A Conversation with Justin Hayward
Mike Ragogna: Justin! What is all this about a Moody Blues Cruise?
Justin Hayward: Well, it was an idea put to us a couple of years ago by the promoters who do that stuff. They'd done some dance music cruises and metal cruises and I think that they put it to us that a Moody Blues one could be a good idea. I'm not sure that we were sure about it in the group, but then they put it to The Moody Blues fan community and it just went down a storm with them. I think that the whole Moody fan community really like it as an opportunity to be together for themselves. It's almost a sort of plus to have us there as well. A few years ago, we would come around to Caesar's in Vegas yearly and we'd play there for a week. That was great because all the fans would come. So this is a real chance for The Moody Blues fan community to get together. That was the driving force, I think, behind it. Once we realized that, we were okay with it.
MR: One other aspect of the cruise is the giveaway of The Moody Cooper. What?
JH: I wish I knew, but I just looked at that myself. I thought, "Oh, that's nice!" If you're brave enough to drive around in a car looking like that, then that's great! Looking at the artwork close up, it looks very nice. I know I looked at it and I thought, "Oh wow, that takes some courage."
MR: On any continent.
JH: It looks like John Lennon's Mini in the sixties or something.
MR: Hey Justin, let's go back to the last Moody's cruise. What were some of the highlights? What was it like?
JH: I think some of the highlights were the fact that it was real question and answer stuff with the audience, which was very nice. We didn't know the questions up front and I always prefer it like that because then it just comes straight off the top of your head and it's probably a little bit more truthful. I enjoyed that. The concerts were great. On the boat we were on last time, there was a big showroom so everybody on the cruise at one of the three concerts had a chance to see the band. I enjoyed it very much. The food was good, it was a nice boat, and I think everybody was comfortable. Also we got to do solo things. Earlier on this year, I had my own album out, Spirits Of The Western Sky, and that was just coming out at that time, so I did some acoustic songs from that album and Graeme did a reception with his book of poetry. It was very nice, it was good fun. They were really nice people and, of course, we went to really nice places. We went to Jamaica and the Caymans last time, and I think it's the Turks and Caicos this time. Nice places to go, that's for sure.
MR: Are there a few other things that might separate Moody Blues Cruise II from Cruise I?
JH: Well, I think the clue may be in the title of the Cruise, which is "Return To The Isle Of Wight," although some people have said recently, "You're cruising around the Isle Of Wight? It's going to be freezing!" No, it doesn't mean that. It's to do with the Isle Of Wight festival, so we're looking back at that and taking influence from it.
MR: So you're on a boat with your fans, kind of sequestered for much of that time, so in addition to the musical experience, you also get to hobnob and get to know them, right?
JH: I think you do and I think a lot of that comes in those question and answer sessions and general chats. There's always an emcee guiding the whole process that keeps it from being a bit of a free-for-all, but it's very enjoyable and you find yourself talking from the heart. The people that are there are really there because they love the music and it's meant something to them in their lives, and that's something really quite special. I think we're all very much aware of that in these events.
MR: How does an iconic group like The Moody Blues continue after all these years? What's the secret behind the staying power?
JH: As you know, there are three of us still together from those days and I think you have the three that really like to tour and like to do the music live. We were on the bus a few years ago and we were talking about the catalog and how many songs we've recorded over the years that we only really played for a couple of days in the studio and then they were finished and we moved on and we never really discovered them. I think this is our time to discover our catalog. Fortunately, it's probably turned out for the best that we weren't huge celebs and it was always the music that people knew and not really the faces. It's the strength of that music and the size of the music catalog, I think, that's seen us through. It's lovely to play that stuff and try and get it as good as we can. I've sampled a lot of the old sounds we've had, the analog and the mellotron sounds. It's something that I like to share. I think that goes for all three of us now.
MR: You had a creative period where you also made music with Tony Clarke as "Blue Jays." That period was also very special to a lot of people, like it was your own take on prog if you want to call it that. When you look at that period, what are your thoughts?
