Acting like a ‘right prima donna’

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Mar 2015 Acting like a ‘right prima donna’

By Jim Stewart

Ray Thomas, The Moody Blues, ‘The Magnificent Moodies’ 50th Anniversary Deluxe 2CD Edition, Esoteric Recordings: ECLEC 22473

As the sixties turned the page for 1965 the future looked good for THE MOODY BLUES, their UK No.1 ‘Go Now’ was now repeating its success worldwide, and their follow-up had also charted.

They had toured with The Beatles, a debut album was on the horizon, and they were now a major act, part of Brian Epstein’s stable. It seemed the days of providing backing for visiting American R&B stars were gone.

It now appeared the time spent in small clubs, etc would provide a good career for Graeme Edge, Denny Laine, Mike Pinder, Ray Thomas and Clint Warwick. But fast-forward 18 months and their world was falling apart.

Warwick left in an attempt to save his marriage, Laine had been making it known that going solo was his ambition, leaving in the summer of 1966. The band was in crisis with Edge, Pinder and Thomas uncertain if they had a future. They were at a critical crossroads, but more of that later. For now, we shall concentrate on the earlier part of their journey.

Esoteric Recordings have re-issued a number of the band member’s solo projects in the past and now, in recognition of the 1965-2015 time-span, they have released their debut album ‘THE MAGNIFICENT MOODIES: 50th ANNIVERSARY 2CD DELUXE EDITION’.

Disc One adds 15 bonus tracks, including A and B sides, and EP track ‘People Gotta Go’, plus a previously unreleased version of ‘Go Now’, to the original album, and is available on its own. Disc two is packed with previous unreleased studio and BBC Radio sessions, interviews, and even a jingle – 29 tracks in all.

Moody Blues historian, Mark Powell has once again taken the helm, with a detailed essay, with the assistance of a number of Moody fans and band members, Graeme Edge, Mike Pinder and RAY THOMAS, who was keen to talk about the project.

The Moody Blues broke through towards the end of the UK R&B boom, I had seen you at The Marquee on a number of occasions and your act was a lot more frantic than the other groups, with songs like ‘I’ll Go Crazy’ and ‘Bye Bye Bird’.

‘Most of the other bands were covering Chess and Blues, like Sonny Boy Williamson and Little Walter, both of whom we’d backed on tour, while we’d be doing James Brown and Ray Charles numbers. In fact, we got our break there when Manfred Mann weren’t able to do their regular night there, as Paul Jones had laryngitis. We stepped in, went down well, and we were given our own regular night there.’

I was at the opening night of your first package tour with Chuck Berry at Lewisham.

‘We had been booked for that tour for months, and the week it began ‘Go Now’ went to No.1, which peeved a certain American gentleman off!’

I had seen Chuck a few months earlier and compared to that performance he was pretty lack lustre, almost going through the motions, that night.

‘He was a funny bloke, never the same two days running, wouldn’t stop talking one night, then blank you the next, would never go onstage until the payment for the show was in the briefcase, with his guitar lead fed through the handles.’

He was still doing that a few years back at Glasgow; he’d rather risk the taxman than not getting paid for his performance.

‘Back then, there was a lot of that, especially in the States. Did you know we never got paid for playing The Isle Of Wight Festival?’

I wasn’t aware of that; I would have thought something of that profile would have been genuine.

‘I knew we wasn’t going to get paid for the Isle Of Wight, and I announced that we weren’t going to turn up and play, and then all hell broke loose. A guy who went on to become a well-known politician (whose name we’ve chosen not to print) turned up at the offices and demanded to see me, and said we had to go on. I said I knew the money had already left the country and we wouldn’t get paid. He said he wasn’t bothered about that, and I was acting like a ‘right prima donna’, and if we didn’t play we’d get no publicity in future from Fleet Street.

A couple of years earlier, he’d have got a smack in the mouth, a real Birmingham kiss, for saying that, but we ended up playing for nothing. Only the big Americans, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, got paid, nobody else – including Jimi Hendrix got a penny.’

What memories do you have about recording the ‘Magnificent Moodies’ album?

‘When we worked at The Marquee we’d go in early in the day and use it for rehearsing, and flicking through some records we’d been sent from The States we found an acetate of Bessie Banks singing ‘Go Now’. We loved it and said we wanted to record it,

The Marquee were in the process of building their own studio. We asked if we could use it. They said it wasn’t finished, the control room was, but the builders are still working, with plaster-boards, materials and equipment everywhere. But we went in after the builders had gone each day, and that’s how we recorded it, and it was a pretty quick spell between that and it becoming No.1.’

I think you must be the only band to have undergone such a radical change in your music between then and your Threshold material and still retain the original name.

‘It was almost a natural progression really, we went from Sonny Boy stuff to James Brown and then slower R&B ballads. Then Clint left because he had two kids and his wife didn’t want him on the road, and Denny started to believe his press cuttings and thought he’d go solo, which left us short of a bass player and a singer/guitarist. John Lodge had played with me in bands in Birmingham.

I’m a year older than John and we’re both toolmakers by trade, but he was a year behind me with his apprenticeship, so when Mike and I decided the band should go professional, John’s dad said to him word for word what my dad said to me, and that was to finish the apprenticeship and then he’d back me all the way. I wanted John in the band right from the start, but we couldn’t get rid of Clint after all the hard work he’d put in. So, as soon as he left, I was on the phone to John and he was straight down to London like a shot.’

Justin Hayward came into the band roughly the same time.

‘I was sitting in The Scotch Of St. James, talking to Eric Burdon, who was putting together The New Animals, and I mentioned that we were looking for a new singer/guitarist, and he said that was what he had been advertising for, but in the meantime he’d found someone. So he had this big pile of replies and said you’re welcome to look through these, and that’s how we found Justin. Justin had his own feel, he was a bit more country, and we were moving towards a classical kind of fusion already, and Justin fitted perfectly with that direction.’

How involved were you with the ‘Magnificent Moodies’ Anniversary package?

‘My missus was more involved than me, but there are loads of tracks we did in Paris, and ‘Hang On To A Dream’. Listening to it now, I can’t believe how good the Moody Blues actually were back then. I’m making another solo album, and I’m thinking about recording my own version of that song. I’ve also done a song with my cousin Ryland about my grandfather, his great grandfather, which is on the new album. I write a track, go in the studio, record it, and when I’m ready, write another one, not putting myself under any pressure. It will be out on Cherry Red.’

Ray stopped touring and left the Moody Blues a decade ago after being diagnosed with an illness that affects his balance. A couple of years back, he was also found to have incurable prostrate cancer. Since the passing of his good friend Alvin Stardust, he decided to talk about the disease and urges everyone to be tested. I had already been checked myself following the ‘Join The Team’ campaign last year. It only takes a simple blood test, early detection saves lives!

For more info about Ray go to his brilliant website: www.raythomas.me

Jim Stewart 2015

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