John Lodge Rocking on the High Seas!

John Lodge – Rocking on the High Seas!

By Ralph Chapman,

Invigorated by the release of his solo album Ten Thousand Light Years Ago earlier this year, Moody Blues’ bassist John Lodge is now gearing up for next year’s annual Moody Blues Cruise, a four night extravaganza on the high seas that sees the band headlining its own fabulous floating festival with a bevy of additional support acts including The Zombies, The Strawbs and John Waite among others.   In this Q & A, John Lodge discusses with writer Ralph Chapman, the ‘Moody Cruise’ and his latest solo record, while touching on the band he has played with for the past five decades.

Ralph: I was reading an interview with Justin (Hayward) from last year where he mentioned that he had never thought about The Moody Blues going on a cruise, and never thought the band would be about something like that, but how eventually he came around to the idea.  What was your initial reaction to the concept?

John: They came to us a few years ago with the idea of doing the cruise, and from an historical point of view, doing a cruise as an entertainer, felt like the end of the line, like it was the end of your career.  We have a saying in England, ‘it’s like being at the end of the pier’.  I couldn’t quite get ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ and ‘cruise’ together. Eventually, we took a meeting with Mike London, the guy who organized everything and he said, “Look, no, you’ve got this wrong, the whole ship will be The Moody Blues.  It’s not a cruise and you’re the entertainment.  The whole idea is, it’s like a festival, a Moody Blues fest at sea.” And that’s really what convinced me.  I thought, “This could be really good.”  If you’ve got a lot of other artists on the bill as well, and you’ve got 3000 people sailing around the Caribbean all having a good time listening to music, I thought, “That sounds like a great idea”.  And when we did the first one, it turned out to be exactly like that. The atmosphere was fabulous.  It really was like one of the original festivals.

Ralph: One of the interesting things I saw on Youtube, was you doing ‘Nervous’ on the cruise, and it was neat to see a deep cut like that being done.   I’m wondering if the cruise allows you an opportunity to do material you maybe haven’t done for a while?

John: Yeah, there is another part of the cruise, which is really nice, which we came to understand and do. We do a question and answer segment.  During that period of time we’ll probably play songs we’ve never played before, acoustically, and they may not even be Moody Blues songs, it might be one of someone else’s.  You may be talking about how you became a musician and one of my roots of becoming a musician was listening to Buddy Holly.  And I talked about that, and Justin and I talked about that, one of these evenings, we’d bring a guitar out and start singing ‘Peggy Sue’.  You know, this is how you developed as a musician, as an artist, as a songwriter.  We can revisit other songs.  On the cruise last year, I did a version of ‘Tortoise And The Hare’, and I got the audience to sing ‘It’s all right, it’s all right.’  And it was great to have a thousand people be your vocal backing group.

Ralph: Did you have any apprehension at first about having that kind of engagement with the fans?

John: Not really.  Moody Blues fans are so loyal and you have to remember, we all get there for one reason only, to be successful.  We want to be successful on stage and the audience wants it to be successful for them, because they’ve gone there to enjoy themselves, perhaps relive memories or remake memories or make new memories.  It’s one of those things where you all get together and enjoy.

Ralph: Has a fan ever stumped you because they seem to know the minutiae of your life and your work?

John: Sometimes they’ll ask a question about something in which I haven’t ever thought about.  But one of the things that was really strange, when we first began, and we had success with Days Of Future Passed and In Search Of The Lost Chord, was communicating with the audience, or the fans, and they would ask a question about a song and you’d tell them what it was about, and sometimes they would say, “No, it’s not about that at all. It’s about this.” And it was a really interesting look on our songs, because you’re saying, “No, I actually wrote about this”, and a fan would say, “You may have written it that way, but we believe it really means this.” It was a strange time to be questioned about the things that you’d written.  Who’s to know?

Ralph: Was there a point where you thought it was better to let them keep the myth?

John: Well, yeah.  When you listen to music you interpret it in your own way, anyway.

Ralph: Do you have time to commiserate with some of the other musicians that come with you on the cruise?

John: Yeah, of course.  We got Brian Howe from Bad Company on the cruise, and I got him to do backing vocals on my new album.  There is a connection and it’s really nice.  But it is a bit like a festival where you do your concert, and then you go and get changed or whatever, and the next act is on.  So, it can be difficult to actually meet up. We did Glastonbury this year and it was really good because I bumped in to old mates like Andy Fairweather-Low and we spent time talking to each other.  It’s a very parochial business rock ‘n’ roll.  Very small.  It’s nice to talk to other musicians about music and life.

