Flash back 40 years. Picture a college dorm room, its walls swathed with black-light posters, the air heavy with the smell of incense and engulfed in thick clouds of pungent smoke. Its occupants seem preoccupied with resolving the secrets of the universe, despite coughing up the intake from a hookah while giving way to uncontrolled bouts of giddy, contagious laughter. The soundtrack to this revelry comes courtesy of a British band called the Moody Blues, a group whose penchant for cosmic consciousness and surreal setups made them favorites among the stoner set back in the late '60s and early '70s.
Now flash-forward to the present. Though some see them as relics of that earlier age, the Moody Blues are still going strong, bolstered by three members of their classic lineup: singer/guitarist Justin Hayward, bassist/vocalist John Lodge, and drummer Graeme Edge. They still mine an expansive cache of psychedelic standards — songs such as "Nights in White Satin," "Tuesday Afternoon," "Ride My See-Saw" and the anthemic "I'm Just a Singer (in a Rock and Roll Band)." This consistency has been rewarded, as the Moodys have experienced something of a renaissance in recent years, thanks to increased touring, various reissues, and frequent appearances on public television fundraisers.
"We seem to be offered more nowadays than when we were young, so I think we could work every night of the year if possible," Hayward says recently by phone from the U.K. Not surprisingly, he seems genuinely delighted by the prospects of his band's current outing, which will crisscross its home country as well as the United States. Articulate and urbane, Hayward comes across just as one would imagine, given the soothing, caressing vocals that became a signature sound in tandem with the band's dreamy melodies.
"We had a couple of hit singles in the '80s — 'Wildest Dreams' and 'I Know You're Out There Somewhere' — and I think they brought a new core audience," he says. "And a lot of the older fans have come back. Their kids have grown up, and it's OK to go to a concert again, and they're coming back to see us again... people who knew us from the '60s and '70s. In the '90s, PBS was always very good to us, and we did a lot of concerts for them. A lot of people came to us through that kind of message. So it's a very mixed audience, and I hope there's something there for everybody."
The fans who grew up with the Moodys — both the aging hippies who once scoured every lyric and album cover for celestial revelations and those who discovered them in a later incarnation — continue to revere the group. Despite the fact that the band has recorded only infrequently over the past couple of decades (its last album, a seasonal set dubbed December, was released three years ago), the music still resonates.
"There are a lot of people who relate to the stuff we did when we were young, and maybe that enhances some common experience," Hayward muses. "We're very lucky that that's what happened with us. We've become part of people's lives. Maybe we're not everyone's favorite band, but we're there in the background."
As for Hayward himself, he confesses that occasionally he's swept up by the sentiment. "I do get nostalgic for the way we would tour in the '60s and early '70s, particularly when you had five or six different groups on the bill. You got to know all the other musicians. It was a nice club, and we were particularly fortunate, looking back on it now. I miss those days, but I don't particularly want to go back to living in a bedsitting room or wondering if my car is going to get down the motorway. I'd rather be on the bus on a nice USA tour and staying in nice hotels."