By Lee Zimmerman
At age 70, Justin Hayward could very well afford to retire and rest on his laurels, relishing a reputation that elevated him to the upper tier of British rock superstardom, not only for his role helming The Moody Blues, but also for a solo career that was recently encapsulated with an expanded double disc entitled “All the Way” as well as a new concert DVD, “Live in Concert at the Capitol Theatre.” The former in particular offers select highlights of his individual endeavors as well as some select gems, pointing to the fact that while Hayward will likely always be associated with the Moodies, his current and future efforts assure the fact that he also resides well on his own.
Not that The Moody Blues are gone for good. Far from it in fact. The band continues to tour prodigiously, and their Moody Blues Cruise, set to resume in January 2018, affirms the fact that the eternal bond between the band and its fans is as strong, if not stronger, than ever. Indeed, time and tender thoughts have allowed the Moodies to ascend to near legendary stature, a cornerstone for the ‘60s generation as they came of age; when nights in many a dorm room were enhanced by the smell of incense, the intake of various psychedelic substances and the soundtrack provided by “Nights in White Satin” or any one of the band’s various successive efforts. Indeed, there’s a magical allure found in the band’s initial seven albums that neither time or circumstance can ever diminish.
Hayward himself isn’t necessarily one for nostalgia, but the increased pace of touring and his recent return to his individual efforts have given him pause to reflect on his own legacy and that of the band with which he’s played a central part. It’s clear however that he sometimes finds it difficult to encapsulate his feelings, not because he negates the reverence that his work holds for others, but mostly because his own inner connection to the music is equally inescapable.
He was gracious enough to speak to Goldmine from his home from the south of France, generously sharing his thoughts on the Moodies’ legacy, and his own efforts as well.
GOLDMINE: You have both an extensive solo compilation out now, along with a live concert DVD. It makes us think that you’re in a very reflective period now, where you’re looking back at your solo career through these retrospectives. Is that the intent?
JUSTIN HAYWARD: I think it is time to do that. But I can’t say I instigated the “All the Way” effort, because that was the record company’s intention. Ever since they were bought by Universal, they’ve had the opportunity to collect that material. Previously it had all been deleted by Universal, but they still had the copyrights for it. So the compilation was their idea and it was a friend of mine, Mark Powell who put the compilation together. So I can’t really take credit for it. I hope it works. As far as the DVD, I thought that was nice. It was filmed by a friend of mine and we just decided to put it out.
GM: The album features some new material and that hasn’t been previously released. So the inevitable question is, is that perhaps a teaser for the next solo studio album?
JH: I don’t know is the honest answer to that. At the moment, I’m being offered so much live work that I’m able to keep my little group of people together. My musicians … I want to keep playing with them…. my sound guy… But I see my recording partner Alberto (Parodi) regularly, and when we get together again, we’ll make a plan about what we’re going to do. I have some new material that I’d like to put out, but how I move it from my home recording studio… well, that’s another thing. I can’t say that I’m making specific plans abut recording, at least not yet.
GM: Having heard your work throughout the years, and now in listening to the new music on “All the Way,” there seems to be a real consistency, and that comes through in the passion that you put forward in your performances. You really seem invested in the material. It sounds pretty heartfelt. Is that a correct assessment? When you record, do you feel those songs in that true emotional sense?
JH: If I don’t do that it doesn’t really work for me. When I recorded some things with a string quartet last year in Italy, some of it didn’t work. Technically they worked, but my heart just wasn’t in it. So I discarded them. It only works for me if it does come from the heart.
GM: It does seem like you’re doing a lot of touring these days. Do you still enjoy all the traveling, all the performing and all that goes with it? At this point you could certainly afford to stay home and enjoy your leisure time.
