It was only a short time ago
that Chris and I rediscovered the talents of Colin Blunstone. The man is in
fine voice, and continues to record excellent new material if only there
was a radio station to play it. This year, Colin is touring with his old pal,
Rod Argent, and we caught up with them at the Stables Theatre, where we discovered
that radio, and one DJ in particular, had played a vital part in their success.
The Stables is a venue run by the Wavendon Allmusic Plan charity. It was founded in 1969, at the home of musicians John Dankworth OBE and Dame Cleo Laine, with the aim "To broaden and enhance artistic life by promoting a wide choice of first class, live music, entertainment and educational courses. To provide a thriving venue where both artists and audience can enjoy the atmosphere of a small theatre". This, it certainly achieves, and we have enjoyed many a great performance there, including the Counterfeit Stones, Spencer Davis Group, The Blues Band, Geno Washington and Chris Farlowe. The old theatre, for many years a pleasingly atmospheric live venue, has recently been replaced by a new 400-seat auditorium, with the aid of land generously donated by the Dankworths and a £2.7 million grant from the Arts Council Lottery fund. Fortunately, the new venue has retained the old theatre's intimacy.
On stage, Rod Argent explained how important the Stables was to him as a venue and how he had played a benefit in aid of the theatre rebuilding fund. Colin was sitting in the audience, and had, naturally been invited to join the band to sing 'She's Not There'. This performance sowed the seeds of a new collaboration and Colin and Rod are currently working on a new album, due for release later in the year.
Photo: "Here's one we made earlier... " Rod (left) and Colin back together again
This superb line-up of musicians
included Rod's cousin, bassist Jim Rodford, famous for being both a Zombie (after
Colin went solo) and a member of Argent. Jim's son, described by Rod as "far
too young to be in the band" certainly wasn't too young to provide some magnificent
rhythms. Impressive lead guitarist, Australian Mark Johns, took an unforgettable
version of 'She's Not There' from Zombie to Santana and back.
As most members of the band hail from St Albans, the venue was almost 'home ground', with the audience including a number of ex-schoolmates.
This being only the second performance of the tour, and with the new Stables theatre opened just two weeks earlier, teething trouble marred the first half of the performance. Problems were experienced with the sound balance and sadly the classic 'Time of the Season' suffered the intrusion of squeals of electronic howl-round.
However, nothing deterred the artistes from a brilliant performance which covered recordings by the Zombies and Argent plus solo material. Our seats, stage left, gave us excellent views of Rod's flying fingers. During 'Keep On Rollin'' from the 'All Together Now' album, we watched him go from boogie-woogie to Jerry Lee Lewis in 0-60 secs.
Photo: "Remember me, Colin? We used to listen to Big L in the playground. Have you still got that champion conker?"
It was great hearing Colin belting
out the lead on the Argent hits as if they had been his own and then whispering
down to 'A Rose For Emily' and 'Caroline Goodbye'. This latter track has a Big
L '97 connection, as Colin wrote it for his then girlfriend, Caroline Munro,
when their romance ended. Caroline was famous in the Sixties as the beautiful
woman in 'Lamb's Navy Rum' adverts, and she still looked stunning when she paid
a visit to the Yeoman Rose during the summer broadcast. 'Old and Wise'
was a song Colin recorded with the Alan Parsons Project, and a track much featured
on late-lamented satellite station, European Klassik Rock. My fave of the whole
evening was the lesser-known 'Misty Roses', a haunting bossa nova on which Colin
used his voice to mega knee-trembling effect.
Rod told the story of how the Zombies had always proved more successful in America than at home and of finding themselves unable to repeat the UK success of 'She's Not There'. Meanwhile, in the Philippines, they were more popular than the Beatles. 'Odessey and Oracle' recorded at Abbey Road immediately after the 'Sgt Pepper' sessions, at a cost of £1000, was the group's swansong album for CBS. A further £200 had to be found by the band to fund remixing it in stereo. Sadly, the disillusioned band split up shortly afterwards.
Photo: "Gimme some kinda sign, boy!"
Tracks from 'Odessey and Oracle' had always been favourites of ours. Brilliant singles lifted from it, such as 'Friends of Mine' and 'Care of Cell 44' inexplicably failed to make any impact on the charts, despite concerted efforts at the time by Kenny Everett. Speaking to Rod afterwards, he fondly remembered Kenny and all the assistance he had given the Zombies. Fortunately for the band, this was in the days of real radio.A lone DJ in Boise, Idaho recognised the hit quality of 'Time of the Season'. CBS reissued the single and gradually, the song picked up airplay throughout the USA. In the past few years, Rod has received 'millionaire' awards denoting the number of radio plays received in America. In 1998 'Time of the Season' received THREE MILLION plays while we would estimate that the UK had a score of around 35 (all on Radio Caroline).
Inclusion in the current show of the optimistic 'Odessey and Oracle' track, 'This Will be Our Year' was the perfect touch for a winning musical collaboration in a new century.
By the show's end, the capacity audience was gasping for more. The chosen encore, 'Just Out of Reach' from 'Bunny Lake Is Missing', the film featuring the Zombies, followed by the climatic 'God Gave Rock and Roll To You', not surprisingly achieved a standing ovation.
I was also delighted that Colin and Rod happily talked to fans and signed autographs afterwards. It can't be easy to do that after a hard night on stage, but it makes a huge difference to fans to know that musicians are prepared to make the effort and are approachable. Rod was concerned about the problems in the first half and wanted people's opinions about it. That, to me, shows genuine commitment.
Argent and Payne. Sounds like a firm of tax consultants
(Money and pain? Oh please yourself...)
© Mary & Chris Payne 2000
Thanks for your review - I read it in "The Beat Goes On" and also checked out your website. Excellent - thanks again!
Kind Regards, Rod
From Jo in Glasgow:
I saw your review in The Beat Goes On Magazine and I e-mailed Priya to tell her about it. I'm glad you've got a reference to it in the Guestbook - I went and read the full review (with pictures!) today. Thank you for the benefit of your hard work (writing the review, NOT attending the concert!)
I'm looking forward to the album
- they do go so well together, don't they! And they seemed to enjoy playing
I e-mailed Jools Holland's LATER programme to suggest that he invite them to appear - some of us are doing that, since we think they would be ideal for that. The address is email@example.com, if you have a mind to!
It's lovely to read all the messages on CB's site from all his fans, isn't it?
Anyway Mary, I will be visiting your own website again soon, to read all the other stuff on it, apart from the CB & RA info.
Thanks again, from Jo in Glasgow
From: Dave Goldsman
Great article! Sure wish I coulda gone to the concert! Anyhow, thanks soooo much for sending the url!
Best wishes, Dave
Here in the States, the flip side of Tell Her No was Leave Me Be. The rock station in my hometown (WIFE, Indpls) played the wrong side of the record for the first 2 weeks of its release, and that wrong side, Leave Me Be, is my favorite Zombies song, maybe my favorite British Invasion song. Anyone else love this gem?
The power of radio, eh? Two weeks of plays and a song never intended to be an 'A' side becomes someone's favourite!