Monday 28 May 2018

The Moody Blues: Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions

You can now buy 'New Horizons - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Moody Blues' in e-book form by clicking here!

I don't know about you, dear reader, but so far this book/website has seemed awfully studio-bound: yes there are the odd live albums dotted round in the discographies but a touring life was usually as important if not more so to our AAA artists. Even we can't go through every gig they ever played however, so what we've decided to do instead is bring you five particularly important gigs with a run-down of what was played, where and when and why we consider these gigs so important, along with one particularly good one that summed up the band's setlist during their live peak (or one of them, anyway). Think of these as a sort of 'highlights' covering from first to (in some cases anyway) last, to whet your appetite and to avoid ignoring a band's live work completely! The Moody Blues had a rollercoaster ride with the stage down the years. From early career peaks supporting The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and The Walker Brothers (in that order) they ended up bottom of the bill in cabaret with a turning point when they nearly gave it all up. Yet somehow they bounced back and only four years later were playing to a then record British audience at the Isle of Wight festival. With only three actual live albums from their heyday (two recorded a mere week apart) it’s sometimes hard to get a glimpse of what this band’s live act was really like, but considering that all they had was a mellotron that kept going off pitch and some late 1960s/early 1970s technology it’s quite a marvel that they got as close to their expressive expensive studio sound as often as they did on stage.

1)  Where: Carlton Ballroom, Birmingham When: May 4th 1964 Why: First Gig Under MB Name Setlist: Unknown but might have included [13]Steal Your Heart Away [1] I’ll Go Crazy [2] Something You Got Baby [5] I Don’t Mind [12] Bye Bye Birdie

The Moody Blues played their first gig just two days after agreeing to form a band together, which must surely be some kind of a record. It made sense however:  they were all good friends after playing many of the same clubs together around Birmingham and were all seen as the city’s next hope without ever quite having got it together. What’s more they were playing very similar material in their different groups: Denny Laine in Denny and the Diplomats joining Mike Pinder and Ray Thomas from El Riot and The Rebels, Graeme Edge of Gary Levene and the Avengers and Clint Warwick of The Dukes. Given that almost all of these band were based in the Erdington end of Birmingham, they met up for a drink at local pub The Moathouse on May 2nd  and passed an audition to become the house band for the up and coming Carlton Ballroom where they played most of their early gigs (which still exists, though the club is now rebranded ‘Mothers’ – it’s also where the live half of Pink Floyd’s ‘Ummagumma’ was taped in 1969). The new quintet didn’t, however, have a name. As the venue was sponsored by the local Mitchell and Butler Breweries they figured it wouldn’t hurt if they called themselves the Mitchell and Butler Five, but were rather stung when the management decided they didn’t want to be associated with a rowdy r and b band and would rather take their chances with alcoholics! Instead the name shrunk to the ‘MB5’ later changing to ‘Moody Blues’ in honour of the Elvis Presley song. We don’t know much more than that alas – the group and venue were too small for any local newspapers to write any reviews and being so new there were few fans who attended the gig to write down what the tracklisting was. It seems likely, though, that the band would have stuck to the r and b cover material they had all been playing in their respective bands and that it would all have sounded not unlike their first LP ‘The Magnificent Moodies’, with Denny the lead vocalist and the band missing many of their signature points such as Ray’s flute (added later in the year) and their own material (which won’t start properly until Denny and Mike get to know each other better). They must have done ok though as only a month later they were going places – Salford University to be exact!

2)  Where: The Fiesta Club, Stockton When: Late September Or Early October 1966 Why: Turning Point Setlist: Unknown