JH: I don’t know what I’d do, that’s the thing. And I really find that I enjoy being with a group of people, whether its the Moodies or my own solo set-up. I suppose that’s all I’ve ever done. I’ve never had a life outside of that. I think that with the musicians I play with, there’s something that touches us every night. It’s very fulfilling, and that’s a wonderful thing to be able to share. I’ve never really looked back at my own catalog and my own songs in this particular way. So that’s the joy in it for me. It’s not something I want to give up easily, because I don’t know how long I’ll be able to do it. At age 70, I don’t know how long my voice will last. I do see other performers of my own age, and there is a time when physically your voice just doesn’t make it any more, and because I haven’t gotten there yet, I want to do it while my voice is still there, while its still pure and good. I can see the clock ticking away, so each of these years that I can do these live concerts are precious to me.
GM: Age 70 isn’t the outer limits any more. Many of your contemporaries are still out there on the road and touring and performing like never before. The Stones are in their mid-70s, as is Dylan. There are those at age 80 who are still active. John Mayall, for example So it would seem you still have a ways to go.
JH: But I would ask, are they still as good as they once were?
GM: How much of your time is divided between your solo tours and your travels with the Moodies?
JH: We’re offered a lot with the Moodies, but how much we take is another thing. I‘m offered a lot on my own, and how much I take is down to me. That’s all. This last year has been the busiest of my life actually. I did two or three solo tours and two good long Moody Blues tours. I’m not short of work, that’s for sure.
GM: Are there ever any conflicts between the band obligations and your solo efforts? John has his own project too, so does it take a lot of planning to sort it all out?
JH: No, I don’t think so. There’s always room. The touring aspect of the Moodies is still strong, but we also have to look at what we can do and what we want to do. How many weeks at a time do we want to put into touring. But I don’t think there is any kind of conflict at all.
GM: You mentioned that you now have an opportunity to look back on your solo work. Do you ever look back on the length and breadth of your career in its entirety — some 50 years now — and get a feeling of awe? Are there moments where you look at it and think, I can’t believe I did all this?
JH: I think it’s never been enough, because there are always people who have done more and achieved more and who are much better writers and singers than me. So I have great respect for them, because it’s still a mystery to me as to how you get to those heights. Some people have scaled those heights, and some people have just gotten a part of the way up, like me. I look back and think of what I could have done, and how much more I could have done with a particular opportunity if I had opened up another door at a particular time. The only time it hit me was a few years ago when Universal asked me to remaster the first seven Moodies albums, and because they wanted a 7.1 surround sound, all we could do with “Days of Future Passed” was to go back to the original four track. So when we did that, that was jaw dropping. How did we do that? Not so much with the Moodies, but with the orchestra and Peter Knight and the whole work. I found it amazing to go back the original recordings and hear the banter before and after the songs and that really brought it home to me. The rest of the time, no, I don’t think about that.
GM: Yet you set such a high bar. Your music is looked upon as the gold standard. So many people aspire to make the kind of music that you have — music that has actually stood the test of time. Do you think that now, going forward, you have to reach that high bar that you set so early on?
JH: I don’t think so, no. I think it did in the ‘70s and ‘80s when I was motivated then to do my best for the Moodies and to also to be with the people I met while with the Moodies and to bring them into the Moodies fold. I met Tony Visconti first as a solo artist and I realized how good he would be for the Moodies. Often I do look back at things and think that they could have been better. Some of those things I enjoy of course, but I also enjoyed listening to the things they sent me as suggestions for the “All the Way” album as well. A lot of it I thought could have been better. One of the things I did really enjoy was the original mix of “Blue Guitar.” I hadn’t heard that since the early ‘70s and I thought that was great. I thought Eric Stewart did a great mix. It would have been nice to use it at the time, but Decca didn’t want to use it. I thought that was lost, as did Graham Gouldman. We were both looking for it.
GM: The next Moodies cruise is scheduled for January 2018. Why won’t there be a cruise in 2017? Is that due to your touring commitments?
JH: No, it’s because that’s what the promoters offered. They don’t want to do it every year. It would be a nice world where we could decide where to play and go off and do that, but first you have to have the phone call. These cruises have really taken off and have become a very nice business for the people that organize them. I just hope the three of us are fit and healthy and able to do them justice.
