The ZOMBIES press-conference

The ZOMBIES press-conference in Kiev, Ukraine, September 12th, 2008

The band spokesmen:
Rod – Rod Argent
Colin – Colin Blunstone
The Zombies in Kiev
The questions were asked by:
Ptichka – Alex the Webbird,
МS – Michail Spivakovsky
Young man – the youthful friend of МС.
OP – Olga Palna, who got in thanks to the kindness of porters and failed to keep her promise to sit quietly.

The beginning of the interview is missing. The first question was by Ptichka, who asked how The Zombies got back together after so many years. Rod began to explain how Colin came to one of his concerts, he was sitting in the audience, but to the end of the show Colin was invited onstage and they performed a few songs together.

Rod: … (It turned out so good and) was really great fun, (we said) why don’t we, after it, why don’t we do six concerts, just for fun. So we did, we put a band together, and we loved the band that we put together, we did six concerts… and those six concerts turned into eight years of touring around the world! (laughs)

МS: Do you not think it was a great mistake for you to split up during Odessey and Oracle, that was a big success in the USA in 1968?

Colin: Well I don’t think so really, I think we all felt that we’d done as much as we could. We’d actually been on the road for three years non stop, and before that we’d played for another four years, when we were just at school, so we’d been together for seven years, and I think we all felt we’d taken it as far as the project would go. And there were other things we wanted to get on and do. Rod formed his band, Argent, as I started a solo career, so … I think it probably was the right thing to do. But I must say probably I’m the only one from the original Zombies who is sometimes curious… I sometimes wonder, what might have happened if we just stayed together. ‘Cause we think of Odessey and Oracle as the end of The Zombies, but it was such… it was so different to what we were doing before. And I sometimes wonder if it couldn’t have been the beginning of a new phase for the Zombies, but we’ll never know. So that’s just an idle thought on my part.

Rod:  And you have to realize, even though Time Of The Season was a number one hit around the world, the album at that time didn’t really sell. It wasn’t a big hit. But 15 years later it gradually started to sell and started to gain momentum, and people like Paul Weller started to talk about it, and lots of contemporary artists in succeeding years had talked more and more about it, and then last year it was voted as one of the top hundred albums of all time in The Rolling Stone, so it was a very slow burning album, it took many many years to really gain the status that it seems to have gained now. And so, after we broke up, even though we had a number one single, we didn’t have a number one album at that time. And it took many years before it really started to sell.

Ptichka: A question concerning Odessey and Oracle – why OdEssey?

Rod (laughs): It was a mistake.

Colin: The truth is, it was a mistake. Nower days, if you do an album sleeve, it’s all done by computers. But in those days, it was a painting. And a guy called Terry Quirk, a friend of ours, completed the painting, and we had a deadline to make, and then it was noticed that the spelling was wrong. But it was too late, we just had to go ahead with it, so… that’s the truth of the matter.

Rod: And for years I used to say it was intentional, that it was a pun, a play on words, with ode and odyssey and everything, but the truth is, we just didn’t notice until it was too late.

Ptichka: You started in the beginning of 1960-ies, when you won that contest and signed the contract with Decca, and so on. What can you say about the atmosphere and taste of the Sixties, and do you try to irradiate this taste of the Sixties in your modern gigs?

Rod: No, we’re just ourselves. And that’s what we always did. At the time we just took a song or a musical idea and tried to get the most out of it in the way that excited ourselves. And that’s the way that we play now. And it’s the only way we know how to do it. We have a musical idea, we just follow it, and if it sounds good to us – that’s the only thing we know. So we don’t try and inject the feeling of the Sixties into what we’re doing, we just play the song.

МS: If you had an opportunity to form a dream band, whom would you invite – best vocal, guitar, drums?

Rod: Well if we’re not allowed to have anyone that is in our current band… I don’t know… Stevie Wonder on vocals.

МS: From the British Invasion

Rod: Ah, from the British Invasion. God, what would you say?

Colin: Eric Clapton.

Rod: Yeah, definitely Eric Clapton. Lead guitar – Eric Clapton.

Colin: Keith Moon.