This is – so we think – the source of the oft-told incident where a new-look Justin ‘n’ John era Moody Blues had stapled together a stage act and were playing their second Denny-less gig without much enthusiasm when a man broke into their backstage dressing room to give them a dressing down: ‘I take my wife out every Thursday night, spend two pounds and ten shillings on her and you’re bloody terrible, the worst band I’ve ever seen in my life. You need to ditch the blue suits and R and B and, well, somebody ought to tell you before its too late’. The band were shocked: they’d been on a two year gradual decline from the days of ‘Go Now’ and a disillusioned Denny had already jumped ship in August, but they had been making do: Justin was doing his best impressions of Denny’s lead, Mike was writing more songs and new/old bassist John (who’s also been a ‘rebel’ in his school days) was getting by. But somehow the new line up wasn’t right for the old songs and the music scene had moved on from the R and B covers The Moodies had been doing for years by now. The band knew it, but hadn’t spoken it out loud till someone had said it for them. ‘He’s right, that bloke, you know’ said Graeme after the man had gone – and then and there, in the back of a dressing room, The Moodies began reshaping their future, deciding to throw out the covers, add more original songs and come up with a ‘concept album’ that was all the vogue in late 1966 and which would eventually be ‘Days Of Future Passed’. Without this moment in time The Moodies might have only ever made that one Laine-filled LP, but regrouping from zero gave them a second shot at fame. What we don’t know, what with The Moody Blues being so close to the bottom of the bill on a cabaret show, is what they played that night though the band have referred to playing ‘the same old stuff’ which probably means the ‘Magnificent Moodies’ album with a few of the Laine era singles in there too (oddly their last Laine single ‘Life’s Not Life’ won’t be out in the shops till January – maybe they got some early plugging in? [34] ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ also seems a likely bet). Incidentally, Stockton is Justin’s memory of where the event took place and which has appeared in so many Moodies documentaries many fans take it as sacrosanct, but John has always remembered this event happening after a gig in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. If we ever get that tine machine invented, I’ll let you know who was right!

3)  Where: Isle Of Wight Festival When: August 30th 1970 Why: Biggest Gig? Setlist: [77] Gypsy [41] The Sunset [39] Tuesday Afternoon [88] Minstrel’s Song [66] Never Comes The Day [86] The Tortoise and The Hare [82] Question [90] Melancholy Man [68] Are You Sitting Comfortably? [69] The Dream [70-71] Have You Heard? > The Voyage [43] Nights In White Satin [49] Legend Of A Mind [46] Ride My See-Saw

By contrast, less than four years later and The Moody Blues are one of the biggest acts on the planet, touring the globe in their personalised jet planes and playing sell-out gigs. The audience at the Isle of Wight gig was easily their biggest, though (500,000 or thereabouts) and the band’s only sizeable festival of the period brought them to a whole new audience who’d never heard their music. Almost all the full show (alas four songs had deteriorated beyond repair) has since been released on CD and DVD and reveal a nervy band struggling to cope with their equipment in the open air and worried about the off-stage politics (Ray makes a rare bid for the microphone in between songs to comment on the fans tearing down the burger vans and fences with the cry that ‘music should be free’ with the healing lines that ‘they say it’s all for bread but, Christ, money can’t buy what you give us!’) Fifth album ‘A Question Of Balance’ had just been released three weeks before and many of the night’s songs come from that album, including one of the first performances of the band’s second biggest hit ‘Questions’ and a few songs not heard live after this tour. An album written to be simpler than usual to cater for the band’s biggest tour to date, it’s actually a surprise they didn’t play more songs from it this night, ending with a lengthy suite taken from third album ‘On The Threshold Of A Dream’. The part of the set that got the fans talking, though, was the finale with two of the band’s most popular songs stuck together (‘Nights’ and ‘Legend’), something so popular that for the first time in their career the audience refused to let the band go and demanded an encore (which must have annoyed the heck out of Jethro Tull waiting in the wings to play!) The band chose ‘Ride My See Saw’ and have since stuck to this three-song closing trilogy like a lucky talisman, never varying their set from that day to this. Interestingly many fans regard this as the peak of the band’s ‘democratic’ period of five writers and singers all with their own unique voices working together – surely the perfect approach for a festival of all places – and yet a look at the track listing reveals Justin dominating the band like never before, with six of the fourteen songs his (by contrast John and Mike get three each and Graeme just one).

4)  Where: The Cow Palace, California When: February 4th 1974 Why: Last Gig With Original Members Setlist: Unknown but sample from same tour includes [71] Higher and Higher [76] Out and In [94] The Story In Your Eyes [98] One More Time To Live [39] Tuesday Afternoon [49] Legend Of A Mind [81] Watching and Waiting [78] Eternity Road [90] Melancholy Man [68] Are You Sitting Comfortably? [69] The Dream [70] Have You Heard? > The Voyage [43] Nights In White Satin  [49] Legend Of A Mind  [46] Ride My See-Saw

