COLIN BLUNSTONE INTERVIEW


As the voice of The Zombies, Colin Blunstone has achieved international recognition over his 50-year career. Outside his work with The Zombies, he's also a successful solo artist releasing classic songs such as I Don't Believe In Miracles and Say You Don't Mind. Ahead of his current UK dates Photogroupie caught up with Colin for a chat about the tour, music and what's next for The Zombies.

PG: LAST YEAR WAS A BUSY YEAR FOR THE ZOMBIES, HOW WAS THE TOUR AND NEW ALBUM RECEIVED?

CB: The Zombies work constantly and the last tour we did was in America and it went incredibly well. We also toured all over the UK in December and played a lot of new venues. A lot of them were standing venues, which means that you get a younger audience. The Zombies are building year on year, they play bigger places all the time, particularly in America, we are playing big places over there. It's great to have a career like that, that's not built on hit records – on new hit records anyway. Our new album Still Got The Hunger got into the Billboard top 100 and that was an unexpected thrill. Billboard called us and said 'do you realise this is the first time in 50 years you've been in the top 100?' It was a brilliant feeling!

PG: YOU'RE ABOUT TO EMBARK ON A SOLO TOUR, WHAT CAN WE EXPECT?

CB: I do like to occasionally get out and do some solo dates. I try to play songs that are specifically connected to my solo career. I play very few Zombies songs on purpose. It makes a nice change to get out and play some of my own songs.

PG: WILL THERE BE ANY NEW SONGS IN THE SHOW?

CB: I haven't written anything, I've just got bits and pieces. Over the summer, I will start to record a new solo album. I'm not sure when that means it will be released because it can be a slow process, especially when you start. I've got some bits of songs, but they're not really ready to be introduced to the show yet, although I do try and put new songs into the show. We're playing four or five songs from my last solo album which was out a few years ago. I will try to get one or two new songs in if I can. It's very challenging with the solo band because they are all successful professional musicians and they are working on other projects right up to when we start the tour, so it's hard to get the band together. I think we'll get together for one run through the day before. They'll be fine on what we've done before, but I don't know if I've got the courage to try and slip something new in. We'll see.

PG: YOU'RE ABOUT TO EMBARK ON A SOLO TOUR, WHAT CAN WE EXPECT?

CB: I do like to occasionally get out and do some solo dates. I try to play songs that are specifically connected to my solo career. I play very few Zombies songs on purpose. It makes a nice change to get out and play some of my own songs.

PG: WILL THERE BE ANY NEW SONGS IN THE SHOW?

CB: I haven't written anything, I've just got bits and pieces. Over the summer, I will start to record a new solo album. I'm not sure when that means it will be released because it can be a slow process, especially when you start. I've got some bits of songs, but they're not really ready to be introduced to the show yet, although I do try and put new songs into the show. We're playing four or five songs from my last solo album which was out a few years ago. I will try to get one or two new songs in if I can. It's very challenging with the solo band because they are all successful professional musicians and they are working on other projects right up to when we start the tour, so it's hard to get the band together. I think we'll get together for one run through the day before. They'll be fine on what we've done before, but I don't know if I've got the courage to try and slip something new in. We'll see.

PG: YOUR VOICE STILL SOUNDS FANTASTIC. HOW DO YOU MAINTAIN IT?

CB: For a short time I studied with a singing coach, Ian Adams, he's passed away now, but he was quite a famous singing coach. He taught me about technique, which is very important, especially as you get older. Some people can sing naturally when they're young, it's similar to how you can run forever when you're young. The voice is a muscle in the a same way, your muscles change as you get older with regard to running, it's the same with your voice, it will change. The more you can learn about singing technique the better. He also gave me a set of exercises which I try to do every day when I'm on the road I do them twice a day, it definitely helps. It makes your voice stronger and hopefully a bit more accurate. Even though the exercises go to the top of your range you're not straining your voice, it nourishes it. I can start off with my voice feeling a bit battered after a week or two on the road and once I do these exercises my voice becomes clearer and stronger. He (Ian) didn't want to change my voice, just to make it stronger. Mostly he coached singers in musicals in the West End who had to sing every night, so his background was in the legitimate theatre, but he did work with other singers as well.

