Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Tuesday 10th September 2019
When Justin Hayward plays Birmingham it inevitably feels like a home-coming. Even though he was born in Swindon (“that place that everyone passes on the M4”, he laughs), Birmingham is the home town of prog rock pioneers The Moody Blues, of which Justin Hayward was such a vital part.
And so it was that the faithful came to Birmingham Town Hall from across, not only the city but the Midlands to pay homage to this quiet and modest rock and roll legend.
Justin’s All The Way tour has promised to look back over his extensive 50-plus years and did just that with a lovely selection of his Moody Blues’ favourites from the classic years in the ’60s and ’70s.
Arriving on stage accompanied by the latest member of his touring ensemble, flautist Karmen Gould, Justin opened with Who Are You Now? from his Blue Jays collaboration with John Lodge before they were joined by his regular touring companions Julie Ragins (keyboards and backing vocals) and guitar virtuoso Mike Dawes. Together they quickly hit their stride with the Moody’s Dawning is the Day and then Tuesday Afternoon from the Days of Future Passed album that gently began the prog revolution in 1967.
A cardboard cutout of the ‘young Justin’ made a brief appearance on stage, nattily-clad in white bell-bottoms, to introduce more Moody’s favourites from Justin’s pen: Voices in the Sky and The Actor, plus some which are getting their first airing for a while. This may be due to the addition of American flautist Karmen who beautifully recreated the dear-departed Ray Thomas flute parts that so characterised the Moody’s albums. Justin recalled a broom cupboard that he and Ray used to frequent in the Decca studios at Broadhurst Gardens to create some of those memorable melodies. There was warm applause for Karmen’s flute solo in the middle of Are You Sitting Comfortably?
Justin also recalled his childhood, in Swindon, staring at the sunsets with his late brother Richard whilst dreaming of their rock and roll heroes. This influenced his more recent The Western Sky, a track dripping in classic Justin Hayward style and the equal of any of his work from the early days. To reflect this more recent masterpiece, the whole show is set against a warm sunset backdrop with waves lapping around the rocks.
He also relates how he had a call that led to his recording of Forever Autumn for Jeff Wayne’s musical version of War of the Worlds: “I don’t usually record other people’s songs”, he said, “but on this occasion I’m so glad I did. Wherever we go, this song is known the world over.”
The set did include a couple of ‘more recent’ Moody’s tracks, Haunted from the 1999 album Strange Times and 1986’s Your Wildest Dreams.
Of course, to finish the set, Justin ups the tempo with the Moody’s biggest chart hit Question, and the song for which he – and they – are most famous, the beautiful Nights in White Satin. Even now, this elder statesman of rock still has that dreamy soft voice and I’m jealous of those long blonde locks!
With the audience on their feet Justin and his group returned for a well-deserved encore and, for just this one number, Justin was holding his red electric Gibson to deliver those distinctive, crisp opening notes to Blue Guitar. Back to his acoustic guitars and the encore was completed with The Story in Your Eyes and I Know You’re Out There Somewhere, and another standing ovation.
Justin Hayward’s All The Way tour continues until the 18th September.
[Photographs by Geoff Ford]
Who Are You Now?
Dawning is the Day
Voices in the Sky
Are You Sitting Comfortably?
The Western Sky
Never Comes the Day
Your Wildest Dreams
Nights in White Satin
The Story in Your Eyes
I Know You’re Out There Somewhere