From the East Anglian Daily Times...Sat 27th May
ABOUT THE ZOMBIES
The Zombies played Felixstowe’s Spa Pavilion recently. The band members have kept going, not always as a band, but within the music business, since their formation in 1962. Their, story, while not wildly unusual is still a remarkable one. They scored one major hit in 1964, with the sophisticated, jazz-tinged She’s Not There. Little UK chart success followed it for the remainder of the 1960s. Very few people will recall other singles: “Leave Me Be” or “Tell Her No”. Anybody? I thought not. Those Americans really took to them, however and the Zombies became a definitive part of what is now called the British Invasion. For the next two years or so, the band, former St Albans grammar school boys, continued to tour and make singles, before entering Abbey Road Studios to commence making their second album. To put this all into perspective, by now it was June 1967. The Beatles had just left Abbey Road, having completed Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Pink Floyd were in the studio next door, working on their first album, A Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Elsewhere in Abbey Road at this time the legendary Yorkshire chansonnier, Jake Thackray was recording his own debut album. Into this cauldron of creativity stepped the Zombies. They borrowed John Lennon’s mellotron, an early type of synthesiser, which the Beatle had left lying around. Then, barely out of their teens, during the following weeks, the band proceeded to make the album which some people now believe – myself included – ranks with the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and the Beatles Sgt Pepper itself. The ill-fated album was called Odessey and Oracle. Its title, spelt wrongly by the record sleeve’s designer, went to press sweetly uncorrected. Facing the Zombies at this time, reportedly, were management problems and budgetary restrictions. Such obstacles would not have been uncommon back then, for guileless young chaps adrift in the music biz. Two of the band, its main songwriters, Rod Argent and Chris White, actually had to get their hands in their pockets to pay for the studio time needed to finish the record. Partly as a consequence, the band broke up and the record remained unreleased until the following year. Odessey and Oracle emerged in mid-1968 to scant reviews. The band’s singer, Colin Blunstone, briefly took a job in an insurance office. Soon afterwards, however, having secured himself a new record deal, he inexplicably, if briefly,changed his name to Neil MacArthur, releasing three singles under that name. Luckily by 1971, with the help of his former bandmates Argent and White, Colin Blunstone made a stunning debut solo album, One Year. It remains one of my all-time favourite albums. Odessey and Oracle, however, remained unsung. For years, afterwards, too, within certain quarters of the British music press, there persisted an idea that the band, regarded now as little more than one-hit wonders, were rather ‘middle-class’. I remember, once during the late 1970s, reading an NME review of a Zombies compilation album. The reviewer began sniffily, “I never liked the Zombies, because they all played chess and wore glasses.” That was the sort of stupid inverted snobbery facing artists who didn’t quite fit into the New Punk Orthodoxy of the time. An entire artistic oeuvre, tried and condemned retrospectively – and all before the needle had even hit the vinyl. Why? Possibly because the reviewer had dimly recalled a 1965 promo pic of the teenage band members posed around a chessboard. In actual fact, the Zombies were nearly all working class. Three of them were the sons of aeronautical workers from the nearby De Havilland factory. Another was the son of a bus inspector. Music journos, hey? Can’t live with ‘em. Not allowed to intern them in special re-education camps in Thetford Forest. The Zombies album, Odessey and Oracle, is a piece of pastoral pop loveliness. It is not a good record, it’s a beautiful record. It contains catchy pop songs, one great anti-war song, poetic lyrics, perfect arrangements and vocal harmonies which, at times rival the Beatles and the Beach Boys. The weird thing is that the record doesn’t sound particularly psychedelic, even though it came into existence within the same ether as the Sgt Pepper and Piper at the Gates of Dawn albums. Like much great art, the album has been vindicated by time itself. Paul Weller has often cited it as one of the best albums ever made. It’s taken the Zombies decades to get their due. And yet, still, I bet there are music lovers reading this piece now, who won’t know of the Odessey and Oracle album. The Zombies remaining members, now in their mid-late 70s made this masterpiece while still in their early 20s. For decades it wasn’t played on the radio, mentioned on TV or known by the wider public. Meanwhile, the UK music industry has continued to manufacture and promote unlistenable landfill while burying who knows how many other classics. Never trust them.