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Friday, April 7, 2017 12:10 am

The Zombies embark on a final Odessey

Left to Right: Hugh Grundy (drums); Chris White (bass); Colin Blunstone (vocals) and Rod Argent (keyboards/vocals)
Photo credit: Payley Photography

 

Fans of 1960s popular music are no doubt familiar with The Zombies and their hits, such as “She’s Not There” and “Time of the Season.” The latter is the closing track to the 1968 album many consider to be their masterpiece, Odessey & Oracle (the misspelling was a typo on the commissioned artwork for the LP sleeve, so the band decided to keep it). Upon the initial release of Odessey, The Zombies had called it a day, and so never toured live to support the album.

Over the past decade, a reformed lineup of The Zombies – featuring original members Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent – has garnered well-deserved accolades and a host of new fans. On the evening of Tuesday, April 11, Springfield will welcome The Zombies to the Sangamon Auditorium for a special program where the band will showcase the Odessey & Oracle album in its entirety. Illinois Times had the pleasure of speaking with Zombies singer Colin Blunstone and original bassist Chris White prior to this final leg of the 50th Anniversary Odessey & Oracle tour.

What should the audience expect from the upcoming performance? “The current incarnation of The Zombies will play the first half with a mixture of hits and other recent recordings, and then in the second half we will play Odessey & Oracle note-for-note from beginning to end,” says Colin Blunstone. For the Odessey portion, “we will be joined by original Zombies Chris White and Hugh Grundy [on drums], keyboard maestro Darian Sahanaja (straight from the Brian Wilson Band), Chris White’s wife, Vivienne Boucherat (who is a wonderful harmony singer), and the whole of the current band, harmonizing and playing where necessary. It certainly makes for a full sound, and for me personally is quite an emotional experience as the songs bring back memories of a far-off time.

“To flush out the album’s lush textures in a live setting, “we use the Mellotron [a tape-loop analog keyboard] that we had at Abbey Road. The Mellotron was still in the studio; it was left there by John Lennon,” notes Chris White, “and Rod [Argent] plays ‘Butcher’s Tale’ on a World War I pedal organ that was in service on the battlefields of France during that war. It belonged to an army chaplain at the time.”

Part of why an album like Odessey & Oracle holds up so well 50 years on – excellent songwriting and musicianship notwithstanding – has to do with the universality of its themes: tension between hope (“Friends of Mine”) and loss (“Brief Candles”), as well as the folly of war (“Butcher’s Tale”). “I appreciate some of the songs better now than I did when we first recorded them,” says Blunstone. “ ‘Brief Candles,’ for instance, is now a particular favorite of mine.”

And noting how a song about a 100-year-old battle can still pack a punch: “I wrote [‘Butcher’s Tale”] about the battle of the Somme,” says White. “My 16-year-old uncle died in that battle. There were 60,000 casualties before breakfast on the first day of the battle. Just think how many families were affected. I have had veterans from Vietnam and Iraq tell me that the song resonated with them, and that when they heard it, it made them realize that they weren’t forgotten back home. It seems to be as relevant today as it was then. The stupidity of the human race! Maybe we will learn one day.”

The Zombies “approach the songs in the same spirit they were written and recorded,” White explains, but among the happy couples name-checked in “Friends of Mine,” White reports, “we are sad to say that there is only one couple that is still together – and coincidentally they are [current Zombies bassist] Jim Rodford and his wife, Jean. The rest of the named people are either divorced or dead. Bit like life, really!”

“It has been great to be able to perform this album that nobody wanted at the time,” Chris White continues. “When on stage, it feels like a time warp, standing next to the youngsters we were when starting out. I feel like the young man I was then – of course, I’m not! Colin’s voice is the best it’s ever been, and Rod’s playing is legend. What a joy!”

Edward Burch is a musician and freelance writer whose writing has appeared in Chicago Reader, No Depression, Harp, Blurt, and other publications. Currently splitting his time between freelance editing and helping with rescue cat adoptions in his native St. Louis,, Burch is probably best known for The Palace at 4am (Part 1), his 2002 collaborative album with Jay Bennett (post-Wilco).

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