It Was Good To Be King
It was good to be King.
Yes, I was King for a year last year.
I was elected King of the Society of Distinguished Songwriters (SODS for short) in December 2012, and being King meant that 2013 was even more of a whirlwind than I was expecting – and I loved every moment of it. SODS is a private society that writers are asked to join after being proposed to by a member and then elected by the other members in an anonymous vote. You cannot apply to join the Society – you can only be invited by other writers, all of whom are of great stature in the song-writing world. My reign included organizing all the Societies events throughout the year, which I enjoyed very much, and generally ‘being KING’, and the contact/reference point for all things SODS.
Of course, 2013 was even more crazy for me because my dear ‘Spirits’ album was released by Eagle Rock, and a couple of months after the release I had the good fortune to meet Mike Dawes, at a time when promoters were pressing me to tour with my new songs. That tour was a joy for me and I learnt a lot – not least that ‘less is often more’ (sounds like the title of a song!) and hearing every nuance in a venue can be thrilling.
2014 looks like being another busy year – even before the new year starts Alberto and I will be working in the studio listening to the tapes from the solo show that was filmed in Atlanta last August - it’s the first opportunity I have had to do that - and I’m looking forward to it. From the small sections I’ve heard so far, it’s going to be a pleasure.
During my reign as King, after a SODS event on a visit to London recently, I was walking back to a hotel very late one night, and there in the darkness I heard a bird singing. It’s the strangest thing to hear a vulnerable voice in such a big, busy city like London, a city that never sleeps nowadays, and I stood for several minutes to listen and wonder. And near to where I live there are several huge flocks of Starlings that make the most amazing shapes in the sky when they turn up in the wintertime. They never seem to sleep, and the vast trees that they populate are to be avoided in the early hours.
But that night in London, I recalled something that made a big impression on me as a boy, out in the fields of the Wiltshire Downs one day. I came across a man, a poacher maybe, with a cage on the ground with a bright flashing mirror inside of it that he was turning and flashing with the aid of long pieces of string from some distance from the cage. As I watched, a Skylark slowly circled down, attracted by the flashing mirror, and quietly entered the cage. The trap snapped shut and the countryman made off with the tiny bird.
Briefly, at that moment, I was quite impressed, as children are, by the cleverness of his trapping skills, but by the time I had got home the tragedy of it was dawning on me. The Skylarks song is beautiful and moving – it makes the English countryside magical.
Ever since then, the skylark’s song always stops me in my tracks. It was particularly noticeable in the Cornish silence, through my precious days there in the 70’s and 80’s. Each time I return, and visit the same places, the skylark seems to be becoming increasingly rare and it gets harder to find its beautiful voice. It always took me a while to find the bird hovering in the blue sky, but once I located it, high above me, I could usually keep focused on it.
Bird song had a small part to play in Moody Blues history, and Mike Pinder would enthusiastically breed finches, even in his small flat in Holland Park. A few months later, I remember I went to visit Mike and Ray at the house that they shared around the time of ‘In Search Of The Lost Chord’, (many of the photos on the back of the Lost Chord sleeve were taken in the garden there). Mike had perfectly recorded the sounds of the amazing ‘dawn chorus’ of garden birds around their house. It was really quite impressive – it certainly made an impression on me. Beautiful. I think we may have thought we could feature ‘the chorus’ on a recording somewhere at the time.
To me, music is the most mysterious of all the arts, and all music opens a door into a world of imagination. And for songwriters our songs don't end when we’re done with them. Once we send them off into the world they become spirits of their own, to be interpreted in myriad ways. They'll outlive all of us, floating in and out of people's lives, changing and evolving as others filter them through their own experiences.
In the early days of the band I was rarely asked about the stories behind any of my songs, and it is sometimes a little odd to be frequently asked about things I came up with on the side of my bed in bed sitting rooms around west London, but I'll never tire of the life those early songs have had, and that they continue to have.
In 2010, when I heard Bettye LaVette's extremely powerful version of Nights I cried..... for the first time I really heard the lyric, and it took her to make that happen. She wrote to me, and I was thrilled to hear from her.
Also, I was very touched by Pet Clark’s fondness of ‘I Know You’re Out There Somewhere’ and she recorded it too, which gave me a completely new insight into the song.
Recently, someone came up to me suddenly and told me that ‘One Day, Someday’ had expressed their hidden emotions about a tragedy in a relationship that had meant everything to them. He didn’t say anything more, and there was no need to thank me, or anything like that, and he didn’t. It was relevant to him alone and to his life, and it was his story. The song helped him express it, that’s all.
My own songs are often not about one story in each song. They are several stories interwoven and linked together.
Like life. Love, Justin