COLIN Blunstone is an early riser. He has an hour at the beginning of this day to talk before heading off to rehearsal, packing, and travelling at 5am the next morning to the Netherlands to begin another European tour.

He’s 72, and says he’s having the best time of his life. Tours with his solo band and more often with The Zombies mean he is rarely at home but, at last, the music he had a hand in creating in the late 1960s is receiving well-deserved plaudits.

The album Odessey and Oracle is 50 years old this year. On its release it disappeared without much of a trace, aside from one single, Time of the Season. Now it’s regarded as one of the greatest albums ever to come out of Britain; a regular fixture on lists detailing the best albums ever made.

“It is strange looking back and thinking, ‘how can it possibly get the recognition it does now?” says Blunstone. “However, the significant difference between the album and others that appear on these lists is that they tend to be multi-million sellers. I think Odessey and Oracle had perhaps had one week at number 98 in the Billboard chart – and that was at the time when the Time of the Season was number one in the Cashbox charts and number three on Billboard. It's never really been a hit anywhere.”

The nature of their short but significant career in the sixties has always made The Zombies something of a musician’s band. Figures as diverse as Paul Weller and Tom Petty have named Odessey as an inspiration.

The Zombies formed pre-Beatles in 1961 St Albans. Blunstone along with Rod Argent, High Grundy and Paul Atkinson were still at school so could only rehearse at weekends and were later joined by Chris White, who replaced original bass player Paul Arnold. Playing their first gig the following year they built up a strong local following, got on the road, and they signed to Decca Records in 1964. “We won some kind of competition for the contract,” says Blunstone, “but even if we had been playing on something of an amateur basis, it gave us a good apprenticeship at that age. We had bought an old van and got on the road. It was tough, but at that age it’s great fun.

“When I look back, what strikes me is how incredibly naive we were. When we recorded She’s Not There, Rod and I were 18 and it was a hit record pretty much immediately. From there it was non-stop recording and touring continuously until the band finished after recording Odessey and Oracle in 1967.”

Those three years show a progression in writing and recording only seen in the rapid development of The Beatles. Blunstone feels that when you listen to all The Zombies recorded output you can hear that, “Something is happening. To be honest I haven't really spoken about this much before, but when you listen to songs like, She Does Everything For Me, which was a B-side, it’s quite different to what others were doing at the time.

“So when it came to Odessey and Oracle, Rod and Chris came into a wonderful writing period. Every song on that is a classic and if you don't have the songs you should pack up and go home.”

Even the uninitiated will have heard a few of those songs. Mad Men fans will have heard This Will Be Our Year at the end of an episode, a song also covered by Foo Fighters and OK Go for John Tucker Must Die soundtrack. Time of the Season was sampled by Eminem for Rhyme or Reason and is featured in countless movies as a late 60 scene-setter, including last year’s All The Money In The World. Also last year, the record-breaking S-Town Podcast used A Rose or Emily for its main theme.

“It really helps with recognition when songs are used in that way,” he adds. “In a way it’s a bit like having a hit single because it leads to people coming to the shows.”

It also helps with the bank balance. Like many bands in the 1960s, The Zombies weren’t “advised well” as Blunstone so gentlemanly puts it.

“We didn't make any money, and I mean no money, from three years of playing live, and working constantly. And you can phrase it anywhere you like, but the result was none of the money made its way to us. We weren’t alone in that. Look at someone as successful as the Small Faces – they were dealt the same hand. There were a lot of unscrupulous managers dealing with people who were no more than kids.”

As songwriters, Argent and White had something of an income stream but Blunstone, Grundy and Atkinson were in financial trouble by the time Odessey and Oracle was released.

“When the world ignored the album the three of us had to get jobs. People make quite a thing of this, having been in a rock band. Within about nine months though Time of the Season had become a big hit in the US and my phone started to ring again about singing. Although I was working in insurance, I wasn’t absolutely sure that I wanted to get back into the music business. I had been so disappointed at what happened with The Zombies.”

Tentative steps back via a few singles under a pseudonym led to Blunstone recording a solo album with Argent and White called On Year, resulting in hits like Say You Don’t Mind.

The solo careers of Blunstone and Argent intertwined at times and it was around 20 years ago that they decided to get back and play together. “The first time Rod and I got back together, it was to do six concerts, and here we are almost 20 years later. Initially there was never any idea of reforming the band, but when we were out performing together, we realised that there was a huge worldwide interest in The Zombies’ repertoire. And of course, a lot of that material had never been played live because we split when Odessey and Oracle was recorded. There have also been three albums of new material since 1991.

“So, from playing in very small venues in 1999, we have now played most of the major venues in the world.”

Blunstone and Argent are the two original members on stage. They were dealt a blow when Jim Rodford, who had also played bass with The Kinks, died suddenly just days after they finished a US tour in January of this year. “Jim was such a wonderful character, loved by all who knew him. He was a great bass player and vocalist, a real musician’s musician who loved music, especially playing live and seemed to know every band we ever played with. They would come to our dressing room and usually walk straight past Rod and I, simply asking, Is Jim around?’

The show goes on this year, with Jim’s son Steve Rodford on drums, Tom Toomey on guitar and Soren Køch joining them on bass.

There are Zombies shows planned throughout the year, including Edinburgh in June. “We usually do a mini Odyssey and Oracle, plus the old classics and a few of the newer songs, so it's a broad representation of what we've been doing since 1964.

For those who might have been shaking their heads at the misspelling of Odyssey… It’s Odessey. “It’s true that it was a misspelling,” says Blunstone. “The cover is actually a painting. The idea came from a guy called Terry Quirk, who was sharing a flat with Rod and Chris. They saw the painting, just the rough idea, then we went off on tour. When we came back they saw the finished thing and of course immediately spotted the spelling mistake – but it had already gone to the printers.”

Even Blunstone didn’t know the truth for decades. “Rod and Chris made up this quite unconvincing story that they deliberately misspelt it because it's a play on the word “ode”. They told me that in 1967.

“About three or four years ago we were doing a radio interview and Rod admitted that it had been a misspelling. I just looked at him and said, ‘I can't believe that you've told me that other story for about 50 years!’. Terry Quirk went to the same school as me and I can't spell either, so I blame our school.”

A good copy of the original album will sell for several hundred pounds now and the original painting, currently hanging in the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, will be going up for auction soon.

“I have original copies somewhere in the house, but I really don’t know where,” Blunstone laughs. “It seems the worse an album did the more collectible it is now. Still I wouldn’t want to record now, only for it to flop and wait a few decades for it to become valuable. I might not be gigging as often in 20 years.”

The Zombies play Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, on Saturday, June 16