Rod: Yeah! If he was alive, yeah.

Colin: He might be difficult to get though.

Rod: I played with Keith Moon on the Who Are You album, and that was the last album he played on, and I played the piano on three tracks on it.

Ptichka: By the way, you lucky to play with Ringo’s All Starr Band, weren’t you?

Rod: Yeah, Ringo, it was great playing with Ringo, actually. I’ve always loved his drumming. But I think I’d go with Colin and say Keith Moon. Actually, for a rhythm guitarist, I would have Pete Townshend, because I think he’s the world’s best rhythm guitarist, fantastic rhythm guitarist. Bass – Jack Bruce I’d go for.

Colin: Yeah.

Rod: Yeah, I’d go for Jack Bruce. And keyboards …

Colin: Keith Emerson?

Rod: Well I love Keith Emerson, but I don’t think he would fit into a rock’n’roll band like that, I’d go… who will I go for? Well probably… I don’t know, not that easy to answer.

Colin: Gary Brooker?

Rod: Oh, Gary Brooker. Okay. And I would say for singer - Gary Brooker. He has a wonderful voice, I think.

Ptichka: Your Beechwood Park resembles some of The Procol Harum.

Rod: (laughs) Yeah, okay.

OP: First I would like to say my heartfelt thanks to everyone concerned for bringing you over, and my thanks to your for getting back together.

Colin and Rod: Ah thank you.

OP: And the question is, whether you have seen the movie by Lars von Trier called “Dear Wendy”…

Colin: Yes.

Rod: Yeah, fantastic, I loved it. I think it’s a wonderful movie.

OP: ... and whether it was done with your consent? Or you were not involved in the process?

Rod: We weren’t involved, but it was written around the songs. He started with the Zombies songs and started to write a screenplay around that, I know that because of what I’d read since. But we were told that it was being finished, but we didn’t know anything about it until it was filmed.

OP: And now you quite approve of it?

Rod: I love it, I love the film. Have you seen it, Colin?

Colin: I have, yes, it’s very good.

OP: And another question, if I’m allowed: whether you know of any interest in your music, in the Zombies music, in Russia or in the Ukraine, in former Soviet countries - whether you know anything about your fans over here?

Colin: No, not really.

Rod: We don’t know what songs they’ll know and which they won’t.

Colin: I must say it’s always a problem when you go to a country you haven’t been to before. You don’t know, what to put in your set list. You don’t know what songs to play. So tonight it’ll be a little bit of an experiment, we’ll have to see.

Rod: It’s very diffucult to know, when you don’t know what the audience knows. Very difficult to put a set list together. And what we’ve done tonight, is put one together… I think we’re doing three things from Odessey and Oracle, but rather than do more. We didn’t know if people would know that stuff. So I think we’d be doing three things from Odessey and Oracle…

Ptichka: A Rose For Emily, please.
Rod: If we’re not doing it, we’ll put it in. We’ll definitely do that one. But we are doing a couple of Argent things, we'll do Hold Your Head Up, anyway. And possibly at the end, sometimes as an encore we do God Gave Rock’n’Roll To You, which some people don’t realize was an Argent song, but in fact it was. And we do one or two Colin’s solo things, like…

Ptichka: Not maybe Old and Wise?

Rod: Oh we’ll be doing that one, yeah. But I think we could do a very different set, but we had to make a decision, to say: shall we do this tonight? And to see how it is, you know.

Colin: And hopefully it represents our whole career. From 64…

Rod: (laughs) Ah, from 1964!

Colin: … till now, and there’ll be three brand new songs in there as well. Because…

Rod: They will be recorded next year.

Colin: Yeah. Because we still write, and we still record new songs. We don’t just play songs from the Sixties.

МS: Can you say some words about current activities of your former band members, Chris White, Hugh Grundy and Paul Atkinson?

Rod: We worked with them. Oh, Paul is dead, unfortunately. Paul passed away three years ago. Was it three years ago, Colin?

Colin: Yeah, yeah.

