September 24, 2019
Photo: Brian Aris

At the end of the day, it’s just nice to get out there with the old bass and take a few of the old songs with me and sort of say to them “See, I haven’t forgotten you”.

Throughout the long career of the Moody Blues, although all of the members have chipped in with their own songwriting contributions, it would be fair to say that Justin Hayward And John Lodge are the two that people would generally think of as the ‘Lennon and McCartney’ of the band. As time has gone on, however, Hayward’s contributions (partly due to his having composed the omnipresent Nights In White Satin and also Question) have tended to become more widely recognised than John Lodge’s contribution.

That may change now, as John releases his own compilation, entitled B Yond: The Very Best Of. Obviously having to cover Moody material as well as his own solo work, the album hits something of a home run by having all of the Moodies’ tracks represented either as live versions played by his current – excellent – band or, in a couple of instances, given a whole new studio recording. This works extremely well in the sense that it represents all of the songs as seen through his eyes, and gives the album a unified sound and identity which it might otherwise have failed to possess.

Having the opportunity to speak with John recently about the album, I begin the conversation by referencing that very point…

‘Well, that’s exactly what I wanted to do’, he agrees. ‘I wanted it to retain what was great about it, and it still had to be what the Moodies was about, but I wanted it to have that new edge, and the emotion that is very much “John Lodge”, you see. I wanted certain things, such as for example I’ve been taking a cello on the road with me. Back in the day with the Moodies we had mellotrons and all that, but I wanted a real cello, because I think that it’s a great thing to let these instruments have their own space, their moment in the spotlight.’

I gave Ray his first driving lessons actually, and I remember I picked up the first car he ever bought – an old A40 Farina!

John with his trusty weapons… (photo: Brian Aris)

There are also new studio recordings of a couple of classics, and I suggest that the new arrangements of them are extremely interesting. One of these is Legend Of A Mind, which I imagine to be a sort of homage to its composer Ray Thomas (who passed away last year) as it is the only non-Lodge composition on the album. It turns out that this is correct, as John explains. ‘Yes, that’s exactly what it was with Ray. I’ve known him since I was fifteen, you see, so we’d been friends for a very long time. We were together in a band before the Moody Blues called El Riot And The Rebels for about four years. We were really close – in fact my parents and his parents became friends as well, and later on my children and his children. He was very proud of that song, and it took me back to sitting in his flat with him singing the song and me trying to work out basslines for it; they were good times, you know. I gave Ray his first driving lessons actually, and I remember I picked up the first car he ever bought – an old A40 Farina! I still lived close to Ray, and I saw him very shortly before he passed away, it was very sad. Actually, Ray’s son contacted me about the new version of the song, and he was very proud of what his dad did, so I just want to keep Ray’s music alive really’.

Along with Legend Of A Mind, the other old Moodies track redone in the studio is the often overlooked Evening (Time To Get Away) from Days Of Future Passed, and what struck me the most when listening to them was how contemporary they sound – the originals, great as they are, are rooted very much in their time, whereas these new takes sound almost as the Moody Blues might have sounded had they got together now rather than 50 years ago. ‘Well thank you very much for that’, replies John, ’because that’s exactly what I was aiming for. I wanted to give them an up to date feel, and I’m glad you picked up on that. Evening (Time To Get Away) was a song of mine which was sort of hidden away on the second side of the Future Passed album, and in fact on the first pressings it didn’t even get a credit as a track in the listing; it was very much forgotten about. When I started playing it live I wanted to do it as if I’d just written it today, and the same with Legend Of A Mind as well. That’s one of the reasons I didn’t put the flute on, because that flute was so Ray, and I didn’t want to try to reproduce that. In fact, I’ll tell you something that still resonates with me today, I remember one of the first songs I recorded was back before the Moodies was something called Can’t Chance A Break Up – I think it was one of the first records Polydor put out actually – and the producer was this American lady who had come over to England. She gave me some advice at the time; she said “whenever you record a song, pretend you’ve just written it yourself today. Forget the way you’ve heard it, just take the words and the tune and start again from the ground up and make it yours”. And I’ve never forgotten that, you know. So that’s exactly what I tried to do on this record, and I’m delighted that you heard that in the same way’.

I love the idea that you can have a song that starts with those three simple notes and builds up to something like the Halle Orchestra at the end!

The third and final song to get the new studio treatment is Street Cafe, a song from the sessions for John’s 1976 solo album Natural Avenue which was left off the album and put out as an unsuccessful single. ‘Well, that’s right, it was, but I think even then it was only released in the UK, it never came out in the States. I listened to it again, and I felt it was a nice, melodic, harmonious song really, and we could do with a bit of harmony in this world at the moment (laughs). It had a sort of good feeling about it, so I suggested to Alan Hewitt, my keyboard player, that we could do a new version of it with some fresh energy to it, so we did. It has a driving bassline under it now, rather than just sort of lolling along, so I’m very pleased with it. I hope people like it.’

Natural Avenue is represented by two other songs, very different in style. Summer Breeze, Summer Song is a very John Lennon-sounding piece, which I venture to suggest could have sat comfortably on the Double Fantasy album, while the six and a half minute Say You Love Me is a real curveball: a howl of frustration and desperate appeal for love which has a chorus almost reminiscent of Peter Hammill in its intensity. John is happy with both of those assessments.