JH: Well, I was very lucky at that time. I had a couple of solo albums out in that period, but also I was part of a project called The War Of The Worlds and I had a hit from it called "Forever Autumn," which really took me around the world at the time. I was very fortunate with such a great song, certainly in the rest of the world, but maybe it was not so well known in the US. But I think something had to happen then and fortunately, in 1974, we just drifted apart and nothing was said that couldn't be unsaid as sometimes happens with groups. We were all on pretty good terms, but I think we'd done our growing up within that band in the previous seven years. I was nineteen when I came to the band and an awful lot had happened in that seven years and our lives are completely changed, but I don't think any one of us had developed a life or had a chance to build a life outside of the group as men and as people. I could see that happening. I was the one at the time who thought, "This is crazy, we're just getting to where we've always wanted to be." But looking back now, I think it was the best thing that we ever did. We were apart for about three years and then at the end of that, we came back together with Tony [Clarke] and with Mike [Pinder] to make an album and both of them decided--and I think this was a very brave decision for both of them--that they didn't want to continue. So it left the guys who really did and we were very fortunate in the eighties to have a couple of really big hit singles, "Your Wildest Dreams" and "I Know You're Out There Somewhere" where we really got to experience that whole MTV generation thing and to be on TV with people coming up to me and saying, "Hey, you're that Moody Blues guy I saw in the video!" The eighties was probably my favorite time anyway, when I look back at my career. But that part in the seventies was something that had to happen. We had to find a life for ourselves and I think we did, each one of us.
MR: And in my opinion, those first seven albums that you guys created could almost be grouped together as a statement. And of course your orchestral approach was what put you on Decca, right?
JH: I think so. We got lucky. We had Decca, who had classically trained engineers, and our stuff was recorded beautifully. The engineer, Derek Varnals, and Tony Clarke had an influence on the way that our songs were presented. If you look at other things we did at the time that weren't in the Decca studios, they're much more rock 'n' roll and piano based and trying to be a little more up-front and thinking of singles. But all of the stuff that we did in Decca had a particular sound and a particular quality to it that did have that orchestral thing. They knew how to put that together. Decca was a company that was really committed to selling albums, not singles. They had a whole consumer division for stereo systems that they were trying to push. That was a big help to us in the early days because they wanted us to make beautiful stereo records that could demonstrate that stereo could be interesting for rock 'n' roll. It just happened to coincide with us going to America and the birth of FM radio. A lot of things came together. I can't say there was any kind of master plan. I wish there had been.
MR: Well, I think what also helped was that you kept getting reintroduced to the American market with your elegant single "Nights In White Satin" that kept getting into the top ten over the years.
JH: Yes it did. In the UK, it's been around five times. It came around for somebody else as well. But yes, we were very lucky. "Nights," of course, will always be the big one for us, but "Tuesday Afternoon" is the one we think of the most fondly because that was the one that really broke us in America. America was the one territory where they didn't release "Nights In White Satin" at the time it was made. It was about three or four months later, after "Tuesday Afternoon," so I think we have a special fondness for it.
MR: How about the early singles? There is a fondness among fans and beyond for the song "Go Now." That is a classic in the US as well as everywhere else.
JH: Absolutely! What a song! And the original record was great, too. When I came to the band, I ended up singing it because nobody else wanted to do it after Denny [Laine] had left. But I think Denny, who sang on that record, when he left the group, he kind of took that with him. Even when he was with Paul McCartney & Wings, he was doing "Go Now" on stage. I think it kind of belonged to him. It didn't represent what the other four guys really wanted to do.
MR: And once you moved to Decca Records, you really couldn't go back to that kind of approach.
JH: No. We couldn't go back to cover versions, that's for sure, and "Go Now" was a cover of a Bessie Banks record.
MR: Right. You mentioned the comeback records of the eighties. It seems like it was like that for a lot of bands--Yes, Asia, et cetera. But it seems like the eighties was the crowning jewel for a lot of bands' music. And you liked those record the most, right?
