Moody Blues star Justin Hayward tells Tim Hughes the band is better than ever

Justin Hayward smiles as he casts his mind back over more than 50 years in the music industry.

“I’ve had a few slices of luck,” he says modestly. “People have met and fallen in love to our music. And while we are selfish enough to want to play for our own pleasure, we are happy to have provided part of the soundtrack to people’s lives.”

As guitarist and singer with The Moody Blues, Justin has enjoyed huge commercial success, though a band doesn’t sell 55 million albums or score 18 platinum discs through luck alone.

Combining elements of prog rock and classical music, their best-loved tunes, like the two million record selling Nights in White Satin, have a timeless quality which endures today. And despite the appeal of such favourites as Go Now, Question, Tuesday Afternoon, Ride My See Saw, The Story In Your Eyes and Isn’t Life Strange, they are still going strong — attracting fresh fans with, what Justin, who wrote 20 of the Moodys’ 27 post-1967 singles, describes as their finest ever line-up.

“As a writer and musician, I am always thinking of the next thing; what to do now. And, I must say, this is the best incarnation of The Moodys I’ve been involved with.

“We are really enjoying it and are rediscovering a lot of old songs and playing things on stage we’d only ever played in the studio. The dilemma is not ‘what to play’ it’s ‘what to leave out’. Some things you can’t get off stage without playing.”

On Wednesday, Justin and bandmates John Lodge and Graeme Edge play Oxford’s New Theatre. For Swindon lad Justin, who went to primary school in Shrivenham, now in Oxfordshire, it’s practically a hometown show.

Not that he lives anywhere near Wiltshire now. Home is in the South of France, close to the Italian border, from where he is talking. “The Mediterranean is beautiful and life is good,” he says. “And it’s a lovely place to return to.

“I don’t mean to sound like I don’t love the UK, but I needed to change things in my life.”

Does he have a soft spot for his old Wiltshire home? “I don’t know,” he says, with brutal honesty. “In truth, I realised when I was 10 I really wanted to make my life in music and that I was going to have to move away from Swindon to do that.

“Even though that part of the world had a very respectable semi-pro circuit, I was desperate to leave.

“The thing I do love, though, is the countryside. I still love driving down the M4 and seeing the rolling downs of Wiltshire.”

Justin has been playing in public since buying his first Gibson guitar and Vox amplifier at the age of 15. Starting off playing rock and roll and Buddy Holly covers. At 17 he signed a deal with skiffle legend Lonnie Donegan, and then played alongside Marty Wilde and Wilde’s wife, in the Wilde Three.

He joined the Moodys in 1966 after answering a small ad in the Melody Maker, posted by Eric Burdon of The Animals. Burden had passed on Justin’s details to The Moodys’ Mike Pinder who was searching for a replacement for the band’s singer and guitarist Denny Laine. His impact was enormous, steering the band away from their old rhythm and blues repertoire and embracing a more contemporary sound — completed by Pinder’s use of the mellotron.

Their first album together,1967’s Days of Future Passed, remains a classic of the then-new style of symphonic rock. And their support endures — particularly in America where, earlier this year, 2,000 fans joined the band on a six-day musical ‘Moody Cruise’ from Florida to Jamaica.

But he remains refreshingly honest about the band’s lasting contribution to music.

“We were never anyone’s favourite band — we were always number three. We know our place. But we are lucky to have a strong band community dedicated to the Moodys.

And his favourite song?

“That’s a song called I Know You are Out There Somewhere — which made us pop stars... for a while. And I never get bored. The audience brings something to the show every night.”

When not playing with The Moodys, Justin has carved out a decent career as a solo musician, most notably penning the hits Forever Autumn and The Eve of the War for Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of War of the Worlds. And, as well as spending time in the studio remastering The Moody Blues’ back catalogue, he continues to write, earlier this year releasing his own solo work — Spirits of the Western Sky.

“It’s from the heart and is a labour of love,” he says of the album, which was recorded near his home in Nice. “It’s been a big part of my life for the last couple of years.

“I had been collecting material for 10 or 14 years. I have spent so much time in the studio as a gatekeeper for The Moody Blues’ catalogue but have also been collecting so much material of my own, I decided to do it seriously. And it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. I’m very happy.”

It’s a very ‘Hayward’ type of album, which, while dabbling in bluegrass and even electronic dance music, betrays the artists’s romantic streak. “Relationships are important to me,” he says. “And I seem to fall in love with people — though not in a physical sense. If I meet someone I’m enamoured with, I want to spend time with them.”

So he is a big romantic then? “Yeah, I guess a lot of people from that part of England are,” he says. “They are influenced by the countryside and history. You can’t live around there without being aware of its history, going right back to prehistoric times. The ghosts of the past are always there. And there’s Oxford itself, where I spent many long hours with my father in Blackwell’s looking at books, going to St Giles Fair, and climbing towers.”

While he is grateful for the chances he has had, he does have a couple of regrets. “I’ve been lucky, but I do wish I knew at 17 what I know now,” he says. “In the 60s there were a lot of villains, charlatans and spivs in the industry. It’s not like that now. Then we drifted apart for four years in the 70s. I think if we’d stayed together, we could have reached greater heights.”

So, finally, can we look forward to any of his solo hits at the show? He laughs. “People never forget a song like Forever Autumn, but if I played it live, I’d have two other guys sulking in the corner!”

  • The Moody Blues playthe New Theatre, Oxford on Wednesday, 8pm.
  • Tickets: £39.50 regionally from