Rod: But the rest of us got together, because it was 40 years since Odessey and Oracle was released, in March this year – Chris and Hugh Grundy, the original drummer, Chris White on bass, Hugh Grundy, the original fella, obviously Colin and myself, Keith doing the guitar parts – Keith is the guitarist with our touring band, but you know, Paul is no longer with us. And then Darian Sahanaja from the Brian Wilson band played second keyboards, because on the Odessey and Oracle album I overdubbed mellotron parts and other keyboards, and also we overdubbed some harmonies, so we had the guys in our touring band doing the extra harmonies. And we re-created Odessey and Oracle, every single note that was on the original album. We did that live. And we had three fantastic nights in Shepherds Bush. And we may repeat that, actually. In fact, we will repeat that, just once, in England (in Hay Court?) next year. But it was great working with those guys then. It was a real blast to do.

Colin: You know, we haven’t played together since 1967, and so… it was very interesting, and a little bit scary.

Rod: (laughs) We didn’t know if it was gonna work.

Colin: (laughs) We didn’t play together for 40 years.

Rod: And in the audience was Robert Plant, Snow Patrol, Paul Weller, who was there all three nights, Garbage, I can’t think of…

Colin: A lot of celebrities.

Rod: And before we sang the first song, I thought: my God, if this doesn’t work, this could be so embarrassing. But after the first song we knew it was gonna be great.

Ptichka: What about your tour with The Yardbirds?

Colin: It was great. We never worked with them in the Sixties. But I’ve got to know Jim McCarty over the last few years, I went to see them play before we even agreed to do the tour and I thought they’re lovely guys and a very good band. We had fun – it was really, really good. We did 31 dates in a very short period of time, and the two bands got on very well together. I think we made a very good package.

Ptichka: What do you think of Ukranian music?

Rod (to Colin): What do you… (…)?

Colin (to Rod): What do you know about Ukranian music?

Rod: Nothing, really.

Ptichka: And which modern British groups and musicians do you like most of all, from the newer generation?

Rod: I stopped listening to so much modern music, personally, when rap started, when that whole thing started. But there are some modern groups that I think are good. I like The Killers. I like Snow Patrol. I don’t know all their stuff, but I loved an album that came out two or three years ago by The Thrills, So Much For The City, which I thought was really good. Can’t think of …. what’s the guy called – James Morrison, really good singer I think. There’s a few now. Paul Carrack, my friend – it’s not modern music, but I think he’s a wonderful singer. And I love the records he still makes. I still love his new stuff too.

МS: Some people consider The Zombies to be the most underrated group from the Sixties. But as for you, what groups do you consider to be underrated, from British boom?

Rod: From the British boom? (to Colin) It’s a difficult question, that. At the time, who do you think didn’t come through?

Colin:  I think that probably the only ones we were aware of were groups that were successful. So, they wouldn’t be underrated. I mean… I remember a really obscure band we played with when we were still amateurs, and we played with the band called The Crusters.

Rod: That’s very obscure, yeah. They were brilliant.

Colin: The people in the music business in England at that time would know that band, but it never had any record, and we played with them, and we were just knocked out, they were fantastic. But they never had any record.

Rod: They didn’t make a record, did they?

Colin: Oh sure.

Rod: I’m not sure even, that’s very obscure.

Colin: But they were very, very good.

МS: What do you think about The Four Pennies?

Rod: They’re not my favourite. Personally, it’s not my favourite taste… sorry! (laughs)

Ptichka (to Colin): How did you manage to preserve your voice through so many years?

Colin: Well, more recently I went to a singing coach, but this is quite recently. Because I was struggling. I think, as you age your voice changes. And you have to learn how to look after it. I went to a singing coach, and he taught me some basic technique and also gave me a practice tape, so when we’re touring I do my practice session twice a day and that really helps.

Rod: This is not to change his voice.

Colin: No, this is purely to keep it in а good state.

Rod: Yes.

Colin: It strengthens my voice and it makes it more accurate.

OP: I would like to ask you ... As I was walking the streets I was wondering what your feelings and impressions were of the country you are in now, because the atmosphere and everything around here is different from what you’re used to. And the second question, similar to this in a way, your recollections of your life in the Philippines, where you were huge in the Sixties.