JH: I did, and if you look at my iTunes library, I see that most of it is from there, from the eighties and the early nineties.
MR: Do you think that possibly the sounds of groups like yours and the arrangements that were happening at the time helped form the sound of the eighties?
JH: Now, Michael, I'm not going to claim that in any kind of way. Every generation has their own sounds and their own music and people so love the music of their youth that I wouldn't take credit for their youth, but certainly, it turned me on. For me, it was meeting Tony Visconti who made great records with us and the fact that he had a little Roland MIDI controller, there was a lot of stuff that I could do with him alone, just the two of us. It kind of bypassed the whole A&R s**t and all of those other people. It was very refreshing. We owe Tony Visconti a great deal.
MR: And Tony Visconti was one of the bridges between David Bowie's material and the eighties. Many new romantic and Euro pop dance owed a lot to and was inspired by some of the works of Tony and what he was doing.
JH: It absolutely did. When I was working with him for four or five years in his studio, every day, there'd be young boys and girls coming to pay homage, just to meet him. And he would always set aside some time and a tea break to meet him. Of course, they loved all the Marc Bolan and Hazel O'Connor stuff. That's the generation, I think, that influenced the eighties style, more than us and the prog rock thing. But it was a lovely time that culminated, for us, with an association with PBS in 1990 and again in 1992 where they filmed The Moodies with an orchestra for the first time. That was great. It took us another step further.
MR: And there was your classic Red Rocks performance.
JH: That was a huge turning point for us, yeah.
MR: Earlier, we were talking about Jeff Wayne's War Of The Worlds, but there was also Rick Wakeman's Return To The Centre Of The Earth.
JH: Ooh, Michael, you're getting in there now, yeah!
MR: [laughs] So, your voice, that sound and identity, has been iconic over a few decades.
JH: Well, I'm very lucky that people are able to say, "Oh, that's that Moody Blues guy!" I'm very fortunate with that. That's all. Without the songs, I think, I'd just be a pretty average karaoke singer. In the end, it comes down to the songs, the strength of the songs. We're very lucky to have had our own and for me to have been involved with some other great songs.
MR: I always ask everybody that I interview this question, so now it's Justin Hayward's turn. Sir, what is your advice for new artists?
JH: I would say trust your own judgment and develop your own style that is true in your heart and don't be deterred from that. Just develop that something that's unique to you that you feel you can give. Be true to yourself, trust your own judgment, that's all.
MR: Beautiful. Of course you've accumulated all these amazing awards, too. Do you feel you may have made a contribution to popular culture both with your music and the music of The Moody Blues?
JH: I don't know the answer to that. That remains to be seen, but when we used to have all those Melody Maker polls in the sixties and seventies, we were always people's fourth-favorite group. I could never claim that we have made a contribution, but we've been on the periphery of this beautiful business for so long that it's probably been the best place to be, rather than in the center.
MR: Might one be able to say that The Moody Blues may have been one of the pioneers of the new age music movement because of the spiritual topics of your albums?
JH: Maybe. I certainly know that on our first tour of America in 1968, David Crosby came to see us backstage at the Fillmore East in New York and I was very pleased to meet him from Buffalo Springfield and that kind of stuff. He didn't ask me anything about the music, but he said, "Where'd you get your clothes, man?" So I think we made a contribution there, if you look at the pictures, Michael.
MR: [laughs] I love it! What does the future hold for The Moody Blues?
JH: Well, we're offered more work now than we ever were when we were younger. That's quite stunning, very nice. I think there's still a lot and if we can just hang in there with our health and the pleasure it gives us... For me, personally, I'll still be playing up at the pub anyway, even if I'm not getting paid for it. As long as our health holds, we'll be just fine. There'll always be a gig for us.
MR: All right, I don't want to take any more of your time, but it's been a pleasure, thank you very much, Justin.
JH: Michael, thank you so much. Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne