Saturday 12th October 2008
A week or so back, I was waiting in a damp and squalid queue of equally degenerate long-haired ‘student-types’ grumpily trudging at a snailspace towards the Southampton Guildhall main doors. We were there to witness fantasy speed-metal act Dragonforce. When the combined mood of this motley queue of unwashed chancers was at its lowest ebb and at the peek of intolerance a young man was spied stalking down the disgruntled line telling the irritable dragonforcers that he would be “playing with his band” later that evening in some uninspiring hole not a stones-throw from the Guildhall and that the ‘Dragonforce’ ticket stub would guarantee us all our free entry. Not wishing to miss an opportunity to see free music I asked what type of music his band played. He replied, “Our type of music”. I said, “Yes, wow, yes…but what genre, like?” He
replied, “We just sound like ourselves actually, no specific genre”. Upon hearing this reply several of the waiting Dragonforce fans told him to go and f**k himself (in no uncertain words) and this attitude soon led queue-members into a loud and free flowing discussion about the merits of pigeonholing bands into different musical genres. I came away from the experience thinking that almost every band- even the biggest ones like the Stones and the Zeppelin- can be simply slung into an easy category for efficiency purposes. I began to change my mind last night.
Last night I went to see legendary Moody Blues, now celebrating almost 50 years on the road, at the Brighton centre, Sussex. This was the fourth time I had seen rock and roll’s very own version of the ‘Golden Girls’ in concert but I am no moodies expert or lifelong fan. I just happen to like good music well played. During their excellent and polished show the same question that I had encountered in the Dragonforce queue kept nagging at me like an Essex girlfriend who hadn’t been to Lakeside in a week.
In what hole would you place this bunch of saintly septuagenarians -other than the obvious six foot deep one? For a start, yes, yes, yes they are a moody bunch of Brummie blighters but why does their name imply that they are a blues act? Do they play blues? Nope. Well back then, in the sixties, they did. Back in the days of Michael Pinder and Denny Laine, they played their own style of rhythm and blues around the pubs and clubs of Birmingham but if you asked the average Joe in Staines High Street what he knew about the Moody Blues, he would say ( and I am confident about this) “Nights in White Satin”. And that is that. So are the Moodies a blues band? Er, no.
In fact,in the Denny Laine/ Pinder/Thomas days the Moody Blues were listed as a psychedelic rock band. But what the hell is ‘psychedelic rock’ and where did it go? Well, back in 1965, inspired by strong toxic mixes of supposedly ‘mind expanding’ deliriants people like Pinder and Thomas were experimenting with hallucinogenic psychedelia. This was riding on the wave of Lennon and Harrison’s commercial successes in Rubber Soul and The Doors acid rock 7-minute mini-epics. Even the Beach Boys were at it, as they left their safe clean-cut surfer-dude lives behind them and splashed ever deeper into a drug addled maelstrom of hellish proportions, releasing some quality material along the way like Good Vibrations. The effects of acid were not just ‘mind altering’ but also ‘life altering’ and, ultimately, life threatening.
Last night Moodies drummer Graeme Edge payed a moving tribute to those psychedelic days of yore by informing the crowd that ‘back in the Sixties we used to come down to Brighton for the red ones, the blue ones and the black ones…wow, those black ones were the strongest man!’. ‘Now we just come down to Brighton for the fish n’ chips’.
Timothy Leary famously preached the message “Turn on, tune in, drop out” and the kids did just that. Justin reminded us, last night, that the Moody Blues ‘lost’ several years of their life by getting involved in ‘Love Ins’ in the sixties. Leary earnestly believed in the healthy benefits of a high dosage diet of LSD but was described as “the most dangerous man in America” by President Nixon and was, at one point, incarcerated alongside Charles Manson. Leary’s message started out as hopeful and encouraging. In the end it was seen to be a one-way road. A cul-de-sac to depression and oblivion.
A favourite of the fans at any Moodies concert is Ray Thomas’s rendition of ‘Legend of a Mind’ (from the 1968 album ‘In Search of the Lost Chord’) starting with the words “Timothy Leary’s Dead”. This affectionate song predicts the demise not only of Leary but also of the whole of the acid scene. The six-plus minute epic also features the enduring lyric, ‘He flies so high, He swoops so low. He knows exactly which way he’s gonna go.’ And so do we. And so did the Moodies. It was time to get out of psychedelia. (Note: this song is no longer played at Moody Blues concerts since Thomas retired from the band in 2002.)
So after the acid-years, the Moodies started to embark upon their art rock years as the progenitors (with Floyd) of English prog-rock. This was probably the sound that all those crustys had gathered in masses to hear at Brighton last night (and around the world) over the past 30 years. The sound was arty, the sound was farty, and the sound was blissfully unaware of it’s own sense of piss and self-importance. It sounded like nothing before it. The band needed the full backing of something like the London Festival Orchestra just to top-off some of the pompous and over-inflated ideas and make them work in a live show. How arrogant is that? They also wrote overblown neo-classical pieces that included Edge’s poems spoken (not sung) with full orchestral backdrops. This undignified ostentation paid off and the Moody Blues started to reap the rewards with big sales and international accolades (On the Threshold of a Dream was a UK No 1; To Our Children’s Children’s Children on the Moodies own Threshold label was a UK No 2; both A Question of Balance and Every Good Boy Deserves Favour were UK No 1’s and Seventh Sojourn was a US No 1.)
