Monday, 18 July 2016

The Moody Blues - Live/Solo/Compilation Albums Part One: 1969-1977




"Caught Live + 5"

(Threshold Records/Decca, Recorded December 12th 1969 (Live) and 1967-1968 (+5), Released April 1977)

Gypsy/The Sunset/Dr Livingstone I Presume/Never Comes The Day//Peak Hour/Tuesday Afternoon/Are You Sitting Comfortably?-The Dream-Have You Heard?-The Voyage-Have You Heard? Part Two//Nights In White Satin/Legend Of A Mind/Rise My See-Saw//Gimme A Little Somethin'/Please Think About It/Long Summer Days/King and Queen/What Am I Doin' Here?

"Minds are subject to what could be done, problem solved time cannot be won"

Back in 1969 Decca, impressed by the band's sudden rise to fame - insisted that they record one of the band's concerts for possible release in the future and chose the band's prestigious gig at The Royal Albert Hall as a 'historical occasion' worthy of making a record of (though notorious as a rotten venue acoustically for rock and roll bands that never came out well on records). The Moody Blues, perfectionists that they were, became horrified at the notion that the rough edges of their sound might be put on full display and weren't at all happy about the idea. They played what by their standards was a rather shoddy show (some of the band have admitted they were smoking rather a lot of illicit substances backstage, which made them play even slower than usual) and were more relieved than furious when they heard that the live record wasn't thought good enough for release (there may even have been a sense of sabotage in the air, though The Moodies were never the sort of band to openly say so). In 1969 rejecting this record was probably the right thing to do: it would have made the band, currently entering the upper stratosphere of stardom, sound strangely earth-bound and would have been jumped on by cruel reviewers waiting for the band to make their first big mistake.
Zoom on another eight years, though, and Decca were probably equally 'right' in releasing the record at the end of the band's 'solo' years. By 1977 the public was hungry for any Moody Blues and more likely to give the band a bit of lee-way, while the album couldn't possibly be confused as a major artistic statement because the band weren't around to promote it anymore. The timing too was perfect, with 'Forever Autumn' riding high in the charts and the band already ins ecret tentative talks about getting back together for 'Octave'. The fact that The Moody Blues' most 'punk' release was being released in the self-declared 'year zero' when music would go back to basics and all dinosaurs would 'die out' was also rather fortunate timing. The Moody Blues themselves, however, were still horrified and did their best to block the release, both in 1977 and again in the CD age (with this the last 'official' Moodies release granted a re-issue - so far it hasn't appeared in the more modern 'deluxe' series either).

You can kind of see both sides to the story. By the standards of other live performances, including the one played just five days later for the BBC and re-issues as part of 'to Our Children's Children's, this is indeed a mess with five players all playing great but doing their own things oblivious to what the others are playing and suffering from more bum notes, feedback and a squealing out of tune mellotron than any bootleg would dare reveal. However at the same time Decca (who'd been strangely patient when their biggest cash cows had split up) were right that fans would still be interested in this sort of thing. This live album has the same fascination for fans who want to see what the Moodies were 'really' like as a behind-the-scenes documentary and the vintage sound of 1969 was just long enough ago to see like another world anyway, with the mistakes coming across as charming and self-deprecating rather than self-indulgent (the way it would have all seemed in 1969). Personally I rather like the sound of the Moodies at their messiest, with a certain roar and primitivism you can only get from live recordings that prove how much muscle there really was in the band and which is a lot more entertaining and interesting than all the 'Red Rocks' and 'Hall Of Fame' live shows where the sound is so close to the records you might as well put those on anyway. In other words, this is both technically and performance-wise the 'worst' live Moody Blues recording and yet it's also the only one you really need.

Better yet, you get to hear several songs that the band only ever played in concert during this short period including several of the better rock songs of the 'first' era. Oddly 'Gypsy' is the only song the band actually play from the album they're supposed to be promoting ('To Our Children's Children's Children's) but it makes for a stunning opener. Justin struggles to both sound like Jimi Hendrix and sing like John Lennon all at the same time so approximates both, sounding more like a man whose desperate and trapped on the wrong side of the solar system while humanity dies out. Graeme Edge picks just the right moment to do some Keith Moon impressions while Mike Pinder's mellotron adds to the scary atmosphere and Ray Thomas is for once the calming influence with some terrific flute playing. 'Dr Livingstone' goes from cute novelty as per the 'Lost Chord' record to a thrilling journey about soul-searching that sounds like do-or-die, with a thudding heavy drum part and several whops and cheers throughout: a less storybook version of exploration, I much prefer this version to the record, even with rougher edges than most Who records. 'Tuesday Afternoon', which has settled down in the modern era into a sweet ballad about simple everyday life, suddenly sounds chaotic and primal, desperate and confining rather than thrilling with Justin sounding great as he digs deep into his soul. 'Legend Of A Mind' is bonkers good (rather than bonkers-bad like some later live versions), a stunning  seven minute tour de force of a whistling mellotron, grungy guitarwork and jaw-dropping flute playing and the song has never sounded more psychedelic, broken down into several sections that collapse into each other. Encore 'Ride My See-Saw', meanwhile, is the loudest and fastest and most aggressive the band have ever or will ever play again, accelerated to around twice the speed and turned into a holding-on-for-grim death journey into the unknown rather than a cute song about growing older. Though not everything is quite as fab ('The Sunset' is painfully slow and surprisingly the band's best studio rocker 'Peak Hour' is just an unlistenable mess, the whole 'On The Threshold Of A Dream' suite is a brave attempt at something too complex for the band to pull off on a good day never mind in a slightly sozzled state - catcha that Pinder mellotron though which is the best combination of simultaneous prog and punk rock ever - and this is the most wretched and off-key 'Nights In White Satin' ever) more works here than doesn't if you're prepared to give the band a bit of leeway and accept this isn't the same pristine sound you got from the records. Though the album split fans on first release and has split them ever since, for me it's a welcome record which offers a new angle on the ingredients that went into these recordings and an insight into the band you just can't get from their perfect studio sets. It's also the perfect record to play really loud when some idiot asks why you're listening to a band who only sound good because they spent a year in the studio making each record: this band can play alright, this band can play as well as any of their peers - it's just that sometimes they're busy playing five separate songs at once, not one.

However, that's not all. The length of concerts in the old days meant that Decca only had around fifty minutes' worth of material - too long for a single album but not enough for a more expensive double. Strangely rather than simply cut something out, Decca decided to pad out the fourth side of the record with five studio outtakes which had all been recorded in the band's 1967 heyday for either 'Days Of Future Passed' or 'In Search Of The Lost Chord'. Though none of the five songs were missing masterpieces, all five were more than strong enough to have appeared on album in the intervening years and showed off the band's love of discovering new sounds. Lodge's chirpy 'Gimme A Little Something' (sung, for once, by Hayward) is a pretty pop song that would have made a nice follow-up to 'Fly Me High' in a similar vein. 'Please Think About It' is a moody Pinder ballad that is one last throwback to the more R and B sounds of the Denny Laine years (the last Moodies song to be based on piano rather than mellotron?) The ghostly falsetto backing vocals are in truth rather ghastly but the slowly unfolding melody is a good one and Mike is on good form on the lead vocal. Sadly both of these songs have since become quite rare, re-issued only twice on the 'Prelude' and 'Blue' compilations (and curiously absent from the 'deluxe' CD re-issues). The album ends with three Hayward songs: the Beatley 'Long Summer Days' is rather dreary until the majestic middle eight comes along and everything falls into place, but the atmospheric 'King and Queen' is a real gem and a crucial stepping stone towards the band's storytelling sound of 1968 progressing from 1967 and 'What Am I Doing Here?' is a major breakthrough for Justin's writing, the first of his 'little boy lost' songs that very much point the way to future greats like 'You Can Never Go Home' and 'Lost Horizons'.

Overall, then, 'Caught Live Plus Five' is a lot better than it ought to be as an unplanned 'contract filler' and far more interesting than its reputation amongst fans suggests. The packaging too is rather good, with accurate illustrations of all five members drifting through an empty Albert Hall, echoes of memories for those who attended the gig. Please don't make this your first Moodies release - you might be put off for life if you do - but if you're enough of a fan to know what all these records did end up sounding like then this is a fascinating extra revealing what the band were like on tour in the same period and how differently 'Passed' and 'Chord' might have turned out with some songs substituted by these five extra tracks. As the chosen title 'caught' suggests, the band weren't expecting this to be an album in any form and you can see why they might be concerned about their reputations with so many rough edges on display. However treat this album like a glorified bootleg that offers something a little different than the usual Moody Blues perfectionism, and you might well enjoy this record more than you expect to.


"BBC Radio Concert"

(Threshold Records/Decca, Recorded December 17th 1969, Released as part of the 'To Our Children's Children's Children' Deluxe Re-Issue and 'Live At The BBC')

Gypsy/The Sunset/Never Comes The Day/Are You Sitting Comfortably?-The Dream-Have You Heard?-The Voyage-Have You Heard? Part Two/Nights In White Satin/Legend Of A Mind

"Darkness is the only sound to reach his ears"

It is, I'm afraid, typical collector's luck that the only complete three full-length gigs ever played by the 'classic' line-up should have been made within a year of each of other and that this middle gig was taped a mere five days after the one at the Royal Albert Hall for the BBC. As a result it's been released twice, first as a 'bonus disc' on the 'To Our Children's Children's Children's (which would have been a great find if it hadn't nearly doubled the flipping CD in price compared to most of the others!) and as the finale to the complete 'BBC' set, where almost all the songs have been heard better earlier in the set anyway individually. This gig was taped at the BBC's Paris Theatre, which confusingly is in London, and was part of the regular series 'David Symonds Concerts' - that's Symonds you can hear as the compere, although he doesn't get to say very much considering it's 'his' show! Understandably it's not that different to the gig played a mere five days earlier - a little tighter in places maybe and with sharper sound than the 'Caught Live+5' album recorded in the echoey Albert Hall - but all the same songs are in the same order in more or less identical arrangements. Though there are some fans out there who prefer this slightly more 'with it' concert and it is undoubtedly the better performed of the two, it's also the most pointless: the closer the band get to re-creating the sound of their records on stage the more you feel you'd rather be listening to the records anyway. 'Caught Live' is a ride-by-the-seat-of-your-dungarees ride on the back of a bucking bronco that's forever trying to throw you off - this gig is more like a gentle trot that never really gets anywhere.

To be fair one of the performances here is a big improvement. A nicely mysterious 'Sunset' reveals more layers and subtlety going on than you could get from 'Live+5' (including a lovely mournful Ray Thomas flute part all but buried in the other version) and Mike's vocal is terrific, the epitome of mysterious and other-worldly. It's such a strong performance that it made me re-evaluate what I thought of the original song, which is about the most you can ask from a live record. On the negative side, though, 'Gypsy' is even more of a mess than when it was played five days earlier, 'Never Comes The Day' has never sounded so rough and two songs are brutally cut down -  'Legend Of A Mind' is down to four minutes with pretty much the whole middle section brutally cut, while a particularly ropey 'Nights' is reduced to a mere three, which is hardly enough time for all that inner contemplation. Compared to its near-twin, this concert is also rather short and missing some of the better songs of the set such as 'Dr Livingstone I Presume' 'Peak Hour'  'Tuesday Afternoon' and 'Ride My See-Saw'. In other words, though both gigs are interesting for revealing how the early Moodies sounded on stage, neither match up to the albums. Also, if you already own 'Caught Live+5'  then you don't really need this (except perhaps for 'Sunset'), although conversely if you just own this one then you still need to own 'Live+5' to experience just how fierce and chaotic a Moodies live concert could be. 

