What did you get from them?
I grew up with it. We had The Goons in the ’50s, and then Tony Hancock, a very, dare I say English, way of looking at things, a sarcastic, sardonic, resigned schoolboy kind of upbringing that was in every school at the time. And it just resonated completely. Peter Cook opening up the club in the West End just changed everything. And then I think it all came to a head really when he booked Lenny Bruce, who was then kind of censored by the magistrates or whoever the censorship person is. But of course it only made it that much more interesting to have things censored. It just made it more interesting for all the young people.
Did it make your own press conferences more interesting, being able to play with the press in a funny way?
I don’t think we ever had a press conference. I don’t think anybody was really interested in what we were going to say, to be quite honest. We didn’t even have a press agent until the ’70s. It wasn’t something that we thought about.
I know you’re a huge Holly fan. I always think of a Keith Richards line when he said that all Elvis fans dressed in leather and Buddy Holly fans all look like Buddy Holly. What was it about Buddy Holly’s music that was more appealing than Elvis’?
It was the fact that none of us could be Elvis. None of us could imagine ourselves as Elvis. Every girlfriend I had when I was young always loved Elvis. He was always the King. But you could never aspire to that. But with Buddy, suddenly, you had something, “Hey, he’s part of a group, he’s writing the songs, he’s singing, he’s got those fantastic little guitar sound chords, and you could actually do that.” It’s why very few semi-pro groups in the early 1960s would ever attempt to Elvis things unless they had some guy out front. You have to be out front of a group. But with Buddy, you could be in the group, and that’s why there was such an explosion, I think, in the UK. We had Cliff Richards and The shadows, which were fantastic, absolutely wonderful, but there was still somebody out front of the group. I think for all of the musicians, it was just more interesting.
What did Acid bring to the music? Your lyrics have been interpreted, but what musical theory captures the drug or spiritual experience?
What was happening around us resonated with us. The songs are always inspired by what’s happening around us and what’s happening in our personal lives as well and the experiences. So they reflect our own relationships, not particularly romantic ones, but just relationships and people around. I’m not sure that we ever sat around and thought, right, let’s do something to latch on to, a certain kind of event. I think the closest we ever got to that was an album, To Our Children’s Children’s Children, which was really driven by Tony Clarke, our producer. It was something that he really wanted to do, and I’m glad that we were able to share that with him.
The Moody Blues never followed trends, you didn’t go disco. Didn’t John Ledge ever want to do those octave jumps that Bill Wyman did?
I just didn’t think it was in us to jump on a kind of trend. I think after Mike left, we started to think about that more and more. It was nothing deliberate, but I think after Mike left, we were attracted to producers that could really contribute to the sound. Of course, the best of those was Tony Visconti, who we had tremendous success with in the 1980s. Tony is more than 50% part of those hits of “Your Wildest Dreams.” I think he’s someone that really just moved the group forward into a different dimension and is exactly what we needed.
The whole prog rock movement came after us, but somehow, we were put into it later. We were before it, but it seemed to swallow us up. I’m not sure that anyone ever felt like that about exploring those things. So with Tony, I think he gave us a way forward as a sound as well, and we started to learn so much from him, and I think things really did change for us. Probably the audience that I see now when I tour, most of the people, came to the group in the 1980s.
I’d like to say there were more people of my own age, but I think there are more people from that particular era, in the ’80s. I remember that, and the ’90s and the rest of them following that. But the ’80s was such a huge decade for The Moody Blues, to have a couple of number one albums to go round again with success and was just so wonderful for me. I kind of missed it the first time. I wasn’t paying attention. To be straight and sober and clean and to be part of it and to be recognized as well, was a wonderful, wonderful thing that the music business gave us.
When you’re writing a song, how much of the arrangement do you hear? Do you know, “Oh, the strings come in here, I’m going to get a heavy on the percussion here,” when you’re actually composing it?
Yes. I do. Yes, I feel a duty to do that to a song. Yes, I know exactly what’s going to happen, but that’s the joy of it, really making those things work in the studio. Yes, I’ve always felt like that, but then I was one of those kids when I was younger who did my homework and got it out the way. I never came to the studio when I was unsure about anything, about how anything would work. I must have been the group member from hell, because I’d insist on doing what I had in my mind, and I was lucky enough to be in a group that accepted that.
The biggest contribution outside of that was always Mike Pinder and the way he did the Mellotron and the parts that he played, which was something. The phrases that he played, I could never have imagined. I knew where, say the strings, would come in, but someone like Mike and Tony Visconti putting those details on the top makes all the difference.
Besides George Harrison, The Moody Blues are probably at the forefront of exploring different types of Eastern sound. Can you tell me about playing with different strings?
There was, in the upper Tottenham Court Road, a shop that I’d been past, that I’d walked past that had those tablas and sitars. I’m not sure anybody was actually paying attention to it until George drew our attention to it. And then suddenly, we were allowed to explore it. I think George, in a way, gave us permission. I don’t mean he phoned up and said, “You have my permission.” But because he had just been there and it was like, “Oh, that’s so interesting that you have to find out.”
I think most guitar players explore every kind of string instrument that they can get. As soon as I had some money, I was looking into loots and then I bought myself a double bass, which I played on quite a few Moody’s records, a big standup double bass. Probably still in the studio now by the national opera. So I went up there into that shop with Mike one day, and we sat down and I played the sitar, and he played the tambora, which I think is the name for that resonating instrument. And we thought, “Oh, this is absolutely brilliant.” So we came away with a lot of stuff, and it was a joy to use it on an album.
Is meditation any more effective than getting lost in the guitar? Are they the same vibe?
They certainly take you in the same direction. They certainly take you in the same direction. It’s a parallel direction, but it’s the same direction. Yes. I loved every moment of that TN experience that we had, and I’m not sure it’s there anymore in London. But I loved every moment of it.
