Mean, moody and magnificent

POP Moody Blues Royal Albert Hall, London
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`I'm just a singer in a rock 'n' roll band." But Justin, what's with the "just"? You are mega-rich, you've sold 60 million albums and tonight sold out the Albert Hall as well.

Like a sonic seal you and the, ahem, boys basked in a warm pool of appreciation based on long years of loving fandom and at least three greatest hits albums. You sang this crowd out of puberty in the Sixties, through love and marriage in the Seventies, into the suburbs with their kids in the Eighties, and will still be entertaining them in rounded middle-age when the millennium dawns.

And they are going to make you even richer. If they haven't yet replaced their vinyl copies of On the Threshold of a Dream and To Our Children's Children's Children with digitally re-mastered CDs, they will. For a cohort of The Generation, some Moody Blues tracks - "Tuesday Afternoon", "Question" - are going to be played for ever and ever, amen.

As for being an rock 'n roll "band", at the Albert Hall there was a full symphony orchestra, two percussion sets, two keyboard kits, two backing singers as well, of course, as Justin Hayward and John Lodge on guitar, Graeme Edge on whimsical verse and drums and Ray Thomas on flute, tambourine, harp and the sweet, if rather stiff, body movements of a 55-year-old. All that, two cylinders of dry ice and a stroboscopic lighting scheme which gave us enough quasi-psychedelic blobs and whirls to remind us of days of future passed.

To call Justin Hayward and the Moody Blues a rock band is a bit like calling David Frost a satirist - a past identity has given way to something altogether grander. The Blues are an institution. The concert programme called them "rock's most vital and unique resource". In their time much imitated, they can claim to have invented the concept album; they first used a mellotron and gave us rock with big string backing. They are the group that launched a thousand AOR stations.

"Age has not withered them," said a poet a little more original than Graeme Edge. (He got the embarrassment of his versifying out of the way at the start of the show when he came on in the dark and intoned several lines of numbing banality that it takes a real fan to stomach.) No, age has been relatively kind to a band that always had that soft chasing-the- clouds-away side to it. Justin Hayward and John Lodge did a bit of business along the stage front with their guitars but it's parody and we all laughed.

Committed, gut-churning rock, it wasn't. What this "greatest hits" concern offered instead was two well-turned back-catalogue sets, showcasing each of the four in turn. Musically, the orchestral arrangements were not elaborate. The Moody Blues have not "grown" since the summer of '69. But why tamper with a winning formula?

"I know you're out there somewhere," Jason sang. He did not have to look far. Before arthritis sets in, the Moody Blues will deservedly sell out big venues such as this as often as they care to play them.

David Walker

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