Singer Colin Blunstone and pianist Rod Argent have produced some classic rock over the years, and first worked together in The Zombies in the late 60s. They recently teamed up for a couple of studio sets and a recent live album/DVD.
1) After so many years, how does it feel to be back touring together?
Rod: Brilliant! Playing live with Colin again pretty much feels like coming full circle. Just as enjoyable, but with some pressures taken away. For instance, we don't now have to agonize about trying to produce hit singles every three months ; with the feeling that, if we don't, our careers will be over. Also I think that Colin's voice is even better than it was in '64 - and I feel like a better player. And to be playing live on stage again with such a great band is a gas; incredibly energizing!
To be honest, touring around the time Argent broke up, in 1975, was becoming an increasing hassle. Everything seemed to get so big. The technical logistical problems of transporting gear, sound and light systems etc., together with numbers of road crew, made the actual playing part of the evening sometimes feel almost like an afterthought. Just before we did our first few gigs, I confided to our bass player, Jim Rodford, that I didn't know if I could face all that again. Jim - who has never stopped playing - said "It's all changed now!" He was right. Advancing technology has meant that everything is easier and smoother.
Colin: I think both of us were pleasantly surprised by how natural it felt to work together again after such a long time. Both on stage and in the studio it seemed as though we were performing together a few weeks before instead of about 40 years!
2) Why did you decide to work together again?
Rod: It happened by accident! After many years of not playing live, I did a charity concert for John Dankworth to raise money for his new theatre in Milton Keynes. Colin was in the audience, and joined me onstage, just for a couple of numbers. It really felt incredibly natural, and we decided, that evening, to do half a dozen gigs, purely for fun.
To our amazement, it felt as if we were getting back together after a few weeks gap, instead of a period of 32 years! Six gigs seemed to quite naturally snowball, to the extent that four years later we have three albums and numerous tours of the U.S, Europe and the U.K under our belts.
Colin: I know we often remember things differently so I usually let Rod answer this question. But as I remember I had been encouraged to start touring again by keyboard wizard Don Airey, who put a great band together for me. Don eventually left to do other projects and I went through a period of about two years touring with a band of continually changing personnel.
Then I just wondered if Rod ever thought about playing live again. I had absolutely no idea how he would respond when I asked him but he agreed on the strict understanding it was only for the six date min tour I was booked to play....now here we are three or four years down the line.
3) I think the new live album is excellent. Why do a live album and how do you feel about it?
Rod: Thank you! We have now already done two new studio albums, and it just felt like the right time. Two things immediately occur. Firstly, I feel this is the best live band I've ever worked with, and we wanted to try to capture the excitement and energy we feel onstage every night.
Secondly, we suddenly realised that, because the first incarnation of The Zombies broke up in 1967, before the release of Odyssey And Oracle, many of those songs were never ever been performed live before; certainly not by us!
Colin: We started out recording a DVD of a live concert at the Bloomsbury Theatre nearly two years ago. The DVD was finished quite quickly but for some reason the business side of it has got incredible complicated. We then had the idea of using what is essentially the soundtrack of the DVD as a live CD.
We were really lucky to have two great sound engineers in Dave Wynn and Steve Orchard involved in recording this project and it's brilliant for us to have a sort of snap shot of where we were at the time as the band grew and matured.
4) You’ve drawn from a wide range of songs, including some solo material. How did you decide on the material?
Rod: It pretty well decided itself. On the one hand, there is probably an hour's worth of material we more or less have to do; stuff that people become very unhappy about if it's left out. Obviously She's Not There, Time of the Season, Hold Your Head Up , God Gave Rock And Roll To You, Say You Don't Mind.....the list goes on. And then it's very important to me that we do a changing selection of new material.
Since recording the live album we have several new songs in the set from our last studio album, including the title track, which has evolved into my current favourite moment of the evening! What is fantastically encouraging is that, wherever we play, the new songs get an equal reaction to the old. And even though I feel I would never, personally, want to be in a purely "retro" band, within the context of being able to write, record and perform new material, playing any or all of the old catalogue is a gas!
Colin: The original set list was to a large part put together by Don Airey. I was quite surprised at how much Zombie material he suggested we play. Later on I played with a great American band for a short run of concerts in New York and the set was slightly modified but again a lot of Zombie material was included.
Once Rod and I teamed up we used these old set lists as the back bone of the show and then started to include Argent tunes, and as we recorded new albums we always featured tracks from those albums. We talk a lot about the running order and the pacing of the current show and try to play all the old favourites people expect to hear, balanced with a good share of brand new tunes.
