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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
THE ZOMBIES Shepherds Bush Empire, London, March 9th 2008
It’s the time of the season. There’s one mother of a millennial storm forecast for the UK, and London is red on the map, 60 per cent chance of severe damage and disruption says the risk-averse Met Office. Recommendation? Stay at home, lock your doors, keep away from windows, buy candles, drink hot drinks. Well, it evidently hasn’t worked for everyone, as the Shepherds Bush Empire is almost bursting with brave or foolhardy adventurers who’ve all come out, forty years on, to witness a piece of 1968 that never quite happened.
It’s the Zombies (well almost, as Keith Airey is taking the place of the late Paul Atkinson on guitar), the great lost band of the sixties, performing in its entirety their now much-lauded album Odessey and Oracle. Now don’t let the spell checker fool you, Serge – the story is that the guy who designed the long player’s suitably ‘psychedelic’ cover couldn’t spell Odyssey, and by the time the error was discovered it was too late to fix it. Anyway it’s a piece now regarded as a landmark album – straddling the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson on the one hand and the Beatles and Lennon and McCartney (sorry Sir Paul, I mean McCartney and Lennon) on the other. Odessey
Listening to the album I wouldn’t quite agree – the songs aren’t as strong overall as their counterparts, and the album lacks the coherency that others – notably Sergeant Pepper, offered. But that’s not to say that it isn’t very good. And as the band had split up before it was released (no-one will quite say why, but they were clearly hard-up and there was probably some jealousy between the guys who had the song- writing credits - organist Rod Argent and bass player Chris White - and those that didn’t, Atkinson, drummer Hugh Grundy and stellar vocalist Colin Blunstone), the opportunity to see it performed live is too hard to resist.
That’s not that the Zombies haven’t toured of late – Argent and Blunstone, both of course with their own successful solo careers, have been fronting a Zombies ‘touring band’ – I suppose a sort of self-tribute outfit - for a few years, with Kinks veteran Jim Rodford on bass, his son Steve on drums, and Airey on guitar.
And this is what kicks the evening off with a rather eclectic and not entirely satisfactory selection of songs like ‘I love you’ (a long-forgotten B-side from 1965), Ray Charles’ ‘Sticks and stones’ (one of the R&B standards that had made up much of their original repertoire) and even ‘What becomes of the broken hearted’, during which the audience positively flinched when asked to sing along (at 8.30 on a Sunday night?). Blunstone was then accompanied by Argent and a string quartet through some of his hits – and by this time it was obvious that this most deliberate of singers was really starting to find his voice – notably with the gorgeous ‘Misty roses’. I can’t actually believe I wrote that because I used to detest the then impossibly tight-trousered Blunstone when I was at school, but his voice was simply magical, and you could, as they say, have heard a pin drop when he sang this and, of course, ‘Say you don’t mind’. Argent then had his turn, finishing predictably enough with ‘Hold your head up’.  
Colin Blunstone
To be honest the first half probably left a few of us wondering if we might not have been better advised to follow the advice of the Met Office and stay at home – but we shouldn’t have worried. The Zombies, and Odessey, was introduced by Al Kooper, famous, amongst other things, for his Hammond organ part in Bob Dylan’s ‘Like a rolling stone’, and with respect to this evening, for getting the album released in the United States, where ‘Time of the season’ became a huge hit, ending up, as many of us will remember, on The Rock Machine Turns You On, the first sampler album. They took the stage to an ovation, Blunstone looking nervous and like a Brand Ambassador for Grecian 2000, Grundy invisible behind his drums, a greying but hirsute Argent bouncing with the enthusiasm of a schoolboy, and a portly White defiantly shouting his sixties credentials by having an Esso tiger’s tail hanging from his bass. Assisting on keyboards and vocals was Darian Sahanaja, sometime Musical Director to Brian Wilson and leader of ‘Powerpop’ band the Wondermints.
Well, apart from a few guitar notes I didn’t notice a fault with the performance, and the harmony parts if anything sounded better than they do on the album. Blunstone’s voice just continued to amaze and his presence managed to make even the weaker material on the album transcend a sixties time-trap. Some of the songs, ‘Changes’ and (of course) ‘Time of the season’ really stood out, as did the anti-war ‘Butcher’s tale’, very well sung by White, with a resonance for 2008 that he could not have imagined when he wrote it. It’s a short album, so it’s a short set, even if Argent is allowed a slightly self-indulgent (but thoroughly enjoyable) solo on ‘Time of the season’.
The encores, ‘Tell her no’ and ‘She’s not there’ were simply a prelude to a long, and much-deserved standing ovation for these surviving pioneers of pop. And as we ventured out into a windswept west London one thought continued to puzzle me: where did these songs come from? What transformed a pretty good R&B covers band into mould-breaking, and mould-shaping, musicians? Just what happened forty-odd years ago to open a Pandora’s box of beat music and redefine the face of popular music? And to help you find the answer, I suggest you wear a pretty floral shirt, put a nicely-scratched copy of Odessey on your Dansette record-player, pour yourself a large Scotch and soda, light up a slim panatella, and ponder. - Nick Morgan (concert photographs by Kate) Cigar

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