Colin: Yes, we were. You see, we’ve only been here 24 hours, and we haven’t sort of walked along the streets, we’ve driven around the city, I think it looks lovely and one of the things that strikes me is, how different it is. And I find that very intriguing and exciting and I hope we can come back and explore, because one of the lovely things, when we’re traveling, when we’re playing, is if we get the chance to go out in the place where we are and meet some people and have a chat, so I really hope we can come back.

Rod: There are some beautiful parts in the city.

OP: Especially in the centre.

Rod: Yeah, in the old part, absolutely gorgeous.

OP: This is where Russia springs from. Kiev is called “Mother of all Russian cities”.

Rod: Oh really, is that right? Great. And the people are being so friendly and nice, and the girls are beautiful I have to say (laughter). Looking objectively.

OP: What about the Philippines?

Colin: We went there… I think it was 1967, the year when the band finished. And we met some lovely people there. But it was quite scary, because a very rich guy asked us to go there, and he owned a Coliseum, a big arena, and he wanted to sort of hold us captive. We were his prisoners, really, for about ten days. And he had his own police force and they had guns - as the English we were not used to seeing guns at all. And he just wanted to keep us in this Coliseum. And we used to get into the back of cars, we call it the boot of a car, and we would hide, and get out and go to parties and things, but we weren’t supposed to. And in the end it got very complicated, because we wanted to stay on, we were playing to huge audiences, 30 000 people a night, and we wanted to stay on, we were having such a good time, but he said, If you stay on you have to work for me. And we said, well we don’t want to work for you.

Rod: We were getting 80 pounds between us, a night, for playing to 40 thousand people. And we’d played 10 nights in the same place, 40 thousand people a night, and we had 80 pounds a night between us.

Colin: So it wasn’t a very good deal (laughs). He had our passports, and we went to the airport, and he gave us our passports to get on the plane, and we took our passports and said: Well, we’re not going! And there were thousands of people there to see us off, to say goodbye, and they were all getting ready to wave. And we turned round and came back again. And he tried to have us put in prison. It was a scary time. But it was just because of this one man. And eventually we did work a few nights on in the Philippines. We were gonna play in two much smaller places, two clubs, and just before we went on on the fist night, the first gig, they said: I’m sorry you can’t play. We’ve been threatened: You can’t play. But we played at the second place, and that night it burned down to the ground. So it was a scary time. But we’ve been back just recently - that guy, I would think he’s dead now, he was an old gentleman then - and we had a wonderful time. We went for a week and it was really lovely.

OP: Thank you, you’ve guessed my other question – whether you were back to the Philippines.

Colin: Oh yes, we have, we’ve just been back, about a year ago.

OP: And I hope you will be back to Kiev, to Moscow and St Petersburg, because there is a huge appetite for the music of the Sixties in Russia.

Rod: Right?

OP: Especially with the Iron Curtain and stuff, like the Beatles they had a huge following without a single record out, without any kind of promotion, it was like a cult group and it was forbidden.

Rod: Amazing.

OP: And now, when everything is (allowed)… we have access to all this, there’s a huge appetite.

Colin: Well, we’d love to come back, if we’re asked, we will.

Ptichka: It’s still hard to buy your records.

Colin: It’s hard, is it? Well… we’ve brought some with us! (laughter). If you’ve got the money, we’ve got the records. (laughs)

МS: Why has your friend given you this name, The Zombies?

Rod: It was our original bass player, he was the only guy who ever left the band. We were looking for a name when we first formed, and people gave us some very boring names that many other groups had had, and we didn’t like any of them. Then after about two weeks the original bass player said: what about The Zombies? Colin hated that originally, I know. I loved it. Because at the time there were no zombie films around, and we vaguely heard of zombies, it had some vaguely exotic feeling to it. And we knew faintly what they were, it just sounded vaguely exotic. And I always felt that if you could have a name that was unusual enough, then people would identify you with that name. Well, when you think of the Beatles, you don’t think of little insects running around, or you don’t even think of the play on the word – beat and beetles – you just think of John, Paul, George and Ringo, you know. And I think it was great, ‘cause no one else would have this name. I also remember the first television we did, we played on Ready, Steady, Go with She’s Not There, and Manfred Mann were also playing on Ready, Steady, Go, and Manfred and I shared a love of Miles Davies, the jazz trumpet player, and he was playing a Miles Davies record in his dressing room, and I went in and started speaking to him and he said: I love your record man, he said, but that name – you have to change. (laughter). But we never did.

