Celebrating 50 years of The Moody Blues
Pete Clemons recalls the formation of the classic West Midlands band
Incredibly 2016 marks 50 years since Justin Hayward and John Lodge joined up with The Moody Blues.
The band would then transform itself from, what was already a very good R ‘n’ B group, into a band that would shape and influence the future of rock music forever.
The version of the band to include Justin Hayward and John Lodge first came together during late 1966.
Legend has it that guitarist Justin was actually answering an advert placed in Melody Maker by Eric Burdon of The Animals. Burdon then passed Justin’s details onto the Moody Blues flautist Ray Thomas.
John Lodge was already known to the group having been band mates of Ray Thomas and keyboard player Mike Pinder in the early 1960s Birmingham beat group El Riot and the Rebels.
Drummer Graeme Edge, formerly of Gerry Levene and the Avengers, is now the only remaining original member of The Moody Blues, from their early R‘n’B days who is still performing with the band.
Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues.
The Moody Blues have already completed an American tour this year to mark this momentous achievement. And, throughout the rest of 2016, various other events featuring the pair at their own gigs will ensure that this celebration of their achievements continues.
The first single to include Hayward and Lodge was titled ‘Fly Me High’ and was released during May 1967 and in a recent Moody Blues press release the band recall those early days:
“And one of the first things we did together that year (1967) was record ‘Fly Me High’ at our own expense at Regent Sound Studios in Denmark Street. The suits at Decca liked it but thought it could be recorded better. So we turned up at the Decca studios on the appointed day where we met Tony Clarke for the first time. He was assigned to us as in-house producer and we recorded the song again. Decca released the new version and it was picked up by the BBC who used it as a jingle for a while. It was all absolutely great and ‘Fly Me High’ was the start of our new sound and direction. The Decca engineer on ‘Fly Me High’ was Gus Dudgeon who went on to produce mega-hits for Elton John. He did a great job!”
At the time Tony Clarke was a junior producer with Decca Records who had been assigned to the Moody Blues to produce the demonstration record. Unknown to the record company the Moody Blues gave Tony an insight as to the ambitious direction that they wanted to go. Tony bought into it all and to all intents and purposes went against his masters and aborted the task in hand. Instead Tony and the band recorded what became known as ‘Days of Future Passed’. The record was also released November 1967 on Decca’s subsidiary label Deram.
It needs to be mentioned however that the albums engineer, Derek Varnals, take of the story is slightly different. Derek who, at the time, kept diaries mentions "At some point, Decca decided to liven up the label by having a pop group record with an orchestra,” The Moody Blues project was simply described to me as an album with recurring themes, and for the orchestration they'd be using Peter Knight.
Coventry born Tony Clarke had incredible vision when it came to recording processes and would eventually become known as the sixth Moody Blue, so much so that some albums carried a photo of him.
‘Days of Future Past’ was indeed a whole group effort with each band member contributing. And, arguably, it was this album that brought the Mellotron (an electro mechanical tape relay keyboard) to the world’s attention. Mike Pinder, who played this particular instrument on the album, once worked for the manufacturer of the Mellotron - Streetly Electronics in Birmingham – and has long been associated with the instrument ever since.
The music that followed, six breathtaking and ground breaking albums between 1968 and 1972, stunned the music world with their endeavor and dynamics. They were orchestral landscapes.
The lyrics were a mix of easy going, love and just general thoughtfulness. But most of all they were incredibly thought provoking as they posed questions on the subject of our very existence, they made us examine our own consciousness, and to think of our place within the great scheme of things. This was indeed cutting edge stuff. And, for me at least, those records still thrill after all this time.
Then, after a five year hiatus the band reformed in 1978. Despite the musical climate at that time the resulting album ‘Octave’ received the warmest of receptions. It was as if the whole music world was just so pleased to see the return of The Moody Blues. Again, each of the band members contributed to the song writing. Sadly though, and due to personal reasons, this was to be Mike Pinder’s swansong album. ‘Octave’ was also Tony Clarke’s final involvement with the band. Maybe the album sleeve, where the band is pictured disappearing through a door, was prophetic.
Despite these setbacks the band readjusted accordingly and produced another decent, if not prolific, series of albums. These were particularly successful in Canada and America. In fact The Moody Blues were so popular over in the North Americas that, amongst the many tours, they performed at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre complete with a full orchestra.
The Moody Blues then had another hurdle to clear when founder member Ray Thomas retired from the band toward the end of 2002. Ray has great website full of archive photos. He also gives some heartfelt advice to those of a certain age.
Some years ago The Moody Blues released an album called ‘Sur La Mer’. Well even that has become a reality as the band, for the last few years, have organised a music cruise.
More recently Mike Pinder released a filmed interview that, amongst other things, gave an insight into the reasons as to why he left the band. He also gives a poignant recital of Graeme Edge’s ‘Late Lament’ poem.
And now another new dawn beckons by way of solo and intimate performances. As mentioned earlier, there will be plenty of activity in the region over the coming months. I, for one, have recently bought tickets for forthcoming concerts by both Justin Hayward and John Lodge who will be in and around the area during the next month or so.
It is testimony to the enduring quality of their music that The Moody Blues have achieved top 20 album releases over four consecutive decades beginning in the 1960s. Their output seems to transcend so many generations and does not feel that it sits in any particular era. And I am convinced that The Moody Blues will continue to give pleasure to generations to come.