit mostly on him (laughter). His name is Soren, and I have to say that he was fantastic. He simply took everything in his stride. For me it was really enjoyable playing with him. He really is such a wonderful player. However, I have to say that on a personal level it is devastating to have lost such a wonderful person as Jim. I was actually speaking to Jim on Friday evening and I had quite a long chat with him and then I didn’t speak to anyone else on the phone at all. So that is the last phone call that I had, and the next phone call that I had was on the Saturday morning and it was Jim’s son Steve telling me that his dad had had this accident.

Steve informed me that Jim had had a very bad fall down the stairs at home. I personally do not know if anything else contributed to that, in fact no one knows at the moment. There are still ongoing investigations as to whether he’d maybe had a, I don’t really like to say anything which may relate to a heart attack or something or whether it was simply unfortunate. He may have simply slipped and fallen down the stairs. So that is what happened.

You and I last spoke prior to the release of Still Got That Hunger and I have to ask you, were you happy with the fans reaction to the album?

Absolutely. I personally think that it is one of the best albums that I have been involved in and it is certainly one of the happiest albums that I have been involved it. We went into a studio in London and worked with a wonderful producer called Chris Potter and that was the first time that we had worked with an independent producer for a very long time. It took so much of the weight off our shoulders, particular off Rod Argent’s shoulders, because he would usually act as producer. But having someone else take care of that side of things was just great. We decided that we were going to go right back to how we recorded in the 1960s.

So we rehearsed extensively before we went into the studio, and then, to all intense and purposes, we recorded a live album but within a studio environment. Very often on albums nowadays you don’t meet the other musicians. You tend to go into the studio one at a time. But with that album, everyone played together, in the one place, in the studio, at the same time. I actually recorded the vocals live. We had intended for me to record some guide vocals, however when we listened to them back we thought ‘well, what else can you do’ (laughter). We also decided to keep the live solos too. The only thing that we overdubbed were the vocal harmonies.

I have to be honest with you and say that not only was it exciting, it was also a very fulfilling album because of the way that it was made. I can’t recall any hiccups of any kind. Usually there is some kind of drama when you are recording an album but I don’t want to sound too disappointed that there weren’t any dramas, it was lovely (laughter). It all ran very smoothly and to the large extent, that was down to Chris Potter who did a great job producing it. I really enjoyed it. Everyone who I have spoken to who have come along to the concerts tell me that they absolutely love the album. The album actually crept into the top 100 in the Billboard Charts which was also wonderful. To be honest it was in the lower part of the charts, but it did chart.

I have to say that I love the album and without patronising you in any way I have to say that listening to tracks such as Edge Of The Rainbow, And We Were Young Again and New York in my opinion your voice is sounding better than ever.

Well thank you for saying that. What can I say, isn’t that fantastic and it would be a lovely thought if it is. After sixty years in the business I am still working on it. Whenever we are touring, I do twenty-five minutes warmup before every sound check of vocal exercises, and then another twenty-five minutes before the show. So I have sung for almost an hour before we start the show (laughter) and I have to say that I personally find that it really does help. When we are not touring I will probably do it three times per week; I won’t be doing it every day. I just find that it really helps, and the one thing that I can say with an amount of certainty is that it really has made my voice stronger.

I also think that it has made my voice more accurate as well. At the end of the day your voice is a muscle and if you don’t exercise it, and you don’t develop a little bit of technique, then you are going to come unstuck if you are a touring musician. You will probably lose your voice on about the fifth night, which believe you me, happens to people quite a lot. If you can develop a little bit of technique and find the exercises that work for you, because what I do might not work for someone else, then with a bit of luck, you will get through. I have just got though four weeks with no problems at all. You just have to avoid the coughs, colds, sneezes and everything like that (laughter). It almost becomes a sixth sense, I can almost tell if someone is going to sneeze and if I can get out of the way in time, I run away (laughter).

Since the release of the album The Zombies are now in great demand all over the world, especially in America. They love you.

(Laughter) it is true and I have to say that it has come as a wonderful surprise to us because when Rod and I first got together initially to do just six dates, which was now some nineteen years ago, we had no idea that there was this interest in The Zombies repertoire. It just gradually dawned on us as the six dates rapidly grew into sixty dates (laughter). We very soon realised that people were asking us to play Zombies songs. I didn’t think that we played many Zombies songs when we first got together, because Rod has had a great career with Argent and also as a solo artist, and I have also had a career on my own, so mostly we were playing songs from those careers rather than The Zombies.

