It's the time of the season as the sixties pop survivors kick off the summer festival calendar under the twinkling lights at CQAF
Rod Argent and Chris White must be the most overlooked classic pop writing team of the '60s. Not only were they responsible for the imperishable 'She's Not There', but also much of that great mispelled classic, Odessey and Oracle, the album on which the Zombies reputation now rests. Its rediscovery has renewed interest in the band and sparked a series of reunion tours.
It was, of course, their great good fortune to hook-up with one of British pop's great voices in Colin Blunstone, creating a sound which merged Beatle-like pop sophistication with a particularly English melancholy.
Though without Chris White on bass these days, replaced by old mucker and co-founder of Argent's eponymous band, Jim Rodford, this is absurdly, the Zombies' Belfast debut. And there is an agreeably garagey feel to their opening tracks as well as the look of the band, dressed moodily in beat black, as they switch between early classics like 'Tell Her No', to songs from latest album Still Got That Hunger.
They largely circumvent the dreaded curse of new material through sheer energy, and particularly Colin Blunstone's voice, with 'Maybe Tomorrow' – the pick of the new bunch. It prompts an 'aw shucks' anecdote where Paul McCartney saved the day by allowing them to use the last line of 'Yesterday', avoiding Sony's threat to can the new album. Nestling as we speak in the American Billboard 100, as Argent delightedly tells us.
The inevitable selection from Odessey and Oracle only adds to the mystery of why that album languished in relative obscurity for so long, before being championed by the likes of Paul Weller and more recently Dave Grohl. Imagine a record in which all the songs are as good as 'Penny Lane'.
As Rod debates whether to play four or five tracks a female crowd member cries out 'play the whole thing!' Album closer 'Time of the Season' is living proof of what a well placed handclap can do to a pop songs fortunes, on this occasion bringing the audience to their feet, as it has so many times before.
As well as Zombies material there has been a resurgence of interest in Argent and Blunstone's early '70s work, especially the latter's classic full-length debut One Year. Produced by Argent and White, it has gradually been subsumed into the Zombies' back catalogue, but its smoky charm, set against the multicoloured pallet of Odessey, defines the difference between '60s and '70s pop.
The breathy 'Caroline Goodbye' is followed by a marvellously stomping glam version of 'Say You Don't Mind' with closing high note confidently achieved. Argent then gets to play his titular group's biggest hit 'Hold Your Head Up', propelling us to galumphing prog rock heaven.
There is nothing left to do but send us home happy with a blistering 'She's Not There', Tom Toomey's frenetic soloing a nod to Santana's guitar-heavy rendition. But it's the encore where the yin and yang of Argent and Bluntstone truly combine to unlock a new entity, greater than the sum of their parts, as well as the advertised whole. Zargent, perhaps? A classic.
The Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival continues until May 8 with over 100 events in and around Belfast still to come. For full programme details and ticket booking visit www.cqaf.com.