Though many fans think of 1972 being the last hurrah for the original Moody Blues they continued into early 1974, honouring gigs that had been booked before their decision to stop making new music. Though billed as a ‘Grand Toure’ in many ways it was the opposite, the Moodies playing shorter sets and making less speeches to fans, while there were no songs played from downbeat finale ‘Seventh Sojourn’ meaning that the most recent music here was already three years old. There was though, oddly, a revival of much of the fourth ‘To Our Children’s Children’s Children’ album where the songs of optimism and space travel must have seemed a world away – the band wouldn’t revive the likes of ‘Higher and Higher’ and ‘Eternity Road’ for another three decades, while ‘Out and In’ would be booted out the setlist for good as soon as Mike hangs up his mellotron at the end of the tour. This wasn’t meant to be the end either: the band also had a tour in China booked, which would have been a first for a Western group in 1974, but they decided enough was enough and bought their way out of their contract (which was a shame as it had been arranged by an unlikely source. A big Moody Blues fan had been part of the British table tennis team that had won in China and had been granted a ‘celebration’ in their honour. Asked what music they would like to play, he nominated ‘To Our Children’s Children’s Children’, which went down so well with the crowd that the Moodies were invited on the back of it!) Ironically the last song sung by the ‘classic’ line-up on stage ended up being ‘Ride My See-Saw’, John’s song of hope and optimism at being given a second chance to make his dreams of being in a band come true, now replaced by musical disagreements and general boredom.
5) Where: Cologne Sporthalle, Germany When: October 19th 1978 Why: First Reunion Gig Setlist: Unknown but sample from same tour includes [132] Steppin’ In A Slide Zone [133] Under Moonshine [135] I’ll Be Level With You [136] Driftwood [138] I’m Your Man [139] Survival [141] The Day We Meet Again [94] The Story In Your Eyes [106] Isn’t Life Strange? [91] The Balance [110] I’m Just A Singer In A Rock ‘n’ Roll Band [39] Tuesday Afternoon [49] Legend Of A Mind [43] Nights In White Satin [82] Question [46] Ride My See-Saw
The band reunited in 1978, although it speaks volumes that they were much more nervous of going on tour again than they were making music in the studio, waiting four months until after the release of their eighth LP with the Justin ‘n’ John line-up ‘Octave’ before hitting the road. The trouble was that Mike wasn’t keen on uprooting himself from his American family to travel round the world singing old songs but the band also wanted to promote their album so it was agreed partway through the album that he would stay at home (and indeed drop out of the band). Worried about how they might go down without their founding member and that distinctive mellotron sound on stage (Mike was surely the only musician who ever got a mellotron to play in key on stage – and even he had problems some nights!), the other four Moodies decided to bounce back with some under-publicised shows away from the limelight over in Germany. Their new replacement, learning their old songs in a hurry, is Patrick Moraz of fellow prog rocker’s Yes and his impact  on the band will have a major effect in the years to come. Fans have long disputed whether he was a ‘full’ member or not (not least in the televised court case after he left the band) but it’s worth noting that as early as the shows that follow this concert he’s already on the front of the tour programme. With their new album still freshest in their mind, they took the odd decision to open with an entire set of  the new material (everything barring Justin’s  [134]‘Had To Fall’ and [137] ‘Top Rank Suite’, plus understandably Mike’s [140] ‘One Step Into The Light’) before playing some old friends in the second half. The shows went down very well though, encouraging the band to play a short UK and then a longer US tour soon afterwards. The Moody Blues were back, with a setlist that will be added to over the years but isn’t really all that changed from what they play in concert now.

The musical baton thing works both ways – sometimes younger or contemporary or even older acts hear music that they like and want it in their discography too. The Moody Blues don’t have as many cover versions out there as some of our other bands – all the more so once you’ve skimmed the wide range of teeth-gnashingly slow versions of [43] ‘Nights In White Satin’ there are out there – but there are some good ones out of the many we've heard (and no we haven't heard them all - do you know how many AAA albums out there are out there even without adding cover songs as well?!) There are to date three albums dedicated purely to Moody Blues covers and they’re a mixed bag. ‘Higher and Higher – A Tribute’ is as epic as you’d expect from all things Moody and runs for three discs. That’s at least one too many, possibly two, but there is some good stuff there if you keep the skip button handy (Ryan Guidry sounds just like Justin and revives perhaps his most obscure song, ‘London Is Behind Me’, from his pre Moody days while the suitably named Time Traveller have fun with [167] ‘The Other Side Of This Life’ by wondering what it would be like if it was made in 1966 rather than 1986). There are also no less than two volumes of a ‘Moody Bluegrass’ series which seems to exist mostly for the admittedly pretty funny gag in the title. I’m not sure The Moodies’ complexity really suits hoe-downs, however, while fiddles are no substitutes for flutes (although we have chosen our favourite moment below).  
Tangerine Zoo [37] Another Morning (‘Outside Looking In’ 1969)
Ray’s jolly childlike singalong always sounded like the odd one out on ‘Days Of Future Passed’ without the sense of weight or oppression of much of the rest of the album. That all changes with Tangerine Zoo’s Pink Floydesque interpretation which loses the jolly flute part and swaps it for an eerie claustrophobia and some gorgeous backing ‘ahhhhs’. This idea works less well on the chorus than it does on the verses, but it’s still a good idea and this version from 1969 oddly enough sounds far more in keeping with the main feel of 1967 than the original. Tangerine Zoo made quite a name for themselves ‘rediscovering’ lost nuggets like this and making them weirder and this Massachusetts band are quite a cult amongst psychedelic collectors who wish they’d taken up the invitation to appear at Woodstock instead of turning it down to do some hackneyed TV appearance instead – they deserved to be so much bigger!