However, gradually we realised that people wanted to hear Zombies tunes and so we added a few Zombies songs, sometimes a few really obscure ones, to the set list until after about seven years of playing a set like that we thought ‘you know we really ought to call this band The Zombies’ (laughter). I have to say that was never our intention; it simply evolved. Rod and I had to talk it over with Hugh (Grundy) and Chris (White), the other two surviving Zombies and I have to say that they were both totally fine with it. So as you can see, it simply didn’t happen overnight. It took a good seven or eight years before we appeared as The Zombies.

And you are quite right, especially in America, there is a huge appetite for The Zombies. It may be something to do with the fact that they are very interested in The British Invasion, and they consider us to be a part of, as they call it, the first wave of The British Invasion. That is alongside The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Kinks. We would never ever consider ourselves to be on the same level as The Beatles or The Stones but we would actually figure in there somewhere as being a part of The British Invasion. That is not of so much interest here as it is over in America because The British Invasion obviously didn’t happen here, it happened elsewhere.

It is added interest in the band that we were actually around at that time. And then of course there is a huge interest in The Zombies second album, Odessey And Oracle which at that time was totally ignored and now everyone wants to hear it.

You mention Odessey And Oracle and there was even more interest in the album last year as it was the albums fiftieth anniversary.

You are quite right, yes, there was even more interest and yes, there still is even more interest in the album due to the fact that last year was its fiftieth anniversary. We did actually celebrate that fiftieth anniversary because it was actually the fiftieth anniversary of the album being recorded. It was recorded back in 1967 so we started, I think I am right in saying, we started playing Odessey And Oracle in its entirety in concert back in 2017 and then went into 2018 which was the fiftieth anniversary of it being officially released.

And of course, it opened the doors for you to perform for the first time in Jamaica.

(Laughter) it did although in a strange way we didn’t actually perform in Jamaica because we actually performed on a huge ocean liner. A lot of those liners used to come out of Miami and there is now at least twelve of them that regularly come out hosting music themed cruises. We have done a Moody Blues cruise for the last three years. We are going to be playing another one next year but this time it is going to be slightly different because The Moody Blues are not going to be on it. This time Justin Hayward is going to host the event and I am sure that at some point he will also be playing. It’s a great line-up including Alan Parsons, Al Stewart and Procol Harum together with lots of other old mates.

It really is a great opportunity for us to connect with all of these guys once again. We are looking forward to doing that which takes place in February next year. Anyway getting back to the Jamaica thing, we did actually play on a ship. We went to Jamaica, and I have to say that it was a lovely holiday for us. They hired a huge house for us complete with swimming pool and eight bedrooms (laughter). So we just hung around for five days until the ship came in. Then we went on board just for the one day, played our set and then we really had to rush, in fact I think that we got off the ship with five minutes to go before it went off on its cruise (laughter). It really was a bit tight at the end.

So as you can see, we didn’t officially play in Jamaica; we actually performed on a ship whilst it was in dock in Jamaica, so who knows, maybe it was in Jamaica (laughter). It was a wonderful experience and then we went off to The States after that and did quite a long tour.

I have just been looking at your tour details for this year for both The Zombies and your solo tour, together with your interview schedule and it appears to be nonstop; they are both as hectic as one another.

(Laughter) it is fairly full-on I have to say (laughter). But from a point of view of performing, musicians love to perform so it is great for me to have so many opportunities to tour. There is an old joke which goes like this, ‘how do you get a musician to start moaning, offer him some work’ (laughter). Musicians really do love to work but they do tend to complain as soon as you offer them some wor; I don’t know why that is. I personally try to keep that to a minimum. It’s great to be able to go from one tour to another and I am sure that the summer will actually be a bit quieter. We are playing just the one festival this year and that is over in Germany, other than that I think that the summer is going to be quite quiet.

Having said that we are going over to California in September, then we go to Italy and then we will be touring Germany and Scandinavia with Uriah Heep. That really is quite an extensive tour which will take us right the way through to December. So by the end of that I think that I will be having a very lazy December (laughter). We finish on the third or fourth of December and I think that I will be taking it very easy, getting ready for eating lots of Christmas delights, and hopefully I will be getting lots of lovely Christmas presents (laughter). I think that I will have deserved it by then (laughter).

Are you looking forward to being on the road with Uriah Heep?

Yes I am, I really am. I have to be totally honest with you and say that I really must do some research into the band because obviously, I know who they are and I do know a little bit about them but I wouldn’t be that surprised if they didn’t know that much about us. I am not really up to speed on the finer details of their career. So I will be investigating them over the next few months as I really would like to know a little bit more about them.