5) How do you think you’ve come on since the Zombies in the late 60s?
Rod: I'm certainly a better musician. One reason for me wanting to come off the road in 1975 was the feeling that I had to take time to explore various musical avenues; just from a personal point of view. Royalty income from songs I have written has always given me the financial cushion to enable me to choose my projects, and I'm eternally grateful for this.
I think the experiences I've had in different areas - playing on and producing other artists' records, composing music to picture etc.- have all sort of cross fertilised and enriched each other.
One fantastic time for me was when I was able to put a year aside to make a decidedly uncommercial solo piano classical record of some of my favourite repertoire ( Rod Argent - Classically Speaking)- something that as a self - taught pianist, I thought would never be open to me. The only way to do this ( certainly for me!) was to practise four hours every day for the year; without the royalty income I would never have had the luxury of being able to take that time.
One thing occurred to me the other day, though. I always listened to jazz, to classical music, to rock'n'roll, and I still do. But the music in each of those areas that moved me most then - early Elvis, Bach, Stravinsky, Miles Davis (of the pre - electric "Kind Of Blue" period), The Beatles, Ray Charles, Nina Simone - is still the music that moves me the most now. I think maybe the one exception is in Jazz, because the Keith Jarrett of the last twenty years sounds as good as any improviser I've ever heard.
Colin: As a vocalist I've had to develop a degree of technique to survive the rigours of performing night in and night out on the road. On tour now I practice everyday and warm my voice up before every performance. We play for two hours in concert and I have managed to keep my voice strong for up to six consecutive nights which I don't think I could have done years ago.
As a writer I'm much less prolific than I used to be although ironically I think I have improved as a guitarist. I will always try to write new songs so I guess I just have to be patient.
6) What did you make of the successful (and not so successful) covers of your work? Notably Kiss’ version of “God Gave Rock’n’Roll To You”?
Rod: I got very depressed not long ago when someone made up a CD of covers for me. I thought, "My God, nothing that I've written sound any good". What rescued me from depression was hearing Dusty Springfield sing "If It Don't Work Out" followed by Santana's great version of "She's Not There", I did actually like Kiss's version of "God Gave Rock'n'Roll", although I was sorry that they missed out the lyric, "Love Cliff Richard but Please Don't Tease." When I first heard it, I thought the lead sounded identical to Russ.
Colin: Dusty Springfield made a great version of a song of mine called "Exclusively For Me”, and Roger Daltry also worked wonders with a tune called "Single Mans Dilemma”. More recently a rap artist called The Big Punisher used" Exclusively for Me" as the basis for a track on his album. The album went top three in the States.
7) How does it feel to be so influential as both songwriters and performers?
Rod: It's very flattering when people name The Zombies or Argent - or even me personally! - as an influence. It's something which seems to have happened more and more as time has gone on. I have to say, though, that most of the time I can't hear it!
Colin: We are constantly amazed at how many artists cite us as an influence. It’s incredibly rewarding to receive acknowledgement from fellow performers.
8) The album The Light Inside was Cozy Powell’s last recording before he died. What memories do you have of him?
Colin: Cozy Powell was definitely one of the great rock drummers. He was also a wonderful personality who lit up a room with his presence.
9) Keith Airey does a fine job on guitar; how did you start working with him?
Rod: He certainly does. Keith really came through Colin. He started live work with him before the two of us got back together.
Colin: Keith was first introduced to the band many years ago by his brother Don. He left to work with Nick Kershaw and Tom Jones and rejoined about two years ago. Not only is he a brilliant guitarist and singer but he is also a very powerful stage performer. Sadly for us, Keith is just about to embark on some solo recording and writing and so will be taking a break from the band.
10) Where do you see yourselves going now?
Rod: To be at the age when most people see themselves as winding down , or maybe even retiring, but to feel instead that there is a new path forward writing, recording and having a ball playing with great musicians, and developing brand new audiences - that just feels like a huge privilege that shouldn't be given up easily. I think we both want to take this as far as it will go!
Colin: I would like to see us continue to build on the success of our live performances in the U.K. whilst making headway in other territories. We have already toured successfully in Europe ,the States and the far east. I would hope we have got a few more albums in us and whilst we both feel as committed to the project as we do I would like to think we can keep the old team together indefinitely.
11) Any messages for your fans?
Rod: Thanks so much for coming to see us. There's nothing in the world like playing in front of an appreciative audience, and feeling that fantastic warmth and energy coming right back at you!
Colin: Only to say how much we appreciate their incredible support and without their appreciation and encouragement none of our writing, recording or performing would be possible.
Interview © 2005 Joe Geesin
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