The Zombies' singer Colin Blunstone was born 68 years ago today on 24th June 1945. I mention this because it brought to mind a cold, damp January evening when leaving the warmth and comfort of my home, I started up my car and headed off for Worthing in Sussex. It was a journey I embarked on with great reluctance. I was in my late 40s and had spent the last few days beating myself up over whether I was young enough or good enough to succeed in what I was about to do.
As the car trundled on I glanced up gloomily up at the grey, night sky watching the clumps of snow splatter and slide as they were pushed relentlessly across the windscreen into a growing pile of slush on the bonnet.
In my late teens and early 20s, all this would have been a breeze. That was the time when the sun always shone and I, full of the optimism of youth, found every set back a challenge to be relished and task to be conquered. The phone box was my office, my smooth tongue and dazzling youth were my defense and shield. Once I was bullet proof, once I had been invincible.
But now as I journeyed on through that freezing January night, things were different. I drummed my thumbs on the steering wheel gritting my teeth as I travelled. I wanted to turn back but I knew I couldn't.
After some time I pulled the car to a halt, I'd arrived. I hunched down in my seat, squinting as I searched for a parking space near the Town Hall steps. This was in the days before satellite navigation and my eyes were sore through straining to read the crumpled map I'd balanced precariously across the steering wheel. I found a spot, picked up my CD and letter and walked across the road stepping carefully between the banks of gritty sludge.
The front of the building was bathed in a soft, inviting, pale yellow light but the door was firmly shut. I rang the bell, and pulled my coat collar around my face, conscious of the fact that my clothes were anything but fashionable, maybe a bit retro, I thought, but the wrong kind of retro. My head ached, I could pretend to be 18 but on the outside I was no longer young. I was a dad, I should be at home, warming my legs against the hot radiator, a glass of wine and a chat with the kids. What was I doing here?
As I worked out my speech, the door opened. I was greeted by the enquiring young face of man, maybe early 20s wearing jeans and T shirt, shabby chic I suppose you would call it. I explained that I was looking for Colin Blunstone, ex lead singer with the Zombies. He was performing that night and I wanted to meet him. Trying not to sound like an irate, jilted husband I explained that I had something to give him.
'He's not arrived yet,' the young man said as he started to shut the door. I glanced quickly over his shoulder, it looked warm in there, the lights were blazing and people were moving around. Things were happening, but I couldn't see Colin Blunstone. The door closed in front of me and the warm glow vanished, so I waited, glancing self consciously at my watch to confirm that I was there for a reason, just in case anyone passing should notice.
Years ago, I would have looked at this not as a set back but as an opportunity to scale the wall and enter through a fire exit door from behind. I met Keith Moon that way once, I'm still surprised at how affable and pleasant he was. I told him I'd once nicked a guitar lead from a Who concert and he smiled and laughed.
As I checked my watch for the umpteenth time, I heard footsteps coming round the corner. I looked up to see a stocky, short man, swept back grey hair and glasses, walking with a boxer's swagger, his leather flying jacket done up tight. I recognised him immediately, it was Chris Farlowe, the singer of Handbags and Gladrags and Out of Time with Mick Jagger on the chorus. I stopped him and we spoke. He listened as I explained I was a song writer. I told him I'd written songs for Mike Smith (name changed in case he takes umbridge (or Ongar).
'I know Mike,' he said.
I knew he would, it never failed, they all knew Mike. I'd realised some time ago there must be a small London club somewhere with a exclusive membership for 60s British artists only, they all knew each other.
'Colin's the one you want,' he said, 'he's making an album, give me your CD and I'll pass it on to him.' I smiled but said no thanks, I'd come this far and didn't mind waiting. I caught a glimpse of activity and light behind him as he shrugged and entered the Town Hall. The door shut with a bang. It looked good in there, warm and comfortable. But all was not lost, talking to him had made me think this might be possible, this could just work. A glimmer of hope sparked within me. Maybe this was normal, maybe this was what all dads' did on a cold January night!
I walked away few paces backwards and forwards in front of the door, stamping my feet as I waited near the steps. There was a clunk behind me and I turned. The door was opening. It was the young 20 year old who peered out towards me.
'Would you like to come in?' he said, 'you can wait inside.'