PG: I IMAGINE IT'S A TIGHT BALANCE BETWEEN GETTING YOUR VOICE IN PEAK CONDITION AND GOING OVER THE TOP AND STRAINING IT?

CB: It is. I think most singers are aware of these kinds of risks when they are touring. Colds are another thing, it only takes one person to cough or sneeze near you and you can develop a cold. For most people that's not an issue but for a singer, it can be a real problem. I can usually tell if someone's going to sneeze or cough, they tend to lean back with their head and I can usually get out of the way. These are the things that singers have to think about; good vocal regime and keeping away from people with colds.

PG: SMOKING'S ANOTHER CULPRIT TO WRECK HAVOK WITH A SINGER'S VOICE TOO.

CB: Yes, it used to be a lot worse. I can remember coming out after shows in a club environment and they used to play really loud music so everyone has to shout. The other thing was that they were all smoking. I often used to think coming out to sign CD's and meeting people did my voice more harm after the show than during it.

PG: WHO ARE YOUR INFLUENCES AND WHO DO YOU LIKE LISTENING TO?

CB: The band that changed everything was The Beatles, they changed everything for all British bands. They'd never been the worldwide demand for British musicians, but after The Beatles had their first hit, suddenly the whole world was interested in British bands. They opened the doors for everyone and The Zombies were very typical of that. So they are my all time favourite band. In terms of artists, I think Stevie Wonder is possibly my favourite vocalist. He's just incredible, even when he's singing with other amazing vocalists he just seems to be heads and shoulders above them. Also, in a totally different vein, I really like Joni Mitchell, she's such a wonderful songwriter. Those are the two people who inspire me and I get a lot of pleasure from listening to.

PG: WHO ARE YOU LISTENING TO AT THE MOMENT?

CB: It's pot luck really, I just tend to put the radio on and listen to whatever happening. There are some great young singer – songwriters coming up like Sam Smith, Ed Sheeran, those are obviously the best known. I get this from my daughter, she's always turning me onto new singer-songwriters. I really take heart that they are coming through. There was a time when I thought that singer-songwriting was going to be a lost art, but I don't think that now.

PG: DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE SONG THAT YOU SING?

CB: I always think She's Not There is a special song because it changed all our lives. When we recorded it in 1964, we couldn't have dreamt of what was going to happen. Within a few weeks it was in the charts in the UK and when it was released a bit later in the States it went to number one in Cashbox and number 2 in Billboard and our lives were changed forever. Even then I thought of it as an adventure that was probably going to last two or three years, and here we are 50 years later still working; but that was the trigger that started it, so She's Not There will always be a special song.

PG: THERE WASN'T THE SAME EXPECTATION THEN ABOUT HAVING A CAREER IN MUSIC, WAS THERE? YOU EXPECTED IT WOULD LAST A WHILE THEN YOU'D GO AND GET A 'PROPER JOB'.

CB: Traditionally that appeared to be what happened, so you were only presuming that the same would be true for you. I don't think anybody realised then that you could have a lifetime career in the music industry. There was this whole thing about the British Invasion, which people don't really talk about here, but in America, there were astounded and fascinated by the fact that their music industry had been taken over by British bands. Then there was all this interest in British fashion with Mary Quant and Twiggy, David Bailey and the theatre with Joe Osborne, London was the centre of the artistic world in the mid-60s. It was a wonderful time to be a teenager and be in the music industry.

PG: IN 50 YEARS YOU'VE SEEN SO MANY CHANGES IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY, WHAT HAVE YOU NOTICED CHANGE MOST?

CB: If I can give a light-hearted answer first of all and say I never understood the music business in the 60s and I don't understand it now. So in a way, it's never changed for me because it's always been a mystery. That is a slightly light-hearted way of looking at it, but there is a grain of truth in it too, there's so much I don't understand. I don't really understand how the charts work, they've always been manipulated. Everyone knew who the chart shops were and sometimes people would be sent round to buy records from the chart shops and it could be manipulated. I'm sure in a subtle way they still are, but I don't really get involved in that. But being serious it's changed in so many ways. The science of recording has changed beyond all recognition.

PG: HOW HAS IT CHANGED?

