Updated March 2015
Graeme Edge vocal, drums
Denny Laine vocal, guitar, harmonica (left 1966)
Mike Pinder vocal, piano, mellotron
Ray Thomas vocal, harmonica, flute
Clint Warwick vocal, bass guitar (left 1966)
Justin Hayward vocal, guitar, sitar (joined 1966)
John Lodge vocal, bass guitar, cello (joined 1966)
The Moody Blues were the first of the Brum Beat bands to become internationally famous and would later have a huge influence on what became known as the "progressive" music scene. Formed in May of 1964 in Birmingham and first known as The Moody Blues Five (M&B5), they took their name from the local M&B brewing company in hope of getting sponsorship. The group members came from various Birmingham bands who are worth mentioning as follows:
Lead singer and guitarist Brian Hines (Denny Laine) was born 29th October 1944 and lived in Holcombe Road, Tyseley. One of his earliest bands was 'Johnny Dean and The Dominators' who played regularly at The Mermaid pub on Stratford Road. Johnny Dean was an early alias for Brian who worked at Rackhams by day but he would soon turn professional in 1962 with the new name of 'Denny Laine' and fronting 'The Diplomats', a well known Midlands group that also included future Move and E.L.O. drummer Bev Bevan (see Denny Laine and The Diplomats).
Ray Thomas was born in Stourport on 29th December 1942. As a teenager in Erdington, he joined a skiffle band called 'Saints and Sinners' during the late 1950s in which he played the tea-chest bass. Apprenticing as an engineer, Ray formed his first professional band 'El Riot and The Rebels' as their lead singer and harmonica player. The line-up also included drummer Bob Sheward as well as guitarists Brian Betteridge and John Lodge who was born in Birmingham on July 20, 1945. Also living in Erdington on Wheelwright Road was piano player Mike Pinder, born 27th December 1941. He played part-time with El Riot and The Rebels and had previously led his own group called The Rocking Tuxedo's.
El Riot and The Rebels became known for their stage show for which they wore Mexican cowboy outfits. They managed to become regulars on the Noel Gordon hosted 'Lunchbox' television show. John Lodge switched to bass guitar when the band acquired Mike Heard as lead guitarist. El Riot and The Rebels eventually split in 1963 when they were offered some lengthy bookings in Germany but only Ray Thomas and Mike Pinder were willing to go and John Lodge wanted to stay and complete his drafting apprenticeship. Thomas and Pinder formed a new group called The Krewcats (not to be confused with Shadows drummer Brian Bennett's band of that name) and went over to Germany from May to November of 1963.
Meanwhile back in Birmingham, Graeme Edge who was born 30th March 1944 and lived in Coventry Road, Small Heath, was playing drums in a group called Gerry Levene and The Avengers. This band also included Jim Onslow on bass guitar and guitarist Mike Hopkins who would later join The Diplomats. Gerry Levene was the stage name for Aston singer Micky Gibbs. For a short time, the Avengers lead guitarist was Roy Wood (see Mike Sheridan and The Nightriders).
Albert Eccles from Aston, was born on 25th June 1940, and had started playing guitar as a member of a band called 'The Rainbow Boys'. He changed his name to the more suitable 'Clint Warwick' after joining Danny King's Dukes as their bass guitarist (see Danny King). They were well known throughout the Midlands and also managed to secure a season at Butlins holiday camp in Scotland.
When Ray Thomas and Mike Pinder got back from Germany at the end of 1963, they found the Birmingham music scene made up of bands that imitated either The Shadows or The Beatles. The Spencer Davis Group was at that time standing apart from the rest with their exciting Rhythm & Blues based sound so Danny King and Clint Warwick along with Graeme Edge and Gerry Levene of The Avengers, decided that R&B was the sort of music to play. Denny Laine from the Diplomats was also interested to start a new project, so the group started rehearsing and came up with the name 'The Soul Preachers'. Gerry Levene soon left after falling-out with Denny Laine.
A chance meeting with Ray Thomas and Mike Pinder at the Moathouse Club resulted in them also joining the line-up although by that time, Danny King had lost interest in the project. Forging ahead, a plan was put in place to gain sponsorship from the Birmingham-based Mitchells & Butlers brewery so the name 'M&B Five' was adopted. Unfortunately, the beer company was not interested in sponsoring a pop group so the initials were adapted to represent "Moody" and "Blues". An early gig poster shows the group billed as The Moody Blues "5".
In May of 1964, the Moody Blues were rehearsing and performing regularly at Birmingham's 'Carlton Ballroom' (later to become famous as 'Mothers' club) in Erdington. Their blue suited act was spotted by London manager Tony Secunda who would go on to play a major role in the careers of several Brumbeat groups. Secunda got the band to perform a regular spot at London's famous Marquee Club and shortly after, arranged a record deal with the Moody Blues signing to the prestigious Decca Records label.
