Colin Blunstone pushes the door open cautiously, as if entering a church. It's not a church, though. It's the office of his record company. The phone is warbling and nobody is there to greet him except me, and I'm thinking: "Is this him?" He nods at me, averting his eyes, and stands for a moment, awkwardly tall and thin, unconsciously flattening his longish hair. Still nobody is there to answer the phone, so we introduce ourselves, shake hands, and I'm thinking: "This is him."
This is the man who sang "She's Not There", the song that established the Zombies the same month in 1964 that "She Loves You" entered the charts. This is the man whose high, tremulous voice registered those creamy solo hits "Say You Don't Mind", "I Don't Believe in Miracles", "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted". Nobody sang like Colin Blunstone, a rhythm and blues choirboy from St Albans.
He relaxes his fit-looking, casually clothed 50-year-old body onto a bench seat. He speaks as he sings: softly, gently. He breathes words. Where has Colin been?
After the Zombies, he went to work in an office, as you do after making it to the top in the pop world - "hustly and bustly but very restful after the music business" - but was eventually lured back to the charts in 1969 with a re-recording of "She's Not There", this time as the short-lived Neil MacArthur. Then there were the Seventies hits in his own name. And now, after feeling like a man out of time for much of the Eighties and Nineties, this is the long-awaited Blunstone re-launch. "In the past, I've said that things happened to me, that I had made few decisions in the music business. Now I want to change things around a bit. I want people to react to me." So after three years in search of the right songs, and with voice entirely intact, comes Echo Bridge, his first album of new material for almost 15 years.
"Once I get rolling on an album, I look for songs that appeal to me, songs that move me," he says. "I don't ask why. If blue is your favourite colour, you don't usually know why. I like songs that are attractive to listen to, but have depth and different layers - songs that can be taken in many different ways."
So who figures large in the Blunstone songbook? "I'm a real song nut," he admits, name-checking songwriters who span four decades: from Paul Williams and Jimmy Webb to Clifford T Ward, Nik Kershaw, Paddy McAloon ("a great writer. I've investigated loads of his songs") and Chris Winter, tipped for a "great future".
"I had to play song detective, ringing up every songwriter and publisher I know to say 'I'm recording again and I'm looking for songs', and I listened to hundreds. Normally, I play songs to Jon [Sweet, producer] and the ones we keep talking about are the ones that get recorded." In the end, the selection was made entirely from British writers.
"Very, very generally, Americans seem to be more sophisticated musically, but they're a bit trite in the way they write songs, whereas British writers take chances and perhaps tend to write more from the heart, from something that's happened to them."
Although including only one self-penned number on this album, Blunstone is himself an accomplished songwriter and earlier records are rich with his own classically tinged songs. You can hear echoes of that on Echo Bridge. Could this perhaps be the "echo" referred to? "Well, if you want to get poetic about it, you can think of the title referring to an echo of the past and a bridge to the future." I nod approvingly. Then he confesses, a little reluctantly, that in fact the origin is somewhat closer to home.
"There's a railway bridge at the end of an alley that I used to walk my daughter through to go to nursery school and it's where she first discovered echoes, and so we came to know it as 'Echo Bridge'." Despite this, Colin Blunstone is determined the album should also be a bridge to the future. Already thinking about the follow-up, and toying with the idea of playing live again, he's clearly settled on a direction he's happy with.
And with that, I realise, we've covered three decades in the career of one of the most extraordinary voices in British pop. And we never even left reception.
n Echo Bridge is out now on Permanent Records.
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