"Live At The Isle Of Wight Festival"

(Eagle Records, Recorded August 30th 1970, Released July 2008)

Gypsy/The Sunset/Tuesday Afternoon/Minstrel's Song/Never Comes The Day/Tortoise and the Hare/Question/Melancholy Man/Are You Sitting Comfortably?-The Dream-Have You Heard?-The Voyage-Have You Heard? Part Two//Nights In White Satin/Legend Of A Mind/Ride My See-Saw

"Listen to the one who sings of love, everywhere love is around - well except for those guys over there burning the hot dogs as part of anti-capitalist protest!"

The Moodies actually played three Isle Of Wight festivals between 1969 and 1971, though the one included here and the one everybody talks about is the filmed one from 1970 in front of a then-record British-soil crowd of half a million and when half the audience got in for free by breaking down the gates to the festival and burning down the capitalist symbol of the local hot dog stand (Caught in the crossfire, near the end of the show, Ray Thomas tells the embattled audience 'they say it's all about bread but, Christ, money can't give us what you give us tonight'). The show is a ragged one, understandably so given all the drama off stage, and is even more uneven than the gigs from 1969 released on 'Caught Live + 5' and the BBC session heard on the deluxe edition of 'To Our Children's. However, it's still a key audio document for fans - the only recorded evidence of the band's 1970 tour even on bootleg (which has gone down in history as 'the rocky one', as the band wrote 'A Question Of Balance' was deliberately written to give the band something they were able to play in concert) and the longest surviving concert played by the original band. If you're a longterm band whose used to how different the Moodies sound between record and stage then you'll find several curious to impress: a chirpy unplugged 'Minstrel's Song', a delicate 'Never Comes The Day' marred by technical gremlins, a rocking 'Tortoise and the Hare' and best of all a superbly ambitious if slightly rambling take on 'Melancholy Man', never played by the band again past this tour. This is also the first time you can hear the one-two-three finale punch of 'Nights' 'Legend Of A Mind' and 'See-Saw', which will remain the band's traditional farewell right up until Ray Thomas leaves the band in 2004 played at 99% of future shows in this order. Additionally, the second ever taped performance of 'Questions' sounds slightly different to normal and is nicely aggressive, even if the sheer speed of the performance takes Justin by surprise and he forgets to sing early on! The highlights however are all the 'old' numbers from previous years: a downright frightening 'Gypsy' and a passionate 'Nights In White Satin', taken a shade slower than usual (and sensibly chosen as the band's big moment in the documentary film). 'See-Saw' however, is the single messiest recording the band have ever released, with all five members going in different directions at once.  If you're new to the Moodies' concerts, though, you're in for a shock: this is one of the roughest, spottiest, grungiest of all AAA live recordings and is about as different from the band's pristine records as it's possible to come. The result is certainly atmospheric and reveals a lot about the band's development in this period - but you have to be a real fan who knows all this stuff backwards to get the most out of it, sadly. 

"This Is The Moody Blues"

(Threshold Records/Decca, October 1974)

Question/The Actor/The Word/Eyes Of A Child/Dear Diary/Legend Of A Mind//In The Beginning/Lovely To See You/Never Comes The Day/Isn't Life Strange?/The Dream-Have You Heard?-The Voyage-Have You Heard? Part Two//Ride My See-Saw/Tuesday Afternoon/And The Tide Rushes In/New Horizons/A Simple Game/Watching and Waiting//I'm Just A Singer (In A Rock and Roll Band)/For My Lady/The Story In Your Eyes/Melancholy Man/Nights In White Satin/Late Night Lament

"Lovely to see you again my friends, walk along with me to the next bend"

Leafing back through the back issues of the Moody Blues fan club newsletters, I notice that there seems to be more fuss about this compilation than any of the actual Moodies albums themselves. Two years after 'Seventh Sojourn' fans were really starved of product, without any solo albums out yet and several fans had written in independently with the idea of a 'best of' to fill in the time (often with their own running orders carefully planned out). Decca seem to have got hold of the idea too and urged the band to release one - the first Moodies compilation ever, which is a long time for a band celebrating their tenth anniversary - even though the band weren't exactly enthusiastic: never much of a band for looking backwards, they were in the process of making the world forget about them while they worked on their solo records (though it's worth pointing out that, in typical Moodies style, they'd never actually made an announcement about their split and were simply having a long rest - even their own fanclub thought the split was temporary). Using the best of the fan suggestions with a few tweaks from Decca, 'This Is The Moody Blues' ended up becoming a pricey double set that nobody expected to do that well (the band were after all not around to promote it) and yet for a compilation it sold very well was particularly well received in America (which had only really 'got' the band after their last album and where the earlier albums were still quite hard to track down - in Britain the album made #14 and in the States the record got as high as #11, excellent considering the higher retail price of a double record). Perhaps because of their input, fans have always been rather fond of this album too and many bought it even if they already owned the earlier albums just to see how the album had been 'remixed' from the originals.

The compilation is an excellent attempt at the impossible - trying to reduce a band famous for their concepts and segues between songs into a new 'concept' where all the tracks cross-fade into each other with some verve. Though usually I'm not that keen on compilations that go for a random order rather than a chronological one, some of the links between these tracks are inspired: 'The Word' onto the twinkly slow fade of 'Eyes Of A Child' for instance or the three-song-suite of Ray's wistful 'And The Tide Rushes In' leading to Justin's even more wistful 'New Horizons', with the cobwebs gently blown away by the previously non-album B-side 'A Simple Game' by Mike, as excellent a run of songs as you'll find anywhere in the AAA catalogue. Though all seven Justin and John albums (there's nothing from the Denny Laine era here, not even 'Go Now') all have their own individual sound, there's enough of a link and similarity in sound between 'Days Of Future Past' and 'Seventh Sojourn' for the band to get away with this. Also, back in 1974 people still viewed The Moody Blues very much as a democracy rather than the Justin Hayward with John Lodge and others show and the track selection is very democratically chosen with all five members given their turns to shine (to break them down Justin gets eight songs and the co-written 'Watching and Waiting', Mike gets five, John gets four, Ray gets four and the co-written 'Watching and Waiting', while even Graeme gets four tone poems).

Though I could and will pick fault with some of the track listing (I'd rather hear Graeme's actual songs like 'You and Me' or 'After You Came' than four poems, while for me 'You Can Never Go Home' 'Out and In' and 'One More Time To Live' would be my choices for Justin, Mike and John respectively - though Ray's songs  are all spot on) it's a better track selection than most comps ever manage and really does offer a rounded flavour of what this band are all about, from their most wigged out prog rock moments to the high-adrenalin rockers to the concept pieces to the beautiful ballads. All the songs you'd want are here ('Nights' 'Tuesday' See-Saw' 'Question' 'Story' 'Singer') but what impresses most is the breadth and depth of The Moodies' vision across five writers and seven LPs. Most compilations only ever end up offering a peek into a band's output, but this really does sound like 'The Moody Blues' and was rightly welcomed as the band's best compilation right up to the 21st century, being one of the few vinyl-era compilations released on CD at the request of fans. The only aspect of the album that doesn't quite work is the rather boring cover, which merely features all the original seven albums heading off into the sun - surely Phil Travers could have come up with some major concept linking them all? (I'd love to see the 'Threshold' vacuum cleaner hoovering up the 'Lost Chord' burials, while behind a rocket launches into the sky leaving a piece of driftwood behind and John Blashford Snell tries to shoot a tiger but is knocked out by the rainbow colours of 'Days Of Future Passed').

Ray Thomas "From Mighty Oaks"

(Threshold Records/Decca, July 1975)

From Mighty Oaks/Hey Mama Life/Play It Again/Rock-A-Bye-Baby Blues/High Above My Head//Love Is The Key/You Make Me Feel Alright/Adam and I/I Wish We Could Fly

"This is just my love song and I sing it just for you"

Interestingly all the Moodies seem to have gone for slightly different aspects of the band's sound in their solo records: as a (very) wide generalisation Mike took the spirituality, Justin the mournful ballads, John the rockier edge twinned with pop songs and goodness only knows what the Graeme Edge Band took with them - the elaborate album covers and production bombast perhaps. Of all the five Ray seems to have taken it upon himself to maintain the band's 'symphonic' style, with this album following the similar 'Blue Jays' record into the shops by three months or so. Like Justin and John, Ray seems to have returned to 'Days Of Future Passed' as his template sound with the orchestra very much used as the 'main' instrument - in fact that's all that's here for the opening instrumental title track which is a medley of instrumental themes from the album a la 'The Day Begins'. Ray's other key collaborator is his good pal Nicky James, who worked on this album alongside his own solo album released on the 'Threshold' label and ended up with more songs on this album than even Ray! A talented singer-songwriter who deserved a much longer and more successful career than he ever got, Nicky had been in the well respected 60s band The Lee Kings who had been on the verge of greatness but never quite made the premier league. He's best known in collecting circles for his work with Hollies members Clarke and Nash (who produced their one single 'Coming From The Ground' - with a flipside cover of The Beatles' 'Day Tripper' - in 1967 and Clarke Nash and James co-wrote 'Annabella', the first solo single by John Maus of The Walker Brothers). Nicky and Ray together make a formidable pairing, softening each other's worst excesses and over-written songs (the weakest song here by far is Nicky's cod-music hall 'Rock-A-Bye-Baby Blues'). Nicky has been much missed by Moody fans since his untimely death a few years ago.

Though uneven, 'From Mighty Oaks' is still one of the better solo Moody records from the mid-70s. The melodies on this album are particularly strong, with many of Ray's most likeable songs here, plus the tracks lead on nicely from the deeper-thinking family man of 'Our Guessing Game' and 'For My Lady'. The album highlight 'Adam and I', for instance, is about Ray's toddler son and all the things daddy has in store for them to do together and it's a joy, even if it jolts you to think that Adam Thomas is now in his forties and a decade or so older than Ray is here (though the flautist proudly said in a recent interview that most of his plans 'came true', interrupting the discussion to go fishing with his boy just as he promises here!) 'Hey Mama Life', meanwhile, is as cross-patchy as Ray ever sounds with a head-hanging song about how stardom is a 'lonely place' and the streets of rock stardom really aren't paved with gold (was it perhaps written for the next, unfinished Moodies album? If so this and 'Island' together would have made for an incredibly depressing LP!) 'Love Is The Key' and 'I Wish We Could Fly' are more Moody-like, but even they sound like an older, maturer reflection than the early Moodies songs of hippie hope and prosperity: to quote Ray's sequel these are 'wishes, hopes and dreams' rather than a belief in the sixties dream. However of all the Moodies Ray is the one who seems to have taken his responsibilities to that spirit the most seriously and who as well as writing about his inner world as family man writes the most songs about the outside world and universal brotherhood.

