48. CARE OF CELL 44 – The Zombies

I really can’t remember how we managed before 1967 (we did, obviously) but I do know that the advent of Radio One meant that ‘unwilling schoolboys’ like myself could leave the house for the bus stop at least with some sort of catchy tune on their tongues.  Tony Blackburn it was, filched by the BBC from Radio Caroline, who injected an unfamiliar breeziness into the general pre-school sluggishness, new zippy jingles and all.  His tastes were pretty anodyne, weren’t they, and – shameful to say?  -suited me just fine, from his initial picks of the Move (‘Flowers In The Rain’) and the Bee Gees (‘Massachusetts’) to his later swooning over The Carpenters (how he loved ‘Rainy Days and Mondays’).  But, as far as I was concerned, he invariably sent me out, satchel on shoulder (?) into generally wet and grey Jubilee Road with a chirpy song on my lips.

And I have such a distinct memory of one such morning, in 1968, with this one, ‘Care Of Cell 44’ by a group called The Zombies.  We called them ‘groups’ in those days, not bands…  And I think I liked most of  these ‘groups’, with of course the Beatles unquestionably at the pinnacle of the group hierarchy – and this group I think I liked for the distinctive sound.  Looking back, I can only think that part of the appeal was the rather otherworldly haunting quality of Colin Blunstone’s voice.  [Later on in the 1970s,  I think he briefly became a fashionable voice once again when championed by whispering Bob Harris …and that first solo album of his, with its exquisite cover of Tim Hardin’s ‘Misty Roses’ is still a classic of sorts. Briefly cool..then blandly mainstream again…]

OK, so there was that voice, but the single was bigger than a voice –the sound was a very rich, full one – not exactly Phil Spector ‘wall of sound’ but a sort of semi-psychedelic British approximation with perhaps some multi tracked voices?  And what else sent me out into the street singing it on the way to the bus stop?  Well, I don’t think it’s too fanciful to conjecture that there was something about the content, too.  This was a song about pending freedom (addressing someone about to be released from prison!).  This unwilling schoolboy, seeing perhaps just a few years left in the educational ‘prison walls’, was possibly heartened by some degree of identification – “counting the days until they set you free again…”; “feel so good/you’re coming home soon…”

And of course, it’s a morning song, to some extent – at least, it begins with the words ‘Morning to you, I hope you’re feeling better, baby…’ and I am and always have been an absolute sucker for morning songs – not just the hymns and psalms and Christian songs that encourage praise to spring up in the morning, but – just think of all those Joni morning songs (Chelsea Morning et al) and check out – when I finally upload it –my essay on Georgie Fame’s ‘Peaceful’.  I remember when our music teacher in school (I was eleven or twelve; I dropped music shortly afterwards) introduced us to Grieg’s ‘Morning’ from Pier Gynt.  For months, it played in my head to accompany many a beautiful morning scene afterwards.  I was a terrible romantic.

Hey, I saw a poster for ‘The Zombies’ appearing later this year at the club here in Bath, this week.  Could it be that some of the old group have got together (with a couple of ‘fillers’?) re-forming to do a nostalgic tour?  Hmmm, I think I’m not big on nostalgic tours.  *

For now, let’s leave us with this dippy 15 year old school kid, facilely given an artificial spring in his step by Radio One’s jaunty, jingly Mr. Blackburn and his feelgood playlist, belting out ..‘feel so good you’re coming home soon.. /walking the way we use to walk/and it could be so nice..!’ And probably, ignoring all thoughts of the geometry homework he had failed to finish on the previous night…

[*stop press since writing the above: tonight in Aberdare, I saw another poster advertising the Zombies’ tour – Aberdare had been added to the itinerary.  I asked the reception staff if they could somehow check up on the band’s line up.  In the interval, they informed me that, indeed, both the notable Colin Blunstone and the notable Rod Argent were members of this touring band!  I said that, despite this encouraging information, looking at the publicity poster, it might be appropriate to cross out the word ‘The’ from ‘The Zombies’.  Though that’s a little unkind of me.]

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