Does touring still excite you?

Absolutely. It’s funny to explain just how it is different but it is different whenever I do a solo tour compared to when I tour with The Zombies and I am the singer in the band. I think that a lot of it is in the mind really; it is all in your subconscious. But at the end of the day you have to make all of the decisions really, it is all down to you. You also get the feeling whenever you go out onto the stage that all eyes are upon you although quite probably a lot of the time people are most probably looking at other members of the band. I don’t want that to sound like an ego thing, it’s not ego, that’s just how it feels whenever it is a solo concert. It is just so different in a lot of small and subtle ways but I really do enjoy both. I get to choose what songs we are going to play and I have to say that it is nice to sit down and put the set together without another artists input, it’s just me.

On the subject of decision making, have you made a decision as yet regarding a new Colin Blunstone studio album?

Well what can I say, it’s coming together. However, one of the slight challenges is that because I am touring so much, and of course my producer has to be available when I am at home, together with the musicians that I want to work with have to be available, it’s like herding cattle, trying to get everyone together in the studio. So what I can tell you is that we have made some progress but it is a little on the slow side. I would say that we have got the basis of just about half an album. As I have already said, as we are only playing the one festival this summer, there should be a few opportunities for me to record. I know that a new Zombies album is going to come up sometime very soon but whilst I am only guessing I think that it will be a few months yet before that comes up so I have got to try and get some work in on the solo album before the next Zombie album starts.

The last time that we spoke I tried to talk you into making a Motown covers album.

(Laughter) that’s right you did and I have to say that it’s a great idea, it really is a great idea. The challenge there is that so much of that catalogue and rich repertoire has already been covered. I have worked my way through the Motown repertoire so many times that I am not sure that there are too many hidden gems that are left to be found now. I suppose that I could put a different slant on it. But certainly we do play two or three Motown tracks in the current solo tour set list. I don’t think that there will be any chance of us being able to rehearse it for this tour, but I have actually thought about putting two or three Four Tops tracks together for an encore. I thought that could be quite good but I haven’t had the chance as yet to rehearse it with the rest of the band. But I would like to have a go at it and see what it sounds like.

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

There is a song that I am listening to at the moment but the only thing is, I don’t know if anyone else will know it. The song is called My Fathers Hands and there is a good chance that if I can do a good performance of it then I will cover it. I’m not too sure of the history of this song but I think that there was a TV programme, where you have The X Factor and it is all about singers. There was a programme on and it was all about songwriters and I think this song was in that programme. It nearly won but it didn’t win. It is a really lovely song about the relationship that a child has with his father, then a young man with his father when he thinks that he knows better.

Then towards the end it is a case of now you are not here anymore but you live on because you live on in me. Even telling you about the song is making the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Whenever I play the song there is always a tear in my eye. Firstly because it is a beautiful song, and secondly because it reminds me of my father and my relationship with him. It really is a beautiful song and the honest truth is, I played it last night and most definitely there was a tear in my eye.

Back in 1998 Mike Batt together with The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra recorded Philharmania, an album of cover versions on which you recorded the Yes track Owner Of A Lonely Heart; how was that?

(Laughter) what can I say, it was very interesting and slightly high pressure. I got a phone call at seven o’clock one evening from Mike Batt asking me to go into the studio the first thing the following morning to sing Owner Of A Lonely Heart. Well I knew that I had heard the song but I was only vaguely familiar with it and to be honest there is quite a lot in it from a vocalist point of view. Well I went into the studio and all that I can say is that I did my best, I really did my best (laughter). Having said that I’m not sure that I really got a hold of it. Mike Batt is a genius, I really do love working with Mike but on that particular song, and it is a lovely song, I haven’t played it for some time but from memory, I feel that I could have possibly done with a few more hours rehearsal (laughter). But there we are, that’s the way that it goes. You just have to do your best don’t you. It’s a great song and I love it.

On that note Colin, let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been wonderful.

Thank you very much Kevin. That Motown album really is a great idea, there is no two ways about it.

It is just as you say, just how many people would say “oh no, not again, that has been done to death” that’s the drawback with it isn’t it?

Yes it is, that really is the trouble. So many of those songs have been hits by more than one person, they are so well known.

Well thankfully that is a decision for you to make and not me (laughter). You take care and I hope to see you at The Flowerpot in Derby on Friday 20th April.

Oh great, that is a lovely small intimate venue is that. I always like playing there. Make sure that you come over and say hello. All the best and I will see you then. Bye for now.