1)  Ambrose Slade [27] Fly Me High (‘Ambrose Slade’ 1969)

I never got the appeal of ‘Slade’ when they became popular – to my ears they wasted a perfectly decent guitarist and a pretty excellent vocalist by making them sing inane ditties and where more of the budget went on the clothes than the recordings. But their first aborted incarnation, as a psychedelic band (with an added ‘Ambrose’ to their name) I like a lot. Noddy Holder is, along with The Move and Ozzy Osbourne, the only other big act to come out of the Midlands. As a result he sounds less ‘wrong’ singing the Moody songs with his Brummie tones than most cover acts do and he adds a characteristic grit to Justin’s fun and funky song of optimism. The Moodies’ original was perhaps a little too self-consciously poppy and as beautiful as much of it is, it feels as if it was written for its audience more than it’s performers. With no record contract yet in the offing Slade’s version sounds much more like a Moodies ‘song’ somehow, especially the gorgeous adrenalin rush of instruments 1:40 in which follows the massed harmony section (which Slade also do pretty well I have to say). Forget ‘cum on feel the noize’, I want Slade to come on and re-release their finest if obscurest hour again so other collectors can hear how unexpectedly good they sound with the snarl down low and the weirdness up high.

2)  Dave Harvey and Various Artists [49] Legend Of A Mind (‘Moody Bluegrass’ 2004)

In The Moodies’ original this playful pastiche is like a Catherine wheel with ADD, fizzing and spitting and bouncing all over the place with a whole world to explore. On this cover it’s been quietened down and stabilised. It should sound like a duff firework, but instead you hear the beauty of Ray’s original tune, while the words are more serious than arch given subject matter and psychedelic guru Timothy Leary’s ‘real’ death in 1996. I’m particularly impressed with the ending, which cuts down several minutes of mellotron madness into a gorgeous Pentangle style yearning where the busy mandolin meets the melancholy fiddle head on. The best cover songs always see the world in a new way to the original (or what’s the point of doing them at all?) without betraying what made them special in the first place. This highlight is a great example of that, as different as it can be and yet it still somehow ‘feels’ like the same song. Exquisite! None of the rest of the two volumes compare (though [107] ‘You and Me’ sounds impressively authentic as a bluegrass number!)

A Now Complete List Of Moody Blues Related Articles At Alan’s Album Archives:
'The Magnificent Moodies' (1965)

'Days Of Future Passed' (1967)

'In Search Of The Lost Chord' (1968)

'On The Threshold Of A Dream' (1969)

'To Our Children's Children's Children' (1969)
‘A Question Of Balance’ (1970)

'Every Good Boy Deserves Favour' (1971)

'Seventh Sojourn' (1972)

'Blue Jays' (Hayward/Lodge) (1976)

'Songwriter' (Hayward) (1977)

'Long Distance Voyager' (1981)

'The Present' (1983)

'The Other Side Of This Life' (1986)

‘Keys To The Kingdom’ (1991)

'Strange Times' (1999)


Surviving TV Clips 1964-2015:

The Best Unreleased Recordings 1961-2009:

Non-Album Recordings Part One 1964-1967:

Non-Album Recordings Part Two 1968-2009:

Solo/Live/Compilation Albums Part One 1969-1977:

Solo/Live/Compilation Albums Part Two: 1979-2015

Essay: Why Being A Moodies Fan Means You Can Never Go Home

No comments:

Post a Comment