ZOMBIES REUNION

Three Accounts of the brief, one-off,
original Zombies Reunion gig of 1997

 
Dawn Eden, freelance music writer, wrote to say:

I flew to London for the Zombies party. No big rock magazine footed the bill; I paid for it with my own money. Alec Palao had invited me a month earlier, with the caveat that, if the Zombies reunited at all, they would only perform two songs. But as far as I was concerned, you couldn't put a price on the experience of seeing all five members play together.

The party took place November 25 at the Jazz Cafe in Camden Town. The club is very much an industry-type place, slightly posh, though there's no dress code. Oldies artists play there regularly. I'd been there once before, in 1995, to see Gilbert O'Sullivan.

I arrived shortly after the doors opened at 8. The place filled up quickly. As happens all too often at these things, a significant portion of the attendees didn't know of the Zombies and were just there because they were friends of club employees, etc. The vast majority of the crowd was there for the Zombies, but it still bummed me out to think of the people who should've been there but couldn't get in. I note this solely to give non-attendees a sense of the atmosphere and not to criticize the party's organization, which was superb.

The club reportedly held 300 people and was full. Being from New York, I found the latter hard to believe, as there was still room to walk around, but I guess they obey the fire laws more strictly in London than they do back home. When you walk into the club, a bar veers off to your right, against the facing wall. You walk along it, turning left at the end, and you're in the main room. It's not very large, but there's a lot of airspace. The stage is average-sized, raised about two feet, and is faced on its left by a small bar. Other than the bar, the only place to sit down is at one of the tables in the balcony.

I'm sorry I didn't see Jim McCarty at the party, but I did see several bona fide Zombies fans, including the editor of Beach Boys Stomp and writers for Record Collector and Mojo.

I wished I were better at recognizing people, because it was clear that the audience was thick with legendary music makers. For example, at one point, I was searching for Gus Dudgeon, whom I'd interviewed about "She's Not There" for Mojo's 100 Greatest Singles issue, but I didn't know what he looked like. I approached a perfectly-groomed gent of a certain age who looked like an industry person and asked if he could point Dudgeon out for me. He did! I thanked him, introduced myself, and asked his name. "Jim Rodford," he said, with a warm handshake. Cool! Things like that never happen to me back home.

Colin Blunstone came on to do his promised set with his own band at around 8:45 or thereabouts. Although the audience had a high ratio of British industry folk and critics, neither of whom are known for great displays of affection, they gave him a sufficiently enthusiastic welcome. (Not nearly what he'd get in New York, where there are many people besides me who scream like Beatlemania.) I'd never seen him before and was naturally very excited. He looked great, trim as ever.

He did many tunes well-known to fans of his solo career; "Say You Don't Mind," "I Don't Believe In Miracles," etc. For the most part, he was in classic form, singing with the right kind of spirit and clearly enjoying himself. The biggest treat was when he did several Zombies tunes in a row, including many totally unexpected obscurities, like "Care of Cell 44" and "Indication." His performances of "This Will Be Our Year" and "A Rose For Emily" were so delicate and beautiful that they were downright tear-inducing.

The entire set was not as beautiful as that, but it wasn't Blunstone's fault. Someone (presumably his keyboardist/musical director) had decided that each of the band's four members should take a five-minute solo, and that these solos should be spread throughout the set. The concept is so utterly incompatible with Blunstone's trademark sound that, if he is to continue his current resurgence, I hope he discards it quickly.

After Blunstone wrapped up his set, the audience applauded and kept on applauding for two minutes or more, anticipating what was to come. Finally someone (I think it was the evening's DJ, Terry Jones) came onstage, along with Alec Palao.The DJ said, "We've got a big surprise for you, except that you all know what it is." Then he introduced Alec, who got a big round of applause. I think it was Terry who introduced the Zombies he said it was "for the first time in 28 years." That struck me as strange. Surely the Zombies didn't perform live past 1967, so it must have been a full 30 years.

So the five of them walked down the staircase from the balcony and the stage, and the crowd went apeshit. At least, I know I did. Seriously, the whole room was thrilled. The group took their instruments in hand, all left by Blunstone's band. Blunstone's keyboardist quickly showed Argent which setting was where on the synth. Hugh Grundy went into that familiar "She's Not There" intro and the crowd voiced its approval.

How they looked: There was a palpable time-warp factor to the whole affair. Although Colin, Rod, and Chris all performed authentically, the member who most impressed me from that standpoint was Hugh Grundy. With the exception of his hip two-cornered African hat, he looked exactly like he did back when. Having seen him perform with the Zombies on one of those old Hullabaloos, I was struck by how his playing style had not altered one iota. He still looked laid back yet utterly focused, not acknowledging anything in the room but his drums. He held his sticks the same way, hit the snare the same way, everything. It was mesmerizing.

Chris looked his age but was still very recognizable. In fact, I'd spotted him in the club before the show and instantly registered, "That's Chris White." But it couldn't be, I told myself, because he looked too much like Chris White. I thought the real Chris White would look different by now. Onstage, he seemed to be enjoying himself thoroughly.

The only wet blanket was Paul Atkinson. Skinny, his head shaved concentration-camp-style, he looked thoroughly uncomfortable.