 'From Mighty Oaks' is then a very rounded album, although unlike 'Blue Jays' (sadly) or Graeme's two records (thankfully) it doesn't move on that far from the Moodies sound. There's nothing here for instance that tells you anything about Ray that you didn't already know (though 'High Above My Head' is a neat reminder of his R and B beginnings, heard for the first time in a decade or so!) The album cover too is gloriously Moodies: a gatefold tree of the vastness of nature drawn as usual by Phil Travers (who must have been the only person pleased that the Moodies broke up - he now got five commissions a year instead of one!) with 'Adam' (or a boy just like him) playing on the front cover with an impression of Ray fishing on the back. It's one of Travers' better pieces.  In a way that's a shame: you could argue that we can't see the 'mighty oaks' for the trees, because now when we look back on the Moodies solo work this is the record that sounds most like what we expected and is all too easy to overlook. Though John's and Graeme's work shout louder and Justin's and Mike's got all the credit, it's Ray's work that's the 'spiritual home' of the Moody Blues and the strongest keeper of their original sound until the reunion albums (it is perhaps worth pointing out how much Ray struggles to adapt to the band's new style across the 1980s and how under-used he is on them). It's also easily the lushest, although 'The Promise' cuts it close! Surprisingly, then, 'From Mighty Oaks' spent the least time in the Threshold studio of any of these early solo LPs, with Ray kindly offering up more studio time to Graeme to make his first record when the solo sessions for 'Blue Jays' over-ran. Though recorded in a hurry, at a speed closer to punk albums than orchestral prog rock ones, this did at least mean that Ray could spend a long time with ex-Hollies arranger Richard Hewson bashing the arrangements into shape and making sure the band were well rehearsed before recording started. Given the speed of making it - and the fact that Ray had never  had more than two songs on an album before - 'From Mighty Oaks' is a triumph, although it's not quite as consistent as 'Blue Jays' or as pioneering as 'The Promise' and 'Songwriter'. The last of the Moody Blues solo albums released on CD (we told you it was overlooked) the release of a double-pack digitial-audio set alongside Ray's second set in 2010 was a nice, though pricey, surprise and finally won Ray a lot of the kudos and respect he's deserved at the time. Hard to think , then, after so many great ideas across this record, that Ray's material won't be used at all on band albums released in a decade's time.

The fully orchestral 'From Mighty Oaks' starts the album and like many similar instrumental medleys in the mid-70s has some excellent moments but runs too long. Things aren't helped by the fact that turning 'Play It Again' into an orchestral piece simply shows up how close it is to The Beatles' 'She's Leaving Home' ('What did we do that was wrong? We didn't know it was wrong!') when the melody is translated into strings. However I prefer Hewson's work to Peter Knight's on 'Days Of Future Passed' - this is a much warmer and far less 'square' sound and this medley does show up how many cracking melodies there are on this album.

Intriguingly, Ray starts his solo career as if continuing his old Moody one, moaning about the isolation of stardom on 'Hey Mama Life'. The song starts off sounding sad, with a terrific and very loud bass part by Trevor Jones before growing Moodies style verse by verse so that it takes on an epic feel by the end. Ray's lyrics are fascinating too: the opening verse has him sozzled on whiskey and cursing the fact that he ever 'dreamed' of the fame that's made him so very sad and telling us that now he can see those streets of gold 'for what they are'. However, a glorious backing singer choir rushes in to offer some belated support and the song gradually gets out of its befuddled stupor, commenting on the importance of believing in 'dreams' to keep us going through life even if they end up letting you down when you get there ('Take the wings from a bird and how can it fly?) The result is a very good song that reveals more depth than we usually get from Ray's more 'novelty' songs.

'Play It Again' is sadly a bit more ordinary, with Ray going back to the vibrato vocal that's always a bit of a struggle to listen to! He does at least try the old Justin trick of tacking two very different songs together which works quite well, with the generally laidback song suddenly getting an adrenalin rush into the long-delayed chorus. Though Ray was probably singing about the break-up with his first wife, the way the song is laid out - with several musical references - makes me wonder if the track was actually written in the dying days of the Moodies ('When the song's over we'll just say goodbye, there'll be no one left singing and no one to cry, I'll just be a solo man!') However the 'second bit' of the song is more interesting than the first.

Nicky's 'Rock-A-Bye-Baby Blues' isn't one of the album's better ideas either. A laidback lullaby in the mood of 'Nice To Be Here' and written in Thomas' traditional 'oompah' style, it's sung in a cod-country style complete with pedal steels that really don't suit Ray's voice although he does sing very well. It sounds more like Gilbert O'Sullivan than The Moody Blues, although once again the middle eight comes to the rescue with some belated 'real' feelings ('Wake me up if you're going down and I'll try to put you right'). The sudden appearance of what sounds like a scat-singing Black and White Minstrels is also one of the weirder solo Moody moments!

Side one ends with the album's single 'High Above My Head', the one uptempo song on the album which sounds like the 'Magnificent Moodies' album with a bigger budget. 'I hope you will feel the truth' Ray sings as he tries to brighten up the gloom that has suddenly descended over the Moodies fanbase as he promises that, yes, he still believes in 'a better future for all mankind living under one roof'. The jazzy arrangement and a long overdue return to harmonica really do try their best to blows the black clouds away, but the recording still sounds slightly too set in its ways to really swing. Good try though.

'Love Is The Key' is pure mid-70s prog rock, with that keyboard sound that appears on so many albums, a gentle orchestral accompaniment and one of those slightly anonymous melodies that coasts rather than soars. As so often happens with this album, though, Ray ties things together with a strong middle eight ('It gives you hope for a brand new day') and the lengthy lyrics are some of his most poetic, with the very Moody idea that 'keys to the kingdom' allow us to unlock anything that seems impossible, on both a personal and universal sense. A strong performance features another great Ray vocal and John Jones doing a pretty good pastiche of Justin's usual guitar style, making what could have been a very average track one of the real 'growers' on the album.

'You Make Me Feel Alright' is quite forgettable though, with even Hewson's dramatic ear-grabbing arrangement not doing quite enough to rescue the song. The track clearly means something to Ray though as he sings what may well be his last love song. A lovely Beach Boys style backing suddenly makes the words 'you make me feel...alright' as the most warm and wonderful sound in the world.

The album highlight is definitely 'Adam and I'. Unexpectedly Ray barely gets his flute out of the box across this whole album, but this song is based around one of the best flute parts he ever wrote, edging the song into folk territory. Ray's love for his oldest born really shows through this gorgeous song as he changes his mind and tells his son how wonderful the world can be - and how he can't wait until his son is old enough to take that 'journey' with him. The Moodies are all big softies at heart with several songs for their children (see John's 'Emily's Song' and Graeme's 'I'll Be Level With You'), but this is surely the best full of verses about 'how long' Ray has been looking forward to the moment of his son's birth and how they're going to ride 'every moonbeam that comes along', making the most of life. The song also features a rare bit of religious imagery for the Moodies as Ray throws in a line about 'Our Lord in Heaven watching us below' - certainly the scene is idyllic and heavenly, Ray doing well to fight back the tears as he turns the song into an anthem 'for my son and I'. A Blue Jays style jam then ends the song as the track's magnificent riff just keeps on coming with Hewson's string players plucking angel's wings, while the bass and drums drive the song along, like daddy Ray urging his son to grow up and come play with him. This is a truly beautiful song and one of the best Ray ever wrote.

The album ends with grand finale 'I Wish We Could Fly' which again starts out rather blandly but really gets moving along nicely on the forthright chorus which sounds as epic as the Moody Blues ever did. Alas the extra surge in power also pushes Ray's vocal right over the top and the lyrics are the sort of things Moody Blues critics have a field day with, mumbled jumbled stuff about how nature 'gave us all this for free' and that 'I can't explain self inflicted pain' when life os so gorgeous. At least Ray's quite turned around in feeling since writing the despondent 'Hey Mama Life' as nature and his family make him feel better and happier about life.

That's the theme of the album really: that though life always has it's dark times that make us hit the bottle or sit around feeling sorry for ourselves, life does continue with even the darkest clouds possessing silver linings and hope around every corner if only we can get there. As uplifting as any Moodies album, as well produced as any Moodies album and as 'real' as any Moodies album, only a slight lack of variety and a preponderance of orchestral ballads prevents this from being as good as any 'Moodies' album. Even so, it's a close run thing and 'From Mighty Oaks' stands tall and proud in the Moody Blues catalogue like a calming noble tree offering shelter from the worst excesses of 'Natural Avenue' and 'The Promise' and the Graeme Edge albums. More fans deserve to hear this special album which manages the difficult twin paths of being both uplifting and 'real'.

The Graeme Edge Band featuring Adrian Gurvitz "Kick Off Your Muddy Boots"

(Threshold Records/Decca, September 1975)

Bareback Rider/In Dreams/Lost In Space/Have You Ever Wondered?/My Life Is Not Wasted/The Tunnel/Gew Janna Woman/Shotgun/Something We'd Like To Say
CD Bonus Track: We Like To Do It (B-Side)

 "I lie awake wondering what went wrong, the world was ours for a song"

The original run of seven Hayward/Lodge Moody Blues albums are best known for their musicality, their lyrical depth, their stunning musicianship, great productions and their weirdness. Graeme Edge - who seemed to be as big a practitioner of all of these elements - came up with none of these on his band's two albums released in the 'missing' six years when the Moodies weren't together. Instead both 'Kick Off Your Muddy Boots' and it's near-identical follow-up 'Paradise Ballroom' album are bland prog-rock efforts with a touch of country that barely features Graeme at all. Somewhere on a par with America in the bland country-rock stakes (i.e. better than The Eagles but less interesting than Poco), they're the kind of records that are offensive in their sheer inoffensiveness. Even Graeme's distinctive drumming seems to have lost some of its edge, while his lack of writing credits (new singer Adrian Gurvitz - who gets his own special credit on both records - dominates the song-share) is worrying. While drummers tend to suffer more than most when a band splits up unless they also happen to be a) a lead singer or b) Keith Moon with a personality larger than life to make up for the fact they can't actually sing, Graeme's songs were on a par with the rest of the band and his vocals, while less frequently used, were perfectly respectable. He could have made a great solo album and was on something of a creative role when The Moodies split up in 1973 having just co-written two of his greatest songs 'After You Came' and 'You and Me'.
As the only member of the band anyone would have heard of and with his name prominent on the very Moodies-looking album cover, it would surely have made sense to use Graeme more - as until the band had built up a following the only people buying this record would have been curious Moodies fans. We weren't quite sure what to expect from the band's most prog rock friendly element (the one who wrote the poems and many of the weirdest band moments) but the last thing we were expecting was this: an overly polished forgettable album that lacks both the fire and the distinctiveness of what Graeme's fellow Moodies were up to during their time away from the band. Everything sounds as if it's been wrapped up in production cling-film to keep it 'clean' (imagine a 10cc album that wasn't funny). The trouble with these boots is that they're just not muddy enough.

