Justin Hayward, principal songwriter/singer/guitarist for The Moody Blues, solo artist and Jeff Wayne’s The War of the Worlds’ contributor is back on tour, calling MALCOLM WYATT to talk through five decades of writing and performing
If I made Justin Hayward feel old at the outset of our chat, he had the good grace to laugh. My respect for his back-catalogue helped, mind.
Having not long since hit 50, I told him his first Moody Blues LP, Days of Future Passed, was released when I was a fortnight old. But it’s stood the test of time.
“Do you know, I get more interest in that album now. It’s surprising the amount of young songwriters that speak to me about that. Maybe because it didn’t have any kind of commercial pretension.”
That whole period was such a creative time – from The Beatles and The Beach Boys through to The Kinks.
“We considered ourselves lucky to be in London with that all going on, then brought to America by Bill Graham in ’68, introducing a new audience. The Beatles opened the door for the rest of us.”
Days of Future Passed is seen as a prog-rock prototype, not least by including classical elements. A happy accident or something you set out to do?
“You have to give credit to Decca, a special products division and a wonderful man, Michael Dacre-Barclay, whose idea was to do a record to demonstrate stereo for rock’n’roll. They had the second-largest classical market. Great days when record companies gave lousy royalties but had lots of studio time and big studios. They said, ‘Just get on with it, do what you want to.’”
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Justin was visiting his sister in Surrey ahead of a Utrecht tour opener, with home ‘near the Italian border’, working in Genoa ‘the best part of 20 years,’ his solo and Moodies’ material recorded there.
I hear a Wiltshire accent when he says ‘years’, and he’s retained a West Country link through regular Cornish visits, us reminiscing about a village near St Ives we’ve both known since the early ’70s – me barely six, Justin 27.
“A magical part of the world. Initially we were right on the beach, terribly impractical, hauling everything across the golf course. We moved up the hill, now my daughter’s home. I’m so pleased she’s there.”
His first Moodies’ single was 1966’s Fly Me High, the band having already left Birmingham.
“I came up to Paddington Station, meeting Mike (Pinder) first for a coffee. Soon I met the others in Esher, not paying their rent, hiding from the milkman! Home’s by the Med now. I had a home in the South of France, met lots of musicians – some for Johnny Halliday and French and Italian artists who liked English rock’n’roll. I started writing, found this studio.”
On tour, Justin’s backed by virtuoso guitarist Mike Dawes, and Julie Ragins, with a ‘voice of an angel’.
“We’re just a small crew. It’s mostly acoustic. I like to hear every nuance, doing the songs as they were written, and hopefully some of the stories behind them are interesting. Moodies’ shows are big productions – two drummers, very loud. Lots of songs don’t work in that context. I get to do things in my show complemented by this way of doing it.”
Beyond Nights in White Satin, I knew Justin’s contributions to Jeff Wayne’s 1978 The War of the Worlds before singles like Question. What had changed by the time of 1970’s A Question of Balance?
“We made On the Threshold of a Dream in early ’69, which did well, topping the charts, everyone knew it in America, following that with the obscure, self-absorbed, To Our Children’s Children’s Children, and got to a stage where we couldn’t play the songs on stage – its overdubbing impossible, so overlaid. With Question, there’s no double-tracking, just echo and a big old 12-string. We learned to play it the old-fashioned way, recorded it one Saturday, a deliberate attempt to pull back to something more real. A great time, with the Isle of Wight Festival, all that going on.”
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Justin keeps in touch with the Moodies, and not just fellow survivors John Lodge and Graeme Edge.
“We were together last weekend, including Mike Pinder, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We played, and there were a few events and Q&As. It was a big deal, and for US fans it validated the music they loved … at last. I’m very pleased. It’s kind of a temple to all the stuff I ever loved.
“Ray (Thomas) sadly passed away earlier this year, and Tony Clark some time before. That brings things home. That’s why I’m doing it now. I’m going to sing while I can. I don’t know what the future holds. I haven’t any plans except to make new music. I’ll keep my little crew together – that suits me just fine.”
After eight solo LPs, do people need reminding you haven’t been idle since War of the Worlds?
“Fortunately, some people have been paying attention! I’ve never been a celeb. What’s important is I’ve done what I think’s right, prepared to make mistakes. The War of the Worlds – what a lucky break! Someone came for me to sign some papers and was listening to this demo Jeff sent. He said, ‘You ought to do that, mate. It’s perfect for you.’ I thought, ‘Why not’, went to meet Jeff, did Forever Autumn. They called me back later to do The Eve of the War.
“It was a great time, being on Top of the Pops, all that. I did the stage show from around 2006, going to Australia, New Zealand … then stepped aside. It’s a part for a younger man. That music will go on … and I get to do Forever Autumn in my solo show, which is always great.”
Justin Hayward’s In Concert tour calls at New Brighton Floral Pavilion (May 29, £37.50) and Stockport Plaza (June 1, £37.50), with tickets available via Ticketline.co.uk, Ticketmaster.co.uk, or the venues.