And now to Rod Argent. It may just be the nightclub lighting, but to me he looked exactly like he did in 1972. It was remarkable. As for his playing, it was classic. He was perfectly faithful to the original arrangements, yet he played so effortlessly and naturally that he could have been playing the songs for the first time. When I'd fantasized beforehand about the reunion, I thought that I would want to stand in front of stage center, to get the best possible view of each member. But when Argent walked onstage, a funny thing happened. The keyboard was set up so that he was standing at an angle, facing stage center, with his back to the right of the stage. Without thinking, I made a beeline around the stage so that I was looking directly up at his back. Then I just stared at his fingers for most of the set. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, one that I would not trade for anything in the world. He's got an incredible touch, like no keyboardist I've ever seen (except maybe George Shearing). His fingers seem to become one with the keyboard, as though he's translating pure feelings into sound. I was in orbit.

After they finished a wonderful "Time of the Season" (yes, they really did only two songs), they left the stage to huge applause. The applause continued for about six minutes. I screamed until my throat hurt so badly that I had nightmarish visions of Harry Nilsson recording "Pussy Cats." Then the DJ started spinning tunes again and it was clear the group was not returning.

I went upstairs, where the band members were surrounded by autograph seekers. A friend of mine was chatting with Chris White, who seemed in a very good mood, so I took the opportunity to say hello. He was very nice, no attitude at all. I stopped Hugh Grundy as he passed by and told him about how a drummer friend of mine worships him. He too was warm, attitude-free, and in great spirits.

I was afraid to approach Rod Argent because I was high on adrenaline from witnessing the Zombies' performance and I didn't want to overwhelm him. My valiant efforts at self-control lasted all of ten minutes, until he literally crossed my path. I collared him and raved about his performance. He was very gracious.

Somehow Argent managed to escape, while I found myself accosted by a friendly young man who complimented my dancing. I thanked him and asked him what brought him to this party. Was he in the music business?

"Well, yeah, you could say that. I played guitar in the last band."

Oops. I really was on a different planet. I apologized profusely, but he just thought it was funny. I told him that, as he could see from my dancing, I had loved Colin's and the Zombies' performances and was extremely glad I made the trip in from New Jersey to see them.

He was very impressed that I'd flown in from America and knew that his boss would be too. Putting his arm around me, he said, "Have you met Colin? No? You gotta meet Colin! I'll introduce you to him."

I had actually planned to leave without meeting Blunstone. After the Argent debacle, I was loath to risk further embarrassment. But I sure as heck wasn't going to turn down an invitation like that.

The guitarist introduced me to The Man, telling him I'd come all the way from America, then walked away. Blunstone looked just as good as he did onstage, only a little more delicate. We shook hands. He was very impressed that I'd come all the way to London just for the party, and he held onto my hand tightly as he thanked me for making the trip. Besides squeezing my hand, he made eye contact as he spoke, which set me off balance a bit. It wasn't his fault at all; it's just that there was something genuine about him which one doesn't normally find at industry events. I usually pride myself on being real when all around are plastic, but meeting him made me feel a little embarrassed, like I wasn't so real after all.

Since I hadn't thought I'd be meeting him, I hadn't prepared anything to say, so I was a bit tongue-tied. I did manage to tell him that it was very much worth the trip for the opportunity to see him onstage. Then he was called away and excused himself politely.

Blunstone made an unusual impression on me in that he, of all the singers I've met, is the most like his voice. Most singers' personalities are nothing like their voices. He's refreshingly unaffected. Either he's not afraid to show vulnerability, or he just can't help it. At the same time, he's outgoing enough that he doesn't come off like a Brian Wilson-type creature in need of protection. Admittedly, after spending only two minutes with him, I don't know whether he's really as sensitive, warm, and mysterious as his voice would lead one to believe. But his personality seems to match his voice, and that alone is rare.

It was a very special night.

Cheers,

Dawn

Andy Barnes, who runs the Colin Blunstone fanzine, Photograph, wrote to say:

"On Tuesday 25th November at the Jazz Club, London, all original Zombies got back on stage and played live - first time in 28 years!

Ace Records' Invitation clearly stated that the entertainment for the evening would be The Colin Blunstone Band - it didn't mention anything about the Zombies playing. In the event Rod and the other Zombies did do the two songs, but it must be stressed that this was an added bonus to Colin's normal band. It was never the intention that the Zombies would do a whole evening.

As you may probably know, Ace Records have recently released Zombie Heaven - the 4 CD Box Set. Ace Records held a launch party on the above date - Colin Blunstone and his normal band (including Don Airey on keyboards) played their normal set - as per the concerts they've been playing throughout the UK this year. At the end of the set, just when you thought it was all over - Rod, Paul, Hugh and Chris joined Colin on stage and, totally unrehearsed, gave a blistering rendition of She's Not There and Time Of The Season - the whole of the Jazz Cafe went wild!!

It was incredible atmosphere for this one-off (and never to be repeated) experience.

The Zombies reunion at the Jazz Cafe was (apparently) recorded by cable/satellite music station VH1. I have sent an email to VH1 to verify this and to see if I can get hold of this footage."



Mike Ober, writer and music producer, wrote to say:

"Jim McCarty (of the Yardbirds) just called me today. He was invited to the Zombies bash, which was apparently an invitation-only affair. Jim, and most of the rest of everyone, was dissapointed as the show consisted of a live performance by the Colin Blunstone band (doing a bunch of Zombies tunes, don't know which ones) and other Colin material (on keyboards for Colin's band was Don Airey), and then, for the encore, the original Zombies (Rod, Chris, Colin, Hugh - I'm not sure if Paul was there) performed She's Not There and Time of the Season. The event was to launch the Zombies box set.

Apparently, Blunstone was listed as the headliner, but people thought the Zombies were going to do a full set. At least that's what I pieced together talking with Jim on the phone."