In an era when the term ‘The Voice’ generates much derision among rock fans, Colin Blunstone is here to remind us of the staple, old school values that have continued to provide a bedrock for the quality end of the music industry for over half a decade.
Standing centre stage in a black leather jacket and emoting unruffled urbane cool at the Boom Boom Club, it’s hard to believe that Blunstone’s career started in earnest in 1964.
Fast forward some 54 years – let’s include 2018 for the purpose of his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nomination with The Zombies – and he’s still out there pushing himself though one night stands, while refreshingly still writing new material.
Given the enduring quality of his timbre, his expressive phrasing and his ability to get inside a song, the only problem a consummate professional like Blunstone faces is to re-invent himself in different musical guises to remain relevant and in the public eye.
In many ways tonight is a re-appraisal of just how he has done that over the last 50 years, as he dips into his stop-star solo career. Significantly, tonight includes two great songs from his last album ‘The Ghost Of You & Me’ suggesting he’s still looking for new challenges.
Then there’s The Zombies of course and his pivotal vocal performances with the likes of Dave Stewart (‘What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted’), Alan Parsons (‘Old & Wise’) and more recently an updated version of the Duncan Browne’s ‘Wild Places’.
The latter initially struggles a little, as the booming rhythm section can’t quite nail the sexual tension of the original, but Blunstone’s intimate, almost breathless delivery still brings several women to their feet.
And if tonight’s packed audience is of a certain age and many of them prefer to sit down, they soon become more animated as the evening wears on, as they whoop, holler and even fist pump.
Blunstone and band open in energetic fashion with the jet heeled Rod Argent composition ‘Time To Move’ and they make an immediate connection with a surprisingly heavy riff driven intro to a cover of Jimmy Ruffin’s ‘What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted’.
And as Blunstone mixes singer songwriter confessionals with story telling narratives and an occasional self penned autobiographical song like ‘So Much More’, it’s ‘I Don’t Believe In Miracles’ which provides the moment when everyone in the room is transported back in time by Colin’s exquisite voice, as he effortlessly slips into the falsetto finale.
His own composition ‘Any Other Way’ provides an set evening highlight. The band’s flighty interplay is the perfect foil for Blunstone’s semi-whispered voice, as he teases out the uplifting melody line. The crowd gives him the biggest cheer so far.
He slips into confessional mode again, after a witty intro to ‘A Single Man’s Dilemma’, the lyrical meaning of which is probably more relevant to times past.
The balledic love song ‘Though You Are Far Away is a sublime vocal and piano duet with pianist Pete Billington. There’s a collective intake of breath before an explosion of applause at its conclusion.
Both ‘Caroline Goodbye’ and the closing ‘Say You Don’t Mind’ (given a surprisingly rock arrangement) are stark reminders of a unique voice from another era that still has the ability to make an emotional connection all these years later.
A familiar Argent style pulsating bass line draws us into the second set and ‘Wonderful’, a song perhaps more satisfactory as vocal exercise than it is aesthetically pleasing. But he positively revels in his recycled 1974 classic ‘Keep The Curtains Closed Today’, which again is shot through with an intimacy that brings a noticeable hush over the crowd.
By the time of ‘Misty Roses’, you can here a pin drop, as Colin takes half a step back from the mic and then leans forward as if addressing himself to someone special in the crowd.
He is a singer with real poise, presence and an instantly recognisable voice who makes another emotional connection with the sublime ‘Old & Wise’, which is an object lesson in phrasing and use of space and time, before a big rock finish.
In between these two, he showcases keyboard player Peter Billington on the very rhythmic ‘Andorra’. There’s a magical moment when he delivers the line: “when you run for the sun, you catch the rain’, and ushers in a collective flashback to another time, before Billington stretches out on Hammond on the show-stopping ‘Time Of The Season’.
Blunstone’s pristine diction and phrasing celebrates the triumph and durability of a memorable song over the time of its making.
And that’s really what tonight is about. He’s still out there testing himself and road testing new material while introducing his younger band into the arc of his craft.
‘Old & Wise’ seals the deal with real panache as it levers us into the inevitable ‘She’s Not There’ which he brings to a joyful conclusion with inclusive outstretched arms.
The deserved encore ‘Out Of Reach’ feels almost rushed, until you remember that tonight’s show has only been possible because of last minute appearance by Toby Goodman, depping for the stricken drummer Steve Rodford.
There’s no substitute for passion, ability and an unquenchable work ethic. If you add Blunstone’s unique voice, his interpretive skills, as well as his song writing ability to the equation, it goes along way to explaining a wonderful night like this and a career that proudly stretches into its 6th decade.
Rock’s pensionable era has never been better represented.
Review by Pete Feenstra
Photos by John Bull/Rockrpix
Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 20:00
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 30 August 2020.
UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 8 September 2020.
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