All that said, there's something to be said that the Graeme Edge Band could have been a decent band in their own right without that illustrious past getting in the way. While Adrian and Paul Gurvitz themselves are rather faceless as singers and melodicists, their lyrics do sometimes show promise  and Adrian does a fine job as guitarist impersonating Justin Hayward throughout the album. Keyboardist Mickey Gallagher - at one time the piano player in a band with Alan Hull in 'The Chosen Ones' before Lindisfarne were formed - is another fine player.  'The Tunnel' is a slinky instrumental that shows off that the band were at least good at communicating with each other, if not always their audience. 'Somethin' We'd Like To Say', a self-deprecating track on similar lines to 'I'm Just A Singer In A Rock and Roll Band', shows a nice direction the band could have gone in, picking up where the Moodies left off. Each of these tracks at least try to do ten different things, even if those ten things aren't particularly interesting or listenable. Many of the reviews of this album tend to dismiss this record as a one-star no-hoper that has nothing to offer anyone. As is so often the case that's almost the truth - 'Muddy Boots' is a wretched record that's about a millionth as ambitious as 'The Magnificent Moodies' never mind 'Seventh Sojourn'. But it's not without talent - while forgettable as they exist a little bit of tweaking and a lot more of Graeme could have made this a very fine and typically mid-1970s album. Our advice is to applaud Graeme for giving so many new-comers a chance at the big time, admire the distinctive and very Moodies-expansive and expensive album cover that's a sort of science-fiction-western, listen to 30 seconds or so to acclimatise yourself with what Graeme was doing to fill in time during Moodies down-time - and then file the record away, never to be played again.
The best thing about this album - and we'll be saying this a few times in the solo Moodies years - is surely the album cover by Joe Petagno: a He-Man style rider taking a strange looking purple horse for a ride across a very prog-rock style desert with an alien sky behind him. A cowboy lies dying in the alien desert sands at his feet, clutching the paper he's just been writing. Is this a comment on The Moodies going their different ways? The bizarre mix of Western and science-fiction across the album's lyrics? (though sadly never quite as interesting as that combination suggests - and anyway The Byrds beat the band to it by several years). The fact that the illustrator had to listen to this album so many times while designing a front cover he went quietly mad? Whatever the cause, it's the best reason for owning this album - the music might not be very Moodies-ish, but the sleeve really is!

Opener 'Bareback Rider' opens nicely, with some atmospheric glockenspiel from Graeme, but soon turns into a bland song with the Gurvitz brothers trading vocals across a backing track best described as limp. The song is a Western, of sorts, with an uncomfortable metaphor where the narrator's girlfriend is compared to a horse. However 'A Horse With No Name' this isn't: with lines like 'The bareback rider rides for you not for me - we don't know what's inside her, it's just for you to see' this is a lame one-trick pony.

'In Dreams' is a little better - the album highlight in fact - with a sense of urgency missing from the rest of the record. Adrian Gurvitz's furious guitar is a neat foil for the rest of the band's piano-bass-and-drums accompaniment and after a fine instrumental opening it's rather a shame when the vocals kick in one minute in. The narrator wants to express what's in his head and the dreams he has, 'running for my life all night' in his dreams, but as chat-up lines go this is a nightmare.

'Lost In Space' is, at last, one of Graeme's own and a bit more of the old Moodies sound. The record features a nice use of orchestra at the beginning and some intriguing lyrics about being 'smaller than the universe but a part of it', which is very keeping with past Graeme songs. However, once again things go downhill fast from a strong opening. 'I'm lost in space like the rest of my race...some thing's holding me together, that's for sure' run the lyrics to a song that sounds like a clumsier first draft for the Moodies' 'To Our Children's Children's Children' LP.

'Have You Ever Wondered?' features some nice Hawaiian guitar work and Graeme having fun in his percussion box of tricks at the beginning, but yet again sounds bland when the song proper begins. The narrator asks the listener a question: if the world was made up of really kind people what would you do, join in or take advantage? For me the answer to that question depends on whether I have to nod my head silently through lesser rubbish like this.

The shorter 'My Life Is Not Wasted' is better and another album highlight, which is a shame because I had all sorts of zinger one-liners lined up about that title. A sweet sing-songy melody suddenly lurches into funk somewhere in the middle as a crowd of deep voices intone 'you know you've got to come on through' a la 10cc, while some sweet lyrics about how trying to mould your lover into how you want them to behave is asking for trouble makes for the only song on the LP you might remember once the record stops playing.

The oddly titled 'Gew Janna Woman' is the only time any of the Moody Blues ever flirt with dance hall strip-club music (thank goodness) and sadly the only time any of the band worked with a member of Cream, with a guesting Ginger Baker adding percussive fire (Gurvitz was a pal - both had worked in the Buddy Miles Express together and the shortlived 'Baker Gurvitz Army'). The curiously titled title character has a really hypnotic hold over the narrator, awakening his spiritual side as well as his sexual one. Some noisy Edge drumming and an orchestra trying to invoke the sound of 'Cabaret' and 'Sweet Charity' adds up to the album's oddest moment.

'Shotgun' features a great guitar riff at its heart and some George Harrison-esque slide guitar and theme that returns us to the Western motif of side one. An aging hippie died alone 'riding shotgun in the fall 42' but quite what that has to do anything is unexplained, despite the fact this point is made over and over. There's a nice performance on this one though and at least this song sounds great, even if it's nonsense.

The original album closed with 'Somethin' We'd Like To Say', which features another lovely orchestral opening and some vaguely Moodies-ish lyrics about how the narrator nearly died of a broken heart and now sees life in a different way. I'm not quite sure why he chose to see life in this way - with six rhymes where two will do and ironically enough too much delaying before we get to what the narrator wants to say - but it makes for a rousing ending to the album with some nice fiery guitar and clattering drums.

A period B-side (they released a single?!) has been added to the album: the grittier 'We Like To Do It' which may be simple and silly (we never find out what 'it' is, but you can probably guess) but has a lot more charm than most of the record with its retro 50s feel and sudden switch from sly music hall to screaming heavy metal.
Well, what can I say? This is the sort of album punk was invented to clear from the airwaves, with a few passing moments of interest and some great (well, ok, fairly good) guitar work but a whole lot of nothing in between. Every Moodies album (even the Denny Laine era one) felt like some sort of a 'journey', a cosmic exploration of the self that told you more about the human race in the 1960s/70s than any thick history book could. By contrast 'Muddy Boots' is a comic, sketchily drawn and confusingly stapled together with what sounds like half the pages missing. While some of the other Moodies gave us a rough ride (*shudder* 'Natural Avenue is coming up on my review list soon!) none of the other records are quite this...hopeless. This record also has virtually nothing to do with Graeme and sounds nothing like his Moodies songs before or since. Our advice: give 'Muddy Boots' the boot! However, because we're listening to these albums so you don't have to (or at least will know how far to lower your horizons when you get there) we'll be back in a few pages with the Graeme Edge Band's second album (they made a sequel?!) See you then - gulp - if we're both brave enough to make it...

The Blue Jays "Live At Lancaster University"

(  , Recorded December 1975, Released as part of the 'Timeless Flight' box set in 2013)

Tuesday Afternoon/You and Me/My Brother/Isn't Life Strange?/Who Are You Now?/New Horizons/Emily's Song/I Dreamed Last Night/Nights In White Satin/I'm Just A Singer (In A Rock 'n' Roll Band)/Blue Guitar/When You Wake Up/Questions

"Now as we drift a little further down the stream was it all what we seemed? Was it true, was it real or just a dream?"

The Blue Jays' planned live album nearly didn't happen - the original gig at Lancaster University in November 1975 had to be cancelled when Justin caught laryngitis and postponed until the final date in the tour the following month and even then the live album was rejected, returned to the vaults until the release of the Moody Blues 'Timeless Flight' box set. However it's a key audio document for fans - easily the best of the 'new' discs in the pricey box set - and represents the first time any of the band had ever used an orchestra on stage. Personally this live concert delivers on everything 'A Night At Red Rocks' later promised, with some welcome new arrangements of older Moody friends where the orchestra largely replaces Mike's mellotron and some exquisite performances of songs from the new record, which works sounding cosier and more intimate in this setting. Backed by most of the same musicians who made the album, it's also fun hearing what a different band do to songs which were still, back then, only a few years old rather than legendary classics; dare I say it Graham Deakin is a far better live drummer than the band's own Graeme Edge (though no match in the studio mind!) and there are a whole string of songs here that sounds better than on the band's own live albums: 'Tuesday Afternoon' really swings, 'Isn't Life Stra-a-a-ange?' is less of a drag and best of all 'Question' roars, with Justin fiercely yelling the lyrics by the end. 'I'm Just A Singer' still sounds a mess, however, even when relatively new.

The band even throw in a few unusual items from their past: 'Emily's Song'  - John's daughter is now a lively six year old in this time-stream rather than a babe in arms - is a little too fragile to stand up to a live setting although the new orchestral arrangement is a good one, though two songs from 'Seventh Sojourn' sound glorious - a haunting 'New Horizons' and a fierce 'You and Me' that rocks in a way no other Moodies live performance ever quite has. The highlights remain, though, the four songs taken from Justin and John's new album. All the songs sound great with the harder edge that live albums so often gives polished albums, with a grittier 'My Brother' really taking off as the band soar towards the end, a beautiful and intimate 'Who Are You Now?' that's breathtakingly sung, a slightly clumsy 'I Dreamed Last Night' that still gets the job done and a mass singalong 'When You Wake Up' that alternates between sweet dreams and nightmare. The band even play their new single 'Blue Guitar', which sounds tentative and slow (the 'band' never played this one either of course, with 10cc providing the original backing track), but sweet. As with other Moodies-related live albums, if you're only used to the studio albums then the frayed edges and muffed mistakes will come as a shock, but the harder edges make more sense on this material than it does on 'Caught Live+5' 'Isle Of Wight 1970' 'Red Rocks' 'Hall Of Fame' or 'Lovely To See You Live' and there are some inventive new arrangements here that the cooking band pull off more often than they mess up. Though a little too rough for release in 1975 perhaps, it's an excellent souvenir of a fascinating period to modern fans and it's a shame this disc hasn't yet been released separately from the box set (if you already own all the albums proper then it's the only disc you really need to have!) 

Mike Pinder "The Promise"

(Threshold Records/Decca, April 1976)

Free As A Dove/You'll Make It Through/I Only Want To Love You/Someone To Believe In//Carry On/Air/The Message/The Seed/The Promise

"You're just a child from way before your time"

While The Blue Jays kept the symphonic sound, John the rocking, Ray the thinking, and Graeme the album covers, Mike reveals himself to be the mystical poet of the band on his own and only solo album of the 'split' years. Those in the know (well, producer Tony Clarke anyway) reckoned that Mike's sound was the most central to the Moody Blues sound, which is why the band veer in such a wildly different direction without him. Certainly of all the solo albums the band were making at the time, this is the most Moodies like with the most mystical concepts, high-falluting ideas and even a bit of traditional poetry of the sort the band hadn't actually tried since 1969. Fittingly, 'The Promise' is an album that has lots of promise, with no songs that grate (well, maybe that poem) and several really good moments sprinkled across the album -a vocal here, a lyric there, a tune that really stands out here there and everywhere. But somehow 'The Promise' never quite coalesces and becomes that great album you're sure it's going to be, just as soon as Mike stops trying to write catchy pop songs, or write some seriously dated hippie lyrics, or drop the off-putting backing singers, or stops reciting poetry like's a sixth form teacher or...anyway you get the picture, every track 'almost' makes it and it's with quite a bit of sadness you reach the end and realise none of these songs quite made it in their different ways for different reasons. Of all the Moodies on their solo records, Mike (perhaps John too) sounds like the one who most needs the others - the one who struggles to fill out a whole album without other voices chiming in to shape his work or contrast it with one of their own, so it's doubly sad that Mike ends up being the one who won't go back to the Moody Blues (well, only for one song and two extra keyboard parts).

