Justin Answers Your Questions and Discusses the Ivor Novello Award

Posted on 05/20/2013

DSC_0783v12What a wonderful day I had last Thursday. I was a guest of the Performing Rights Society, and the British Academy of Songwriters Composers and Authors. Rather surprisingly, they presented me with the Ivor Novello award for Outstanding Achievement. My dear friend – and hero – Marty Wilde, who took a risk and gave me my first break as a pro musician after I left school, presented it to me. And he recounted the story of when we were playing guitars together in the front room of a house in Huyton and he gave me the best piece of advice ever – to write songs.  I started seriously songwriting then. Of course, when the whole group started taking that advice, a couple of years later, the world started to listen!

Exactly what happened at that awards ceremony, two days ago, is only just beginning to sink in, along with the amazing realization that they really did give me this beautiful statuette.  As I said at the time, I was blessed to have that other Justin, who happens to be in the most wonderful group in the world, to do my songs.

Like all the other writers in the room that day I am privileged to enter the enchanted, magical world of the imagination that is songwriting.  And when I was at my lowest ebb, after falling for the ominous spiel of the villains and spivs that controlled the ‘business’ of the ‘music business’ in the mid 60’s, the PRS extended an unconditional hand of brotherhood that restored my faith. They were, and still are, a ray of light in a sometimes-dark world.

I came to the awards day with Christine McVee. I met Randy Newman, Norda’s sometime boss, and his wife Gretchen.  I met Chris Martin and Pete Tong, Marc Almond and Harry Shearer and lots of young brilliant new writers. But no doubt, most of all I was chuffed to talk with Noel Gallagher – I am a huge fan of his –and of all his fabulous guitars.

I have to thank all the people who love the Moodies, and my music, for the award.

Is it only in recent times that songwriters have been asked to explain the meaning of their songs and what was in their minds when they wrote them?  I must say there didn’t seem to be a forum, or an opportunity for that in the 60’s or 70’s. Most of the interview questions were around favourite colour, star sign, clothes or food. I think there was an assumption that songs stood on their own and could explain themselves – which I believe they probably can.

I would really be at a loss to explain why I decided to follow one chord with another – it just feels right, and the same is true with lyrics. If they work and sound right that’s enough for me.

I am well aware that in the group guys have often felt compelled to make up a history of events – just because they get fed up of being pressed with the (perfectly understandable) ‘’why did you…..’’ questions.  Sometimes the fantasy actually sticks – it’s useful.  Sorry about that, but there it is.

However: I am struck by the fact that I can often read into my own lyrics rational explanations of events and emotions many years later, with clear hindsight, and they have actually, unwittingly revealed things I didn’t even know I was expressing at the time of writing. They came from the subconscious maybe, without me realizing.  At the time I was probably too close – now I can see more clearly – or am I imagining it?  That’s why explanations are deceiving. If the person is a good storyteller he can make something of nothing. Interesting.  I would say everyone should make up their own mind about the way a song relates to them.

The songwriter often says very little – the listener brings the meaning.

Now – will I be able to answer the below satisfactorily? I’ll give it a go.  The most precious thing is that you are interested. If no one cared?……. –  Well that is scary!

1. Justin, Spirits Of The Western Sky is incredible, it’s some of the most penetrating and inspired music you’ve ever produced! How soon can we hope to hear some of these other songs you’ve talked about writing and collecting, as you’ve hinted that you may have saved the best ones from inclusion in this one?

Thank you so much. I certainly didn’t ‘save the best from inclusion’. ‘Spirits’ includes the best things I had written (in my opinion). I just left a few things out that were not in context with the personal truth of the other songs – that’s all. In fact I didn’t finish them, so there is nothing ready to go that didn’t make it.

2. Could you provide a lyrics sheet for Spirits Of The Western Sky on your website? While I think fans have ferreted out the few words that they weren’t sure about, it would be nice to have an official version from the songwriter.

Ah – more hard work! And I always thought my diction was reasonably good!  But yes, it’s a good point, and I’ll work on it.