‘Well, thank you for that! I’ve never thought about that John Lennon thing bit it’s nice to hear. Actually that song was notable for me because of the sax solo by a guy called Jimmy Jewell. I’d always wanted Jimmy to play sax on something for me, he was a mutual friend through Chris Spedding, and he’s played on some Joan Armatrading tracks. Anyhow, he did the solo and every time I hear it it does something to me, it sort of turns me around. When it gets to the high note at the end it’s jut “Yes!”, sort of like climbing Everest. I totally agree with what you say about Say You Love Me, that was like a huge plea, you know – it wasn’t enough to say “Say you love me”, it was like “Please!!” (laughs). In actual fact, that song was the reason behind this whole album in a way, it got the ball rolling. What happened was, there was a film last year called Private Lives which got great reviews and was pretty successful, and it used that song in it. I heard it, and I’d sort of forgotten the song to be honest with you, but I thought “This sounds really good”, and I thought I’d like to get the 25-track master tapes and have a go at remixing it, not for a record or anything, just for me. But I was doing that and BMG came in with the offer of the contract for the album, and that was the start of it’.

I’m a Moody Blue and I always will be a Moody Blue. That’s what has taken me on this incredible journey, and any time anyone asks me to do a Moody Blues concert, I will do it.

There are also a couple of tracks from John’s most recent album 10,000 Light Years Ago including the opener from that album In My Mind, which is a tremendously powerful song, building up to a climactic guitar-driven ending, courtesy of legendary guitarist Chris Spedding, which even has echoes of Pink Floyd doing Comfortably Numb. John has an interesting take on the genesis of that particular song. ‘I’m glad you like that one, I was very pleased with it I have to say. It just starts off with three bass notes, and then builds up and up. Those three bass notes are actually the three notes I’ve always played to get my sound levels right, all the Moody Blues shows over the years, to make sure each note comes over as loud as the next. Anyhow, I was playing those notes, and playing around with them a little, and it became the song. I love the idea that you can have a song that starts with those three simple notes and builds up to something like the Halle Orchestra at the end! I have to say, Chris was so helpful with that sort of thing, he would never just turn up, do his parts and go. He would always pitch in with ideas and even bring in musicians he thought would be good, like Mike Pigott on violin who played on that album. Chris is a great guy, I can’t speak too highly of him’.

The live versions of the Moody Blues tracks which are used on the album are, to me, a good idea, because even though it is John’s band performing them, it still means they have that energy and bite that people sometimes forget that the Moody Blues always had in the live environment. They could be appreciated through the albums, but in a whole different way live, as they have always remained one of the most vital and enthused live acts on the scene right up to the present day. It would be remiss not to ask about the future of the band, since there has been much speculation following Graeme Edge’s health issues of late, and also I do mention that Justin said, last time I spoke with him that while one could never say never, it might be that the band may have moved on. I have to stress of course that he was merely speculating there, as he stressed that he hadn’t had any discussions with the guys about it, but John’s take on things would certainly be interesting. He is happy to oblige as it happens.

‘Well, that’s probably what Justin was feeling, and of course I can’t speak for him, but I have a slightly different take on it really. For me, I’m a Moody Blue and I always will be a Moody Blue. That’s what has taken me on this incredible journey, and any time anyone asks me to do a Moody Blues concert, I will do it. You see, when we used to get write a song we would all get together around a table – a little coffee table actually, which I still have – and the song would sort of become everybody’s. No matter who had written the song, everybody would take real pride in adding their bits to it, and that’s what made it what it was. It was a Moody Blues song when everyone had made it what it ended up, not when one of us wrote it. I remember when I wrote Isn’t Life Strange; I’d written that on piano, and when I played it to the guys Mike [Pinder] said “You know what, I’ve got this old pump organ thing from about 1898, I’m sure that would sound great for this”, and we tried it and that’s what we used. In fact, if you listen to the original there are moments when you can actually hear the feet pumping up and down on this thing! That was the Moody Blues, you see, and without that vehicle I don’t think any of us would be where we are. I said to somebody yesterday, as advice to young musicians, that you should surround yourself with people who have faith in you, but always remember to have faith in the people you surround yourself with’.

It’s certainly great to hear this, and it will be music to the ears of any Moodies fans reading I’m sure, but I have to ask whether any further Moodies activity would also include Graeme Edge. There has been speculation about his retirement, as the oldest member of the band, and he drumming has been shared for some years now, but his stage presence is something which would be hard to replace. ‘Oh yes, for sure. I did a show recently in Florida, which is where Graeme lives, and he came along. He was in great form, and he’s really committed to getting back to full health again. He’s finished all of his medications and everything, and he’s looking really good. So of course Graeme would be a part of it I think – well, if nothing else, we need someone to go (adopts Edge voice) “Breathe deep the gathering gloom…” (laughs heartily).

As a final thing, I ask John if there is anything which he would like to say in conclusion about the album or his solo work in general. ‘Well, yes. I have to say I’m really enjoying being able to do this now because, as I know you mentioned before, when I first released Natural Avenue I always regretted that I didn’t get the opportunity to go on tour and play that material to people. That’s what’s great about this B Yond album and the touring which I’ll be doing with my band. At the end of the day, it’s just nice to get out there with the old bass and take a few of the old songs with me and sort of say to them “See, I haven’t forgotten you”. That’s all, really’.

A very appropriate sentiment on which to end. If nothing else, this album should serve to remind people who may have forgotten just how many of those Moody Blues classics came from the prolific pen of John Lodge. He may be someone who, by his own admission, is a performer through and through in his heart, but he has also been a very important crafter of songs, and this collection goes a long way to emphasising that. Can’t wait for the shows!