NZ visit ‘al­ways a joy’

Moody Blues singer Justin Hay­ward tells Jack Bar­low about how the band strug­gled in the 60s... be­fore tak­ing the mu­sic world by storm.

The Press - - Culture -

At their tow­er­ing, psy­che­delic peak, the Moody Blues were one of the big­gest bands on the face of the planet.

It was not al­ways thus. Lead singer Justin Hay­ward, who’s vis­it­ing New Zealand next month, re­mem­bers a time when world dom­i­na­tion was lit­tle more than a dis­tant dream.

Any­thing else would have been delu­sional when Hay­ward joined the band in 1966. De­spite suc­cess with the Denny Laine-penned Go Now the pre­vi­ous year, low sales and group depar­tures had slowed them to a stand­still.

‘‘It got so bad that within two months of join­ing the band I’d gone back to liv­ing with my par­ents,’’ Hay­ward re­calls. ‘‘I was try­ing to get my dad to sign up hire pur­chase agree­ments on my am­pli­fier and my gui­tar. Our price had dropped to about £20 a night.’’

Yet even though he was only 20, Hay­ward had been around the block. By the time he joined the Moody Blues he’d al­ready had a busy ca­reer, a highlight of which was play­ing and writ­ing songs for skif­fle star Lon­nie Done­gan.

He knew what was needed to turn it around, and stick­ing with the group’s es­tab­lished R&B sound wasn’t it. ‘‘We had to find our own iden­tity,’’ he says. ‘‘I was pretty lousy at rhythm and blues, I was never go­ing to make the cut there.’’

Man­ager Brian Ep­stein was ditched, to­tally oc­cu­pied as he was with The Bea­tles, and a new, artier sound based around Hay­ward’s tunes was adopted.

‘‘We started to get an au­di­ence,’’ Hay­ward says. ‘‘We were do­ing two sets, one R&B and the other an hour of our own ma­te­rial, and that was start­ing to get a fan base. By the March of 1967 we were do­ing all our own ma­te­rial.’’

The kinks were ironed out, both on­stage and in the stu­dio, and in Novem­ber 1967 the group re­leasedDays of Fu­ture Passed. They never looked back.

With their break­through al­bum came the band’s big­gest hit, the lush, or­ches­tral Nights in White Satin. It’s still a clas­sic rock sta­ple and the band’s best-known song, but Hay­ward says it took a while to re­ally take off.

‘‘It caught on in France, where it was a mi­nor hit, but even the pro­mo­tion guy from [record com­pany] Decca re­signed him­self to that be­ing the ex­tent of it,’’ Hay­ward says.

‘‘It wasn’t un­til 1972 that the song re­ally be­came an in­ter­na­tional hit. It’s as­tound­ing a song could stay around that long, it’s hard to think that would still hap­pen. It was a force that, in the end, be­came un­stop­pable.’’

Be­tween 1968 and 1972 the Moody Blues re­leased six al­bums, at the rate of at least one per year. Yet that pe­riod, in Hay­ward’s mind at least, was all a bit of a blur. For var­i­ous rea­sons.

‘‘In the 60s and 70s I wasn’t all that aware,’’ he ad­mits. ‘‘I was stoned for a lot of it. Noth­ing wrong with that, I don’t knock it, but I wasn’t quite present a lot of the time. I seemed to be in some kind of race with my head down.’’

Sur­pris­ingly, when look­ing back over his ca­reer, Hay­ward doesn’t rate the heady 1960s as his favourite era. In­stead, that falls to quite a dif­fer­ent time: the 1980s.

‘‘I loved every mo­ment of that time,’’ he says. ‘‘We were on MTV sud­denly, and it was a great gift to be given suc­cess the sec­ond time around. The tours we did then were just bril­liant, they brought a whole new, young au­di­ence to the group.’’

Aside from the Moody Blues, Hay­ward has of­ten been busy with his own side projects. One of his more well-known cameos was in The War of the Worlds, scor­ing a hit with For­ever Au­tumn on the sound­track and tour­ing with the stage show.

He’s also re­leased solo al­bums on a semi-reg­u­lar ba­sis, the most re­cent stu­dio al­bum be­ing 2013’s Spir­its of the Western Sky.

Hay­ward says that the solo ex­pe­ri­ence is dif­fer­ent than the (glo­ri­ous) bom­bast of the Moody Blues, and when he vis­its New Zealand this time he’ll be backed by his own band.

‘‘I’m very lucky to have both [ca­reers: solo and the Moody Blues],’’ he says.

‘‘My solo show is a joy, it’s a much younger crew and mu­si­cians. I can hear every nu­ance, and it’s great to be able to tell the sto­ries be­hind the songs as well,’’ he adds.

‘‘I’m also lucky to have the big pro­duc­tion of the Moodys, and long may that be there – al­though I don’t know how much longer that’ll be there.’’

For now, he’s just happy to tour, play­ing songs to new au­di­ences across the globe.

‘‘I’m look­ing for­ward to com­ing down, meet­ing old friends, do some catch­ing up,’’ he says. ’’It’s al­ways a plea­sure and a joy.’’ ❚ Justin Hay­ward plays the Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch, Oc­to­ber 13, Michael Fowler Cen­tre, Welling­ton, Oc­to­ber 14, ASB Theatre Auck­land Oc­to­ber 16.

DAVID ALEXAN­DER

Justin Hay­ward says the band’s early di­rec­tion didn’t work: ‘‘I was pretty lousy at rhythm and blues.’’

The Moody Blues ar­rive at Welling­ton air­port in 2006. From left, Graeme Edge, Hay­ward and John Lodge.

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