3. In hearing your stories about what the meaning of the CD’s title is, you’ve painted a ‘mental’ picture for us of you and your brother looking toward the west, and thinking about your musical heroes in that direction. In the larger, perhaps more metaphorical/symbolic sense, as it relates to your life and the imagery on the cover, could these also depict the ‘sunset’ of days, and the wistful remembrance of what was once your future you looked forward to, now becoming the past you look back on, or is that over-romanticizing what is really your more straightforward and literal explanation?

Er… don’t think so. I like to have a view of the Western Sky, wherever I live, and would live in a flat half the size if it had that view. I find it beautiful and, as we used to say in the ‘60’s, ‘mind expanding’. The sky was so clear and vast on the Wiltshire downs, around where I was brought up. I’m sure the Eastern sunrise is just as inspiring for other people. Read into it what you may – maybe best not to try to analyze those kind of feelings don’t you think? They just are there.

4. I don’t think it’s an underestimation to say that all of your fans would love to have you do your solo tour in their areas around the world. Obviously that presents a bit of a logistics challenge, especially with the number of Moody tours in 2013, but can you give us any idea about future plans to tour solo in other areas?

I would love to – as long as this solo tour is not an awful disaster. Let’s see if it works?  This time I am in support of the label Eagle Rock, who have been great. They were prepared to accept my album without any conditions or real AandR rules. Great! 

5. Initially when your new album was released, there was talk of a song or two being released as single(s). Are there yet any plans in the works for a single release?

I don’t think they really do ‘singles’ any more. Would fans buy the same song twice?  Nowadays they ‘put a track to radio’, which is kind of the same thing as a single in the airplay world.

I think it could only work if you wanted to release a single, for sale or as a download, well before the release of the album. And then expect fans to buy it twice? Once on it’s own, and again on an album?

6. The Timeless Flight box set, slated for release in June, includes a DVD from 1970 known as “The Lost Performance,” taped in Paris. When it was first released in 2004, you didn’t seem too keen on it; what caused the change of heart that allowed it’s inclusion in this new collection?

It wasn’t my decision to include it, (it wasn’t any of the guys decision for that matter). I had hardly anything to do with the compilation of this box set. Fact is I was too busy with my own album.

I’m sure Universal have done a good job. I know the team that put it together very well, and they are very conscientious and respectful of The Moodies tracks. They were the right people to do it. However, there are no surprises on it for me.

No, I wasn’t impressed with that so-called ‘lost performance’ – as far as I can hear, my voice is the only ‘live’ part of it. The instruments are all mimed on the DVD – it was a TV show! That’s all.

There are a lot of tapes of live radio shows of different gigs and that kind of stuff.

The only things I really was taken with were the ‘Blue Jays live tracks – which I thought had been lost. Half of that show is still lost I think.

7. Thank you for persevering in the search for the live Blue Jays tracks, allowing them to be a part of the box set. Any chance these tracks could be paired up in a future standalone release with the long hoped-for surround version of the studio album, derived from the original quad mix (presuming this could have also have been found in the ‘vault’)?

See question and answer above: It wasn’t ‘my search’ I’m afraid – and I didn’t ‘allow’ anything. I don’t have that kind of control, power or influence. I’m really glad to hear that particular tour again though.

I loved playing with those guys – they went on, straight after that, to do my ‘Songwriter’ album with me. Lovely.

8. Describe for us, if you would, your thoughts when you first got to listen to these Blue Jays tracks; were you with John and/or Graeme at the time? What did you think of “You & Me” as done in 1975, compared to now?

Re first question; see above.

Re second question – are you kidding? –  It sounds like we live all together – like the Beatles in Help. Nice of you to think everyone is together, but a terrifying thought.  As I said, those tapes sound lovely to me.

Re third question: I think ‘You and Me ‘ is better now.