But this hot-air balloon started to deflate quickly by the late Seventies- the sales of Octave were down and the young record buyers were turning up their collective noses at anything tinged by the hated words ‘prog-rock’ in favour of the New Wave.
Pinder moved to California quickly followed by the entire posse and then he suddenly left the band due to family commitments.
The band recruited ‘Yes’ man Patrick Moraz to replace Pinder (they presumably didn’t hire Rick Wakeman, who was also available at the time, because there was not enough room in the band for two tall blonde-haired ego-maniacs.) They set out on a long tour of the United States and they left behind their progressive pretensions and their mellotrons. This was hard work. But it was real work and it was honest work. And by 1981 they even managed to pull off a good new album ‘Long Distance Voyager’ that reached No 1 in the US. They had turned a corner and had transformed themselves into a working-class American band. I saw them back then in Nevada, after their huge successes at Red Rock, and the band, by then, were a formidably packaged business enterprise. They were slick, sensible and ‘in it for the money’. Good luck to ‘em. They went to the bank on the dividends of those years of graft.
In 1978 Jeff Wayne completed the massive concept studio album The War of The Worlds and Justin Hayward sang a simple song for it called ‘Forever Autumn’. This little song got huge international airplay and kick-started the Blue Jays (a kind of separate collaboration between Hayward/Lodge.) This song always used to be played in Moody Blues concerts and, although it is not strictly a Moodies piece, it is now considered part of their lexicon. (Note: they didn’t play it last night at Brighton.) But this song illustrates that the ‘man’ that the people come to see and the ‘man’ that sells the Moodies as a commodity is, undoubtedly, the man Justin Hayward. Mark my words. He is the man.
The crowd gave two standing ovations to Justin and his twangly guitar last night. There were three encores. They were all for him. Justin Hayward still has those adorable Viking good-looks (the grannies were flinging their girdles at him last night) and he still makes those amazing yodel-like sounds at the end of each high-note. He can still play the gee-tarr like Duane Eddy. He is the real-deal and the real McCoy. So what happened to the other Moodies?
Well, to be honest, Novello award-winning bassist John Lodge is a talented musician in his own right and wrote some classics ( Isn’t Life Strange and I’m Just a Singer) but he has never been a favourite with the fans. I heard someone behind me at Brighton mutter to a neighbour that she only just about endures the (crappy) songs sung by Lodge. That is a general view but maybe a little unfair. However, there was a very real sense that the audience couldn’t wait for Lodge to shut up so they could all collectively ‘get back’ to Hayward. Even Lodge’s a-a-a-ahs in his (undeniably superb) composition ‘Isn’t Life Strange’ are knocked back into second place by Justin when he starts his verse.
Mike Pinder whose song ‘Go Now’ was also sadly missing from last nights set, and who introduced the mellotron to The Beatles, now keeps himself to himself in California. Graeme Edge, the elderly drummer (I will stand corrected but I think he is the ‘elder statesman’ of the Moodies) has to be helped with his sticks and has almost completely retired to his home in Florida. (Although he did surprise the audience by doing a little jig last night!) Patrick Moraz and Denny Laine are now part of the history and tradition of the Moody Blues but not mentioned ‘by the family’. Ray Thomas retired and original bass player Clint Warwick in the ‘Go Now’ days sadly died in 2004.
Due to the retirement of Thomas we missed out on the superb folk songs ‘For My Lady’ and ‘Lazy Day’ and this is a great shame. But Graeme Edge did some poetry for ‘Late Lament’ prior to Nights in White Satin and this gained an ovation. In place of Thomas we now have two girls. Norda Mullen plays the flute. Julie Ragins plays additional keyboard. The keyboardist is now Paul Bliss. The second drummer (the Moody Blues have toured with twin drums for years now) is Gordon Marshall.
So what category would you put The Moody Blues into? Blues- not any more. Psychedelic rock? No, gone the way of Leary. Progressive rock? No, pomposity is out. Folk rock, not any more since Thomas. Rock and roll band? Hardly!
I give up…the Moody Blues just sound like ‘themselves’ actually.
Neil, what a shame, you simply do not get it. Oh well. You obviously have no idea what you are missing, but that, I guess is a good thing.
Marc said this on October 13, 2008 at 4:07 am
Nice reflection on a wonderful band. Thanks for your report.
sofa said this on October 13, 2008 at 5:14 pm
I’m a huge fan but I had to agree with a lot of what was said in that piece.
By the way, I can appreciate Justin Hayward still has more than his musical and vocal talents in abundance, and I’m no granny (29) 😉
Nikki said this on October 13, 2008 at 10:33 pm
I have since been informed that, in fact, the two famous ‘blonde-haired ego-maniacs’ did work together on one of Rick’s solo albums. Anyone know which one?
staines said this on October 14, 2008 at 5:42 am
Return to the Centre of the Earth. Justin sings “Still Waters Run Deep,” beautifully of course. 🙂
Jan said this on October 27, 2008 at 5:15 am