Ralph: Speaking of life. I wanted to ask you about one of the songs from your new record, Ten Thousand Light Years Ago, that I really like, ‘Lose Your Love’.

John: Yes.  It’s one of those things, it’s two o’clock in the morning and you think, “Oh, I’ve gone and blown it again.” It’s a love song about the very quietness in your own mind, and the quietness of the room, when you’re feeling really lonely, and you’re thinking about someone and the way they look at you.  There is a line in there, ‘I wish I’d said the things I’d never said before.’ People never ever say that, they always say it the other way ‘round.  ‘I wish I’d never said…’ And I wanted that line to come out.  It’s a song about relationships, but it doesn’t have to be one and one, it can mean a lot of things.

Ralph: You co-wrote three songs with Alan Hewitt on this record. What effect did that partnership have on you?

John: Alan is wonderful.  He seems to understand what I’m after, and when I describe how an orchestral part should be, or go, he seems to know what I’m trying to get to, and that’s really important. When you write a song, in your mind you can hear the finished record, it’s sometimes difficult to translate that.   But, when you find someone who is on the same wavelength as you, it becomes easy.

Ralph: You’ve been hounded no doubt about when a new Moody Blues record is coming. Was it easier to do a solo album?

John: From a Moody Blues point of view, the band is really important to me, and I would hate to make a Moody Blues album that escaped completely.  Making a solo album is different because I hope that I’m still progressing musically in a way that people will enjoy, and even if you have to find this album years after it was released, it doesn’t really matter.   What’s really important for me is that I’ve written and recorded something I really believe in.

Ralph: I also enjoy the length of the record.  It’s kind of old school.  A half hour. It’s exactly the time the album needs to be.

John: I was very definite about how long I wanted the album to be. One reason was, I’d like people to listen to the record as a whole, and people don’t have that much time these days.  Also, I wanted to release the album on vinyl, with big deep grooves, and you can’t do that with a really long album.  I wanted the sound to be the best it could be, and that’s why I went to Abbey Road, because they have the best cutting engineers, and the best equipment.  It was all part of the album sounding exactly how I wanted it to be.

Ralph:  Did you have a different mastering approach with the vinyl versus the cd?

John: No.  Alan Hewitt was very good on this, because he knew a fantastic mastering engineer.

Ralph: You co-wrote with Alan on the new record, and The Moody Blues has seen you collaborate a lot with Justin. Do you think you will continue that writing partnership?

John: I hope so. It’s just finding the right vehicle to be able to do it.  As I said before, there is nothing worse than writing and recording a song and it escaping.  I don’t know in what form any more collaborations will take, but it’s always a joy to work with Justin.

Ralph: Historically, how did you two divvy up the lyrics or figure out who was going to sing when you collaborated?

John: There was no set formula whatsoever.  We would sit down together in Justin’s studio or my studio and get out a couple of acoustics and start playing. One of us would have an idea about a chord sequence or a lyric idea and we would explore it together.

Ralph: I was listening to Strange Times and I was struck again by one of your songs,  ‘Forever Now’, and I was wondering if there have been songs of yours where you felt they slipped through the cracks, where you thought, “Gee, that was a real good one, but it hasn’t had the notoriety it probably should.”

John: There probably is, really.  There is a Christmas album we did, December, and there is a song on it called ‘The Spirit Of Christmas’, and that one meant a lot to me.  But it comes down to the listener, and the radio stations, and the media as to whether these songs get picked up.

Ralph: I know the band has put out a couple of box sets over the years, and deluxe editions of the ‘Classic 7’ records, but I read a recent interview with you where you described the demo of ‘Gemini Dream’, and I’m wondering if demos and work tapes are something the band would ever consider releasing?

John: I’m never too sure about this.  From an interest point of view, it is really nice to know how an artist came to do a particular song or produce a particular record.  And I’ve actually bought lots of original ‘how did they do it’ type things by Buddy Holly and The Everly Brothers to see how these songs developed.  But I don’t know…

Ralph: With the fiftieth anniversary of Days Of Future Passed coming, are you feeling pressure to celebrate it in some kind of meaningful way?

John: I think we will.  We’re planning something now; Justin and I have been talking about it.  It was a really important album for The Moody Blues and it would be remiss not to celebrate it.

Ralph: It’s really up there with the Sgt. Pepper’s… and Pet Sounds and Are You Experienced as a genre defining record.

John: Thanks for saying that.  We want to celebrate it, and we will.  We’ll be ready for the fiftieth anniversary…    

The Moody Blues Cruise runs February 26, 2016 to March 1, 2016.

John Lodge’s new record Ten Thousand Light Years Ago is available on Cherry Red Records.