CB: When we started recording we recorded on tape and on 4 tracks – you were limited to just 4 tracks. So we would record drums and bass on one track, guitar and piano on another track, lead vocal on another and backing vocal and overdubs on a 4th track, so we were quite limited. Now you have unlimited tracks, the disadvantage with that is that you have so many choices that it can actually slow you up. You want to try a million different effects on everything that you add and you have to be careful not to waste time. Another huge change is that years ago record sales were so much bigger than they are now and the collapse of record or CD sales has been incredible. Years ago you would arrange a comprehensive tour around the release of a record. It's the reverse of that now where you release the record to promote a tour.

PG: OF COURSE VINYL IS MAKING A BIG COMEBACK.

CB: That's one new thing happening which is great. Vinyl is selling in considerable number and the exciting thing is the percentage change year on year is incredible. Personally, I love to listen to vinyl, I love the sound of vinyl and I love the feel of an album sleeve. I like to read the sleeve when I listen to an EP, you lose that with CDs.

PG: YOU DO. I'VE LISTENED TO STUFF ON VINYL AND THOUGHT - I'VE NEVER HEARD THAT BEFORE BECAUSE OF THE COMPRESSION.

CB: I know, I know. It gets even worse when you take it online. The quality is considerably worse. An LP is just different, it's warmer.

PG: WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR THE MUSIC INDUSTRY?

CB: I don't know, I think there's a lot of uncertainty. From an artist point of view it's always been important, but even more so now, that you write and are involved in the whole process. It's very hard to just be a writer these days, most artists write and most producers write too. It's very important to write, be recording artists and get out there and play live. That's the way that you have a lifetimes career, if you can do all of those things then you can sustain a career in the music business. If you are just trying to do one part, you're going to be struggling. As far as the industry as a whole, it's changed so much over the last ten years and it's still changing incredibly quickly. I think you'd be presumptuous if you'd try to prophesize what was going to happen in the music industry – I honestly don't know.

PG: WHAT OTHER ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO ARTISTS?

CB: Never lose hold of what your main aim is. If you want to record an album of your own songs, or write for film or go into advertising, never lose sight of that. Always try to live out your dream. On route you might have to do other things, singing on jingles or in bars you don't want to be in, but it's all part of your musical education. You become a more rounded musician and performer for all those different things that you do on the way to achieving what your musical aim is.

PG: SO WHAT IS NEXT AFTER THIS CURRENT TOUR?

CB: Well this tour finishes at the end of April then it's off to America with The Zombies for most of May and then we're playing festivals over the summer and then back to the States. Next year we'll be celebrating the 50th anniversary of Odessey and Oracle. We'll be playing in the States in the spring of 2017 and I believe we'll be playing in the UK in the autumn. We have done this before, but the second half of the show will be Odessey and Oracle in its entirety. From track one every note that was ever played on the album will be played through to track 12. We did it for the 40th anniversary at Shepherds Bush, it was only meant to be one night and it turned into three nights and then we took it around the country. Last year we played it in America and it always sells out. People are so interested in that period of British musical history and particularly that album, Rolling Stone named it as one of the best albums of all time. I think this will be the 50th anniversary and final tour of us playing Odessey and Oracle in its entirety.

PG: YOU'RE ALWAYS BUSY TOURING AND REHEARSING, WHAT DO YOU DO IN YOUR SPARE TIME?

CB: I've got two main interests one is reading. I read all the time, it can be about anything. Often, especially on the road, it's quite light, usually crime or biography. The other thing is I'm a bit of a sports nut. I love to watch sport. Those are my two main activities when I'm not playing. But of course, we're playing a lot of the time especially with two bands on the go. When one band goes quiet the other band picks up. Considering I've been doing this for 50 years I'm still pretty active. It was totally unexpected, we didn't think we'd be playing at this time in our lives. But we are very thankful for it.

TOUR DATES FOR THE COLIN BLUNSTONE SOLO BAND 2016

APRIL.U.K.

15 Derby, The Flowerpot 16 Hessle, Town Hall 17 Milton Keynes, The Stables 19 Sale "The Waterside" 20 Wolverhampton, Robin2 22 Southampton, The Brook 23 Fletching, Trading Boundaries 24 London, The Borderline


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