Sunday, May 29, 2011

Zombies walk the Earth!

If Zombies are lifeless creatures, existing trance-like in a state of limbo, then it has to be the most inappropriate name for the band started 50-years ago by Rod Argent, Colin Blunstone, Chris White and Hugh Gundy. These Zombies have the essential life force in them, not only performing at the highest standard but still producing fresh-sounding new material.

I well remember Saturday shopping expeditions forty-five year ago, and the excitement of finding Zombies singles for 6d – which was about all I could then afford out of my weekly pocket money. Fortunately, for me if not for the band, they were never very popular and their singles ended up (along with Pink Floyd’s early offerings, believe it or not) in the Woolworth ‘deleted and remainders’ bin. Lucky me; those singles are now worth about £40 apiece and the legendary original ‘Odessy and Oracle’ (which I bought full price at the then enormous price of 32s 6d) over £400!

I never saw them live in that early incarnation. They disbanded before I was old enough to be allowed by my parents to go to a gig. I never imagined that they’d still be around when I had money in my pockets, and was well old enough to choose how late I stay out!

Going to a Zombies show now is rather like going to one of the package tours that they’d have themselves taken part in during the early 60s. In those days the band would have been one amongst many, sandwiched between a couple of other ‘groups’, each playing their three of four most well-known numbers. Now with 50-years of material, various off-shoots and solo careers, this set-up has come full circle and provide the complete package themselves with career highlights and hits from The Zombies, Colin Blunstone, Rod Argent, and the 70s progressive band Argent. Separate acts but all connected by an unseen umbilical cord to the original Zombies.

Highlights of their 50th year anniversary show at London’s Shepherds Bush Empire included Zombies numbers like ‘Sticks n Stones’, ‘Tell her No’ and half a dozen from the aforesaid ’lost’ classic, 'Odessey and Oracle'. The four remaining original members of the band performed together for the latter. Half a dozen tracks from their latest CD, 'Breath in, Breath out' fitted seemlessly into the set. Blunstone contributed numbers from his solo career; ‘What becomes of the Broken Hearted’ and ‘I don’t Believe in Miracles’ were reminders of what a truly great voice he has. We were also reminded of just how good Argent were with an extended version of ‘Hold Your Head High’ and ‘God gave Rock’n’ Roll to you’, with the legendary Jim Rodford (Kinks) from the original band on bass.

Inevitably, it was everyone on stage for the most famed of Zombies numbers, ‘She’s Not There’. No one in the audience minded that they played it twice as an encore. What a night. What a band. What a history.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Moment of Rock History

Almost miraculously there he was taking his rightful place on top of The Wall. It only took the audience a few seconds to realize that the figure silhouetted by the broad shaft of back-projected, white light was Gilmour, recreating the iconic image first captured 30 years ago in Jill Furmanovsky’s photograph. A mighty roar from the auditorium almost drowned out the opening notes of ‘Comfortably Numb’. Gilmour and Waters were reunited. May 12th, 2011, The 02, London.

There had been the inevitable rumours and Twitterings that Gilmour would join Waters for one night; just one, somewhere on this European tour of The Wall. I don’t think anyone really thought they’d see it. And there was no speculation over the possibility of Mason being involve. But there he was, albeit swapping a drum kit for a tambourine. Mason, Gilmour, Waters and the 11-strong band, all standing front stage for the closing number, performed in front of the physical wreckage of the torn down Wall almost as an encore. Three members of Pink Floyd on stage together. May 12, 2011, The 02 London.

And Waters, hugging his old adversaries, making a public confession that during the Wall’s first outing at Earls Court 29 years and 329 days previously, he had been a grumpy, argumentative man, disaffected with both rock audiences and his colleagues. Gilmour nodded agreement. ‘But I’m a changed man now’. Gilmour nodded at that, too.

And what of The Wall itself? From the opening moments, when a large model plane crossed the audience to explode in a ball of fire stage right of a photo of Water’s own dead father, you knew you were in for something even greater than the normally memorable Water’s production. Seat belts on and prepare to have your senses bombarded.

From little acorns do mighty oaks grow. Waters has come a long way from performing at the UFO and Nottinghill’s All Saints church hall in front of patterns of coloured oil projected onto a loosely hung sheet behind the band. The visual effects were an absolute triumph of both creativity and technology. The Wall itself, slowly erected during the first half of the show, became the projection screen, filled with ever-changing kaleidoscopic colours and evocative images. Water’s anti-war and anti-corporatism message, and the Wall’s central story of ‘Pink’ the disaffected, alienated rock star, were rammed home, sometimes perhaps to audience discomfort - depending on political standpoint. Giant and grotesque puppets danced, pigs flew and familiar, though still shocking images from the film, like the trial scene, seamlessly complemented the familiar audio.

And lest it be said that the visual triumphed at the expense of the aural, that audio was an equal partner in this feast for eyes and ears. The band was tight and Waters individual performance amazing.

It was breath-taking. It was stunning. The Wall was both literally and metaphorically torn down. It will probably not be repeated; surely Gilmour’s appearance was a one-off and Waters can’t keep on touring (he is 67 after all).

This was truly a moment in rock history: 12th May, 2100, the 02 London. And I was there.

Jill Furmanovsky’s photograph:

Thursday, May 12, 2011

'Are You Experienced' in Brazil

Just back from an amazing week in Brazil with 'Are You Experienced'. The band were invited to play at the launch in Rio de Janeiro of the film, 'Hey Hendrix', made by Pedro Paulo Caneiro and Roberto Lamourier during our commemorative weekend last September.

In amongst very many memorable experienced was a jam session the band did with Brazilian guitarist, Pepeu Gomes, at George Israel's studio for broadcast on MTV. Gomes was voted top Latin American rock guitarist by the prestigious Guitar Player magazine and he showed us why, trading Hendrix licks and tricks with John Campbell for an hour or so.

Alas, unless you live in Brazil you probably wont get to see the show but there's a strong possibility that Gomes will tour the UK later this year, and hopefully play with AYE somewhere.

Pedro Paulo and Roberto's film, incidentally, will be screened in the UK at film festivals later this year too. Watch this space for details of both events!