The Zombies to perform livestream from legendary Abbey Road Studios
Ahead of the performance, Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone spoke with Alternative Press about the stream and more.September 15, 2021
Music legends the Zombies will offer their first-ever livestream performance via Veeps, Live From Studio Two. The performance will be broadcast Sept. 18 at 3 p.m. ET, and tickets are available for sale here.
For the event, the band will perform at the storied Abbey Road Studios, which has played host throughout its history to artists from the Zombies, the Beatles and Aretha Franklin to Kanye West, Lady Gaga and Architects.
Ahead of the performance, bandmembers Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone connected with Alternative Press. Argent and Blunstone talked about their deep connections to the studio, which hosted the Zombies as well as solo ventures by both artists.
They also gave readers a first impression of what to expect from the stream, hinted at their in-progress studio album and recalled the process that led to the creation of Odessey And Oracle—one of the most recognizable and beloved albums to come out of the 1960s.
Abbey Road is obviously a widely regarded studio abounding with stories connected to many great artists. What does the studio mean to you both personally?
ROD ARGENT: Well, it’s a very, very special place, actually. We first came across Abbey Road in 1967. We’d been very frustrated with how our recent singles had been sounding. Nothing much was happening for us, or it seemed that way to us because we were based in England. In those days, the world was a much bigger place. You didn’t know what was going on in the rest of the world. Chris [White] and I, who were the writers in the band, were getting a good income because we later found out that we usually had a hit somewhere in the world. We were getting paid publishing and writing royalties.
The other guys in the band, because we were all being so ripped off by management and agencies, everyone was just about breaking even from live shows. I remember Paul Atkinson, our guitarist, saying, “Listen, man, I’m getting married, and I’ve got no money.” That feeling was in the air. We were very frustrated with the previous singles that we’ve had. So Chris and I said, “We’ve got to do at least one album where we produce it and we get songs sounding like we hear them in our heads.”
That’s how that came about at Abbey Road. We walked in there just after the Beatles had finished recording [Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band], and we started recording. We had a very limited budget, but we had a fantastic time. We ended up with an album that we thought was the best that we could do, and we loved how the songs had turned out. We loved people’s performances on them. We loved Colin’s singing on them. We loved the sounds that the engineers got. And we constructed the songs just as we’d heard them in our heads.
Then, it got great reviews, but nobody bought it. For years, nobody bought it. Even when “Time Of The Season” a year-and-a-half later became No. 1 in Cashbox, and I think it was No. 2 in Billboard or something like that. Even then, the album made the top hundred, but it wasn’t doing very much. And now all these years later, year after year, it sells in far greater quantities than it did even then.
That was our first impression of Abbey Road and our first relationship with them. And it was a pretty magical experience. We had some fantastic engineers. Peter Vince and Geoff Emerick were our main engineers there and the spirits of the studio, that wonderful combination of orthodoxy on the one hand, and, on the other hand, cutting-edge technology is something that I think has never really been equaled in other studios.
That was the beginning of a great relationship. Colin had a great album that he recorded there, One Year that Chris and I had a hand in doing a bit of writing but also producing. And then Colin did several albums there. Later on, when Argent had formed on the third album that we did, we went back to Abbey Road. The first track we got there was “Hold Your Head Up,” which became a worldwide hit. So we’ve got absolutely lovely memories of Abbey Road. It’s going to be a joy to have filmed a concert there. Although pretty scary, Colin.
COLIN BLUNSTONE: I think it will be. It’ll be quite emotional, actually, because we’ve got this history with Abbey Road, both of us together and separately. Because we’re a bit rusty. We haven’t played in two years. You know that there’s going to be a few rough edges. [Laughs.] We’re going to be on our toes, that’s for sure. I think it’s going to be very exciting. We’re both really looking forward to getting back to this wonderful studio, Abbey Road.
This is your first-ever livestream. Why did Abbey Road make sense as a setting for this project?
BLUNSTONE: We have got this connection with Abbey Road. It helps to give the livestream another dimension because of our history and, as Rod was saying, our memories with this wonderful institution—in the nicest possible way you could say institution. It was driven by management. We’re recording a new album. Our focus was probably on our new album, which we’re hoping to release next year, although we don’t have a name, as yet. We’re about halfway through this album, and we were very much focused on that when this opportunity came up. It’s just too good to turn away from it. We’re really looking forward to it.
ARGENT: Abbey Road initially reached out. It was obviously the management that put it to us and thought it was a great idea and talked it over with us. I think Abbey Road actually reached out and said, “The Zombies are a band that are very important to us.” Which we thought was hugely flattering, actually, considering the people that they’ve had there. They’ve always written nice things about this, Colin, haven’t they? Geoff Emerick, as well, wrote some lovely things about us and his recording of us there.