Before Mike's fans get too shirty (there are a lot of fans of this record, perhaps more so than the others outside of 'Blues Jays') it's worth pointing out that this is still a good record. Why should Mike try to change the sound that he invented after all, even if that's what the other four are doing ? It's seen him through so many years so faithfully and he's still good at writing to that same tie-dyed star-gazing audience he's always written for. Some of the tracks here even reveal that Mike hadn't lost the knack of writing a catchy pop song, something he's largely left to Justin since penning 'A Simple Game' in 1968 and 'Free As A Bird' and 'Carry On' are terrifically catchy. There are some changes wrought as well: though the mellotron makes its last great farewell here before being put away in the attic forever and is still the central sound of the record, Mike also plays guitar for the first time. He's also the Moody keenest to bring along 'special guests' such as honorary Rolling Stone Bobby Keyes on saxophone and harp player Susan MacDonald, whose contributions are used sparingly but wisely and who add a great deal of texture to the sound. The problem is that unlike the other solo records (except perhaps Graeme's pair) you know exactly where this album is going from the first track and though it contains more Moody Blues hallmarks than the other records (strong melodies, deep thinking words, elaborate puzzling album covers - why is there a keyhole stain glass window made out of tie dye? - and the mellotron) it lacks one of their greatest aspects, surprise.

It's also an album that's dated quite badly, with the hippiest words and most mid-1970s production values of them all and without the rocky Justin Hayward guitar licks, earthy John Lodge bass or folky Ray Thomas flute to get him out of trouble Mike has nowhere to hide behind except his (admittedly rather wonderful) mellotron. In other words it's an album that was much admired at the time but when remembered at all tends to get laughed at these days, as the ultimate in Moody Blues excess and a bingo-card-full of hippie phrases like 'peace' 'love' and 'humanity' (though Mike never uses the word 'flowers' so no full house I'm afraid). It is, traditionally, an album that divides fan opinion, being either loved or loathed in equal measure (depending usually on your age and whether you think the Patrick Moraz era Moody Blues are pop geniuses or heathens who turned their back on their natural heritage). Typically, as normal in these situations, I'm in the middle, liking it but not loving it or hating it: this is too sweet an album to get worked up about though not a strong enough one to defend too hard. It's an album where nothing much happens really, good or bad, though there are several moments that prove what a great insightful empathetic writer Mike was - and equally several moments that are laughably bad. My advice is to put this down as a 'period piece' and lower your expectations a little and then the album's subtle magic might yet have time to work and warm the cockles of your heart. Under normal circumstances I feel I should be saying something on the lines of 'it's a promising stepping stone towards the moment when things all came together on the second album', but of course there won't be a second album for another eighteen years and by then things will have changed so much for the world and for the keyboard player that this album might as well have been another lifetime. If anybody decides to remix the album one day, though, losing the distracting backing choirs and overall daffyness but with the gorgeous mellotron parts way out in front then I reserve my right to take it all back and claim this as the album of the decade!

Opener 'Free As A Bird' is marvellously catchy, with 'Question'-flavoured strummed acoustic guitars and a nicely gospel-tinged finale that takes the Justin Hayward pattern and goes from being small to shouting gleefully from the rooftops.  Alas, after a promising start you realise that this tune is pretty much all there is and Mike takes the easy way out, refusing to rhyme the word 'confusion' (which somehow gets shoe-horned into rhyming with 'problems' - though a small moment of the song this really jars).

'You'll Make It Through' is a retreat, of sorts, to the R and B years with no mellotron in sight, just Mike's sturdy piano and organ playing. What could be a nice song again in the gospel range loses out from a co-vocal from co-writer Jim Dillon, whose 'right on slicked-haired cowboy' vocals are more suited to the Eagles sound than a Moody Blues one. Lyrically this simple message to keep going has little extra to add either until a middle eight bursts through with the Moody message that 'living all together is the biggest challenge ever', switching the song from a personal lament into a universal one.

My favourite song on the album is the simplest, 'I Only Want To Love You'. Mike's marriage was in trouble and he was in the process of moving to America to start a new life with the girl who became his second wife. Usually Mike's songs deal with generations or groups of people, but this is one of his few songs to be unashamedly personal as he guiltily takes one last look back and wondered where things went wrong. He only wanted to care, after all, he didn't mean to hurt anybody, but the places he's been (dotted out on a map, city by city perhaps representing the touring Moody Blues) have created such a wide gulf from the house he left behind all those years ago that he can't go back to the way he was. Perhaps because this lyric calls on something we don't often get from Mike - an emotional vocal from the heart not the mind - he struggles like anything to sing it while an OTT orchestra sweeps in with some Parisian heart strings, the moment which prevents this song from being near-perfect either. However this is a strong song that would be a big hit for someone if they covered it without either fault.

'Someone To Believe In' is the worst, however: a tacky 'Pentangle' style jazz song complete with saxophones and a crooning vocal. It seems a little unfair to complain about the only song that steps out of the ordinary falling so flat on its face, but it does: this is an ugly song that's preachy ('There's more to life than TV, don't you know it's gonna make you blind?), dull (the tempo is about the same as 'Isn't Life Stra-a-a-ange?' just with drums) and badly mis-cast.  Only some Ray Thomas-style flutes, performed by Dean Olch and Tom Petersen and a cracking double bass part (annoyingly, un-credited) rescue the song's dignity.

Side two already (this is also one of the shortest Moodies albums) and things pick up slightly for the nicely commercial 'Carry On'. A very Hayward-like song, it starts small and quiet before evolving into a happy go lucky pop song with a truly golden chorus. 'Carry On - the past is paid for, so move on - through the door you're made for!' yells Mike as he makes up his mind to leave behind his band and his marriage to start up a new life for himself, keen not to let a promising door shut before he gets there. Though the girl singers are rather distracting again and the production is awfully slick for such a simple, funky little song, this is another of the album highlights with a real sense of freedom and joy.

The instrumental 'Air' takes Mike's muse in a curiously folky direction. Frustratingly Mike barely appears on another song that's dominated by the flutes and which doesn't even feature Mike's mellotron (although that is him strumming a guitar). Like so many instrumentals, it's hard to know what to think of this song which sounds unfinished without any lyrics, but the driving singalong riff is a good one even if 'Air' is rather suffocated with another cluttered production.

'The Message' would, ironically, have made for a lovely instrumental, with a sci-fi film score feel that's haunting and beautiful but rather ruined by the clumsy lyrics. Mike is in love with a girl she's just seen 'through my windowpane' and wants to write her 'a note through my tune' as he wonders what her background is and the source of her music 'so serene'. Alas the big build-up suggested we were going to get a deeper, more serious debate about love and fate and destiny than a chance meeting that makes the narrator love-struck. The last great use of the mellotron for all the curious 'blurping' noises should be on a song more substantial than this one.

And what was the message? It was 'The Seed', a 90 second poem recited by Mike with a straight face over a flute backing. It looks like another of those rare sightings of a Moody Blues song about 'God', with mankind his 'seeds' all turning their heads and 'bowing' towards 'the power'. Sounds more like the sun to me - or is that the idea? (This is a man who wrote 'The Sunset' about what we lost and  'The Sun Is Still Shining' about mankind's hopeful future after all).  By the end 'life dances and rejoices sin the knowledge of its freedom and the promise of a new destiny' apparently. So there. Come back Graeme all is forgiven! (Though it still beats the metaphor of a man eating an orange!) Not much to do with love after all then was it?

Title track 'The Promise' is the closest to the expected Pinder epic on the album but even this feels slightly underwhelming, a little too MOR and period rock for such an important song (Mike's last until 1994). At least the lyrics are up to the task: life is full of secrets, we're all faced with a choice of 'doors' (four perhaps?) and if we look at life the right way suddenly everything will make sense: 'The paintings on the rocks, the giant Stonehenge blocks, the pyramids and the sphinx, the temples and the links' (a round of applause for that last rhyme by the way!) We even get a lot of biblical imagery thrown in as Mike tells us that it was all 'real' but that God was actually an alien, one he's seen with his own eyes (see Dave Davies' solo records for more on this theme AAA fans!) Mike tells us that it's taken him 'nine long years' to have the courage to write this song and though most fans and reviewers took it as a hippie joke, this was very 'real' to Mike: he's a leading practitioner of ufo and alien studies and there's certainly more evidence out there than there is for, say, weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or David Cameron winning the 2015 UK general election (there are now 60 ongoing cases of electoral fraud!) My feeling is that artists have a right to say what they want to say, however unpopular or criticised and Mike's words are heartfelt and impressively non-judgemental as he simply relates what he saw and where he thinks mankind might go next, as Mike imagines his path to the next stage in heaven with 'eternal life - the promise of your rainbow light'. My problem is with the music, which is far too earthbound, with a plodding beat even the 1964 Moody Blues would have considered too simple and a wasted last great mellotron hook that ultimately doesn't go anywhere. Though like much of the album 'The Promise' has 'promise', it lacks the 'wow' factor of so many previous Pinder songs.

Still, you can't wow with every release and in retrospect it's surprising what a solid bunch the solo Moodies albums are given that none of the band had ever released a whole record on their own before. 'The Promise' doesn't come close to the dregs of the barrel that 'Muddy Boots' and 'Natural Avenue' mine (although 'Avenue' still contains at least a couple of tracks stronger than anything here). Yet at the same time it fails to reach the lofty peaks of 'Blue Jays' 'Songwriter' or 'Mighty Oaks'. As a marking time 'The Album' is perfectly respectable - but as the last will and testament of that mellotron sound (except for the very occasional period piece) and the last radio message of Captain Mike checking in to his fans before taking a leave of absence, it feels like this record ought to have been something more. Missing in action for years alongside its creator, the album was finally re-issued on CD in 2009 as a double-record set on one disc (it really is a short album, folks) along with 1994 sequel 'Among The Stars'. A limited release 1996 CD contained two bonus tracks, a mid-80s home studio re-recording of Octave's 'One Step Into The Light' (which is fun, but worryingly close to Moraz' style and nowhere near as good as the original) and 'Island To Island', an 80s reggae song  about escape 'like a bird on the wing' (ending the CD where it started!)

Ray Thomas "Hopes, Wishes and Dreams"

(Threshold Records/Decca, June 1976)

In Your Song/Friends/We Need Love/Within Your Eyes/One-Night Stand//Keep On Searching/Didn't I?/Migration/Carousel/The Last Dream

"You gotta keep on searching - and I believe I've found the way"

'From Mighty Oaks' had been well received even beyond the Moody Blues community and Ray was itching to record a sequel as soon as possible. The collaboration with Nicky James was still coming up trumps, with another ten track album appearing just a year later which meant that Ray had now released more songs solo than he had with the Moody Blues in the space of just a calendar year!  Sensibly the pair decided to stick to the same formula that had been so successful, so fans of the 'symphonic pop' of 'Mighty Oaks' will find much of the same sound here on a record that's possibly even more consistent than it' predecessor but lacks the heights of a 'Hey Mama Life' or 'Adam and I'. The plus points are how much more time Ray had to make this album, with no band members cutting in on his studio time here and you can tell how much Ray and Nicky have learnt from what worked and didn't the last time around: this record is simpler, with a slightly more muted orchestra sound while still keeping the same sense of grandiose style and splendour. Sadly Richard Hewson wasn't available for this album with Terry James orchestrating the album and while not quite as memorable the arranging is still remarkably strong considering Terry had far less experience of this sort of thing. The downside is that the writing does sound more rushed - 'From Mighty Oaks' was an album that sounded as if it had been building for a while, while 'Hopes, Wishes and Dreams' sometimes sounds as if it was written to order a bit more, without the glorious middle eights or sudden switches in pace and style of the predecessor. Even so, Ray was the only Moody Blue outside Graeme to release two records of his own in the 'solo years' (the Blue Jays, of course, sharing their work load on that album) and given that Ray only turned to songwriting relatively late himself it's still quite a triumph, even if 'We Need Love' is the only song here that's become a real favourite of my collection.

