Colin Blunstone: One Year Leads To Another

The Zombies frontman’s debut solo album celebrates its 50th birthday with an exclusive U.S. performance and an expanded reissue

Original back cover of One Year (Image: Discogs)

Best known as the sublimely sensuous voice of The Zombies, Colin Blunstone found himself in momentary limbo after the band broke up in late 1967.

After a year wandering, somewhat improbably, in the corporate wilderness, his singing career was revived by an offer from producer Mike Hurst to record a new version of The Zombies’ first hit, “She’s Not There”, under the pseudonym Neil MacArthur. That outing was a big hit, but the two follow-ups not so much, and poor Neil soon was consigned to relative obscurity, known only to the most devoted Colin Blunstone aficionados. But that’s a story in itself. . .an ending that was the true beginning of Colin’s solo career via the lavish, string-drenched One Year, which also saw him come into his own as a songwriter.

I had the pleasure of speaking to Colin and asking him a few questions about the genesis of One Year, the special anniversary re-release, and his upcoming one-night-only U.S. performance of the album in its entirety.

 

Colin, after The Zombies ended, you and the other non-writers in the band had to find a way to keep the wolf from the door, which led to your stint with the insurance company. Did you actually think your singing career was at an end at that point?

It intrigues me that no one ever asks why after many chart records and countless tours the three non-writing members of The Zombies all HAD to get jobs immediately the band finished. I’ll leave the reader to gauge whether we were badly managed or perhaps something a bit more sinister, but I would emphasize we hadn’t wasted our earnings…we hadn’t earned any money in the first place and now we were flat broke. I took the first job I was offered. I didn’t have any choice.

It did seem as though it was over. I was really saddened by the band breaking up, so maybe it was a good thing to join a very busy office, which meant I didn’t have time to dwell on this sadness.

 

How did it feel then, when you got the call from Mike Hurst – were you surprised, excited, eager to try again?

CB: When “Time Of The Season” started to climb the U.S. charts, I started to get offers to record again. Mike Hurst had just produced the fantastic early Cat Stevens records (Mathew and Son, I Love My Dog, I’m Gonna Get Me A Gun) so I was particularly interested in his ideas, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to get involved with the music business again after the previous disappointments. Mike came up with the idea of recording some vocals at Olympic Sound in Barnes in the evenings after I had finished work, which allowed me to try a few vocals without initially committing to a full-time musical career.

 

VIDEO: The Zombies “Time of the Season”

You did have a hit with the revamped “She’s Not There”, but not under your own name.  Soon after, you decided to ditch your alter-ego, Neil MacArthur, and reintroduce Colin Blunstone as a solo artist.  Why the detour into relative anonymity; why not record as yourself from the start?

I’m not sure whose idea it was to change my name, but it certainly wasn’t mine. I wasn’t thinking far enough ahead because when the first record was released, and it was a hit in the U.K., I suddenly found myself stuck with a strange name!

 

And then One Year brought you back to yourself again! Specifically, how did One Year come about?

Rod Argent and Chris White had formed a production company, and one day driving home from a party with Chris, he asked if I’d consider recording with them again. It seemed a great idea to get the old team back together and eventually we ended up recording in Abbey Road studio 3 with Peter Vince in the engineer’s chair, just as he had been with The Zombies.

 

 

Besides initiating the project, Rod and Chris contributed 3 songs to the album (including the beautiful “Her Song”). And then, the entire extremely talented lineup of the band Argent – with Rod, the late, great Jim Rodford, Russ Ballard, and Bob Henrit — lent their talents to the record.  I can imagine that — working with friends and past bandmates — would have made the process flow a bit more smoothly than it might have otherwise…

Yes, I was incredibly fortunate that the members of my favorite band, Argent, agreed to help get me started on my first solo project. They were all wonderful players and made recording the early tracks an absolute joy. Rod and Chris were co-producers of the project and yes, I think it always makes recording easier if you’re recording with friends!

 

It’s somewhat impressive that right out of the gate you came up with this beautiful work. The album is called One Year – does the title have a special meaning?

Up until then I had been used to recording very quickly, so it was quite a surprise when I realized the album was like a diary of a whole year of my life.

 

Apparently an eventful year at that! The album is also notable for its plentiful use of strings. Could you talk a bit about the string arrangements (including your cover of Denny Laine’s “Say You Don’t Mind”) and the overall tone or mood of the album? It’s a very sophisticated work, and very romantic – was that intentional, or just the natural state of your soul at the time?

