The Moody Blues toured the United States extensively during the year 2000 to promote their latest release, Strange Times, including four appearances in the Philadelphia area. I had the pleasure of interviewing drummer Graeme Edge for an advance story to promote the group's appearance at the Tropicana Hotel in Atlantic City in February of that year.
I also attended the band's last show in the region at the Washington Township Center for the Performing Arts in November of that year and wrote a concert review. Both stories appear below.
There is also a link with a couple of concert shots as well as some photos of an informal gathering after the Washington Township (N.J.) show that was attended by three of the band members.
Cold-hearted orb that rules the night Removes the colours from our sight Red is gray and yellow white But we decide which is right And which is an illusion. Late Lament
Fans of classic rock will recognize the above passage as the opening and closing lines from Days of Future Passed, a top-selling album that helped transform an obscure group of musicians from Birmingham, England, from one-hit wonders to worldwide superstars. Released in 1967, the record was considered monumental at the time because it fused the music of a rock band with a symphony orchestra.
Days of Future Passed remained on the Billboard charts for more than two years, contained the hit singles Tuesday Afternoon and Nights in White Satin and made household names of the Moody Blues, who are still recording and touring more than 30 years later.
"And it still sells thirty- to forty-thousand copies a year," said Graeme Edge, who penned the Late Lament and has been the band's drummer since its inception.
The Moody Blues wrap up a three-week tour of America to promote its latest release, Strange Times, with two shows at the Tropicana Showroom in Atlantic City on Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 19 and 20.
While Days of Future Passed is considered the band's first release under its current lineup, its history actually predates that record by a few years.
All of the guys played in various bands as youngsters, but the Moody Blues began to evolve in 1964 when Edge, guitarist Denny Laine and bassist Clint Warwick formed the R & B Preachers. At the same time, Ray Thomas (vocals/flute/saxophone) and Mike Pinder (keyboards) were with the Krew Cats, and the five of them eventually combined to form the M & B 5 (for Mitchell & Butlers Breweries, which was going to sponsor the band but never did).
They were part of what was called the "Brum Beat" sound, Brum being local slang for Birmingham. The term was coined by record companies to compare that city's bands to the Beatles and the Liverpool groups, commonly referred to as the Merseybeat, after the Mersey River.
"Nobody really achieved any success out of the Brum Beat, and a lot of the bands broke up and re-formed," said Edge. "The only ones who were successful from that scene were the Moody Blues, the Move, which eventually became ELO, and the band that Steve Winwood was with at the time, the Spencer Davis Group."
After changing their name to the Moody Blues, the musicians released a few records, the second of which, Go Now, topped the British charts and was a top-10 hit in America in 1965. The band cut a few more records that didn't sell and ended up losing two of its members.
Warwick didn't care for the constant touring and left the music business. Laine left to pursue a solo career that was not very successful, but he resurfaced in the 1970s as a member of Paul McCartney's group, Wings. Meanwhile, bassist John Lodge, who had previously played with Thomas in El Riot & the Rebels, was recruited to replace Warwick.
The last member, Justin Hayward, was discovered through a newspaper advertisement placed by Eric Burdon, who was looking for a guitarist for the Animals. When Burdon found his man, he forwarded the rest of the replies to the Moodies, and Hayward emerged from that group.
"He brought a bit of a country feel to us," said Edge. "We were all Birmingham rockers, and our music became more melodic and structured (as opposed to) some of the stuff that we had been doing, which was more like American R & B. Justin added another facet another dimension to our band and, of course, a lot of talent."
Days of Future Passed was conceived by the band's record label, Deram, to promote a new invention stereo. Deram wanted the Moody Blues to play a rock version of Antonin Dvorak's Ninth Symphony, From the New World, accompanied by an orchestra. The band had another idea and convinced the label to go along with it.
"We didn't believe in their concept, but we believed in our concept of a stage show with a series of songs that flowed together," explained Edge. "Apart from having an orchestra in the studio with us, (the record company) didn't have anything to do with our concept of Days of Future Passed."
The band released six more successful albums over the next five years and had hits with the singles Question and I'm Just a Singer (in a Rock and Roll Band). During one early American tour, the Moody Blues played small venues, including the long-gone Electric Factory, which used to be at 22nd and Arch streets.
"I remember (the Electric Factory) as being very psychedelic," recalled Edge. "There were lots of black lights and all that, and it had these alcoves in the walls that looked like coffins."
During the early 1970s, the Moodies became the first western band to be invited to play in China.
"That was right after the (U.S. Table Tennis) team was there, which was one of the major breakthroughs between the U.S.A. and China," said the drummer. "One of the members brought along a couple of our albums, and that got some press.
"We were invited, and we were all set to go, but we never actually went because the Chinese government was too suspicious about all of the stuff that we needed to bring with us. They couldn't understand why five musicians needed four trucks full of equipment."
After a 1973-74 world tour, the band reportedly split up after an unsuccessful attempt to make another album. The rumors were only partly true.
