Review and photography by John Bentley

The Zombies, The Academy, Manchester

1960s hit-makers The Zombies are back with a new album and a tour. Featuring key original members Colin Blunstone (vocals) and Rod Argent (keyboards), tonight’s show promises a wide-ranging career retrospective, including the big chart hits and a dip into the classic album ‘Odessey and Oracle’.

The Zombies, The Academy, Manchester

Most people will particularly remember The Zombies for the singles ‘She’s Not There’ (1964) and ‘Time of the Season’ (1968), records whose status probably stands much higher today than when they were released. Both have a unique quality setting them apart from other records of their time. They are subtle and elaborately constructed songs, written by Rod Argent and transformed by Colin Blunstone’s vulnerable sounding high voice. A cover of the jazzy ‘She’s Not There’ was later a hit for Latin-rockers Santana. Ironically when ‘Time of the Season’ was recorded, Blunstone did not like the song and almost refused to sing it. At that point the band split, as bands often do, but fortunately the hurts are now healed and the band are back again.

The Zombies, The Academy, Manchester

Earlier this year The Zombies toured their iconic 1968 album ‘Odessey and Oracle’, a tour which featured drummer Hugh Grundy and bassist Chris White, both of whom played on the original album (White also wrote many of the album’s songs). As Argent explains at tonight’s gig, the album sold poorly at the time of release, but over the years it has been acknowledged as an all time classic and has been praised by other musicians, including Paul Weller and Dave Grohl. Current bassist, Jim Rodford, nearly joined the original 1960s Zombies, but ended up playing in other bands including The Kinks and, later, with Rod Argent himself in his post Zombies band, Argent. Jim’s son, Steve, plays drums and on guitar is Tom Toomey, who at one time played in a Santana tribute band that covered ‘She’s Not There’.

The Zombies, The Academy, Manchester

The Zombies seem very relaxed and chatty tonight, with Argent and Blunstone taking it in turns to introduce songs and provide entertaining anecdotes. The songs performed are mostly taken from the band’s 1960s albums, from the new ‘Still Got that Hunger’ (2015) and from the post-Zombies work of Argent and Blunstone. There have been many successful covers of Zombies / Argent songs. Rod Argent tells us that ‘I Want You Back Again’ was one of their early songs that they’ve ‘rediscovered’ for performing, after it was successfully covered by Tom Petty. More recently the band was approached to use 1964 hit single ‘Tell Her No’ in a toothpaste advertisement. Apparently the band hesitated, but on seeing the fee offered for the use, they agreed. “Everyone has their price”, says Argent, with a grin. Meanwhile Blunstone tells us that his impetus to start writing his own songs was seeing prolific songwriter Argent arrive at the studio in a Rolls Royce.

The Zombies, The Academy, Manchester

The new album has received good reviews and we get five songs from it, including ‘Maybe Tomorrow’. The song finishes with a quote from The Beatles, “I believe in yesterday”. Initially Sony Music, who control Beatles copyright, blocked the release of the new album, as they don’t allow use of Beatles quotes. However, the band managed to e-mail Paul McCartney, who liked the song, and told them to go on and release it.

The Zombies, The Academy, Manchester

Tonight’s performance demonstrates that this really is band that gels together musically and listening to them is a real treat from start to finish. Blunstone’s voice is in great shape and brings every song to life. Surprisingly his voice seems to fit everything, including the two Argent (the band of that name) songs performed, on which Blunstone never originally sang. There’s a particularly big cheer after he hits the high notes in his own song, ‘I Don’t Believe in Miracles’.

The Zombies, The Academy, Manchester, 09.12.15

Especially well received is the selection of five songs taken from the ‘Odessey and Oracle’ album: ‘A Rose for Emily’, ‘Care of Cell 44’ (a Dave Grohl favourite, apparently), ‘I Want Her, She Wants Me’, ‘This Will Be Our Year’ and ‘Time of the Season’. It’s a shame that a guy in front of me insisted on loudly talking to his mate through the delicate ‘A Rose for Emily’, but this seems to be something that unfortunately happens at so many gigs these days. ‘Time of the Season’ really does sound good and features some serene organ playing from Argent. Argent’s keyboard set piece of the evening is on ‘Hold Your Head Up’, which was a hit for his band Argent in 1972. He really exploits the range of his Hammond Organ in his improvisations, briefly visiting JS Bach (‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring’), but (fortunately) staying just clear of the excesses of Keith Emerson / ELP organ mangling.

The evening finishes, perhaps inevitably, with ‘She’s Not There’, with the audience singing along. The band encourage this participation and the lively crowd enjoy joining in. However, they do sing somewhat flat and spoil Blunstone’s vocal efforts and, personally. I’d rather just listen to the band unaccompanied. To wind-up the proceedings we have Argent’s ‘God Gave Rock and Roll to You’, a suitably rousing crowd anthem on which to finish (and a song perhaps more famous in the version by Kiss). Again, not a Zombies song, but the band do a great job on it.

Support band tonight is Josh Flowers and The Wild, a great little blues-rock band from London, who turn in a passionate and raw performance.

Josh Flowers and the Wild, The Academy, Manchester

One Response to “The Zombies + Josh Flowers and The Wild at The Academy, Manchester, UK – 9th December 2015”

  1. Peter Says:

    Nice review, we saw them at Liverpool Arts Club the following night. Nice to see a band in a good place and not going through the motions. Great support band too. It is a shame people can’t go to gigs and listen to the music. It seems to be constant trips to the bar, talking or recording the gig on a phone?

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