МS: You mean Arnold, your first bass player?

Rod: Paul Arnold, that’s it.

МS: This young man wants to ask you one question.

Colin and Rod: Yes.

Young man: What’s the secret of your friendship for such a long time? Because we know one example of Paul McCartney and John Lennon, after the Beatles disbanded they said to each other many bad words. So what is the secret of your friendship for such a long time?

Rod: I don’t know. I mean, we had remained friends. And when the Zombies broke up, even though we went into separate projects, we were still involved… I mean, I along with Chris White produced Colin’s early solo records, and we still wrote songs for him when he was doing that. And through the years I worked on and off with Colin. And we’ve always maintained contact and remained friends.

Colin: Well, sometimes we say that Rod learned to write songs for my voice, and I learned to sing, singing Rod’s songs, and so it’s a big connection, and it’s something that you can never forget.

Young man: So you wrote songs for each other?

Colin: No, Rod wrote songs for me. I wrote songs for me too (laughs). I didn’t write songs for him! It’s very selfish. But I’ve learned to sing, singing Rod’s songs.

МS: About the song The Way I Feel Inside.

Colin: Yes.

МS: There was a rumour that it was written in a water closet.

Rod: It was! It was certainly … it was written in a water closet (both laugh). Strange title of a song!

Colin: We were touring, and we got on the bus…

Rod: … with The Searchers, wasn’t it?

Colin: … yes, with The Searchers. And well, Rod wasn’t there. And I went to look for him (laughs) and he was in the water closet

Rod: … finishing this song.

Colin: He was writing (laughs). And I banged on the door: Rod, we’re going! So yeah, it’s true.

Ptichka: The question about the person who helped to promote Odessey and Oracle in the USA, I mean Al Cooper, whom I like very much too. Tell us about your partnership with Al Cooper and your attitude to his music.

Rod: Well, Al was the person… Because he was the hot new producer in the CBS in America, and they paused – we didn’t know it at the time, but they paused on releasing Odessey and Oracle.

Colin: They were not gonna release it.

Rod: And then Al who’d just joined them came over to England and picked up hundreds of records, maybe 200 records or something, and he heard Odessey and Oracle and got very excited about it. And he took it back to Clive Davies and said to Clive Davies: you know, this is one you can’t miss, you should sign these guys, and Clive Davies said: we signed them, but I’ve just paused on it, we’re just about to relinquish our deal with The Zombies, and he said: you can’t do that! And it was his influence. Absolutely and definitely that made that album become released. We saw Al in March, he came over and introduced the shows at the Shepherds Bush Empire, for Odessey and Oracle, it was great seeing him again. And he’s still making good music. He’s just made a new album, I think.

МS: What Zombies cover you consider to be the best?

Rod: Santana, for me. She’s Not There.

МS: “People!” - I Love You?

Rod: Yeah, that’s OK. I’ll tell you another one I love, it is much more obscure, a song called If It Don’t Work Out by Dusty Springfield. That’s the opening track on the Everything's Coming Up Dusty album. And I love her version of that, I think that’s brilliant.

Ptichka: And what about Kiss’s rendition of God Gave Rock’n’Roll To You?

Rod: It’s an absolute copy of Russ, our singer in Argent, Russ Ballard. I thought it was him singing when I first heard it. It’s a complete copy. And you know Kiss’s Gene Simmons claims to have written that song because he changed one line when they recorded it (laughs).

OP: The logical question would be: whether you write some material together and plan on working together in the future?

