conducted by Robert Silverstein for mwe3.com
Is (Still) The
MP: Yeah, when they were doing the vocal overdubs actually. The ‘roll-ups’.
RS: That must have been great!
MP: It was! It’s like I made it onto a Beatles record, breathing rather! Breathing on there.
RS: Going back to the Imagine album. How did you hook back up with John Lennon then?
MP: Just because we would visit occasionally. We’d meet each other in the clubs or somewhere like that and we’d go do things. I remember going out one night with John and Bob Dylan. It was just the three of us in John’s car. We were just driving around London going to different clubs and things and just having a great time.
RS: Was that the first time you met Bob Dylan?
MP: Actually it was the first time I think that I met Bob Dylan. But we had a great time. John also, he had a ‘hailing’ microphone and speaker attached to the car. It was like an Austin limo. When we’d gone through the streets, John would pull out the microphone and go ‘hey-o pull over!’, y’know so people would be looking around, stopping, walking on the pavement looking around going ‘where is that?’, ‘who is that?’ We would sort be nonchalantly driving by.
RS: That’s incredible. Weren’t you supposed to play mellotron on Imagine? Apparently Lennon’s mellotron was in a state of disrepair.
MP: Yeah, it was in a big mess. I was actually going to play some mellotron but when I saw the state it was in it was like ‘this isn’t going to be repaired in 10 minutes’. Because everybody else was there ready to go, rehearsed and so I said, ‘well how about if I play a little tambourine?’ They said, ‘sure’. So I just grabbed a tambourine, which I played on all the Moodies tracks, all the tambourine on the Moodies stuff was mine. And I grabbed a tambourine and there wasn’t a spare microphone so I went over to Jim Keltner and I said, ‘can I share your high-hat microphone?’ and we got a balance and away we went and we did it. Right off, I never heard the song before. Flying by the seat of my pants!
RS: The time signature of that song, “I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier”, was really unusual.
MP: It is very unusual and I was in on the deep end. I’d never heard it before.
RS: But you didn’t miss a beat!
MP: I was flying! Y’know...
RS: Do you remember the first time you introduced the mellotron to the other guys in the Moody Blues?
MP: Obviously I told them about it. And then the time came when we found that used one. We got the phone call that there was a used one in Birmingham at the Dunlop factory social club. It was there and had never been used. 300 pounds and it was mine kind of thing. So we got 300 pounds together and went down and got it. That’s when I plugged it up and that was when everybody got to see what it could do. We were doing whatever gigs we could at that time. It was a reforming of the band. 1966 is when I started using it on stage.
RS: This was before Denny Laine left the group or after?
MP: It was after Denny left. When we reformed with Justin.
RS: So this was during the time when you were recording songs like “A Simple Game” and “Cities”?
MP: Yeah. That and some of the old Moodies stuff too. When we first started out, just so we could play gigs, we had to play a repertoire we already knew. So we had to play some of the old band’s stuff and then gradually started introducing the new material.
RS: On another note, do you have alot of unreleased mellotron music in your archives?
MP: Actually I don’t. I’m not so much of a hoarder as you might think. There isn’t alot, no. I use most of what I do. I’ve got probably 20 or 30 small little demos that I’ve done over the years of things, but nothing I would consider releasable.
RS: I heard there was a fifteen minute version of “The Voyage” from the Threshold Of A Dream album.
MP: No way. Fifteen did you say? Well it might have been if we were on stage. It might have been all happening that night. Or we were so tired we’d slow it down and it seemed longer! (laughter)
RS: The music business has changed so much over the past 30-35 years. Is there a way to compare the business to the way it was back during the ‘60 and early ‘70s?
MP: I think I should refer to the Threshold Of A Dream album cover where there’s a metallic, robot-type entity clutching different, various life forms and squeezing tight representing freedom of thought and expression and creativity. That certainly says alot about what the record business is like today. There’s this old saying that, ‘all business is show business’ and that’s true and if you see what’s happening in show business it’s happening everywhere else. The people who are running the record companies are not running the record companies because they love music, they’re running them because they love the stock market. Nothing’s related to it’s intention anymore. We’ve all become just pawns in their big financial game.
