From Justin: Practise

Posted on 05/01/2010

Sorry for such a long time between news updates. Tours can do that kind of thing.

In between news on this site, please visit Moody Blues Today. I recently did an Q&A with them which can be found here.

And now to some news of my own…

“You coming round to Jeff’s house tonight for practise?” shouted my friend Alan through the railings at the only place you could see into the school quadrangle from the road. They were words that brightened up many a dusty afternoon’s boring chemistry lesson. Alan went to a different school and he lived near the drummer of the group I was in, Jeff Bull. Practise was the part of being a young and eager musician that I loved the most, and group equipment was to be found under the stairs in our house from when I was 10 years old.

Jeff Bull lived with his mother (I remember her as a tall, graceful and kind woman), in a small terraced house in Swindon that must have had very tolerant neighbours next door, because when we practised at Jeff’s we were loud! Jeff went to Headlands Grammar School, the rival to my own Commonweal, and I had to catch a bus to his house carrying my guitar and Elpico amp, often walking back home, from new town up to old town afterwards.

I was extremely lucky in those early days to have played with the two best drummers on the Swindon scene: Jeff Bull and Chris Richardson. Both of them could swing like mad and you couldn’t help yourself wanting to join the rhythm. Looking back, I remember the afternoons and evenings spent practising with my music mad friends, as being among the happiest of my young life. Most of the time we didn’t know exactly what we were practising for, as gigs were few and far between, but that was not the point. Being in a group (next to having a cute girlfriend) was all I wanted.

Whenever anyone asks me what their son or daughter should do to become more proficient as a budding musician or singer (so many young people nowadays have instruments they really want to play but can’t handle a ‘one on one’ teacher), I would still say they should encourage their children to join a group – if you’re a Dad with a car, help them move their equipment around. Even if they are at a different level to the other members in the band it’s a fact that local musicians will meet other musicians, and soon you can find your own level. It helps if you have your own gear too – John and me were the only ones who actually owned amplifiers when we joined the Moodies!

Practise, or as it’s now rather poshly called ‘souncheck’, is still probably the most fun time of the day. Of course nothing can ever match the drama, emotional power and satisfaction of the actual performance, but for tension free, ‘nothing to lose’ enjoyment, soundcheck is the tops. What a release it is to fall off the bus, pick up a guitar and just play music you love with your pals. No matter what the troubles of the day are, playing together always lifts the spirits.

What about the ‘Storytellers’ series that we have been taking part in on the last tour? I can think of lots of music acts I would like to have seen in soundcheck, but unfortunately, most days there just isn’t time to answer all of the questions. We never seem to get to the end of the list prepared by the ‘question mistress’ before the stage time is up (because of a stage hand union rule, there is usually a time before the show when the stage must be ‘dark’ for an hour or two before the concert) and most of the questions we are asked are informed, fun and perceptive, and all of them are interesting. But some make rather bizarre and occasionally offensive assumptions of the “When did you stop beating your wife?” type (which I’m glad to say has never been asked), and I admire Graeme for having the courage to say “I’m sorry, I have no idea what that question means!”

An assumption that comes up more often that you might think is that we actually set out a master plan of our whole career in the mid sixties and everything between then and now has been plotted and predicted. I think it’s quite flattering really, to credit us with that much brilliant foresight, and I can kind of see how that can be imagined with a group with such a long career, but it’s complete nonsense of course. Even today things are shifting and changing as we react to, and are impacted by events, the same as everyone else. At the beginning, if we hadn’t been introduced to Hugh Mendl, the man who was to become our champion inside Decca and the executive producer of DOFP in 1967, the album would probably never have happened. Could we have followed a different road then?

One rather odd question that was on the list, but that our Storyteller girl never got round to asking me was ‘when did you decide to call yourself Justin?’ Now there’s an assumption in a question for you! Well, my mother and father called me Justin when I was born, and as I grew up they would tell me of how it happened – in the upstairs room of the house next door to my grandparents house (as a teenager I became quite close to my grandparents neighbours, Mr and Mrs Jones). My parents had nowhere of their own to live at the time, and so they were staying with Grandpa and Grandma. But with no room at all for another baby to be born in their house, (my brother was still only eighteen months old), it was next-door at No 11 for my mother and ‘baby me’ on the morning of October 14th! My Grandmother was, to use an American expression, ‘a tough cookie’ and when I was born she vehemently protested that no one, apart from a Classical Roman scholar, could get their mind round such a daft name as Justin, so when the Registrar came round on the day after I was born, (as was the custom in those days, many children being born at home with a midwife attending – or a district nurse in the case of my sister), my grandma declared to him that I was to be David Justin Hayward (David was the middle name my parents had chosen). The big problem was that to all of the rest of my family I was just Justin, and always would be. A few days after I was born (as was also the custom at the time), I was baptised Justin David Hayward and remained so ever since. I went from being baby Justin, to annoying little brother Justin, to gangly lanky Justin to daddy Justin and to grandpa Justin. But – and I can’t emphasise this enough – there were numerous occasions during my school days, when after being called everything from Dustbin to Jason to Chester (Marshall Dillon’s lame sidekick), I would have given anything at all not to be called Justin! My dear Grandmother was proved right many times over – it was true – there was a sad lack of Classical Roman scholars at Shrivenham Village Primary school, or anywhere else for that matter, until Twiggy’s fella came along and made it Ok for us Justins!

Back to soundcheck: It’s of course a serious time as well, particularly for our front of house sound engineer Steve. Every day he has to tackle the often mind bendingly difficult task of getting a good sound in buildings that were, for the most part, never designed for any kind of amplified loud music. He does a truly fantastic job. It’s also the only chance we get to check all our gear and our foldback, and we all use ‘in ear monitors’ nowadays. Thankfully we don’t have any of those awful loud stage monitors any more. The ‘in ears’ are delicate and sometimes temperamental as fans will have noticed, but they deliver the sound onstage perfectly to each of us, and are especially valuable to the singers. It was a good day when we discovered them.

I’m travelling a lot in the next few weeks – to Germany in a couple of days to meet a promoter and long time friend, then on to California to play – and as soon as I get back from that I have to go to Amsterdam, and then to Alberto’s studio in Italy. After that we’re back on the road in the dear old US of A so – “Hey John, get your bass, Graeme’s up there already!” See you at practice.

-Justin