The 1960s probably spawned more distinctive and instantly recognisable British pop lead singers and soloists than any other decade.
The voices of Dusty Springfield and Lulu, lead singers like Steve Winwood with Spencer Davis and Traffic, Steve Marriott with The Small Faces, Chris Farlowe, and Colin Blunstone with The Zombies, are all iconic in terms of British pop history.
But it is the sheer clarity of tone and dynamic range of Colin Blunstone’s voice that has set him apart from the rest, at least as far as male singers go. Colin Blunstone started his career with his old schoolmate Rod Argent, when they formed The Zombies. They quickly scored chart success with “She’s Not There in 1964” but had split by 1967.
Colin pursued a solo career, being signed to major record label Epic, where he recorded a string of hit albums. It was with a song from his first album for Epic, “One Year”, that he kicked off his show at The Stables at Wavendon, Milton Keynes, the penultimate gig of his Spring tour of 2018.
“She Loves The Way They Love Her”, a catchy, tongue-in-cheek pop profile of a young lady who loves the limelight. Written by Rod Argent and Chris White, it was originally performed by The Zombies.
Colin’s updated solo version proved a worthy opener on “One Year”, as well as for his gig at The Stables. Another Zombies / Rod Argent song quickly followed; up-tempo rocker “Time To Move”, after which Colin introduced the next song, Jimmy Ruffin’s 1966 classic and timeless hit,“What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted” – a collaborative hit for Colin with Dave Stewart. Written by William Weatherspoon, Paul Riser, and James Dean.
At this point, Colin’s self-depreciating and down-to-earth sense of humour kicked in, with a request for the audience to sing, stating: “This band follows the audience… not me… so sing along. I’ve been recording for 50 years and sometimes I forget the words …and sometimes even the melody!” The audience duly obliged.
“Wild Places”, a song written by the late singer-songwriter Duncan Browne, preceded one of Colin’s all-time biggest and best-known hits, “I Don’t Believe in Miracles”. Written by Russ Ballard, it was originally recorded in 1972 for Colin’s second Epic release “Ennismore”. In 1984, the song was a hit all over again, being covered by Barbara Dickson, and then Judie Tzuke in 2000.
Colin’s live version at The Stables featured sublime backing vocals from his keyboard player Pete Billington, guitarist Manolo Poloda and bass player Elliott Mason, with Colin’s voice hitting those high notes with ease. If you closed your eyes, you could think it was 1972 again, such is Mr Blunstone’s ability as a singer; his control and range are still spot on!
“Any Other Way”, a more recent track from Colin’s 2009 release “The Ghost Of You And Me”, written by Jon Lind and Richard Page, was initially recorded with a lush string arrangement by Christopher Gunning.
This live version was very different, with solo guitar from Manolo Poloda replacing pizzicato violin and bowed cello. Colin explains, with a wry smile, about how and why the next song, “So Much More”, from his 2012 album “On The Air Tonight”, was written.
He had gone back home from a tour and wanted to say to his wife: “I just want to love you so much more”, but Colin Blunstone introduces the song as only Colin Blunstone can…“You may think that when we go on tour, everyone is lined up outside to wave goodbye … with a tear in their eye… No… they don’t even notice that I’ve gone… until Tuesdays – bin collection day!”
“Caroline Goodbye”, another song from “One Year” was written by Colin when he was “a broken-hearted 20-year old.” His version of Smokey Robinson’s hit, “Tracks Of My Tears” fitted his voice perfectly, his phrasing and dynamics complementing the song, while adding new vigour to this Motown classic.
“Single Man”, another Duncan Browne song, written for Roger Daltrey, tells of the dilemmas of a single man, tempted to drown his sorrows when love goes wrong. Colin‘s voice, at times, even contained some Daltrey-esque overtones. “Though You Are Far Away”, another ballad from the “One Year” album, featured superbly sympathetic piano backing from Pete Billington, before the band closed their first set with a rocking version of the hit “Say You Don’t Mind”.
After a short interval, the 1974 Epic album “Journey” was the subject of the first two numbers in the second set, and again Colin demonstrated his controlled vibrato and ability to hit those top notes with ease, on “Wonderful and Beginning” / “Keep The Curtains Closed Today”.
“Andorra”, is a solid, on the road rocker from the “Ennismore” album, and drummer Steve Rodford, son of the late great bass player Jim Rodford (who had performed with Colin, Rod Argent and son Steve in the newly reformed Zombies, as well as on studio sessions with Colin) kicks the pace along while keeping everything tight and tidy.
“Misty Roses”, another offering from “One Year”, is a beautiful ballad featuring a Latin, Charlie Byrd-style guitar solo from Manolo Poloda. Colin and Manolo are joined by the band for one chorus towards the end of the song, at which point it slips back gently to close with voice and guitar.
“Dancing In The Starlight” brought us back up to date, well almost, to the 2012 album “On The Air Tonight”, followed by “Now I Know I’ll Never Get Over You”, a self-penned ballad from “The Ghost Of You And Me”.
During the late 70s, Colin struggled to provide record companies with what they thought he should be recording, and in the case of Elton John’s Rocket Records, he, according to Elton, could not get it right.
After three albums, none of which, as Colin explains in his intro, Elton liked, he found himself out of fashion and out of work. “Planes”, with lyrics by Bernie Taupin, is the title track to one of the albums Colin recorded for Rocket in 1977. These were Colin’s last albums until “Echo Bridge” in 1995.
Colin Blunstone weathered the storms of ‘80s and ‘90s musical fads and fashions, and his albums are still selling steadily. Maybe he knew what he was doing after all! Proof of this is in his live performance. At the age of 72, he is sounding as great as ever.
With timeless pop classics like The Zombies’ “Time Of The Season”, and the song he recorded with The Alan Parsons Project, “Old And Wise” – and rounding off his second set at The Stables with a storming version of “She’s Not There”, Colin Blunstone has definitely stood the test, as the standing ovation at The Stables proved.
Colin and band encored with another Zombies song, “I Want Some More”, and the audience joined in by singing along. “Ooh ooh ooh ooh!!”; that’s how the chorus goes. You’ll need to know that when you go to the next Colin Blunstone gig.
- Colin will tour with The Zombies in June, with eight UK shows, starting on 2nd June in Eastleigh and ending up in Edinburgh on 16th. Then Zombies dates across Europe and USA through to December.
Words & Photo: By Geoff Carverhill