Denny Laine was later quoted in a magazine feature as saying; "We had the most terrible rows when we started as we were all used to having our own way. But the chap who was training us (Secunda) made us knuckle under to the firmest discipline and eventually we all got pulling together. Now we trust and respect each other completely."
Produced by Alex Murray (Alex Wharton), The Moody Blues' first single titled 'Steal Your Heart Away' was a soulful effort and the B-side 'Lose Your Money', co-composed by Denny Laine and Mike Pinder was an energetic though typical beat-style recording. The single did not chart but the Moody Blues appeared on TV for the first time on the popular show 'Ready Steady Go!'
Looking for hit material, the Moodies second single was an inventive arrangement of an obscure song by American singer Bessie Banks. Denny said; "We knew a schoolboy named James Hamilton who had a fantastic record collection. He knew a New York disc jockey B. Mitchell Reed, and through them we got a lot of material which nobody else was doing - like 'Steal Your Heart Away' and 'Barefootin'. 'Go Now' was another one. Bessie Banks did a great version - slow like 'Love Letters' but we bopped it up, put harmonies on it, made it sort of gospel in our own limited way" said Denny.
The recording featured a group vocal backing that would become a Moody Blues trade mark. The song was 'Go Now' and it became a worldwide hit for the Moody Blues in late 1964, reaching Number One in the British charts and also making top ten in the USA. This sudden success resulted in many radio and TV appearances for the group plus a hectic schedule of both national and international touring (to read record producer Alex Wharton's true story of the historic Go Now recording session click HERE).
A follow-up single proved hard to find but the Moodies first album was hurriedly recorded to cash in on the success of Go Now. The LP consisted mostly of songs the band were performing in their stage show in addition to four original tracks co-composed by Denny Laine and Mike Pinder. The list included favourites like James Brown's 'I Go Crazy', George Gershwin's classic 'It Ain't Necessarily So' (sung by Ray Thomas) and the Laine/Pinder composition 'From The Bottom Of My Heart' which was also issued as a single.
Pop star 'Donovan' wrote an interesting introduction for the Moody Blues LP back cover; "...Their writing has all the sensitiveness an' feeling that makes music cool to listen to. The tracks on this LP will show the sort of scene they have got going. You will probably call it contemporary blues - it could be if you want it to be. It doesn't matter, just let it pass through you".
Another original Laine/Pinder song by The Moody Blues 'Stop' was issued as a single in the U.S.A. and managed to get a chart placing there. The band were soon sent over to America on a package tour together with chart-toppers 'Peter & Gordon' and fellow brummies The Fortunes. The Moodies performed at the NME Poll Winners concert at Wembley to an audience of 60,000. They also obtained the prestigious position of playing support for The Beatles on their 1965 British tour.
Despite the massive success of Go Now, subsequent singles by the Moody Blues had diminishing impact on the record charts. This was at a time when pop groups depended on regular hit singles rather than album sales for their survival. The Moody Blues' self composed fifth single 'Everyday' released in October 1965 had only got to Number 44 in the charts despite its commercial appeal. By 1966 the group were obliged to reduce their booking fees while playing more and more gigs to keep up with expenses. Beatles manager Brian Epstein had taken over management of the Moody Blues in September 1965 but this did little to improve their situation.
The Moody Blues' refusal to record a song called 'Those Were The Days' as suggested by The Beatles' own Paul McCartney may not have helped things either as far as their record company was concerned. The song was later covered by Apple recording artist Mary Hopkin who had a huge international hit with it. By the summer of 1966, the intense pressure the band found themselves under was beginning to take it's toll.
In August, bass guitarist Clint Warwick who disliked touring, left the Moody Blues at the end of an American tour. As the only married band member, he quit the music business and went back to Birmingham to work as a carpenter. Clint Warwick passed away in 2004 (see the Brum Beat Clint Warwick story). He was replaced temporarily by Rod Clarke who later joined The Rockin' Berries.
Before the end of the year, Denny Laine also decided to leave the Moody Blues and embarked on a solo career (see Denny Laine). Towards the end of 1966, the group were faced with the prospect of performing on the cabaret circuit to make ends meet. Drummer Graeme Edge recalled; "We were tagged one-hit-wonders. We had nine months of glory and then went back to 50 pound a night on the road!"
Replacement band members were bass guitarist John Lodge (formerly of El Riot and The Rebels) who had completed his drafting apprenticeship and was playing in a Birmingham group over in Germany called the John Bull Breed along with former Rebels guitarist Mike Heard. Denny Laine's position in the new Moody Blues line-up was filled by singer/guitarist Justin Hayward who came from Swindon.
