50 years since ‘The Voice’ hit
By Jim Stewart
‘The Voice’ was one of The Moody Blues biggest hits and to their legion of fans worldwide JUSTIN HAYWARD is The Voice.
Since joining the band late 1966, he has enjoyed incredible success both as a band member and a solo artist. In 2015 he is touring the UK in both guises, with promoting a new eight-disc box set ‘THE POLYDOR YEARS’ covering the complete recorded works of the group’s period on that label.
When the interview was originally set up, I was due to phone him in America during his solo tour. But it was changed to Justin making the call, still at the same time, to me – which turned out to be from his office in the South of France, which shows how hectic his schedule can be.
Where in France are you based: are you at the beautiful villa seen in some of your documentaries?
‘I’m in an office I share with a couple of musicians, just inside the French/Italian border, which is a beautiful part of the country.’
‘The Polydor Years’ box consists of the three studio and three live albums from that period, plus DVDs and bonus material. How much input did you have with the set?
‘None actually, up until ‘Timeless Flight’ I had done work with Universal. They had sort of appointed me gatekeeper of the Moody’s catalogue, and I’d done all of the remixes, re-masters and 5.1 surround sound releases. But when they approached me about ‘Timeless Flight’ which was going to be a huge collection of stuff from the archive, it just seemed like so much work. I was busy doing my solo album, so I passed on it. Because my friend, Mark Powell, was doing it, I knew it was in good hands, so I left it to him.And the same with ‘The Polydor Years’. They sold every copy of ‘Timeless Flight’ they pressed. I just hope they re-issue it in some way, and if the new one sells the same, which I’m sure it will, I’ll be more than happy to leave these to Mark, because he’s obviously doing a good job. But if he decides not to do any more, then I’ll get involved again.
I think Mark found all the really interesting stuff, but I’m really glad they are focusing on that period, as everybody goes on about the first seven albums, and that’s all they want to talk about. For me, the best time was in the eighties, working with Tony Visconti. It was the time that really revitalised our careers and turned the band around, and those are my fondest memories of the band when I look back.’
I loved those albums, especially the singles, and it wasn’t until recently I discovered the promo videos had a continuing story to them, which is something I’ve seen anyone else do.
‘I think that was the idea of Brian, the video director. The song ‘I Know You’re Out There Somewhere’ tells a story and it was good that he made it about a girl.- in fact, youngsters instead of us 40-year-old guys, which was quite nice.’
Are the photos, etc in the hardback book that’s included with ‘The Polydor Years’ personal or archive images?
‘I think Mark found a lot of stuff when the Threshold offices closed when the lady who ran it died. He went in there and retrieved so much stuff, and that’s where it came from, not directly from the band.’
Going back to you joining the Moodys, when I spoke to Ray Thomas last week, he said that when Denny and Clint left the band, they were looking to move away from being an R&B group and start playing more melodic stuff. So when John rejoined, and then they found you, it was as if they had struck gold.
‘I think the timeline, which is important, is a bit different to that. Clint left and Rod joined, but he didn’t particularly fit in. We were still playing the old set and the old songs, which I was really useless at: it didn’t suit me at all – but that was the only thing people were prepared to pay the money to come and see us, and pay our petrol. It brought us so low, I went back to living with my parents in Swindon in January ‘67, and I’d been in the group since the end of August.
‘We recorded a version of ‘Fly Me High’ and ‘I Really Haven’t Got The Time’ in September ’66, but we continued playing the same old stuff. Mike was writing and I think he was the one who had the biggest change. He didn’t want to write that old R&B stuff, and I’d joined the group because of the songs I was writing. Then Mike called me and we started to write together. Then around the Christmas, we began doing two 45 minute sets, one of the old stuff, and one of the new songs, and I can’t say the new stuff went down better than the old stuf. But then ‘Fly Me High’ was put out, it began to get a lot of airplay, and people started to take notice of us. So we took the decision to stop playing the old songs.’
You’re about to go on tour again in May and June, this year is 50 years since ‘Go Now’ hit No.1. Is there any chance you might acknowledge that by putting it in the show?
‘Who would sing it? I certainly couldn’t. It was Denny’s song, and as much as I respect what Ray says, having seen them with Denny, he was the sound of The Moody Blues. When he went, there was nobody left who you could say was the sound of the band, and he took ‘Go Now’ with him, quite rightly. Nobody could sing it like him – it was his song.’
You have a heavy schedule of touring this year, first with The Moody Blues. Can we expect anything different, or will you shuffle the pack around and just keep all the hits in?
‘That’s a good way of putting it. You know us only too well. I absolutely don’t know is the answer to that. We going to get together in March in America ahead of our tour there, but I’m so engrossed in my own new stuff, it’s hard for me to think about that.’
It’s over a decade since your last Moody’s album ‘December’: are there plans for a new one?
‘It has been a while, but I really don’t know about that.’
You have your own album ‘Spirits Of The Western Sky’ with the DVD ‘Spirits…Live, and having watched and enjoyed it, it’s great to see how comfortable you are with your audience.
‘I think so. In that particular situation, I am, because I’ve got an audience of such faithful fans, and as long as they bring that into the venue, then I’m fine. I don’t know how I’d get on with a hostile crowd. I just hope they will be patient when I tour with my solo material and the new songs, because they are just waiting for the hits and that will never change really.’
No sooner do you finish the Moody’s tour than you start your solo one. Will you have the same band? Julie Ragins is a real find! ‘Yes, it’ll be Mike Dawes who opens up the show for me, and Julie, fabulous musician, voice of an angel as well: I’m sure the audience will love her.’
Is there anything that we haven’t covered so far?
‘Not really, apart from I’d just like to say how lucky I’ve been having the Moody Blues as part of my life.’
The Moody Blues tour the UK in may and June, with Justin’s solo dates in July. All the albums and DVD’s referred to, are now available and full information on everything can be found at www.moodybluestoday.com
Jim Stewart 2015