GM: Are these cruises as special for the band as they are for the fans?
JH: It’s precious. I wouldn’t say it’s extra special because a lot of the production, a lot of the visuals we can’t bring in. It’s limited there. I do appreciate the intimacy of it. It’s a little too choreographed for me, but very enjoyable.
GM: The Moodies fans are very devoted. There were some instances where people were literally in tears as they were describing what the Moody Blues‘ music had meant to them over the years. Do you sense that connection and do those sentiments connect with you as well?
JH: I understand it, because I’m a music fan myself of other people. But for me it’s much more internalized. It‘s more of a private thing that I feel for the other artist. I wouldn’t necessarily want to turn up and tell the other person how I felt about their music. I wouldn’t feel the need to do that. I do appreciate it very much and it is very moving. It’s the audience that brings the emotion to the experience, whether you’re just listening to a record of something you love or if you’re at a concert. It’s the listener that brings the emotional stuff to it. Not so much the artist.
GM: How much does the band try to bring the fans into that communal experience? Is that something that you’re conscious of?
JH: Of course we appreciate what it means to other people, but we can’t go round all the time just hugging people and enjoying what they say. Life would become unbearable. I have to construct it very carefully to give myself pleasure as a musician and as a singer. If someone else can get something out of that and share it, that’s wonderful, because that’s all you ever need.
GM: There’s also the nostalgia factor. Your music first appeared at a time of innocence, in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, when a lot of people were coming of age. So there’s that emotional tie to a different era as well.
JH: I think what’s important is that it means something to me. I can’t explain what it means to me because it’s personal and private, but I can look back at certain songs and see how they were relevant to me at a particular time in my life. Sometimes I don’t really remember what I was saying at the time. I listen to certain songs and wonder what it was all about. It’s only years later that I finally realize what that was. I suppose that it’s only in retrospect that you can do that. What it means to me is very personal and very emotional and very moving, but it doesn’t mean the same as it does to the listener, because they bring all their own emotions to it. Their own meaning. Like I said, you can’t go round just hugging people and being grateful to people for that. You can play “Nights in White Satin” in a soundcheck for as long as you like, but it’s the person in the audience that brings that emotion to it. Something that’s very hard to capture on a record. That’s something you really have to share. That’s something that Alberto and I have tried to do in the last few years, to make sure we’re really moved ourselves…and that’s when we feel we’re licensed to be able to share it with someone else.
GM: When you sing classics like “Nights in White Satin” or “Ride My See-Saw” or any of the dozens of other iconic songs you’ve written and performed over the years, songs you’ve sung literally thousands of times, do still feel the adrenalin pumping? Do you still get that emotional charge each time?
JH: Yeah, I feel it more now than I did ever before, because people are paying more attention. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, it kind of didn’t matter. There was always somebody else coming on in 45 minutes. You didn’t have to get that emotionally involved in it. But now, concerts are very specific to one artist, and artists have to carry them through. It’s a very different time now and it has a different resonance for people.
GM: The inevitable question is, will there ever be a new Moody Blues album?
JH: I don’t know is the answer to that. I don’t know. We’re probably at the stage where we’re enjoying our own catalog and we’re enjoying discovering new things. We’re rediscovering things that we only played for a couple of days in the studio. That’s nice too. Some things work in the studio and don’t necessarily work on stage, but it’s nice to discover them in that context.
GM: As fans, we still hope that something new will appear at some time.
JH: All I can say to you is that as a fan myself, I never wanted The Beatles to get back together again after 1969. It was so precious to me what they did before, so to come back together again and have people say, “It’s not so good any more, is it?” would have been heartbreaking. The spirit was right for them then, and it was right for us, particularly in those first seven albums. And again, in the ‘80s. Everything felt right. If it’s right, and we have that feeling again, that will be great. That would be wonderful.