RS: Could you say something about the latest round of Moody Blues reissues? I guess you’re not too happy that they’ve omitted the lyric sheets from the CD album art?
MP: Yeah, disgusting. I was really pissed off and I called the guy in London, the computer guy who ended up doing the (Moody Blues) box set. The way I feel about it is, I was talking about doing box sets in the late ‘60s when we were doing Days Of Future Past, In Search Of The Lost Chord and On The Threshold Of A Dream and so on. I was talking in our studio about, let’s make albums that people want to collect. I remember saying this to everyone. Let’s make albums that everyone wants to collect, like they collect classical albums. You know, you would see people’s classical collections, in boxes up on their shelves with their favorite books and everything. I was 20 years ahead of the record companies as far as doing a box set after we’d made seven major albums y’know. When the record company finally came around to doing a box set, what did they do? They didn’t call Tony Clarke, our producer. And it just went downhill from there. The way they did the box set, which was a compilation of all the things was absolutely the wrong thing to do with Moody Blues stuff. It was like taking a chapter from an author’s books, taking one chapter from each book and put them together and expecting it to be cohesive and have the effect that we tried to make on the albums. No way. We made them the way they were meant to be listened to. If we’d have wanted it to be any other way we would have done it another way. We stopped making singles so that we could concentrate on the whole idea of expanding the whole idea of the LP, the long playing record. Not to be just a collection of outtakes and filler songs to sell more records for the record company but actually to use the LP vehicle for the higher purpose for the art of music.
RS: I had asked John Lodge about the possibility of making each of the ‘Classic 7’ albums into a box set of it’s own. Do you think there’s enough material for that idea?
MP: Oh I see. I haven’t really considered that. I don’t think there’s that much archive material available. Back in those days tape was pretty expensive as it is now. There wouldn’t be many outtakes of things. We would run over the same tape a couple of times maybe. I think that kind of thing happened, especially in the mid-60’s. I don’t think there’s alot of outtakes. There’s certainly some BBC stuff because I remember doing it. But for me it’s still the seven albums, what they call the ‘classic 7’, they’re the ones that should be the box set. Then they could do a box set of all the stuff, post-Pinder if they wish to. That’s the way I would have liked to have seen it. From Days Of Future Passed through Octave or rather Seventh Sojourn.
RS: I wanted to ask you about the Moodies’ Children’s Children album. That’s my all time favorite. What can you recall about that album?
MP: We were watching man on the moon. Man going to the moon. In the studio, we were watching it. I remember Neil Armstrong setting down. We weren’t in the studio that night but I remember it was like 4 A.M. in the morning and I was in my apartment in London. I remember that part of it. But the album was all around the moon mission and man’s venturing into space. This was the beginning of maybe discovering man’s true legacy.
RS: I wanted to ask about some of your early influences.
MP: I listened to a lot of kinds of music because my dad was a semi-pro kind of musician and there was alot of music in the house. So, I was raised with Frank Sinatra big band, Nat King Cole and then all the material from World War I and II, all of the old songs that were sung in the English pubs and things like that I was very much aware of. All of the great writers from the Hollywood musicals. I was influenced by a really wide variety of material. But once I started getting into my teenage years I was just very heavily involved in Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly, in particular. Buddy Holly I thought was fantastic. All of those guys who were innovating. “Rock Around The Clock” guys, Bill Haley & The Comets. I remember seeing all that stuff. I remember going to see Blackboard Jungle, the movie, where “Rock Around The Clock” was the signature for it. I remember sitting in the movie and I was 12. I was sitting in the back and all of a sudden the music’s on and all the people stood up and were dancing in the aisles and in front of their seats. I’d never seen anything like before in my life. And I thought, ‘whoa, something really is happening with this rock and roll stuff’. It was like, ‘OK, I’m ready for this’, y’know? I felt that was what I was waiting for. I was waiting for this rock and roll thing to happen.
RS: Do you remember when The Shadows came onto the scene in England?
