Interview: The Zombies come back to life
For Harrogate fans of legendary 1960s ‘psych rock’ band The Zombies, it must be amazing - at the age of 70 the band are back firmy in the spotlight and in the charts!
Talking to founding member and fab keyboard player Rod Argent on the phone, I mention I’d noticed his good self and Colin Bluntstone, The Zombies’ lead singer, performing their classic late 60s hit Time of the Season on Psychedelic Britannia on BBC 4 the other week and appearing on BBC 2's Later, not to forget ITV 1’s The Nation’s Favourite Beatles No 1, too.“I’d forgotten we’d done that, " says Rod down the line. "I’m just back home. We’ve been in the United States for six weeks touring and promoting the new album. We feel like we’re a mini-success again. It’s very exciting.”Formed originally in St Albans in 1961, I first realised that The Zombies were far bigger in the USA than they'd ever been here when I read Lilian Roxon’s pioneering Encylopedia of Rock, the first such tome of its kind ever published.I tell Rod The Zombies have a big entry in that now ancient book, with special praise accorded to their classic 1968 ‘psych rock’ album Odessey & Oracle.There’s what feels like an embarrassed pause at the other end of the line. Rod may have done and seen in all in rock n roll terms but his manners are utterly impeccable; he’s more gentleman than rock star.“That’s one of the reasons The Zombies originally split up in the 1970s. In those days before the internet you were more tied to your home country and we weren’t having hits in Britain, which meant the live gig money had gone down.“Colin and myself had a good income from the writing royalties from songs that were successful abroad – we were lucky to have honest publishers – but the rest of the band struggled.”After flirting the idea for a while after Rod and Colin bumped into each other at a charity concert for Johnny Dankworth in 2000, The Zombies finally reunited in 2004.Their forthcoming UK tour is their biggest since their glory days.Their current album Still Got That Hunger is their most successful since the 1960s, not only in sales but critically.Crowd-funded, the band – Rod, Colin, Tom Toomey (guitar), Jim Rodford (bass) and Steve Rodford (drums) – recorded the album quick and virtually totally live in the studio with renowned producer Chris Potter, whose a fan of The Zombies.Rod said: “We’ve got a great band and we wanted to do things the old-fashioned way, the way we did when we started when we’d use a four track machine in the studio.“It’s proved to be a brilliantly successful way of doing things for us. No click tracks. No layering. It’s the best thing we’ve done for many, many years.“When I got a phone call from Billboard to say that Still Got The Hunger had made the album charts in the States it was fabulous. It’s exceeded out expectations.”Thanks to their 1964 hit She’s Not There, later famously covered by Santana, until recently people have tended to know The Zombies without even knowing it.Polite to a fault Rod says he’s simply pleased to have an audience all over again. The Zombies is one reunion promoted by passion rather than economic necessity.“We haven’t done it just to make it buck. We still do have the hunger. After we reformed, we did the States three times and barely broke even.“To get a real response from audiences, to feel their energy, it’s like being 18-years-old again. Playing live is like a time tunnel.“My dad was a musician in a dance band and loved music but he was no rock 'n roller. He used to say to me “it’s not going to last”,“That must have been 50 years ago. It’s a huge privilege still to be able to do this.”The Zombies tour the UK in December and appear at Brudenell Social Club on Sunday, December 6.