The mood of the songs is similar to the last album - emotional outpourings based around Ray's disintegrating marriage and the love for his children. However it's all slightly softer and calmer, the sound of the aftermath of a trying period, rather than being caught in the middle of a trying period itself. Phil Travers creates a similarly glorious album cover which sums up the record nicely - instead of a family break fishing in the local pond, Ray is very much on holiday, with a boat al out at sea slowly turning back towards a lighthouse as seen over a castle made of sand that against all odds the tide seems to be leaving alone (the conscious 'end' of a writing cycle about loss and heartbreak that began with 'And The Tide Rushes In' from 'A Question Of Balance' in 1970; against all the odds Ray is still standing). The back sleeve is particularly gorgeous, with a family man tending his full-blooming garden and looking over to the boat - Ray in the future, perhaps, his problems a distant memory? Though Travers occasionally gets a hard time on this site for his rather bonkers band covers, he really 'gets' these two Ray Thomas albums which are amongst his best work. Alas, though, while 'From Mighty Oaks' had been an impressively strong seller (the UK chart peak of #27 outsold Graeme's and Mike's albums, though it charted lower than the #4 of 'Blue Jays'), 'Hopes Wishes and Dreams' stalled at a disappointing  #147, the first Moodies album release to miss the top hundred. It deserved better.

Opener 'In Your Song' is sturdy but forgettable pop-rock by Nicky alone, with a bland tune (despite a lyric that pleads 'we hope the melody lingers in your mind'!) and an arrangement that skips the orchestra altogether. However the lyrics are of interest: now that the storm has passed Ray has come to appreciate just what a great period creatively it has been. His advice to those us suffering insomnia and pacing the floors because of our worries are urged to do something constructive with all that pain and turn it into a 'song' that others can share, 'full of all your hopes, wishes and dreams'.

'Friends' is one of the album's better songs, with Ray's lovely folky flute setting the tone for a song that sounds like an old traditional piece with a hint of sea shanty. It sounds to me as if Nicky has written a lyric about the pair's friendship and their mutual support ('I helped you forget life was solely only a wish to survive'). The lyric is particularly strong again, full of philosophical Moody touches like 'life hurries by in the blink of an eye, almost without meaning' and 'Days speeding past like the wind are hard to grasp'.

My favourite song on the album, though, is surely 'We Need Love' - the obvious single to take from the album with its slow burning groove and gloriously catchy chorus full of all the warmth and brotherly love of the Moodies at their best (though, typically, the inferior 'One Night Stand' became the single instead!) Ray is your typical Moodies narrator, his heart full of doubt and his head full of questions, but he knows he's got a 'dream' he wants to see fulfilled and a 'song' that needs to be written. After a long dark period Ray realises he's still hungry for life and can now afford to look back on life and realise he might have been to blame too. The first in a run of Ray songs 'apologising' for something unspecific (see 'The Present' band album in 1983), this is by far the best and most heartfelt, with Ray realising that only by saying sorry and clearing the air can both halves move on and 'you can learn to love again my baby'. The music, based around the same bass strut walk of 'Adam and I', is a wonderful mix of the lyrics that sound as if they're struggling to express so much that's inexpressable on the verses, halting and timid and going round in circles, before breaking into full bloom on a wonderfully warm chorus so full of heartbreak, love and sorrow all mingled together. Along with 'Adam and I' 'And The Tide Rushes In' and 'For My Lady', this is Ray's greatest peak as a writer and a classy song.

'Within Your Eyes' is pretty too and another strong song. It's great to hear Ray back to his mournful harmonica playing as he sings the saddest song on the album as he tries to sum up a journey in song, from a 'good hello' to a 'sad goodbye'. Ray's flute playing is rarely better and there's a real sense of drama from the slow rumbling bass leaps, the clever cymbal work and some really lovely acoustic guitar. Ray seems to be calling out to another character who is as lonely as he once was, telling them 'it's no crime - true love is hard to find', while telling them what they could be - the 'dancing breeze' that makes life better or the 'light in me' encouraging Ray to be better.

'One Night Stand' is a slightly noisier than normal song with some stinging guitar work from John Jones unleashing his inner Justin Hayward. Ray is clearly trying for the jazzy licks of 'High Above My Head' again, but this is a far less interesting recording with some truly awful caterwauling from the gospel singers loaded on top. A shame, because there's a strong verse rather lost in the middle of all the rockstar posing about Ray going back down the musical food chain, playing the same clubs the Moodies did in their early days and noticing his own graffiti on the dressing room wall from years before! It's kind of a younger 'Veteran Cosmic Rocker' this song ('Junior Earthbound Rocker' perhaps?), but not even that clever.

'Keep On Searching' is period MOR rock with another slightly anonymous melody accompanying a slightly more interesting lyric. Like 'The Dreamer', the unfinished Ray/Justin song abandoned in 1971, Ray's narrator is a 'dreamer', stumbling his way through life and trying to work out how to cope with what life has to throw at him, afraid that it's going to 'pass me by'. The brass and orchestra overdubs and especially the gospel singers are far too powerful, though, for what it is at heart another humble song.

'Didn't I' is only kind of ok too, a generic love ballad that lacks the integrity of 'For My Lady' and says very little except 'I love you'. Sadly of all the songs on the album it's the one that most points the way forward to what Ray will do with the Moodies on their reunion, similar in feel to 'I'm Your Man'  and 'Under Moonshine' from 'Octave'. The best thing about this song is the lovely string arrangement which swells up like a film score without detracting from the song.

'Migration' is a return to the slightly stronger songs of the first side of the album. Two birds are migrating together for a warmer climate, 'shedding feathers for poets to write love letters', on a poetic song about what makes the birds get the instinct to fly somewhere else. Is it a shared collective memory, a part of their DNA or an emotional decision. The debate is clearly pondered by Ray's narrator who wonders how he can 'follow' to a new land and start again but whose left wondering whether he, too, is pulled by the same impulses. This song sports a lovely warm melody perfect for the flute twirls near the end and Ray is in great voice as usual on this album, but the piece lacks a little extra something (a middle eight, an instrumental, even a key change would do) to make it truly a first-class travelling experience.

'Carousel' is a return to the whimsy of Ray's early songs and sound as if he and Nicky have been listening to The Beatles' 'Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite' too many times. However I prefer this song to the similar 'Painted Smile' from 'Long Distance Voyager' as the caliope tune is much stronger and the sense of the world spinning out of control is a better metaphor than yet another 'sad clown' story. Ray even 'floats' again for the first time since 'To Our Children's Children's Children' as he goes up into space to see the world in context ('So small, but all we have to stand on') and sighing 'I can't explain why the whole human race wants to fight'.

The big finale of the album is 'The Last Dream', a five minute epic that sounds like the picture on the back cover: a man looks out to sea from his garden and sees the world flashing before his eyes, the 'truth and lies' of his life 'turned with the tide'. Ray is clearly talking about death, 'with no encores and no applause' as he's swept up into the air on a 'mellow sound played by a thousand violins' (though the accompanying choir and string arrangement make it sound more like 10,000). I can see what Ray was trying to do - a whole album of searching for answers to life's questions can only be met with an answer in death and the song is a lovely one at the start when it's quiet and humble. But this song doesn't have any real answers - we see the 'death' from our own earth-bound position with no hint of what happens 'next' and the song stalls partway through, unwilling to be more specific about the death. As a result it's a hard one to mourn - though Ray sings that he's 'free' there's no sense of what he's 'free' from or whether this is a good thing (at first the narrator is reluctant to go). The angelic choir also make one heck of a lot of noise - if Heaven if this loud then Hell must be full of the Spice Girls on full volume!

Overall, though, what's most impressive about 'Hopes, Wishes and Dreams' is that it manages to subvert many of the moments that could have been pure cliché such as this big goodbye with a lot of heart and a lot of brains. Though perhaps a miniscule amount behind 'From Mighty Oaks' in terms of quality, it's still an excellent album with Ray and co-writer Nicky James still on top creative form. Though the moody blues reunion was good for all the band financially and seems to have given a boost creatively to Justin and particularly John, in many ways it was a tragedy for Ray who never again had so much space to speak about all the things on his mind and who will become increasingly sidelined despite having had a stronger solo career than any of the band barring Justin. Sadly Ray will never work directly with Nicky again after this who all but retired for the next thirty years after this (and a final album on 'Threshold' also in 1976 titled 'Thunderthroat'). Sadly Nickly died from a brain tumour in 2007, just as he was in the middle of working on his comeback album 'Black Country Boy',  still left unfinished and unreleased though Ray is thought to have 'borrowed' many of his pal's last songs for an intended this solo album out soon. The future probably wasn't any of Ray's hopes, wishes or dreams coming true, but at least he got the chance to prove his often overlooked talents with a pair of albums that can hold their head up high amongst the generally excellent Moodies catalogue. The box set of both albums in 2010, though rather on the pricey side, was a welcome reminder of just how good 'Oaks' and 'Dreams' both are.


The Graeme Edge Band Featuring Adrian Gurvitz "Paradise Ballroom"

(Threshold, '1976')

Paradise Ballroom/Human/Everybody Needs Somebody//All Is Fair/Down Down Down/In The Night Of The Light/Caroline

CD Bonus Track: Be My Eyes

"From a rock to a pebble"

Despite the fact that Graeme Edge's debut didn't put me in mind of paradise and certainly didn't make me want to dance, his band decided to release a sequel titled 'Paradise Ballroom'. Gluttons for punishment, the formula is more or less the same and the result similarly uninspired in the main: drippy ballads soaked in saxophone solos, spacey prog-rock philosophical songs that don't get anywhere and a sense of directionless dead-ends. There is however perhaps slightly more of a reason for fans to cheer, as this time Graeme and Adrian collaborate on everything and there is a little more of the old Moodies DNA around, especially in the lyrics. There's even a - relative - group highlight in 'Human', the one and only song here that would be good enough to include on a Moodies record, the sweetest sounding put down ever written (the country-rock lament 'Down Down Down' would pass with just a few tweaks too). Oddly the singing has also shifted round between the brothers so that Adrian takes a back seat to Paul according to the credits - although Adrian still gets special billing on the sleeve and the brothers sound pretty much inter-changable anyway to be honest. An equally peculiar mix of prog rock, disco, funk, folk and goodness knows what else, 'Paradise Ballroom' still doesn't quite tie all its influences together into one cohesive whole but it sounds like it's a little further down the road of getting things right than 'Muddy Boots' ever was. The record is topped off with a similarly striking cover featuring a spectral dancing lady in an empty ballroom - again its very Moody Blues (not least because it has nothing whatsoever to do with either the title track specifically or the album as a whole) and sums up the album's forward sci-fi mixed with retro ballroom dancing feel (remember, this was a time when ballroom dancing was old hat which, 'Strictly' speaking, it isn't these days). Is it worth your while? Sadly the answer's still no, but you might not hate this record quite as passionately as the first LP.

