I had forgotten that Heather Findlay and Chris Johnson were tonight’s support act, so it was a pleasant surprise when I walked into The Duchess and spotted Heather’s small merchandise table. (Not least because I had been intending to pick up the Heather Findlay Band’s latest release – Songs From The Old Kitchen – at the earliest opportunity, which I thought was still over a month away.)
Heather and Chris might initially seem a strange choice to support an iconic sixties band but, somehow, at least some of their songs are reminiscent of that decade’s music. As usual when they perform as a duo, this was an acoustic set, with Chris playing guitar and vocals being shared between them, with some lovely warm harmonies in evidence during most of the songs. The set was relatively short, just six songs and none of them new – most taken from the pair’s Live At The Cafe 68 album, via their previous solo and/or band projects. And that’s the “problem” – while the songs are mostly reworked versions of the originals, there’s no completely new material for fans to hear. It was a nice set, played and sung well – particular highlights are Chris’s Out Of Season and The Dogs – but it’s getting a bit familiar now. I suspect that the duo picked up a few new fans, but longer term ones are beginning to yearn for new material.
Earlier this year, I was at The Duchess to see Colin Blunstone and, in writing about that gig, I mentioned the fact that I’m not a big fan of 60s pop music. So, why was I back there tonight to see The Zombies, the band that Blunstone has fronted in every incarnation since 1961? Two reasons, really – the first being that I actually quite enjoyed the earlier gig and the second because, while that solo performance included a fair few Zombies songs, this time the also-legendary Rod Argent would also be on stage.
There can’t be many bands celebrating their 51st anniversary, still with two-and-a-half original members (the current bass player, Jim Rodford, drove the band to their first gig, but wasn’t in the line-up due to being in a different “successful local band”) who perform for nearly two hours. As with Blunstone’s gig, the material came from a number of sources – after all, even though they have been together, in one form or another for over twenty years, The Zombies have only released five studio albums. As well as the classics from the debut album (She’s Not There, Summertime, I Love You) the set was peppered with tracks from 2011’s Breathe Out, Breathe In, (the title track, Show Me The Way, Any Other Way and A Moment In Time) a well received album which, on the basis of the live tracks, brings 60’s pop into the 21st century. There was also a mini-set of songs from 1968’s Odessey And Oracle (A Rose For Emily, Care Of Cell 44, This Will Be Our Year and I Want Her, She Wants Me), an album cited as either a favourite or influential by such diverse sources as The Vaccines and Dave Grohl. In fact, “name-dropping” was to be a feature of the set, with Argent also mentioning Rod Stewart and Def Leppard’s Joe Elliot, among others, as part of his between-song stories, which not only gave a potted history of the band itself, but also gave the impression that you could spend hours listening to him speak and not get bored.
The set also included solo efforts and past collaborations from Blunstone (I Don’t Believe In Miracles, What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted, with Dave Stewart, and Old And Wise, from The Alan Parsons Project), who seemed a bit more animated than during his solo gig even while leaving most of the talking to Argent and sharing the vocals. As well as great vocals from both singers, there was also some superb guitar playing from Tom Toomey and Argent himself added a certain flair on the Hammond organ, especially during what was to be one of my highlights. In 1969, after The Zombies first split up, Rod Argent formed Argent and tonight the band performed what are probably their two most famous songs – Hold Your Head Up and God Gave Rock And Roll To Us (perhaps better known as a cover version released by Kiss). It was during the former that Blunstone left the stage for a while while Argent played and extravagant solo which, I am told, included a sample from Bach as well as a few other sections that I recognised but couldn’t name. Both Argent songs provided a chance for the audience to sing along and being more rock than pop were more my type of music.
Having said that, I enjoyed the whole evening (again), proving perhaps, once again, that live music done well has an added dimension to recorded stuff. I don’t know whether a Zombies album will ever make it into my CD collection, but I wouldn’t hesitate to see them live again.