UPDATE: This interview took place in 2015… Blue Zoo will be playing 6th January 2017 at Dingwalls Camden
Blue Zoo made their debut in the 80s and produced three hit singles (including Cry Boy Cry), tours including supporting U2, and an album. The band dissolved three years later and the members all busied themselves with new careers away from the music business, so one could be forgiven for assuming that “Blue Zoo Two” was not going to happen. But things can bubble under the surface for many years. Andy describes the reforming of the band in 2010 as a sort of ‘telekenesis’ – for their long-term fans, it was a welcome surprise.
It’s strange to think that Blue Zoo have been together for longer this time round than in their 80s incarnation. Since reforming, they’ve supported T’Pau in 2013 (ex Blue Zoo guitarist and co-songwriter Tim Parry was in the audience and was delighted with how the band were sounding), and 2014 saw a Blue Zoo mini-tour including a gig at Islington 02 – Animal Magic: Blue Zoo at 02 Islington – and one in Andy O’s home town of Braintree. The newest member of the band is Tom E Morrison who, apart from playing in several bands, composed and produced the music for a corporate film which won two awards at the New York Festival 2015. A Japanese short film that he composed the music for won an award at the Houston Film Festival.
Andy O is still the band’s front man – a charismatic figure, tall, lean and retaining his youthful looks. He’s blessed with a magnetic stage presence and voice to match. What first strikes you when you speak to Andy is how incredibly balanced he is. He’s been happily involved with other successful projects away from the music industry, and bringing Blue Zoo back into his life is quite clearly an enjoyment, but there’s no sense that he has anything to prove. My first question is to ask him what has been occupying his life since the original split. I discover that he’s into mushrooms. Before images of a burnt-out middle-aged band member floating on a permanent cloud of the magic variety hover into view, I should add that I’m talking about an altogether more seriously culinary and educational path – as one glimpse of his website Fungi to be With, reveals.
Andy: “I’ve been doing doing the mushroom thing for 20 years… I started back in the early 90s and I started hosting walks around London, under my business called Fungi to be with. The world of mushrooms and toadstools is fascinating and I’ve been educating people about them ever since discovering this interest. And I’m currently in the process of writing a book about the mushroom and toadstools – of Greater London!
How did the band get back together after so long? Mickey Sparrow and I had a spontaneous ‘calling’ of sorts. We both felt it was time for unfinished business. So we arranged a meeting, and got the others, including Tim Parry, to come along. We met at The Ship in Wardour St in the summer of 2009. Tim wasn’t interested in being a part of the revival. I then procured the services of Graham Noon on keyboards and his brother-in law Neil Pyzer on guitar & sax ( he’s now playing with The Selecter). Then Tom E Morrison joined in 2013 when we visited the Philippines.
Who else is in the band now, and who is going to be going to be playing at the gig in May? Apart from original members Mike Ansell (bass) and Mickey Sparrow (drums) we have Tom E Morrison on guitar and Graham Noon joins us on keyboards.
Have you managed to find time to write any new material? I come up with ideas, but seeing them through to something concrete is more of a challenge. I’m waiting for a point when it feels natural for the band to do new songs, but we’ve been so on and off that it’s not quite happened yet. You need to have a focus, and then you start bringing in new songs. So for now, we’re concentrating on playing the old favourites. And incidentally, Cherry Red re-issued 2×2 in 2013 – it’s an extended version that includes B-sides and the original single version of Love Moves In Strange Ways.
How often do you get to play together… and how easy, or hard is it, to make sure the band are sounding good? We get together to jam, and get our stage act together. I felt that last year we were sounding at our best, at the Islington gig. And then we disappeared for a year! Making sure that Blue Zoo sound really good is hard work. And of course it gets harder as you get older. The voice is a muscle which gets weaker, and it takes a lot to build it up again, to the point where you feel you are ready to be on stage. We really need to keep the momentum going.
So what can we expect at the gig in May? Well, I’ve decided to delve back in to the original stuff, right from the beginning. I listened to the old demos seeing what I felt worked, and refreshing them up a bit. There will be a few from 2 by 2 – original numbers like Cry Boy Cry, Something Familiar, John’s Lost, but I don’t want to recreate the flavour of the album, so I’ve gone back to even earlier stuff like Nights like this and Affection. Both were sung by myself and original member Dave Woolfson’s wife, Angie and we would like to dedicate a song to her memory.
Are younger people picking up on your music? It’s a good mix, obviously lots of older people, but we do have some young fans.
So we shouldn’t expect anything new for a little while then… In November 2014, Tom offered to re- produce our song Somewhere in the world there’s a cowboy’s smiling in his North London studio and also got German DJ Hein+ Klein involved to remix the track and release it on his label https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/somewhere-in-world-there-is/id944186504.
But as far as new material is concerned, we don’t want to disappoint anyone but that will take time. For now we enjoy playing we like to play but we aren’t thinking “there’s a career here, let’s write a new album”. We enjoy playing what we have written and taking it out there. We will know when the time is right.
Blue Zoo are at Nambucca, 596 Holloway Road, N7 6LB on 15th May 2015. Doors 7pm, music 8pm.
Early bird tickets £6 plus booking fee or 2 for a tenner.
Support: Plexiphones, Thomas O’Brien, The Reflections
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