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Copyright Nick Morgan and crew

Concert Review by Nick Morgan

The 100 Club, London, February 20th 2009

The Zombies
Colin Blunstone, you may remember, was lead singer with sixties outfit, The Zombies, whose 1968 album, the famously mis-spelt Odessey and Oracle, is now widely regarded as a masterpiece of pop from that decade.
The band had already disbanded when it was released, with Blunstone working in an insurance office when the ‘phone started to ring with offers of a solo career when ‘She’s not there’, a single from the album, went into the top five of the Billboard charts. He re-recorded ‘She’s not there’ under the pseudonym of Neil MacArthur (I have a copy somewhere on a piece of forgotten vinyl) before embarking on a successful stint as a solo artist with hits like ‘Caroline goodbye’ and ‘Say you don’t mind’. As his solo career waned, Blunstone joined the Alan Parsons Project, eventually returning to touring and recording with fellow Zombie Rod Argent. Along with Argent and the two other surviving members, the Zombies (guitarist Paul Atkinson died in 2004, and was replaced by Keith Airey) performed their magnum opus last year at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire (spawning a live recording) and are touring a small number of venues later this year, presenting O & O “for the very last time”. Perhaps buoyed by the interest this has engendered, Blunstone is back with a new solo album, The Ghost of You and Me, and a short tour of the United Kingdom.
Colin Blunstone
There may be a recession, but outside it’s London on a busy Friday night. We only just managed to get seated for our Keralan dinner (thanks heavens, no more fish and chips for a while), and the 100 Club is pretty full. It’s a wonderfully mixed audience. Diehard Blunstone fans (mostly female, mostly over 55) have staked out their spots right at the front of the stage – their partners (mostly male, mostly bald, mostly over 60) have got the bar under siege. But there are some families here too (less Dads and Lads than Mums and Daughters), and some young folks who’ve come along to see a legend at close quarters. And it is close. Blunstone has never played here before, and I’m not sure how unnerved he is by the proximity of his admires, all only an arm’s length away. I heard him interviewed on the radio by chance and he explained that as his dancing skills were limited he was under orders from his family to keep his arms by his sides and not to move under any circumstances. This then explains the rather awkward figure he can cut (a figure that is bulging slightly over a tightly buttoned pair of trousers, I observe). He certainly sounds relaxed enough when he speaks – pleasant, in fact quite charming, and certainly self-demeaning.
Predictably, the evening mixes old material with new, most of which manages to sound pretty much like the old stuff, or, I was just thinking, the aural equivalent of a comfortable pair of old bedroom slippers. And he mixes this with a broad sweep of his back catalogue: there’s the Zombies/MacArthur ‘She’s not there’, and ‘Caroline goodbye’, ‘Say you don’t mind’ and ‘Misty roses’ from his first solo album One Year. ‘What becomes of the broken hearted’ was a Zombies favourite cover, which he subsequently recorded with Eurythmic Dave Stewart. Then there’s a clutch of songs from his other seventies albums, Alan Parson’s Project’s ‘Old and wise’, ‘Turn your head around’, recorded with Keats (a short-lived post-Parsons venture) and Oxygen from his 1995 album Echo Bridge. I have to say it all sounds a bit the same – but that’s not a criticism, rather a tribute to the impact of Blunstone’s voice, which is so distinctive as to define almost anything he sings. It’s not entirely flattered by the sound system of the 100 Club, and his surprisingly rocking band (driven on largely by the highly accomplished Airey) mean that occasionally he has to fight to be heard. But it’s still a masterful performance, and seeing him work at such close quarters demonstrates the real concentration and effort he puts into his singing, with nothing left to chance.
The fans are delighted – some transfixed for the whole performance. The guys at the bar, their football talk occasionally hushed by the disapproving crowd, are several pints of pretty decent beer for the better. And the curious no doubt more than satisfied. Personally I’d find it hard to give a Blunstone album any room amongst my CDs or downloads, but as a live performer he’s difficult to resist. - Nick Morgan (concert photographs by Kate)
Listen: Colin Blunstone's MySpace page

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