"We only stopped making music as a band, but we had so many other ventures going at the time, so we were still meeting once a month to discuss (business) things," Edge explained.
"When we decided to make another album, we had about four tracks done, and we thought they were just absolute rubbish, so we decided to forget about it. We all went off and worked on solo projects, but there was always a sort of knowledge that we would eventually get back together."
After a four-year hiatus, the Moody Blues returned with Octave in 1978, but it was a bittersweet memory for Edge.
"A lot of the magic was still there, but it was also when Mike Pinder left the band," he recalled.
Pinder, who had relocated to California during the hiatus, returned to work on the album, but he declined to go back out on the road, and the band hired keyboardist Patrick Moraz, who had previously played with Yes.
Long Distance Voyager (1981) was the first of four albums released by the band in the 1980s. The Moody Blues also gained a new generation of fans during the decade with a string of hits, including The Voice, Gemini Dream, Your Wildest Dreams and I Know You're Out There Somewhere.
"There seems to be two distinct blocks of fans (at our concerts)," said Edge. "I think the people in their thirties became fans in the 1980s, and the people in their fifties are fans from the earlier days."
After contributing to a few tracks on 1991's Keys of the Kingdom, Moraz left, and the Moody Blues became a quartet.
"Patrick married an American (woman) and moved to Los Angeles and tried to get into writing music for films," said Edge. "The last I heard, he was doing classical music and giving lectures in small venues, that sort of thing."
Although various compilation and live albums have been released over the years, including the hugely successful A Night at Red Rocks in 1993, Strange Times is the first studio effort in nearly 10 years.
"That wasn't planned," insisted Edge. "We got caught off guard by the success of the Red Rocks album. That came at about the time that we normally would have gone into the studio, but we had an unexpected success, and you know how this business is. When you have something that's successful, you have to ride it for as long as you can."
The Moody Blues made their fourth appearance of the year in the Philadelphia area on Saturday, and while that may seem to be a bit of overkill, the 5,000 fans who packed the Washington Township Center for the Performing Arts for two sold-out shows couldn't get enough.
The band completed a grueling three-week tour with a concert in Elmira, N.Y., on Sunday, and if there were signs that exhaustion was getting the better of the 50-something rockers, it was certainly understandable. Nevertheless, the veteran band still satisfied everyone at Saturday's second show with a 19-song set that filled nearly two hours at the South Jersey venue.
The Moody Blues have had several personnel changes over the years, but the current lineup has been together for more than 30 years. The band achieved superstar status during a five-year stretch (1967-72) when it released seven successful albums. After a hiatus of several years, it returned in 1978 and began to attract a whole new audience with four hit albums in the 1980s.
"There seem to be two distinct blocks of fans (at our concerts)," drummer Graeme Edge said in a story published in the Northeast Times on Feb. 16. "I think the people in their thirties became fans in the 1980s, and the people in their fifties are fans from the earlier days."
And some of those fans are extremely loyal.
"We see the same faces at a lot of our shows," singer/flutist Ray Thomas said after Saturday's concerts. "I think some people must follow us around."
If there is a formula to a Moody Blues concert, it seems to be geared to appeasing everyone. When the lights dimmed, the instrumental introduction to The Voice went up as the band took the stage. The song was a hit from 1981's Long Distance Voyager, which began to attract the 30-somethings.
Next was Tuesday Afternoon, from 1967's monumental Days of Future Passed, for the 50-somethings, followed by For My Lady, a pretty ballad from 1972's Seventh Sojourn, the band's first No. 1 album in America.
After a few tracks from the band's latest studio release, Strange Times, including the title song and Words You Say, the band went through a long string of hits, alternating between the two eras.
From the 1980s, there were I Know You're Out There Somewhere, Your Wildest Dreams and The Other Side of Life. Nights in White Satin, The Story in Your Eyes and I'm Just a Singer (in a Rock and Roll Band) were from the '60s and '70s.
Highlights included For My Lady, Legend of a Mind and Isn't Life Strange? The distinctive flute introduction and instrumental breaks on For My Lady were replaced by synthesizers, but Thomas put as much emotion into the vocals as he did when he first recorded the song almost 30 years ago. Isn't Life Strange? is a crowd favorite, and Legend of a Mind, which a lot of people think is called "Timothy Leary's Dead," featured an extended flute solo by Thomas that drew a loud ovation.
"Thank you for joining us on a journey through our lives," said bassist John Lodge as the band wrapped up the concert with its standard finale, Question, featuring lead singer and guitarist Justin Hayward on a 12-string acoustic.
The encore, as always, was Ride My See Saw, a song from the album In Search of the Lost Chord and which Lodge described as "sort of a Moody Blues anthem."
Anyone who missed the live performances can get the same show on the band's latest release, The Moody Blues Hall of Fame Live at the Albert Hall 2000, which is available on CD and video.
Visit the Moody Blues Web site.