There have certainly been times when the Moody Blues were more of a presence on the record charts and radio. But as far as guitarist-singer Justin Hayward is concerned, the group is better now in a live setting than it was when the Moodies last had a string of hit songs and albums.
“I think on stage we lost our way a little bit for several years,” Hayward said, noting that in the 1980s, in particular, the band strayed from studio versions of its songs in live performance. “I think it was in the early ’90s, particularly when we started to do orchestra shows … that we really started to look at the music again and being faithful to the records and … tried to eliminate the rest of the elaboration that had maybe gone on in the ’80s. And I think it really paid off.”
Today the group includes three core members – Hayward, bassist John Lodge and drummer Graeme Edge – and touring musicians Gordon Marshall (percussion), Paul Bliss (keyboards), Norda Mullen (replacing long-time flute player Ray Thomas) and Julie Ragins (keyboards, vocals).
Hayward credits these additional members with helping the group raise its game as a live unit and recapture the original vision of its songs.
“I think the people that we have with us now really love the music and express that and are really, really keen in encouraging us to keep on doing it,” Hayward said. “And that’s very rewarding.”
Ironically, Hayward has just found evidence from early in the Moody Blues’ career that the band did itself a disservice live by reinventing its material, as he worked on remixing audio from the group’s 1970 concert at the legendary Isle of Wight Festival.
“Even on that I can see where we started to fiddle around with songs and get away from the original recorded versions,” he said.
By the time of that Isle of Wight show, the Moody Blues were already established as a force in rock music, and a band whose elaborately produced and often orchestral brand of music put the group at the forefront of the 1970s progressive rock movement.
The band started out in 1964 as an R&B-flavored group, but began moving toward a grand pop sound after Hayward and Lodge replaced original members Danny Laine (guitar) and Clint Warwick (bass) in 1966. They joined a lineup that also included Edge, Thomas and keyboardist Mike Pinder.
This lineup’s first album, the 1967 epic “Days of Future Passed,” is now viewed as a landmark work as it marked one of the first collaborations between a rock band and orchestra. Its signature track, “Nights in White Satin,” remains perhaps the band’s most popular song.
Over the next few years, the Moody Blues turned out another six albums of intricate and melodic rock music before going on hiatus in 1974.
The band returned four years later with the album “Octave.” And while that album featured a hit song, “Steppin’ in a Slide Zone,” band members have frequently said the group didn’t really hit stride artistically again until the 1981 album “Long Distance Voyager.”
While Moody Blues fans wait for the Isle of Wight concert to be released, they can step back even further into the group’s history with a new CD/DVD package, “Live at the BBC, 1967-1970.”
The package features a CD of live performances for various BBC radio programs, while the DVD has performances from television shows “The Tom Jones Show,” “Colour Me Pop” and “In Concert.”
“That’s more stuff that I honestly thought didn’t exist anymore, that I thought was gone forever,” Hayward said. “I’m very glad to see some of it out now.”
Members of the Moody Blues at an appearance in Britain.