Title track 'Paradise Ballroom' runs for a whole nine minutes which is just ridiculous - it doesn't have enough ideas to withstand three! A chugging, clunky disco misfire, it features some rather atonal Gurvitz piano and ploddy Gallagher guitar over Graeme trying out a disco backbeat which is just wrong. Only the slowed down passage, with some nice Ray Thomas-style flute, catches the ear and even then it has nothing in common with the rest of the song.The lyrics deal with a 'fallen' city that used to be grand but is now a wreck, with the narrator hoping it still exists in the sky when he'd dead and buried. One of the longest and most painful solos in the AAA canon then extends the running time to a ridiculous length before a scary passage that tries hard but is film soundtrack fodder at best. Kick off your muddy dancing boots, this is nine minutes of torture for a fan whose come here looking for the Moodies' hallmarks of thought, intelligence, production and perfection.

'Human' is so much better, though, I'm shocked its by the same band. A lovely folk-song with flutes and a sea of shimmering guitars, the track also sports a pretty tune and a string part that manages what few Moodies arrangements have ever done - adding to rather than dominating and subtracting from the song. Only the lyrics let this (gulp) six minute down. 'I wanna be your lover - don't wanna be your fool' Adrian and Paul, well, growl I think is the closest term as they sing a nonsense Edge lyric about 'finding my face in space - and yours in a fancy dress parade'. Given the amount of insults this pair trade (which is ok because they're 'only human') I'd back away fast, but that said the melody does a good job at pointing to all the genuine love and affection the lyrics don't.

'Everybody Needs Somebody' is a funky re-make of the Solomon Burke classic with new lyrics and an opening flurry that sounds more like Fred Astaire. Edge's thick and heavy drumming is everything he's bad at in one go and the vocals are still awful. However the song does sport a great catchy riff and lyrics that actually make sense for once. If this was as bad as things got it would be fine.

Alas the noisy modern jazz jam 'All Is Fair' is one of those songs you sense the band had a better time playing than their fans have ever had listening to it. IT's a real shame that this song sounds so bad because, read as a lyric, it's actually one of the more interesting songs on the album. The narrator repeats what a lover told him - not to worry so much - and her love does help take his mind off his problems. With cries of 'lock away your worries and come inside me' and cries of 'loosen up and tell me you need me' it's probably the sexiest song in the Moodies canon. This is however probably not a good thing - Graeme sounds more comfortable when he's being sombre and thoughtful than in a state of undress.

By now this album is getting me 'Down Down Down' but next up is a sweet ballad played in yet another new style for the Graeme Edge Band and one that suits them oddly well: country. Gurvitz sounds more at home in this style - his unusual aggressive vocal works well when there's comparatively fewer instruments to fight against - and another subtle string arrangement threads its way out of the song like a needle. The lyrics are just tired out phrases about heartbreak that don't add much to many millions of other similar songs, but it's all beautifully handled and - shock horror - a second Edge Band song I actually quite admire. However it speaks volumes that one of the best solo Edge songs doesn't even feature his drumming until the second half!

'In The Light Of The Night' is shorter and more 'together' than most Edge Band songs. Sadly it's another forgettable disco song where a heavy drum part tries to separate funky strings and jiving horns while the Gurvitz Brothers pretend they're John Travolta's shyer elder brother. It's a very catchy song but, like so much disco, is utterly disposable and forgotten the minute the song ends.

The album ends with six minute sax ballad 'Caroline'. Sounding not unlike Neil Diamond's 'Sweet Caroline' played at the wrong speed (bom bom bom!), it's a rather ugly song about the narrator's guilt over a girl he once treated badly. 'I miss your crazy love on a warm night' is about the most coherent statement in the song, however, and the tempo is painfully slow. AAA regular readers will also know that I have an allergy to saxophone solos - though the playing on the rest of the album has been largely ok, the elongated sax honk in this song is giving me a nasty rash.

Period B-side (they released another single??? And shockingly it was 'Everybpdy Needs Somebody' - not my first choice) 'Be My Eyes' is, similarly to  'We Like To Do It', a silly novelty song that still has more heart and direction than the whole album and is more enjoyable than most of it. Sounding not unlike period Elton John (its 'Don't Go Breaking My Heart' sung as a solo and with a heavy fuzz guitar instead of piano) it's a tale of the narrator offering a loved one to enter his life and 'see' things for him. Just as long as she didn't offer to be his ears as well (this song gets awfully noisy in the middle) they'll be just fine.

The Graeme Edge Band drifted apart after this, with no album in 1977 and Graeme back with the other Moodies by 1978. I can't say I'm either surprised no saddened by the thought but it is perhaps fair to say that by the time of their second album the Graeme Edge Band were on to something - a third album might well have been worthy of the Moodies name. Certainly 'Ballroom' is a more likeable and Moody-ish album than 'Muddy Boots', though interestingly the few Moodies fans who travelled this far and bought the two records are split right down the middle on which is best. It really depends on whether you prefer noisy period rock with a few over-spacey ballads ('Muddy Boots') or a more rounded, eclectic style ('Ballroom').

In case you were wondering, Paul Gurvitz rather slipped from view after this album, but Adrian had a much more successful time and his success eclipse Graeme's own for much of the rest of the decade. He released two records in 1979 'Sweet Vendetta' and 'The Way I Feel' which both became big hits and the single 'Classic' in 1982 did indeed become a 'classic', reaching #8 in the UK charts. Since then Gurvitz has become more of a writer and manager, overseeing 'X Factor' style the girl group 'No Secrets' in the early millennium before that sort of thing had really taken off and working for Disney as an 'in house writer' for their sea of pre-teen stars and Mouseketeers. Though Justin, John and Mike will all continue to release solo albums into the 1980s and beyond, Graeme will never release a song under his own name again.

John Lodge "Natural Avenue"

(Threshold Records/Decca, January 1977)

Intro to Children Of Rock 'n' Roll/Natural Avenue/Summer Breeze/Carry Me/Who Could Change?//Broken Dreams, Hard Road/Piece Of My Heart/Rainbow/Say You Love Me/Children Of Rock and Roll

"I remember all the words of love that we sang out of tune"

Just beating 'Songwriter' into the shops by about a month, 'Natural Avenue' is John's follow-up to the grand orchestral 'Blue Jays' record (put on hold partway through when Justin's offer of a joint record came along) and much like Justin's album is divided between songs that sound very much like that record and others that drift miles away from it as Lodge unleashes his inner rocker. This is probably the most adrenalin-filled of all the solo Moodies records (not that there's much competition there), although only in small doses parts and interestingly it's not the period sound of punk that John is after so much as a flashback to his earliest days of playing music. This is arguably the closest Moodies album in spirit to the days of 'El Riot and the Rebels' and points at what John might have become had Clint Warwick stayed with The Moody Blues back in 1966 or had the band hired P J Proby as their singer instead of J Hayward. Once or twice the mood change really works and you wonder why the band didn't do more of this sort of thing: 'Broken Dreams, Hard Road' is this album's unsung classic and is a 'Question' style song broken down into jagged rock-posing riffs and genuine heartfelt worry; 'Rainbow' too is a pretty song and really stands out amongst the bang-crash-whallop hoo-hah all around it. However, as has been the case with every solo band effort outside 'The Blue Jays' you curse the fact that the band couldn't have worked together, both so the other could knock away some of the song's rougher distinctly Lodge-written edges (the occasional clunky written passages and the same chord progressions used time and time again) and so that each band member could have two great songs on a first-class album instead of two great songs and eight disasters.

Despite being called 'Natural Avenue', John doesn't often sound that natural on this album. Everything sounds grand  - Moody Blues style grand - even though this is not a style that suits his natural voice nor this latest batch of songs. 'Natural Avenue' is a record that cries out to be performed barebones and funky, full of earthy sounds and intense performances. Instead all of Lodge's good intentions - for there are several good ideas here - get diluted and over-written by the lush orchestras that sweep around the song. Lodge has never been too happy with orchestras (he's the only writer to duck working with them on the 'Days Of Future Passed' album entirely) and the sense of scale and grandeur brings out all the worst in his vocals, which approach Spinal Tap-levels of gargling and squealing. However when this album stops trying to impress and goes for the heart instead there are real little nuggets of magic scattered throughout. None of ‘Natural Avenue’ is awful, but it is bland and rather undistinguished in a way that none of the Moodies albums, even the bad ones, are.  Though somewhat of a dead-end, this album needed only a few tweaks to be more of a long and winding road paved with success. Then again it was a modest success at the time, peaking at #38 in the UK charts in the wake of the success of the 'Blue Jays' album.  Who'd have guessed that it would have taken thirty-eight years to get a sequel?!

Take for instance the charming 'Intro To Children Of Rock and Roll', a song that's actually delayed proper until the end of the album. Heard here on acoustic guitars it's a rather sweet little track although it's only an opening verse that doesn't say a lot lyrically and ends with a corny harmonised 'whyyyyyyy?' The melody is a good one though as Lodge appears to comment on the sense of confusion in the Moodies' camp: 'You have to know where you're going before you say goodbye'.

Title track 'Natural Avenue' sounds like a Dire Straits B-side, a chugging 1950s track that features a funky rhythm track rather undercut by a peal of saxophones. Lodge and guests sing about being suddenly inspired after a period of being in the doldrums ('Suddenly I'm there, there's a feeling in the air - I can feel it!') but though they talk the talk they can't walk the walk and this odd rock song comes off as sounding unfinished with some quite ugly chord changes thrown in.

'Summer Breeze' is a nursery rhyme ballad with more than an album's dose of recommended sugar intake, but it is at least a catchy song matched by a strong performance. Lodge is asking his partner to tell him her 'secrets' as the narrator feels 'alone' as his mind wanders between a current problem and the sense of life he feels in nature around him which will outlast him and his problems. John is clearly going for a typically Moody lesson in contrasts, but the cheery riff is too good at conjuring up summer breezes for the listener to notice the undercurrent of menace on the first few playings.

'Carry Me' is a nearly six minute epic that features some of the biggest production on the album even though as song it's one of the simplest on offer here. A slightly sped up 'Emily's Song', it's a love song about the narrator wanting to escape into what is presumably his children's world of make believe and starts with the striking first line 'Make me the captain of your pirate ship'. The melody is nice and John's performance is strong, but the 'fly away' refrain is too ugly for such a pretty tune and this track comes across as a 'House Of Foor Doors' style suite of lots of disparate parts that don't fit rather than the strong song you hope for with the lovely opening.

'Who Could Change?' is more treacle laid in thick that's only a few crotchets away from the 1991 re-write for 'Keys Of The Kingdom' in 'Lean On Me (Tonight)'. I prefer this earlier 'version' which is more heartfelt. Lodge is trying to sum up the idea of love in words but stumbles, the closest he comes is summing up it up as the best part of 'this crazy dream we call life'. However like a few tracks on this album the good start is underdone by a song that just goes on too long and you wish the band would play with a bit more urgency.