9. I’m fairly sure that a Liverpool luthier/engineer named G. Stanley Francis hand-built your ‘recovered’ 12-string guitar you originally ‘lost’ 45 years ago, and according to you, was used on Spirits Of The Western Sky. As Mr. Francis is thought to be still living there, have you ever had a chance to meet him? His most famous ‘known’ guitars were made for Pete Seeger, guitars which in 2011, inspired triangle- hole acoustic 6 and 12-string guitars made by Martin Guitars. Mr. Francis would probably love to know about the journey your guitar has taken ‘there and back.’

I never met him. You could tell him that ‘my’ guitar is fine, even though it was re-varnished really badly since I had it first time round, and it doesn’t play as well, but it still sounds great.

10. There’s a rumor circulating that another Moodies cruise is being planned. Is there indeed another cruise being considered, and if so, can you give us a hint where and when?

Don’t know yet. It would be nice wouldn’t it?

11. In the late 90s you said you didn’t have much optimism for the human race; do you still feel that way? 

I forget why I said that. Probably just a bad day. I bet the planet will survive.

12. What is the most major obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

Sorry – it’s just too serious a question.

I really wouldn’t want to dump my emotional history on you. I hope you wouldn’t want to tell me about yours either. 

13. Do you ever create hidden meanings or messages in your work?

Um……. I think someone (not us) once embedded ‘buy this record‘ into a disc.  But I don’t remember ever doing it seriously myself. That would be the kind of thing you just did stoned, for a laugh. Well, why not?

14. Would you rather be a worried genius or a joyful simpleton; please explain why?

To be a joyful genius would be nice. I’m probably just a worried simpleton.

15. Do you have a philosophy of life ?…how about a philosophy of love?

Do you live by one? You should write a book if you do. I would like to hear about it.
I think I know what philosophies of life we all should have – but living them everyday is tough, and only for the truly good.

16. What makes you angry?

Not much I’m glad to say.

17. What’s your favorite bedtime story and why?

Wouldn’t it be nice if someone would come round and read us a bedtime story when we felt like it?   BBC Radio 4 have a wonderful series called ‘Book At Bedtime’. I love that.

18. How do you and the band really feel about being photographed by fans during live shows?

No problem – the best live show photos have been taken by fans. No question. If there is ever an announcement about not taking pictures at a gig, its the venue’s policy, not ours. It’s always OK with us.

19   Have you ever had an imaginary friend, and who was it?

I don’t think so. Wait a minute! Who’s that over there? Come on – show yourself!

20. Describe yourself in one sentence please?

Guitar player who sings a bit and writes a few songs.

21  Is all fair in love and war, in your opinion?  Please explain.

Seems it is in love, don’t really know why. Maybe because its so precious. You boys and girls lead extremely heady lives, what with all this thinking about stuff and explaining yourselves. I can’t keep up!

22. Do you believe in karma, if so, why?

See what I mean?

23. All alone in the wilderness, would you survive? Why or why not?

Ooh – scary.

24.  What’s in your pockets right now?

A handkerchief, and a receipt from the train ticket. And a plectrum – (that’s handy, but not unusual. I have plecs all over the place).

25. What is your perception of how other people see you?

Ah yes – to see ourselves as others see us. That would bring us all down to earth, and be good for us I’m sure.  I seem to remember announcing a song like that years ago.

26. Do you believe everything happens for a reason? Why or why not?

Yes. I mean No. Er.. Don’t know.

27. What’s the best advice your parents ever gave you?

Keep your room tidy.  Seriously – They were an example to me. That was better than any advice.

28. I’m a strong believer that the magic of your creations should not be poked at and analyzed and tainted too much, but I have to ask, how did you get that poignant little heartbeat on the end of the song “Lazy Afternoon” ?

Do you know, I think that is a mastering error. I don’t remember it and I don’t think it was deliberate. But it’s kinda nice.

29. How did Raul Rincon come to be involved in a remix of Out There Somewhere on your new solo album, Spirits of the Western Sky;  how did this collaboration come about and how much of a hand did you have in creating the remix?

