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.
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.
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.