I felt like Scrooge being given a second chance at Christmas as I walked towards him and entered the building. I brushed the snow from my shoulders, he offered me a seat so I sat down and waited.
It wasn't long before I heard a small commotion coming my way. Someone was sweeping down the hallway at a fair speed. Tall and thin and dressed in black with flowing hair, it was him, Colin Blunstone. I stood up and waited.
I hadn't met a 60s pop star in quite a while and I was expecting some sulking, pouting, maybe a fit of pique, however I was fine.
'Is someone looking for me?' he said, narrowing his expression as he glanced over my shoulder, his eyes darting around the hall.
'Yes, I am,' I smiled, offering my hand. He shook it and I spoke. 'I'm a songwriter and publisher ...' I saw his mouth drop and a glazed look spread across his face. 'I work with Mike Smith,' I said quickly.
'Oh, Mike!' he exclaimed, his mood suddenly improving, 'I've just done a couple of concerts with him.'
The idea of a gentile Victorian theatre sprung to mind, and I continued. 'I've got a song for you, Mike likes it,' I added. It was a lie. Mike hated it, there was a chord in the middle that he didn't like, he said it sounded wrong and wanted me to change it. I hadn't; it was the right chord for the song and sounded fine to me.
'Why didn't you give it to Mike?' he asked quizzically, 'he could have passed it on to me.'
I bit my lip. Mike could have passed it on? This was the first time I'd heard about this cozy relationship.
'Well I live not far from here,' (I was actually living about 50 miles away) I said breezily, 'so it was no problem dropping it off. No trouble at all.' I handed over the CD then found myself starting to talk about his songs. We spoke about Odyssey and Oracle, the last album the Zombies made as I started to mutate into an animated anoraky fan. 'I love the guitar sound on Friends of Mine,' I enthused.
'Yes it worked well,' he said, 'Rod was all keyboards and Paul all guitars.'
I told him how I'd sat on a bench outside a Zombies concert at Lewes Town Hall. I was 14 at the time and didn't have enough pocket money to get in.
Did he remember the concert? No, he didn't. So you won't remember me sitting on the bench either? I wondered.
Spurred on, I asked more. Was he worried about the obvious similarity between the listing of friends, in the Zombie's, 'Friends of Mine' and The Beautiful South's, 'Song for Whoever'?
'I don't know it,' he said, 'I tend to listen to Classic FM most of the time. Do you know I was 23 when we made that album, we split up straight afterwards, I never made any money.'
It was the same old story.
'And do you know,' he continued, 'I've been singing the beginning of She's Not There, wrong for ages!' He started to sing, 'well no one told me about her.'
I noticed immedaitely that he sang the first three words on the same note. 'That's not right,' I said, 'those three notes at the beginning should be ascending, you've got it wrong.' I sang it back at him, the correct way and he nodded in agreement.
I paused. My enthusiasm had obviously got the better of me. There I was, about to have a pop master class on a one to one basis with the singer of a classic 60s hit but instead I found myself giving him a singing lesson, showing him the proper way to sing one of his songs.
'For Christ sake, Colin! Stop gazing round the room, pay attention and listen to me! It's no wonder the band split up ...' I toyed with the idea but said nothing.
It reminded me later of how guitarist Gary Moore demonstrated the first chord to A Hard Day's Night, to George Harrison. Moore says he played the suspended 7th chord that anyone who's had a go at the song always plays.
'That's not correct,' said Harrison.
'Are you sure?' said a quizzical Moore.
'Yes I am,' replied Harrison flatly.
A while later I spoke on the phone to Mike Smith. I explained briefly that I'd turned up at Worthing Town Hall with my CD and spoken with Colin Blunstone.
'Did you bring all his albums in a plastic Tesco's bag and ask him to sign them?' he said, laughing to himself. 'And did you get rid of that wrong chord?'
'I didn't know you knew Colin Blunstone,' I said, trying to deflect him. 'Do you know any other members of the Zombies?'
'Not really,' he said sounding bored. 'Rod Argent plays in my band sometimes, oh and so does his bass player Jim Rockford ... Russ Ballard, I know him.'
A sudden thought came to me, ' and George Harrison, I suppose you knew him?'
'I played at the Cavern, Paul McCartney used to give me a lift home in his car.'
I paused then spoke briefly, 'So did you ever teach George any of your chords?'