BLUNSTONE: He did. He wrote a wonderful book called Here, There And Everywhere. He engineered many of the Beatles’ classic tracks, and later on, he worked with McCartney. In his book, he does actually talk about the Zombies sessions that he supervised in Abbey Road. We met up with him at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles just before he died. His last words to us as he was leaving the backstage was, “Don’t forget, let’s get in contact. We must work together again. I’m not just saying that. We must do it.” We have these memories of him saying that. It was just days later that he died. It was a terrible shock.
It’s very sad. A major loss for the music world, as well. Shifting gears, I wanted to ask about your vision for the Veeps performance.
ARGENT: We’ve got a very small audience coming because of the COVID restrictions. There are just going to be 30 people in the audience. It does mean that along with recording the band and the livestream, there’ll also be a live PA in the studio downstairs, which will cause some technical challenges. The thing about the live music going out and being amplified to the people in the studio, as well as the close mic stuff actually going upstairs into the control room and forming the basis of how the show is going to sound and be, will provide some real challenges technically.
We’ve got some great people working on it. I’m sure that those challenges will be overcome, and we hope to actually get the best of both worlds in a way. What we’ll be doing is actually a lot of the stuff that people would expect. We’re not turning away from that. We’ll be doing “Time Of The Season” and “She’s Not There” and “Tell Her No.” But also some deep Zombies cuts.
Along with all that, we’ll be doing five songs from the new album, including a little section of three, which I’m so looking forward to, with a string quartet and quintet that I’ve written two scores for on the new album. Chris Gunning, the guy that wrote all the wonderful stuff for Colin’s One Year album, [has] written a special arrangement again to reflect back to the time of One Year when Colin did that. I’m really looking forward to that section. Along with those three tracks, we’ll be doing another couple of new songs as well. We’re going to be energized and full of adrenaline by hitting these things for the first time, as Colin so truly said, after two years of not actually being on the road. But it does us good to be on our toes, I think.
You alluded to it before, but I wanted to ask specifically about Odessey And Oracle. There are a lot of stories about the making of the album, which you recorded at Abbey Road. But it’s such a pivotal album on a musical level, as well.
BLUNSTONE: One of the main things is that CBS gave us a recording budget, but it was a thousand pounds. To record in Abbey Road, a thousand pounds isn’t going to last very long. This is one of the differences with this album. We knew we had to record quickly, so we rehearsed extensively out of the studio. When we went into the studio, we knew the songs, we knew the arrangements, we knew the keys. We’re just looking for a performance. Of course, we were helped incredibly by Geoff Emerick and Peter Vince, as we’ve mentioned before, and the wonderfully warm and sophisticated sound of Abbey Road.
ARGENT: There was a wonderful extra dimension to that, though, because the Beatles had managed to engineer an increase in tracks from the four-track recording machines, which were the only ones that we had. We recorded all the prepared stuff on the four tracks, and then they offered us another couple of tracks because the Beatles had worked out with them a way of using more than four tracks. So suddenly, after all the prepared stuff, we had a small amount of time to put anything that was an immediate idea onto the record.
With “Time Of The Season,” for instance, we probably had half an hour left on the session time. I remember saying to [Hugh Grundy], “The thing with the toms in the back sounds great. But you know what I can hear? I can hear something on the side of the backbeat, [claps] and [sighs] on either side.” He said, “Well, are you going to do it?” And I said, “Well, if you don’t mind.”
I went once through, and Geoff Emerick made it sound great. That became an unexpected signature of the tune. There were other tracks where we suddenly put extra harmonies on or an extra harmony line that we hadn’t imagined being there. It was that lovely combination of preparedness and then last minute…
ARGENT: Yeah! That was another dimension that happened to us for the first time at Abbey Road.
BLUNSTONE: And, of course, talking about Abbey Road and the Beatles: They’d actually just finished Sgt. Pepper before we went in, literally about two days before we went in to do Odessey And Oracle. We were the next band in, and, famously, John Lennon had left his Mellotron in Studio Three. Rod jumped on the Mellotron. If you listen to Odessey And Oracle, it’s all Mellotron. If John hadn’t left his Mellotron behind, it would have been a different album. For us personally as well, a lot of percussion instruments were lying around on the floor from the sessions, and we were huge Beatles fans and still are. It was very exciting to be picking up tambourines and maracas that have been left there from the Beatles sessions on Sgt. Pepper. It was a magical time.
It’s amazing because some of the effects you talked about are among the most recognizable sounds I can think of in music. With the opening of “Time Of The Season,” I think there are few moments in music that are more recognizable. It’s amazing to hear that it happened that way.
ARGENT: It happened that way, but it also had the input of Geoff Emerick. I remember as we were recording that—and it was very quick—but the way he mic’d up the toms and the bass somehow was so perfect. That “bom bom bom” just before you get the rhythmic thing. I remember at the time thinking, “That’s really magical. What’s he done there?” There’s something about that that sounds special. I don’t know quite what that was except his ears and what he heard from the sound of the drum kit and Chris’ bass and where to put the mics. It was all done very quickly. But the input from Geoff Emerick, I think, had a lot to do with that, too.