Moody Blues frontman looking forward to playing in NZ
At their towering, psychedelic peak, the Moody Blues was one of the biggest bands on the face of the planet.
It was not always thus. Lead singer Justin Hayward, who is 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 says. ‘‘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’n’B sound wasn’t it.
‘‘We had to find our own identity,’’ he says.
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’n’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.’’
In November 1967, the group debuted Days 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 wasn’t until 1972 that the song really became an international hit. 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 a year. Yet that period 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.’’
Surprisingly, when looking back at 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.’’
He’s released solo albums on a semi-regular basis, the most recent studio album being 2013’s Spirits of the Western Sky.
‘‘I’m very lucky to have both [solo and the Moody Blues],’’ he says.
‘‘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.’’
Justin Hayward plays the Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch, October 13; Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, October14; ASB Theatre, Auckland, October 16.
The Moody Blues - Graeme Edge, Justin Hayward and John Lodge - arrive at Wellington airport in 2006.