Feature: Internationally famous St Albans band on the music industry, success, and their journey
- Credit: Picture: DANNY LOO
It is notoriously difficult for British bands to cross the pond and garner success in America. So when a St Albans group is welcomed with open arms into the legendary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it’s obvious they are something special.
The Zombies received more than 320,000 votes to place them in the Cleveland museum, alongside superstars such as Elvis Presley, Bob Marley, and David Bowie.
Having been eligible since 1989 and nominated unsuccessfully in three previous years, they will finally be inducted into the ranks this March, exactly 50 years to the day that The Zombies’ single Time of The Season went to number one in the American Cash Box chart.
Their musical journey is thriving, with sold-out gigs around the world and a spot on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time.
Jim Rodford’s guitar is also on display in the St Albans Musum + Gallery, in the building the band performed one of their first gigs.
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But where did it start? The Herts Ad spoke to keyboardist and singer Rod Argent, drummer Hugh Grundy, bassist Chris White, lead singer Colin Blunstone, and album artist Terry Quirk.
In 1961, St Albans School pupil Rod decided to set up a band. He recruited a mishmash of musicians - including now passed guitarist and vocalist Paul Atkinson.
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Rod picked Hugh out of a crowd of army cadets because he “seemed to have the best sense of military drumming”.
Hugh said: “One moment can change your life forever, and in that particular moment, it did. More particularly, was me changing from the bugle to the drums when I first joined the cadets.”
With the help of his cousin Jim Rodford, a well-known member of The Bluetones, Rod remembers their first band practice at The Pioneer Club: “We started playing this instrumental and I thought it sounded pretty good - Jim had shown Hugh his first snare drum rock type rhythm which he picked up immediately and was a natural at it. We thought it was sounding pretty hot.
“Jim confided in Colin many years later that he had thought we had no chance.”
He was wrong, with the group soon playing to hundreds of local fans. It was just before they were about to throw in the towel and go their separate ways that they won a rock competition at Watford Town Hall and signed a recording deal with Decca.
The Zombie’s released their debut single in 1964, She’s Not There, and it rocketed up to number 12 in the Official UK Singles Chart.
Despite this promising start, the band’s second album Odessey And Oracle - “we don’t talk about the spelling”, jokes Terry - was a flop.
Colin said: “This is the irony of it, no-one really wanted it at the time and apart from one or two good reviews, it was ignored, it was a commercial failure. It is a mystery. No-one understands why.”
Without chart success, it was the end of the line for The Zombies - or so they thought. Just after splitting, the band’s US label Date Records released Time of the Season one last time and they found success again.
This prompted opportunistic fakers to impersonate this obsolete English band, sometimes with the wrong number of people playing the wrong instruments.
Rod spoke about the music industry in the 21st century: “I think there’s an occasional good thing and maybe I haven’t heard what I should, but they seem much more manufactured.
“Records seem to be much more formulaic now than they used to be. One of the great things about the 60s was that record executives didn’t understand so they used to leave it up to musicians. That meant that a lot more cutting edge things, exploratory things, things that were off the wall, got through and became some of the biggest hits. Nowadays it is a strictly controlled business.”
He described tracks as “wallpaper” now, often tuned-out and in the background.
Colin agreed: “[Success] has no relationship to the charts, they’re completely divorced. They’re not as relevant as they were, and not as universally accepted.”
They have just released a book, The ‘Odessey’: The Zombies in Words and Images, and performed at the Alban Arena in a tribute concert to Jim Rodford, who died in 2018.
Rod said it was nice to come back: “St Albans really hasn’t changed its nature or character over the years and that is rare.”