Thankfully the start of side two changes all that with the hard-driving 'Broken Dreams, Hard Road'. One of the twenty or so Moodies classics from the 'solo years' period, the song has a terrific attention-grabbing opening that piles in like a tonne of bricks. However there's a good song behind it all when it quietens down too about loss and regret that points the way to 'I Know You're Out There Somewhere' with Lodge alternating between actively searching for his love and waiting for her to come to him. Like 'Question' the two halves shouldn't fit yet somehow do, linked by a nice catchy riff and treated to the best performance on the album. A hard road it may have been, but this sudden injection of realism into an album high on 12 bar blues and sickly sweet ballads is long overdue. Though un-credited, I'd lay odds that's a guesting Justin and Ray on the backing vocals too.

Alas 'Piece Of My Heart' switches back to the worst of the album, with an ugly sounding song that just doesn't get anywhere. Somebody said something bad to John and it hurt him according to the rather boring lyrics - but why does that mean he has to inflict that pain back on us? Not one of his more inspired efforts and about as far away from the Janis Joplin hit of the same name as you can get.

Though undeniably twee and again seemingly written with a child audience in mind, the breathy 'Rainbow' does at least sport the prettiest melody on the album. Sounding as if Lodge is appealing to the mother of his children, he asks for her to put him out of his misery, to either 'break my heart or let me in' but not leave him on the doorstep watching the rainbows fade over his house. Vowing to 'paint' the rainbow every day, Lodge sadly walks away at the end towards a setting sun instead.

'Say You Love Me' is a noisier take on the album's string of ballads played with some howling blues guitar. Lodge wobbles dangerously on his vocal on another off song about breaking up in which he vows that he wouldn't need any of the rest of his lover as long as he could possess her 'smile' - I'm not sure that's anatomically possible is it? The melody is a good one though and the strings for once enhance rather than detract from the song, snaking their way through what would otherwise be a straightforward happy song and hinting at some deeper darker secret.

We end with the noisy 'Children Of Rock and Roll', which turns out to be nothing like as good as the introduction suggested. The song is more like the children of 'I'm Just A Singer In A Rock and Roll Band', although played with less gusto and another horrifically wobbly lead vocal. Sounding not unlike a solo Ringo song, this track comically bounces from foot to foot underneath a lot of nonsense cosmic lyrics that don't mean a lot (both men are also far too influences by Marc Bolan and follow his uncomfortable hallmark of stapling a 1950s rock track with 1970s prog rock lyrics, neither of which are good enough to stand alone). Only the middle eight stands out as Lodge waves 'goodbye' to the hippie dream and accepts that he must now hand down the 'see-saw' he's been riding for so long to another generation whose ways he doesn't quite understand. It's hard not to feel sad as John bids goodbye to 'Blueberry Hill' and 'waves goodbye to a generation who dance by the light of the moon'. From now on mystery and philosophy are out, to be replaced by the blinding light of passion and fury as Lodge reflects on one last 'beautiful day'. However this track is a curious mixture of the styles of yesterday and tomorrow and would have been better if we'd spent more time in one of these at the expense of the other. As so often happens on this album, though, there's a good idea in this song trying to break its way out.

Overall, then, 'Natural Avenue' is a nice place to visit but you really wouldn't want to live there. A handful of songs really do add to the Moody Blues canon but an awful lot detracts, in common with so many similarly mixed Moody solo works. Unusually Lodge seems to have real problems with his voice across the record and skirts close to cliché on several songs, badly needing a collaborator as Ray had to bring out the best of these songs (you can see why John took so long to follow it up - unlike Justin, whose happy in either configuration, he works best in a band). Though the album has been re-issued three times on CD so far (1987, 1996 and 2014) - a record for a solo Moodies set - the album has never really enjoyed the same high profile as 'Blue Jays' 'Songwriter' or even 'The Promise' or been taken to people's hearts in quite the same way. At its best though it is an excellent album full of songs no other songwriter would have created - it's just a shame the album doesn't spend longer exploring these golden fields and too often finds itself travelling down a well-worn path where so many people have been before and better. The verdict: Broken songs, hard road, but with the odd rainbow to brighten up the journey along the way.


"Jeff Wayne's War Of The Worlds" (Featuring Justin Hayward)

(Columbia/CBS, Recorded 1977 Released September 1978)

The Eve Of War (Justin Hayward)/Horsell Common and the Heat Ray (Richard Burton)//The Artilleryman and the Fighting Machine (David Essex)/Forever Autumn (Justin Hayward)/Thunder Child (Chris Thompson)//The Red Weed (Richard Burton)/Parson Nathaniel (Phil Lynott)/The Spirit Of Man (Julie Covington and Phil Lynott)/The Red Weed Part Two (Richard Burton)//Brave New World (David Essex)/Dead London (Richard Burton)/Epilogue (Richard Burton)/Epilogue Part Two (Jerry Wayne)

"Ulla!"

Ulla! Jeff Wayne was an advertising jingle writer looking for a bigger project when he remembered his favourite childhood book 'The War Of The Worlds'. Though the book was already eighty years old, like the best science-fiction H G Wells' novel was timeless and a perfect vehicle for the prog-rock era full of scares, romance, warfare and scary tripod aliens that insisted o singing 'Ulla'. The wonder is that no one had thought of making a musical out of it before this. Wayne had already written all of his epic song suite by the time he came to casting it and thought big from the start: Justin was his first choice to sing the ballad 'Forever Autumn', the focal point of the whole work even though Wayne didn't know him by name (he just wanted the singer from 'Nights In White Satin' - there are an awful lot of similarities between the two songs of regret and loss, although I don't remember a whacking great tripod or a chorus that runs 'and I love you ulla!') Other big names picked for the album who amazingly said yes to this ambitious unknown songwriter included narrator Richard Burton, David Essex (then at the peak of his fame) and Thin Lizzy's Phil Lynott (still relatively speaking an unknown at the time). Justin recorded the song sight unseen in a single session in 1977, hung around to record the rockier opener 'The Eve Of War' (presumably because someone else dropped out - no one else got two songs on the album!) and said to everyone he knew 'well that was fun - but it will never become anything!' He'd almost forgotten about the whole thing when, eighteen months later, the album was in the shops and 'Forever Autumn, chosen as the single, ended up selling better than any of Justin's own singles had. Out of nowhere 'The War Of The Worlds' suddenly became one of the biggest sellers of the 1970s, to the point where Justin is now more famous in many circles for this one song than anything he did with The Moody Blues.

All of which leads me to one of our AAA regulars: the quick rant. I should be the perfect audience for a work like 'War Of The Worlds', which turns the mother of all sci-fi works into the mother of all prog rock albums. There is a terrific record to be made out of this book one day - but this isn't it, turning what's actually quite a layered and complex work that was ground-breakingly modern for its times into pseudo-Victoriana dialogue and OTT music. It doesn't help that the record is scarier than any other adaptation of the work (all those screaming robotic aliens who announce their presence randomly every few minutes), that Richard Burton seems to have been captured on the first take (fluffing several of his most important bits of dialogue) or that I spent my uni days with a flat-mate who played this record endlessly so that nearly every essay I wrote for three years was punctuated by a cry of 'Ulla!' twice a paragraph. If you're new to this sort of recording then I can see why 'War Of The Worlds' would be stunning: it has big concepts, grand ideas and a sound that's unlike most thing in the world. However if you're a Moody Blues fan then this work is just a pale shadow of what the band were always doing and a waste of the bigger budget and stars on such frivolous music. 'Forever Autumn' is a lovely song, but it's only 'Nights In White Satin' with a synth solo instead of a flute one.

To back-track a bit Justin's contributions are the highlight of the set - and not just because of Justin. The song that's always overlooked on this album is the stunning 'Eve Of War', a 90 second rocker that's pretty much the only song to quote from the book directly: 'The chances of anything coming from mars a million to one he said - but still they come!' The rhythm isn't far removed from the faster paced section of  'Question' and Justin gives his all, with some impressive pastiche Moody Blues in the backing vocal all tied up with the single best riff in the project (one which, sadly, will never quite sounds as big or huge again). There is a genuine sense of menace here, best heard at the end when what sounds like a straightforward rock song about a threat gets turned on its head by the alien sound effects when the threat arrives and the tripods pulsate for at least a minute longer than is comfortable. 'Forever Autumn' too is a grand song that is an obvious candidate for a hit single, performed by Justin with impressive warmth and longing considering he's effectively 'acting' this song - a new concept to him (though see 'The Actor' from 'Lost Chord' for more on this). Set in the part of the story where mankind are running for their lives, it has the narrator vainly searching for his wife Carrie, fighting against the tide of humanity running in the other direction, although technically speaking it's a little bit early to start lamenting her loss in such a profound way (at this point in the story she could still be sitting at home for all Justin knows - so it's not exactly 'Forever Autumn' just yet). The album version is a lot better than the single too, with each twirl of the agonised chorus 'but you're not here' sung with a real guttural desperation we don't often hear from Justin extended by extra bits of narrative and fiery synthesisers that delay each chorus by another two minutes and an extra obstacle, upping the emotional ante. If you only know the edited single version then it's worth finding the album just hear the epic original of this song - as heard on Top Of The Pops et al, Justin sounds as if he's gone a bit mad, becoming more and more desperate line by line rather than minute by minute and getting hysterical by the end. I have to confess too that I'm rather fond of the 'sequel' to Forever Autumn' that never gets a look in, 'Thunderchild' as sung by Manfredd Mann Earth Band's Chris Thompson, which features the same tune but in a harder setting with a whole ship of people fleeing the Martians disintegrated before the narrator's eyes, causing us to mourn for all the mini-Forever Autumn style stories in the book hat don't get a look-in.

As for the rest of the album, though, it's a disappointment to put it mildly and is far more of a period piece than any of the Moodies' own records are (even the 1980s ones). In turns boring and overblown, it lacks the sense of depth and realism of the book and pales against so many other better sci-fi based albums out there (try out Paul Kantner's 'Blows Against The Empire' for a start). The synth work on this album, so celebrated at the time, sounds horrifically dated now and lacks the skill of a Mike Pinder to play it. Instead you can hear this record as a breeding ground for all the Patrick Morazes to come in the 1980s, which are fine in their way but don't belong on cult concept albums about humanity like this one. Like many a prog rock album of the period, including a couple of The Moodies' own works, the whole thing runs at least twenty minutes too long and repeats the central riff so many times you begin to wonder if there's even a single album's worth of material here. You know something's gone wrong with the script and characters when you're actually rooting the baddies on to win: the real star of this album is the Martians who are delivered with far more convincing realism and detail in the single war cry 'Ulla!' than any amount of tired humans. My biggest regret of the album is that they didn't kill more: Julie Covington's woeful cameo, for instance, would have put her first in my firing line. There isn't the scope of feeling that this is a 'war of the world' either, without the sense of higher stakes you get from the book or most of the adaptations of the novel in the 120 years since it was written. Instead it's a war against the words of the original book and falls far short of where it ought to, with the only really good ideas already there in the original book (and far too much of the good stuff cut out). Still, if nothing else it was a good advert for Justin Hayward and helped ignite interest in The Moody Blues, wo it wasn't all bad.



Other Moody Blues relates articles from this website you might be interested in:


'The Magnificent Moodies' http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/the-moody-blues-magnificent-moodies.html






‘A Question Of Balance’ (1970) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/the-moody-blues-question-of-balance-1970.html








'Long Distance Voyager' (1981) http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/the-moody-blues-long-distance-voyager.html



'The Other Side Of This Life' (1986) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/the-moody-blues-other-side-of-life-1986.html

'Sur La Mer' (1988) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/the-moody-blues-sur-la-mer-1988.html







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