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Photo: Noel Buckley/GRTR!

Having just completed a successful renaissance of his solo career in the shape of a well received tour and a brand new album 'The Ghost of You & Me', Colin Blunstone barely pauses for breath before going back on the road to tour with the Zombies to promote the 'Odyssey & Oracle Revisited' double live CD. Pete Feenstra caught up with Colin on the eve of some Swedish gigs in one of the busiest phases of his enduring career.

It's been 13 or so years since your last solo album. Did you consciously put your solo career on the back burner or was it simply because you've been so busy with the Zombies?

It's something I always wanted to come back to but The Zombies are a busy band and over the last 10 years or more we have recorded two studio CD's, 2 double live albums, 2 DVD's and toured the world from the UK and Europe to the States and the Far East.

But I was still in contact with the producer Jon Sweet. He really did a great job on 'Echo Bridge' and I enjoyed working with John, and still enjoy the recording process. So we go to talking about the new album and finally I thought it might see the light of day after all.

Once we got started he was able to work on it while I was away touring etc. But although I love the album I was undecided about what to do with it. In fact it wasn't until right at the end that I decided maybe we should go for a proper release.

At one point I was thinking I could just sell it to fans via the web site. But it was so good I thought we should go for a wider audience. And then we managed to get the same promo people to work on my album who worked on the Zombies. And they are really the best in the business and are both supportive and good people to work with.

So things suddenly moved on. Before that John had been moving from Yeovil to Bournemouth and he'd been busy building his own studio brick by brick, while I was in London. So all in all we lost some momentum but there was always the notion that I was going to record another solo album.

So what does Jon bring to the recording process?

Well we had a good working relationship to start with and I found the songs that we thought we could possibly work with. In fact we had more songs than we needed. But one of Jon's roles is that he sits me down and we discuss how we are going to record them.

He is brilliant on the technical side with the board etc, even though much of the time we are miles apart. So even when I can't be there, he's busy working on the album. And overall, there's a lot of responsibility on his shoulders with the recording and the mixes, so we each know our roles and work accordingly.

Did the passing of time lead to a different approach from say 'Echo Bridge'?

Well in essence we started this album all those years ago and really just carried on from 'Echo Bridge'. I thought that record had really good players on it in the shape of Yeovil musicians Guy Forse and Tom Toomey and they subsequently played on the first three tracks of the new album. But with Jon moving to Bournemouth the same people obviously weren't as available so we had to build up a new network of new players.

So at this point the making of the album slowed down. At the same time I had gathered together about 5, 6 maybe 7 AOR ballads, but only 4 finally made the album.

In the meantime I re-met Chris Gunns the arranger, so I called him up as I'd always wanted to work with him again and it turned out he wanted to join the project. So I played him about 3 songs and he came up with the string arrangements.

At this point I was thinking about a whole album with the string ensemble, but Chris suggested keeping the earlier tracks. I consciously tried to make the album different from the Zombies material and it was ironic that Chris wanted to keep the earlier tracks. This gave us a slight problem about how to join two different sorts of music, but it all came together quite well I think.

You must have seen it as a boost working with both Jon Sweet and Chris again?

Yes. We all went through some changes over a period of time. For one thing we'd start in one studio and then move on to another, but over time both Chris and myself learnt so much about each others capabilities which is really rewarding.

I'd been thinking about using string arrangements for years. In fact I had recorded my third album 'Journey' with the King Singers and the arrangements were done by Chris and it all worked well. After that I suppose I drifted towards the AOR market, but I always had it in the back of my mind to return to recording songs like that.

Given that Echo Bridge was so well received why did it take so long to follow up on that?

Quite simply three weeks after the recording the record company went bust. I had already started the follow up as well. It had taken something like 3 years to record 'Echo Bridge', so the sudden collapse of the label hit me hard. I really wasn't in the frame of mind to continue. It took between 18 months and 2 years to get over that.

Nowadays you seem to do everything a lot more quickly?

Yes, although it probably takes more time to sit down and try and establish the direction to take. After that it's a question of writing the songs or finding the material to fit, but the recording side of things happens quite quickly.

What are your favourite tracks on 'The Ghost of You & Me'?