Carl and Peo did all that – and they got Raul involved. I didn’t do much apart from recording the bits they wanted.

30. Back in 1978 the band came to St. Louis for the Octave tour. You were given St. Louis Blues Hockey Jerseys with your name and a number on the back. Do you still have your jerseys from them? I am very curious about this.

I wouldn’t have thrown it away that’s for sure. I must look in the cave. Sounds great.

31. I purchased the DVD “Hall of Fame – Live at the Royal Albert Hall”.  My question is: who played the acoustic guitar? We don’t see it, it isn’t mentioned in the artwork. Is it a dub?

If it’s there – and I take your word that it is cos I can’t find my mixes at the moment (they’re in the archive somewhere) – it’s probably a dub from me as there was only me, Danilo and Alberto there at the mix. I was enjoying the mixes very much at the time I remember.

You can’t take anything away from a live tape because the mics pick up everything on stage, and when I have tried to ‘dip’ a mistake or to correct it, it leaves a hole in the sound. So I leave it in and just try and get a good balance. Sometimes I have tried to ‘trigger’ things like a better snare sound etc. That sometimes works, but the performance is the performance, and you are stuck with. You have to do your best to mix it well. Danilo and Alberto do that stuff really well.

32. Justin, when I lived in New York you and the band seemed to have a great relationship with WNEW and Scott Muni. Any memories of the station and its relationship with you and the Moodies?

Always a dear and precious place for us – and Scott was a true gentleman – one of the real greats of radio. Happy days.

33. “You often write about the elements, is this because they are so great to use in songs because they refer to one’s emotion, mood, one’s being. And they can capture one’s thoughts so well? (Would it be possible to add “Driftwood” to the setlist in Amsterdam, (my granddaughter (11 years old) will come with me to one of the 2 gigs, another generation appreciating your music, thanks!!!)

I think they do express and capture moods emotions, and thoughts. I often find myself working when it’s raining outside. Just cos it’s raining! But I quite like rain. I love the sun too. Don’t we all? I think it goes back to the sensations of the Wiltshire Downs again.

We have been doing ‘Driftwood’ on alternate shows, so I hope it’s in the set when you are there. It’s a lovely gig to play by the way.

34. Thank you, Moodies, for your beautiful, exquisite use of choral “melismas”, simple vowel sounds like “ah, ah, ah” over different notes (in your solo and group work) which has brought much inspiration and comfort!  Is that similar soundwhich is abundant in ancient church music, Bach, John Sheppard(1500s), Ralph Vaughn Williams, and now in John Rutter something which inspires you?

Ever since I can remember, as a small child, I have always loved the melodies and words of The English Hymnal. If they are in there, they are all for me!

35. Will you ever consider doing a Gospel Album of sorts. I once read that you had said you grew up in a Jesus inspired Household then tested other things then came full circle back to Jesus.

I think there are singers who do Gospel really well. It always moves us, if it’s done from the heart, doesn’t it?

But I think I’ll stick to what I think can do.

36. I was watching an interview you did (at the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, awhile back), and was very interested in your comments about how you got into using nonstandard guitar tunings from listening to Joni Mitchell (and others).  I wondered- were you talking about learning from listening to Joni’s records, or did you know her, and ever have occasion to play music with her?  Also: I’ve typed and retyped to try to find a way to eloquently express my thanks for the joy of your music, and all you bring to everything, but I can’t really find adequate words.  Maybe just that says enough!

Yes, thank you so very much for your kind thoughts. I don’t know Joni sadly. I wish I did. Richie Havens showed how to do different a few different tunings too. I was, and am a huge fan of them both and am proud to have appeared on the same bill with them.

37. The music at the beginning of “Stage Door” always reminds me of the music found in “Turkey in the Straw”. Was this intentional, something you pulled up from your subconscious without realizing it, or am I being wacky for even thinking that’s what I hear?

I looked that piece of music up. I can’t say that I see the connection though. But Aj Webber, the Trapeze boys, and me had such fun making ‘Stage Door’. What a happy time.