STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
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Best known for the hits “Time of the Season,” “She’s Not There” and “Tell Her No,” The Zombies have a treat in store for music connoisseurs Oct. 11 at The Keswick Theatre.
The first half of the show, said lead singer Colin Blunstone, will feature “some of the hits” and songs from a new album, titled “Still Got That Hunger,” due to be released just two days before the area show. The on stage lineup for that part of the concert will be original Zombies Blunstone and Rod Argent, bassist Jim Rodford (who was a member of Rod Argent’s post-Zombies project, Argent, when they scored the hit “Hold Your Head Up” in 1972), Rodford’s son Steve on drums, and guitarist Tom Toomey.
“For the second half, we’re going to feature original members of the band, Chris White on bass and Hugh Grundy on drums,” Blunstone said (Original guitarist Paul Atkinson passed away in 2004). That’s when they’ll play the cult classic 1968 Zombies album “Odessey and Oracle” — which includes “Time of the Season” — from beginning to end. Longtime Brian Wilson collaborator Darian Sahanaja will also be performing, allowing the band to faithfully reproduce the album’s sometimes complicated arrangements in concert.
The Zombies broke up in 1967, before the record’s release (and the ensuing slow-building appreciation). The 2015 tour marks the first time ever that American audiences will hear all 12 tracks in a live setting.
Odds look good that “She’s Not There” will make it into the show. Blunstone stated there’s “a special place in my heart” for the song “because it was our first hit.”
“When I think of ‘Odessey and Oracle,’ (the song) ‘Care of Cell 44’ is a favorite of mine. It’s a jaunty song about a sad lyrical subject,” he said. “I like (‘Odessey and Oracle’ track) ‘Hung Up on a Dream’ as well. It was odd in its time.”
When asked about their jazz and Baroque period (which Blunstone pronounces “Barack,” like the President’s name) musical influences, he said the group’s sound was shaped by listening to American R&B, rock and pop, in addition to classical and modern jazz. Blunstone’s new Zombies composition about traveling and what happens after you get home, “Now I Know I’ll Never Get Over You,” features a string quartet.
Why did they pick that creepy band name?
Blunstone dished that they were toying with calling themselves The Mustangs, until a fellow named Paul Arnold, who played bass when the band first got together, suggested The Zombies. “It seemed catchy, even though Rod and I were not sure what a zombie was. I try to intimidate somebody by saying: ‘I am a Zombie’,” Blunstone said, laughing.
While most of their contemporaries had a guitar-based attack, The Zombies’ sound is notably accented by the electrified keyboards of Argent. “We never tried to follow trends. We only tried to write the best songs we can,” said Blunstone, adding that he appointed Argent the group’s keyboardist after hearing him tear into “Nut Rocker” by B. Bumble & The Stingers on piano during their very first rehearsal.
A song on “Still Got That Hunger” called “New York” describes what it was like to be 19-year-old Brits in America for the first time. “(Argent, who wrote the song,) talks about meeting Patti LaBelle,” Blunstone said, mentioning the Philadelphia singer.
That trip across the Atlantic in 1964 also included his craziest concert memory. Big-shot New York radio DJ Murray the K — who helped welcome The Beatles to America that same year — was emceeing a star-studded Christmas rock ‘n’ roll extravaganza with 14 acts, including The Zombies, Dionne Warwick, Ben E. King and The Shangri-Las. “I think we were there at 10 o’clock in the morning, and you had to stay in the building,” Blunstone said, noting that they weren’t supposed to go on until the evening. One of the members of the band, unaware of just how gaga American teenage girls were for long-haired English young men at that time, stepped outside for a breath of air and got his shirt torn off before being rescued by police. After that, Blunstone said, there was a stern warning that the police would not come to the aid of anyone else that dared to break the stay-inside rule.
Believe it or not, “Still Got That Hunger” is The Zombies’ fourth album of new music since Blunstone and Argent decided to reunite in 2001. It features a new version of their 1965 single “I Want You Back Again,” which they rediscovered after they heard Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers’ live cover. “My favorite song (on the new album) is ‘No Chasing the Past’,” said Blunstone. He said that Argent began writing the song “Moving On” when Elvis died. However, more than 35 years later, “it’s not really about that anymore.”
“Still Got That Hunger” was produced by Chris Potter (The Verve, Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, U2, Blur). The cover art was designed by the same guy that misspelled the word odyssey on “Odessey and Oracle,” Terry Quirk.
At first, Blunstone drew a blank when asked about what new acts he was listening to. But after recalling how much he loves The Beach Boys, James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, Sting, Elton John and Eric Clapton, he mentioned Florence and the Machine, then other contemporary British artists. “Ed Sheeran, he’s absolutely brilliant. I like a lot of Sam Smith’s stuff too,” he said.
IF YOU GO
What: The Zombies in concert.
When: 8 p.m. Oct. 11.
Where: The Keswick Theatre, 291 N. Keswick Ave., Glenside.
Info.: Call (215) 572-7650 or visit www.keswicktheatre.com. For more on the band, check www.thezombies.net.