Love That We Are Living: A Conversation With Justin Hayward Of The Moody Blues

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Justin Hayward is a legend. He has been producing, writing, performing, and recording iconic music for close to 60 years. He joined The Moody Blues in 1966 and became one of their principal songwriters and for the most part, their lead vocalist. They went on to sell well over 35 million records and were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. He also has had an incredibly successful solo career beginning in 1975 with the now classic Blue Jays he did with fellow Moody Blues member, John Lodge. But he also had success with albums such as Songwriter, Night Flight, and Spirits Of The Western Sky. Not to mention his huge solo hit “Forever Autumn”, from the album Jeff Wayne’s War Of The Worlds, a project he got to revisit in 2022. And in 2022 he was awarded an Order Of The British Empire from the late Queen Elizabeth. A pretty solid career. And now, in 2023 he has released a new single, “Living For Love”, and is embarking on a tour, which includes several dates in Ontario. I recently caught up with Mr. Hayward and we talked about the upcoming tour and his new single.

“I suppose it was an expression about how things were when I was a teenager and the kind of…well I suppose about the things we didn’t have to worry about,” said Hayward about his new single “Living For Love”. “You know, without social media and without much pressure and just being able to be with music and to love each other and to have a good time. Of course, everyone had their problems and individual issues and the way we were brought up but it really was a time in our lives when it revolved around a few records and that was a wonderful thing. Being in love, a few records, and having a nice time.”

For Hayward, looking back and being nostalgic is central to his songwriting. “I tend to see life in that way and not just about being a teenager, but relationships all the way through my life, male or female. It doesn’t really matter. When I find people, I want to be close to them and make sure that they are part of my life.”

Hayward kept himself busy during the past few years with a series called The Tuesday Afternoon videos, which resulted in the album Tuesday Afternoons – The Audio Files.

“That was great fun, with Alberto (Parodi). When it all came down, Alberto was able to get an agreement to travel from the south of France, where I live, to Genoa, which is only about an hour and a half. So, I had permission to go to the studio during the lockdown, so long as I didn’t go anywhere else and it was just me and him, which it was. So, we were contracted to do a couple of things, but then Alberto invested in some quite nice camera equipment, so we just thought there is nothing else happening in the world, it is so quiet. We just started doing those and it became a labour of love, really, to see how we could do it better every week. At the end of it came the new single “Living For Love”, but the whole Tuesday Afternoon Video was so much fun for me and Alberto, I was very lucky.”

Recently, Hayward was asked to return to the stage show of War Of The Worlds. “They asked me to be part of the stage show, which I was very happy to do. I stepped back from it because I didn’t feel I was the juvenile lead anymore. I came back as the experienced narrator. I got to “Forever Autumn” in the original version in the stage show and then I did it as a duet (with Anna-Marie Wayne).”

Which brings up the topic of him playing solo in Ontario, something Hayward has never done. “This is a completely new experience for me. I am looking forward to it very much, for the main reason that I have never toured there before. I am asked to do a lot of stuff, and it comes down to me whether I say yes. I would have loved to do the whole of Canada, right away across. But you know, it’s a big country and I couldn’t find a way to get from the bit on the left to the middle to the bit on the right and a bit to the top. So we chose to go around the Toronto area, with lovely venues and a great promoter. I am looking forward to it very much.”

Hayward is quick to point out that he is not alone. He has a great backup band, one member of which will be opening the show. “Mike Dawes, he will get the vibe going in the building before I go on. He does his own miraculous stuff before he goes on, and Mike becomes part of the band. I have played with Mike for almost 10 years since he was very young. Julie Ragins, whom I’ve known for 20 years, who played with The Moodies. She is one of the finest musicians and singers I have ever known. A recording artist in her own right. Karmen Gould is one of the generation’s brilliant young flute players and so it is a joy to be with them.”

The show itself is a chance for Hayward to play from all aspects of his career. “There is something there from every period from The Moodies times to my own solo things, and I also do “Forever Autumn.” I am very lucky to have written songs that people know and there are a few things we do that we wouldn’t think of getting off stage without playing. We put a few new things in there, and of course “Living For Love”. I don’t think people will go away thinking I wish he had done this, or maybe they will,” he laughed. “It’s not what you perform, it is what you leave out.

“Julie and I were looking at old setlists and she was saying, ‘oh it’s a shame we don’t do such and such anymore’ but we have to move on, and keep the set moving and keep it interesting and I think we have a very balanced set that just feels right to us all. It starts with me, and the other kids join me later on.”

There is a big difference with his recent solo tours and the tours he did with The Moody Blues throughout the years. “It’s quieter,” he conforms. “I love this format, because I am playing such beautiful venues that you can hear everything clearly and that’s important to me now. All of these songs were written on an acoustic guitar or keyboard and I can hear that clearly without having to worry about the balance. I loved every moment with The Moodies and the big shows we did. Now, I am enjoying this. This is the way I want to present the songs and this is what makes me happy.

“But I am not sure there is a comparison. The Moodies were such an experience for me as well. I was very aware we were making a show where there was a kind of barrier between us and the audience but now there is a real connection, the group and the audience.We are in touch with each other and I hope there is some kind of magic that we created when we play. I am in venue with people, not playing at them. The audience who comes to the gigs brings something to each of these songs. We can do “Tuesday Afternoon” in the soundcheck and it sounds great but the audience brings their own magic, their own experience. We are changing the room that we are in, and to be able to feel that…it was a resonance between us and that is what I enjoy. It is almost a supernatural experience.”

Even though Hayward is just preparing for the tour, he is already thinking about future projects.

“I am always working on things, and I only hope someone is listening. I got a few things, I will have several things complete, both Alberto and I as we are a partnership and that we are happy with. Will there be a whole album? I don’t know. I kind of like this way of releasing songs one by one and we’ll get to an album in a couple of years.”

And as for future goals, Hayward keeps it very simple.

“The fact is, I just want the gift of being able to do what I do. That is the greatest thing. I have no yearning, if I did I would have gone on done that. But being able to continue doing exactly what I want to do. As long as my voice is still there, and my fingers can get around the guitar, that is my ambition. To be with the crew and the boys and girls and to enjoy that music together.”

The 2023 Ontario Tour Dates Are As Follows:

May 23, 2023 Grand Theatre, London, ON
May 24, 2023 FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, St. Catharines, ON
May 26, 2023 The Chrysler Theatre, Windsor, ON
May 28, 2023 Danforth Theatre, Toronto, ON
May 29, 2023 Showplace Performance Centre, Peterborough, ON

Article by Aaron Badgley posted in Spill Magazine

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