Justin Hayward was born on October 14, 1946. He was previously in a band called 'The Wilde Three' (with singer Marty Wilde) and had also recorded a single issued under his own name. Meanwhile, Decca Records continued to release 'new' Moody Blues singles from material that had been recorded with the original line up of the band including the Mike Pinder/Denny Laine composition 'Boulevard De La Madeleine' which has been regarded by some as one of their best tracks.
The first single to be recorded by the new Moody Blues line-up was Justin Hayward's 'Fly Me High', a deliberate and catchy attempt on the record charts, that was released in May of 1967. Despite airplay on pirate radio stations, the single failed to gain a chart position. Interestingly, the song was later covered by Ambrose Slade as a track on their first album in 1969.
The Moody Blues had changed their musical direction by early 1967 with Mike Pinder supplementing his piano with a Mellotron - a revolutionary and mechanically-complex instrument that used a system of pre-recorded tapes to create a distinctive orchestral/atmospheric sound and was forerunner of today's modern electronic sampling keyboards. This, combined with group-written songs having mystical lyrics, and complex arrangements set them apart from other pop acts of that time. They even included spoken poetry between the songs.
The Moody Blues' innovative stage presentation started to gain them a new audience and the band toured France in the summer of 1967 (note: the Mellotron was developed and manufactured by the Bradley Brothers at Streetly Electronics in Birmingham. Mike Pinder also worked at Streetly Electronics in the early 1960s. To read more about the Mellotron, click HERE or see the feature on the Brum Beat Features page).
Decca Records became interested in the Moody Blues' new "progressive" sound and proposed an experiment where the group would record an album of classical compositions supported by a full symphony orchestra. The record company intended to use the results of this as a means of demonstrating their new "Deramic" stereo recording process. The Moody Blues went a step further and with the co-operation of orchestral arranger Peter Knight and producer Hugh Mendl, recorded an entire album of their own music in just five days with the London Festival Orchestra.
The recording sessions introduced the band to Tony Clarke who would go on to produce the Moodies' biggest-selling albums. Despite initial reluctance by the record company, the resulting collection of completed tracks entitled 'Days Of Future Passed', was released on the Decca subsidiary Deram label that was specialising in progressive music.
Days Of Future Passed - issued in November of 1967 - was a milestone in music, giving rise to the "concept album" format. It reached Number 27 in the UK and Number 3 in the USA charts thus gaining the band a foot-hold on the all-important American market. The album was to become a huge influence on many other groups for years to come.
From the album came the Moody Blues' classic single 'Nights In White Satin', written by Justin Hayward, and reaching Number 9 in the UK, becoming their first Top 20 hit since Go Now. Another innovative single 'Tuesday Afternoon' reached Number 24 in the USA and sell-out concert tours soon followed.
The Moody Blues' next album issued in 1968 titled 'In Search Of The Lost Chord' was a major success on both sides of the Atlantic and it featured the songwriting efforts of all the group members. Unlike their previous album, this record had the band playing all the instruments themselves without orchestral backing. The album included the classic song 'Legend Of A Mind' composed by Ray Thomas as a tribute to the American LSD pioneer Timothy Leary and is probably one of the great album tracks of all time.
New singles were also released including Justin Hayward's 'Voices In The Sky' and John Lodge's 'Ride My See Saw' which both scored high chart placings. In 1969 the Moody Blues released the album On The Threshold Of A Dream which topped the charts in the UK and scoring high in the USA. The success inspired the band to form their own Threshold Records label and record shops.
The Moody Blues would continue their international success well into the 1970s. After a six year break to concentrate on solo projects, the group re-formed in the late 70's and early 80's to make more top selling records. Keyboard player and founding member Mike Pinder left the group in 1978 to be replaced by Patrick Moraz.
Ray Thomas retired from the band in 2003 due to health concerns. Although the Moody Blues record releases have not been so frequent since, they continue to tour and remain the most successful of all the Birmingham groups from the 1960s in terms of longetivity and international acclaim.
Copyright © John R Woodhouse
The Moody Blues 1960s Record Releases (highest UK chart position in brackets)
The Official Moody Blues Web Site: www.moodyblues.co.uk
Mike Pinder: www.mikepinder.com
Ray Thomas: www.raythomas.me
Denny Laine: www.dennylaine.com
John Lodge: www.johnlodge.com
Justin Hayward: www.justinhayward.com
An excellent site by Tony Brown dedicated to the early Moody Blues line-up is: www.themoodyblues.co.uk