By PAUL SEXTON
LONDON - For one of the original British Invasion groups, it's the time of the season again.
The entire 1964-68 recording career of the Zombies has been anthologized on ``Zombie Heaven,'' a four-disc, 119-track boxed set released Nov. 17 in the U.K. on the Big Beat/Ace record label. All the group members participated in the compilation. ``I heard things I haven't heard for 30 years,'' enthuses former keyboardist Rod Argent.
The collection contains almost everything recorded by the southern England beat and ballad band, with 42 previously unissued tracks. The accompanying 68-page booklet features a foreword by Tom Petty, who concludes, ``More than anything the Zombies were and are cool.''
The collection was researched and compiled by London-born, San Francisco-based Alec Palao. Palao, a longtime admirer, says he was ``pleasantly surprised at the amount of material we uncovered'' and praises the group members and all others concerned for the ease and speed with which the project came to fruition. ``It was only in late November 1996 I put together the original idea,'' he says.
``Zombie Heaven'' was launched Nov. 25 at London's Jazz Cafe, where a show by the group's former lead vocalist, Colin Blunstone, concluded with an impromptu, two-song reunion of the original five-piece Zombies lineup. ``We hadn't rehearsed for it at all,'' says Blunstone. ``In fact, we hadn't even been in the same room for 30 years.''
Blunstone and his fellow ex-Zombies have, however, stayed in touch since the band split in 1968, before they enjoyed enormous ``posthumous'' U.S. success with ``Time Of The Season'' and its parent album, ``Odessey & Oracle.''
Palao, a longtime compiler and researcher of albums, describes early U.S. reaction to the set as ``incredible.'' He adds, ``The depth of devotion to the group in this country far exceeds anything you might imagine. `Time Of The Season' and `She's Not There' have both had over 2 million plays on U.S. radio.''
Three decades after splitting, with careers both inside and outside the industry, all five former Zombies express their surprise and satisfaction at the warm welcome afforded ``Zombie Heaven.''
``I'm knocked out by it,'' says Argent, who went on to form early '70s British rock band Argent and in more recent years has enjoyed great production success with partner Peter Van Hooke on records by Tanita Tikaram, Joshua Kadison, and, most recently, Colombian-born Island artist Soraya. ``There've been a thousand Zombies compilations, particularly over the last 15 years,'' says Argent. ``But Alec went to huge lengths to get the right mixes, and it makes it so much better.''
Blunstone says the ``first rule'' of the band's reunion in November was ``no rehearsing. We'd do it if it felt right at the end of my set.'' Meanwhile, Blunstone's solo career continues to gather new momentum: He has signed a deal with the small English independent label Mystic, with an album due in the spring, and has a new U.K. single, ``Tiger In The Night,'' out on EMI from the soundtrack to the British film ``Keep The Aspidistra Flying,'' which stars Helena Bonham Carter and Richard E. Grant.
After the Zombies' demise, guitarist Paul Atkinson developed a long and distinguished career in the music business, signing Abba during his 1972-76 spell at CBS U.K. and Bruce Hornsby & the Range while at RCA. He now works in Los Angeles at radio syndication company Rhythm Radio, headed by veteran U.S. air personality Shadoe Stevens, where he is developing a new world music series. But Atkinson confesses that the recent Zombies activity has been great fun.
``The launch was very scary, because I was quite rusty,'' he says. ``The box and the amount of care and attention lavished on it are wonderful.''
Drummer Hugh Grundy, now the landlord of a pub in Aston, England, describes the reunion as ``delightful. I would love to do it again. I would always say I wish we had never broken up in the first place.''
Zombies bassist Chris White co-produced Blunstone's first solo album with Argent and is now recording music for soundtracks and satellite radio. ``It's nice being up there with the other shakers and movers of the '60s,'' he says. ``We're now getting very young groups saying their favorite album is `Odessey & Oracle.' ``
Ace is now planning a 30th-anniversary reissue of ``Oracle'' in the spring, featuring both mono and stereo versions. Later in the year, the label will repackage the first Zombies album, 1965's ``Begins Here,'' in both its U.K. and U.S. versions, followed by a ``Singles A's & B's'' collection.