Rod: We’re gonna be working on a new album. We don’t tend to write together, but Colin’s written a new song you’ll hear tonight, the two new songs that I’ve written you’ll hear tonight as well, and they’ll all be on a new album. The Shepherds Bush concerts we recorded for a double CD and also for a DVD which is just being finished at the moment, and it sounds and looks great. I shouldn’t say that but I think it does, and it’s a really faithful replication of the concert. After that we have to look to a studio CD, and we’re all writing material at the moment for it. We’ve been touring so much this year, we toured for three and a half months in the UK, and then we had one day off, and we did 21 concerts in America immediately following that, we’ve hardly had time to think about anything else, but certainly, by next summer I hope we’ll have a new album.

OP: Thank you, and good luck!

Rod and Colin: Thank you very much!

Ptichka: What is the reason for the difference between the European and Americal DVD of your show in the Bloomsbury Theatre?

Rod: It’s because of rights, publishing rights, and the intricacies of the law and what the record companies have to pay. I would much rather have everything on the American DVD as well as on the European DVD. But the American record company because of the way they have to pay royalties would not do that. So it’s not down to us I’m afraid.

МС: Do you have some autobiographical songs? Maybe Imagine The Swan, or some other.

Rod: I think… Not really, except that… the song Beachwood Park is not really autobiographical, but Chris White wrote that song and he wrote it about a park that he used to go to when he was growing up, when he was a young teenage boy, and he has some lovely memories, and so that was about his own experience without any question. (To Colin) You have, you’ve got a couple of autobiographical songs?

Colin: I was wondering whether to say or not. I mean, I didn’t write very much for The Zombies, I only wrote two songs for the Zombies, but on my solo albums a lot of the songs I write are autobiographical. They’re sort of line by line what happened. And people sometimes ask me: what’s the deep meaning in here? And I say there’s no deep meaning. I mean, just read it and that’s what happened.

МS: What’s the best Zombies song, for you?

Colin: For me? She’s Not There, I think. Because it was the first record we recorded, and it was a huge success, and we were 17 and 18 years old, of course it was very exciting. So I think for me – She’s Not There.

МS: For Rod?

Rod: I honestly can’t answer that question, because all the different songs have different feeling for me, and I like them equally in different ways, I really do. I’ll answer this in a very strange way. One song that for years I was a little bit embarrassed about, because I thought the lyrics sounded dated, but we haven’t performed it onstage, was Hung Up On A Dream from Odessey and Oracle. But in fact, once we started doing it with all the original guys, when we did it onstage, it was fantastic. And that was the song I really got to love. It has that a very flower power couple of lines in the lyrics, men with flowers in their hair, that always used to make me cringe a little bit, but I do like that song very much. But I like a lot of the songs actually, in different ways. I have an affection like Colin for She’s Not There, but that’s an emotional affection, because it was our first hit and suddenly we were number one in America, this land that seemed like a magical place, and Elvis - I first heard him singing Hound Dog in 1956 - he obviously came from America, this sort of magical land - and we later found that he had our records in his juke-box. And all those references made She’s Not There a magical record from an emotional point of view, but it’s not that I necessarily like it as a song more than many of the other songs.

Colin: It’s quite interesting, because you find that you like a song, and then you go off it a bit, you don’t like it, and then maybe two years later it’s your favourite song again. So it’s not a constant thing. And also, when you’ve recorded an album, you probably need to leave it about two years before you can go back and have an opinion on that work, ‘caus you get so close to it that you have to have a gap. Say, I would recommend two years.

МS: What are your favourite groups from the British Invasion?

Rod and Colin: The Beatles.

Colin: Absolutely.

Rod: I enjoy some of the Kinks a lot. Oh goodness…

Colin: Would the Who count?

Rod: Certainly for an English group, when they had Steve Winwood with them – The Spenser Davies Group. I loved The Animals at the time, I have to say I did.

Colin: Yeah, they were good.

Rod: And I loved The Who. I thought The Who made wonderful records too. I used to love Cream, but they were a bit later – you know, obviously after the Invasion.

Colin: It’s quite interesting, because when I try and think of the Sixties then sometimes I think I’ve forgotten most of it. I mean, when they say what’s your favourite Sixties band – I can’t remember! It was such a long time ago.