We were introduced to a wonderful arranger called Chris Gunning, and his contribution completely changed the focus of the album.  We partnered my voice with various string ensembles, sometimes a quartet as in “Misty Roses” and sometimes a larger group — for instance Denny Laine’s beautiful “Say You Don’t Mind” featuring a 21-piece string orchestra. The song selections were a joint effort between Rod, Chris, and myself.  Perhaps songs were in general a bit more romantic 50 years ago?

Colin Blunstone One Year, Epic/Sundazed 1971/2021

I think maybe you’re right!  You wrote 4 songs on the original release* (*Note: A fifth song, “I Hope I Didn’t Say Too Much Last Night,” was added to later releases). One of them, “Caroline Goodbye”, was a bona fide hit. The other 3 (“Though You Are Far Away”, “Let Me Come Closer To You”, & “I Can’t Live Without You”) are no less works of art. What inspired you to write again after so long a time?

I think sharing a flat for about a year with singer-songwriter Duncan Browne helped to motivate me. He was a wonderful guitarist and very supportive of my early compositions — although after The Zombies I never actually stopped writing, and now with the One Year project I had a vehicle to write for.

 

So that brings us to the 50th anniversary and the reissue. Besides the lovingly remastered One Year, there is a full second CD of 14 demos from that general era, most never released – some not even finished. Duncan Browne shows up on some of these, as well. What can fans expect from this extended set?

This is a collection of song ideas recorded around the time of One Year and only recently re-discovered by Chris White’s sons Matthew and Jamie. My memory of recording them is extremely hazy, but it was thought it might be of interest for people to hear some melodies written at the time of One Year at the very beginning of my writing career.

Rod Argent and Duncan Browne both kindly contributed to these tracks with their wonderful playing, and as I don’t remember any rehearsals for these sessions, I can imagine they were fairly spontaneous affairs! Though memories have faded I’ll always remember the story behind “Sing Your Own Song” and it still makes me smile…when “Time Of The Season” was a hit The Zombies had already ceased to exist, causing a bit of a vacuum. Various managers and promoters set about putting that right by forming their own Zombies and touring extensively all over The States. When original Zombies bass player Chris White was in Rolling Stone’s office in New York, it was suggested he call one of these managers for the story behind the (phony) Zombies. “We formed the band to honor the life of the lead singer of The Zombies who was tragically killed in a car crash,” he explained to a surprised Chris White. When Rolling Stone reported this conversation it felt as though I was reading my own obituary — which hopefully isn’t due for some time yet!

 

 

Besides the re-release of the album, you’re also planning an exclusive, one-night-only performance in Los Angeles on January 22, 2022, complete with a full string orchestra — the first time you’ve ever performed the album in its entirety. How did that all come about, and are you looking forward to the experience, especially considering this will be your first solo outing since lockdown?

Joe Wong, who is a Los Angeles based producer, writer, and multi-instrumentalist, had for some time been championing the idea of a One Year performance. And more recently the wonderful Orchid String Quartet had been showing interest in performing the Chris Gunning arrangements from the album.  Realizing this was the 50th anniversary of the album’s release, coupled with these wonderful artists’ support, led to the idea of performing One Year in its entirety for the very first time. Exciting times!

Colin Blunstone That Same Year, Sundazed 2021

Colin will perform One Year in its entirety for the first time with Joe Wong + Nite Creatures and Orchid Quartet  January 22, 2022 at the Palace Theatre in Los Angeles.  Tickets are available at Ticketmaster.

Listen to these never-before-heard tracks: “I Won’t Let You Down” from That Same Year, which includes fellow Zombie Rod Argent on piano https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=26M2DhsWmRA and “I’ve Always Had You”, featuring Duncan Browne on classical guitar at  https://youtu.be/I4J1PRpMZdM

 

VIDEO: Colin Blunstone “I Won’t Let You Down”

 

VIDEO: Colin Blunstone “I’ve Always Had You”

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Susan Enterline

Susan Enterline is a writer and musician living in New York City.

One thought on “Colin Blunstone: One Year Leads To Another

  • December 10, 2021 at 5:34 pm
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    Thank you for the insight into this massively talented artist’s first solo work. Mr. Blunstone’s voice is a marvel, and his work deserves far greater recognition. I would say this new release amply demonstrates that.

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