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Flash back 40 years. Picture a college dorm room, its walls swathed in black-light posters, the air heavy with the smell of incense and 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 the UK's Moody Blues, whose penchant for cosmic consciousness and surreal setups made them favorites among the stoner set in the late '60s and early '70s.
Now flash forward to the present day. Though some folks 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 'n' Roll Band)." This consistency has been rewarded, because the Moodys have experienced something of a renaissance 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 by phone from the UK. 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 as one might imagine, given the soothing, caressing vocals that became a signature sound in tandem with the band's dreamy melodies.
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"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 — the aging hippies who once scoured every lyric and album cover for celestial revelations, as well as those who discovered the band in a later incarnation — continue to revere them. Despite the fact that they have recorded infrequently over the past couple of decades (their 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, he confesses he occasionally gets 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," he recalls. "I miss those days, but I don't particularly want to go back to living in a bed-sitting room or wondering if my car is going to get down the motorway. I'd rather be on the bus on a nice U.S.A. tour and staying in nice hotels."