With four out of five Moodies into TM, did you slide into groove jams?
I think between the four of us, it was myself, Ray, Mike, and Graeme. Between the four of us, it gave us a bond that we went through together under the experience that we went through together. It’s the same four that went through the psychedelic experiences as well. So we had something. We’d opened a particular door together and at the same time, which was a wonderful thing to be able to share. Some took it more seriously than others, but that didn’t matter. All of those things, they’re there for you to take what you need from it and what you want and to be able to give what you can from it.
I think we were able to take those experiences and hopefully pass them on. That’s the only credit, I think, we can take. We were had just an intermediary for some of those moods, and that we refreshed those particular ideas in a different way. Really, we were just middle class kind of English guys taking in what we can and then passing it on, I suppose. But there’s never been any kind of plan. I wish I could say that there was, but things just magically happened, which was by far the best way for them to happen.
I know that you did TM in Eaton Square, the same place as The Beatles. Do you remember the acoustics or the vibe of the place? Was there something about that room that was special?
There was certainly something about the rooms in that building, but there was no acoustics or anything like that. There was just a quiet. There’s a quiet stillness about it. As you got deeper into the rooms, stillness grew and the atmosphere became more precious and truly wonderful. Yes, it’s absolutely clear in my mind. Like I say, some of us took it more seriously than others, which was absolutely brilliant that way, that we weren’t all the same, didn’t all feel the same way about it.
Do you have any favorite cover versions of your songs?
My favorite is Bettye Lavette’s version of “Night in White Satin.” I wrote to her and she wrote back, which I really wasn’t expecting. Bettye Lavette, Bettye has an odd spelling, I’ll let you discover how it is. But she did a version of Nights, which was truly wonderful. And then just lately, somebody did some sample version of “Question,” and I thought, “Oh, that’s absolutely brilliant.” They’re called The Goodie Mob.” [The song is “Power” from the album Age Against The Machine].”
I can’t talk to a Moody Blue without asking about “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window. Whose window was it?
I don’t know. And if I did, I wouldn’t tell you.
You wrote the song, “I Never Thought I’d Live to be a Hundred,” have you had access to views you’d been refused before?
God. The changes in the world are so large and so unexpected, aren’t they? There’s an honest answer, which is, I don’t know. I don’t know. I never thought I’d be a hundred and I never thought I’d be a million. Just seemed like something that was kind of atmosphere and the time that I did something to those recordings, just a small voice on those albums. I don’t think I meant any more than that. It was just something that I thought needed to be there in some way to give it some distance, to add to the distance that the album was providing. We were a group that recorded at night when the rest of the world was silent, and I still do that now. I write when I’m the only person in the world that’s awake, and that’s the way I like it.
I record with a discipline from 10 until seven. But writing is a different thing. To have the opportunity putting that dimension into a record now and again in a quiet way is very rewarding. Particularly with those two little songs, I don’t think there’s anything else on them, just a guitar and voice. Very plain too.
You’ve gone on tour with big bands, the regular band, and you’ve done trios and solo acoustic shows. When you’re not actually in the middle of a tour, which is your favorite?
I love the acoustic thing. I love being with Mike Dawes. He’s an inspiration to me, and Julie Reagans. They’re two of the most inspirational and brilliant people I’ve met in the last 20 years. Mike Dawes’ drive and energy and his playing. Within a minute of meeting him, I was just completely, he had me there. To be with them is a joy, to hear every nuance. I think that’s what Mike likes too. Julie’s of that mind too. She’s sometimes thinking she wants to get things exactly right. With Julie, playing less is somehow more. Sometimes less is more, and she just focuses on the exact parts. How she does that, I don’t know, but she never tries to ad lib or cover up with too much of a swamp of chords or anything like that. She has the instinct to be able to do that. What I’m able to do now, particularly with Karmen Gould, the flute player, I realize now it’s what I’ve always dreamed of doing.
Is the EP going to be part of something larger? Is there is an album coming?
Well, I think that’s down to me and events in the world and how I put the things. I’ve collected so many little parts of things, I have to… Like we said at the beginning, I have to kind of put them together and to make some cohesive sense out of all of these small parts. That’s what I’m going to put my energies into. Yes.
There are bits around, it’s about collecting them and putting them into a format.
I know your tour and your cruise were postponed. Do you get performance interruptus?
Oh, totally, I love being with the crew, I love the humor of being on the road with other people and musicians. Yes, of course. But I’m sure we’ll be back.
What gave you the idea to do cruise tours? Was it because of “Driftwood?”
I wish I could say I had the idea, but we do what we’re offered. It’s just as simple as that. If what we’re offered is nice and we want to take it, then it’s wonderful and enjoyable. I’ve never been able to say, “Well, I’d like to do that, so I’ll go and do it.” I’d like to. I have a lot of things, but we have what people want to share with us and what… The road is about what you’re offered. Sometimes it’s about what you can create if you have that power and that kind of money, but the rest of the time it’s… I’m very grateful, but that’s all. To all the promoters, I just hope everyone survives all of this. We were interrupted there, but I’m sure we’d be back.
Beyond lyrics in music, is there a creative process behind your overall message?
Do I have a message? I’m not sure that I do. I just have something to share. I’m not sure that I have a message.
Will The Moodies be going out again on tour?
The honest answer to that is: I don’t know. I can only give you the honest answer instead of making up some sort of promo idea or something. I don’t know.
The question I wanted to finish with was, you’ve been given answers to the universe through your explorations. Is the lost chord C diminished?
That’s right. God, I think Jimmy Durante had it planned, didn’t he? He’s the one who found us. He wrote the song “I’m the Guy Who Found the Lost Chord.” It’s something we’re all searching for, isn’t it?