I wanted something that was both melodically and chorally interesting and sound wise I wanted a good mix. So I looked to writers such as Rich Page who used to be in Mr Mister, and wrote for Hall & Oates and Madonna, also John Lund who wrote for Earth Wind & Fore and Cher. It was an attempt to tap into a pool of sophisticated, respected song writers.

I was helped by Allen Jacobs who was head of EMI publishing. He was aware that there weren't many people looking for Rock ballads with a strong melody and interesting lyrics. So he sent me some cassettes back in the 90's - in fact there were about 5 or 6 interesting songs and at least one fabulous song which was 'The Ghost of You & Me' - and there was also 'Follow', and 'Dance With Life'. Then there was 'Second Avenue' by Tim Moore. That songs by Tim have some beautiful lyrics and he also wrote ('I Can Almost) See The Light' which I recorded on the 1976 'Planes' album.

If anything your profile seems to be higher now than at any time of your career?

It's certainly higher now than in the 90's. and one of the main reason for that was that I couldn't do much for about 4 years because of an on going law suite with my record label. I couldn't work basically and I almost had to start all over again. So for a while I was out of the public eye and had to start all over again.

Then there's the cyclical nature of the music business which you can never legislate for.

Photo: Andrew Longhurst

My first project after the legal stuff was in fact a sort of Zombies album. Apparently there was a band in the USA playing the Zombies stuff and not very well at that, but they did get the press.

We were basically told as a band, that unless we were active other people could use the name. So we recorded some tracks around 1990 under the title of 'New World' and 'Return of the Zombies' (it had about three different titles in different territories).

The line-up included me Chris White and Hugh Grundy, although Paul Atkinson did contribute the first bit of the session and Rod was even on one or two tracks - but I don't think he thought was the right thing to do at the time. But maybe the fact we recorded something (and the fact that I thought it had some good songs on it) was the reason people were so annoyed at the other band claiming to be the Zombies. People got very upset and I believe they were actually threatened in their dressing room with a gun!

After that project I went to work with Chris White on my 'Greatest Hits' album, recreating all the songs I'd sung on. I enjoyed that very much and I thought Chris did a great job. After that I worked on 'Echo Bridge'. At that time I was once again looking for songs and Jon Sweet sent me two songs. And what struck me immediately was the production of the demo's which were fantastic, so I contacted him and we started work on a new album.

So what attracts you to a particular song?

The lyrics are obviously very important, the melody line etc, but I like to put a lot of work into my interpretation of a song. I'm a great believer in the importance of phrasing and I like to get 'inside a lyric', but at the same time its important not to overwork a lyric as you can lose the phrasing by doing that. I'm already thinking about the new album and working with the same people and Chris again, but having said that it doesn't all have to be strings.

Who were/are your influences?

Well in the first place there were the obvious rock and roll influences such as Little Richard, Chuck Berry and later Ricky Nelson and of course we all went through our Beatles period. But also of course working with Rod (Argent) is the most interesting thing for me. He is so aware of phrasing - much more than me - and he actually spends a lot of time discussing phrasing and the like.

Then there's Ian Adams my singing coach who's been involved in West End show songs. Through him I've been able to use my voice much better and make it last longer on a tour. On this 12 day tour we have just completed I did 6/7 nights on the trot and I came though it easily.

When it comes to song writers I loved Duncan Browne. I know him as we shared a flat in Ennismore Gardens (hence the title of my second album 'Ennismore'). He was a wonderful guitarist, a great writer and also a good keyboard player. We'd sit up all night writing songs.

Going back to your career profile, The Zombies also seem to be on a belated career high?

Yes and it's a wonderful thing in as much as it is a mystery to me as no one had been actively promoting the albums up to this point but they continued to sell more and more.

We also seem to have gained a fresh credibility from the critics, in fact the sort of reception that people can only dream about. But it's not for me to judge about what people say and think, but perhaps it is significant that we were part of the 60's in general.

Also when The Zombies disbanded we were despondent as we felt we were unsuccessful, but now it's very exciting and incredible fulfilling.

So how will the solo career fit in with this recent upsurge of the Zombies?

I see the solo career as something different, but certainly comparable. It needs a lot of planning and researching and I hope to give 100% to both projects. I realise more than ever that that you need strict application and since the voice is the central part of the recording process, it is important to take time to get the whole recording and the vocal sound right. I think given the people I'm working with we've achieved that.

Interview March 2009 Pete Feenstra



Interview March 2009 Pete Feenstra

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