MP: Oh yeah, for us in England they were really big. They were one of the first guitar bands out there in England doing it with Cliff Richard, backing him. They were a great band. Great presentations. They were great.
RS: Is it possible to sum up the influences that The Moody Blues had on listeners as well as other bands going back to the mid ‘60s?
MP: The easiest way to sum it up would be with the name that I came up with for the band, The Moody Blues. And that came from the fact that I was aware of “Mood Indigo”, by Duke Ellington. I loved the title of that, “Mood Indigo”. And the fact that it was the blues that really started it all off. The blues players came over to England and we ended up being a back-up band for Sonny Boy Williamson and guys like that. We did tours around England with all the old American blues players. So the blues thing really had a big effect and in fact, my own personal idea of why the people from, what is now called The British Invasion, why English musicians were so affected by American music, and in particular R&B and the blues, was because, or my idea, my concept of it is that World War II is what we’d come through, us rock and roll guys who were born in the ‘40s. Y’know, we’d come through WWII and what had happened in England was, it was like we had bread and margarine and if you could find something to put on there, great. Things were really tough. We had used clothes and used shoes and everything was going to the war effort. Things were pretty tough there and so I think we sort of experienced a very short but very concentrated form of, what would be the word...being subjected to very, very difficult times and difficult pressures. And I think we related then to the African-American’s music, the blues in particular, because they were singing about what we were feeling. And so there’s this incredible connection, I feel, between us English rock and roll musicians at the time and our relationship...and why we had this relationship with African-American music. I really feel that was why we loved it so much and why we were so attracted to it, because it spoke to us.
RS: Shifting gears again, do you have any favorite mellotron song? I was just thinking of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” with Rick Wakeman’s mellotron.
MP: I’d have to say it’s the stuff that Paul and John did really, without a doubt. “Strawberry Fields” and stuff like that. Those ideas that came from the mellotron, from those guys, culminated in what I think is the quintessential pop song of all time, which is “I Am The Walrus”. Which was not a mellotron thing necessarily, but it had, all the ideas came out of the mellotron I believe. Those sliding cellos. And the influence that we were all under at that time by India and the Maharishi. All that stuff.
RS: Do you think that the mellotron will make a comeback with younger bands today?
MP: I think it’s already happened really with Fiona Apple and a few other bands. It’s quite often you see a mellotron or a chamberlain on stage now.
RS: Your music opened up people’s consciousness about meditation and other New Age oriented things. Are you into macrobiotics or are you vegetarian?
MP: My whole family is vegetarian. We have been for quite a long, long time now. The only thing I eat is fish. I gotta get my Omega 3 oil!
RS: Do you ever come to New York anymore?
MP: I was there a couple of years ago to do a couple of TV things. On my way down, I was doing the People With One Heart tour at the Borders Books and Music stores. I was doing all the way down from Maine, I think it was, all the way though Connecticut, Boston and all that and came through New York into New Jersey. Did a cable TV show there, couple things like that and then down into Washington and then ended up down in Florida. I did CNN in New York while I was there.
RS: The other thing I wanted to talk about was the very early Moody Blues stuff from the British Invasion days. How do you look back on those days.
MP: I look back fondly, really. It was all part of the experiment, building up to that final thing.
RS: Your early songs like “Life’s Not Life” and “Boulevard De La Madelaine”, written with Denny Laine, sounds like the beginning of the Days Of Future Past era.
MP: In fact the writing arrangement I had with Denny was that I mainly did most of the music and Denny did most of the lyrics. Or he did the melody and the lyric and I would do the arrangements. We would make it up as we went along.
RS: Well, looking forward, I feel it’s important to hear new music from you again. To revisit that feeling when everybody knew that the Moody Blues were the best band in the world.
MP: Yeah, when we had the freedom to do it and we took control and did our thing. Thanks mate, I appreciate that.
RS: For me it’s just the truth. Well, again, thanks a million Mike for your time!
MP: You’re welcome Robert.
|Special thanks to Pam Lascoe at One Step Records.|