Wednesday, December 25, 2013

'Seventh Sojourn', a Moody Blues Peak

THIS was the final album The Moody Blues made before a break after seven albums, and the last before Mike Pinder left. It was a significant loss in my opinion. The sound and line-up (slightly) changed after this- and when many people think fondly of The Moody Blues, it is the years between 1967 and 1972 that they are usually thinking of.

Mike Pinder is well known for his use of the Mellotron- apparently delighted when The Beatles used it on Strawberry fields Forever. On Seventh Sojourn it has given way to something presumably similar called The Chamberlin. You can hear the sound on most of the songs on this album, especially the Pinder ones. I learnt recently that he played (joyously) on John Lennon’s ‘I Don’t Wanna Be A Soldier, Mama’ (from Imagine). (And, as I discovered last year, John Densmore of The Doors played tambourine on one of the tracks onstage during Van Morrison’s live Astral Weeks set).

To get back to Seventh Sojourn, the first song is a Pinder song- ‘Lost in a Lost World.’ It’s grand in its scope, tackling world peace, dislocation, racism…

I woke up today, I was crying,
Lost in a lost world,
So many people are dying,
Lost in a lost world.
Some of them are living an illusion,
Bounded by the darkness of their minds,
In their eyes, it's nation against nation,
With racial pride, sad hearts they hide
Thinking only of themselves, they shun
The light. They think they're right
Living in their empty shells.’


Good songs often have something to say. When do words and ideas like these ever go out of fashion? I remember running along the beach at Torquay one night, listening to Marvin Gaye’s album ‘What’s Going On?’ and thinking the same thing. There are so many big and little Vietnam’s occurring around us.

Everywhere you go you'll see them searching
Everywhere you turn you'll feel the pain
Everyone is looking for the answer
We'll look again, come on my friend
Love will find them in the end
Come on my friend we've got to bend
On our knees and say a prayer.’

Some people might see Mike Pinder as self-righteous, sanctimonious, but I’m glad someone was saying these things back then. It was a time for a lot of people to be writing about love being the answer (we hear it all the time in ‘Mind Games’ by John Lennon). ‘Everyone is looking for the answer.’ There are scores of songs about trying to find peace of mind because it is a universal thing, where, if happiness is denied, people look for solace or comfort or calm, and try and escape pain, loneliness, fear and even terror.

There is a lovely backing throughout the song ‘’so many people’ chanted over and over again. And Pinder sings the song like he really is pining for some kind of comfort, or some kind of sense, amidst the confusion that people felt at the end of the sixties and still do. The music isn’t particularly complex- the Chamberlin raging in the background- but the words and earnestness of the singer really drive it.

The song fades beautifully into a soft, acoustic ballad called New Horizons, which has to be one of the best songs Justin Hayward ever wrote. You can’t tell by looking at the words immediately, but he apparently wrote the song for his father, who died around the time the album was being made.

‘I've had dreams enough for one
And I've got love enough for three
I have my hopes to comfort me
I've got my new horizons out to sea

But I'm never gonna lose your precious gift
It will always be that way
And I know I'm gonna find my own peace of mind
Someday, someway.’

The idea of having new horizons is a fantastic thing. The breath of fresh air when we attain such things is amazing. Most of us get to the age when our parents become old and die. It doesn’t always work out this way, but what a great thing, too, when a son can recognise a precious gift that has been let to him by his father. We would all like to pass on such fantastic things to our children. And to have them respect us so much when we are so old. Apparently Justin Hayward’s daughter, Doremi, was born around this time. So there we have it- two, vastly different, new horizons. Your life can change so quickly. By 1972 Justin Hayward was around 30 years old. Often an age of some kind of change.

‘On the wind, soaring free,
Spread your wings, I'm beginning to see
Out of mind, far from view
Beyond the reach, of the nightmare come true.’

Justin Hayward often writes about birds being the key to some kind of freedom or hope. In an earlier song, Voices in the Sky (see it on from the ‘Colour Me Pop’ 1968 sessions), he writes

Bluebird flying high, tell me what you sing.

If you could talk to me, what news would you bring

Of voices in the sky?’


The bird becomes the catalyst for change and often for freedom. He uses the symbol again on this very album in The Land of Make-Believe- but there is always that nagging insecurity or uncertainty, now, and in 1972. As much as you have these new horizons, you are entering unknown territory:


Where is this place that we have found
Nobody knows where we are bound
I long to hear, I need to see
Cos' I've shed tears too many for me.’



Ray Thomas wrote the next song, ‘for My Lady’ which, it seems to me, is as much about change as the last song, this time propelled by love and the way it can calm everything.


‘My boat sails stormy seas
Battles oceans filled with tears
At last my port's in view
Now that I've discovered you.’


The ship metaphor continues in other verses:


‘Set sail towards the sun
Feel the warmth that's just begun
Share each and every dream
They belong to everyone.’


The rhythm of the music rocks gently backward and forward, mimicking the motion of the waves. It is a song that is pretty, and full of hope, and so different to an earlier Thomas song, also about the sea and waves, called ‘And The Tide Rushes In’, which is full of bitterness and acrimony. It’s not like For My Lady is terribly significant, but in its way it’s the complete song, and when I saw The Moody Blues in Nottingham in 2002, it received rapturous applause.


Side One ends with Isn’t Life Strange, a John Lodge epic. Growing up, John Lodge was, for me, a minor member of the band, totally subordinate to Justin Hayward in talent and importance. This is a view I no longer have. Some of my favourite Moody Blues songs, I have come to realise, are written by John Lodge. There’s this one, with its beautiful chorus (sung, incidentally it seems, by Hayward), and Candle of Life, One More Time To Live, Emily’s Song, to name just a few lovely ones. Lodge is the only band member I had a brief chat with through the bus window that night in Nottingham- the Hayward window was too crowded.


Lodge gets fairly philosophical at times. The lovely words from One More Time To Live from an earlier album are testament to this: ‘One more time to live and I have made it mine/ Leave the wise to write for they write wordly rhymes/ He who wants to fight begins the end of time/ For I have riches more than these…’


Isn’t Life Strange is also philosophical, meditative, but with a sense of urgency. There is Pinder’s Chamberlin and Thomas’ flute side by side, and then Hayward’s electric guitar comes into play half way through each chorus:


‘Isn't life strange
A turn of a page
A book without light
Unless with love we write.

To throw it away
To lose just a day
The quicksand of time.’


This is a slow dreamy song that is full of love for me but might be full of self-importance for others. The contrast with the first song, on Side 2, is extreme. You And Me is fast, furious, with a catchy, rollicking rhythm, filled with fun but earnest at the same time. It is a Hayward song, co-penned with the band’s drummer Graeme Edge:


‘There's a leafless tree in Asia
Under the sun there's a homeless man,
There's a forest fire in the valley,
Where the story all began.

What will be our last thought
Do you think it's coming soon
Will it be of comfort,
Or the pain of a burning wound.’


A protest song about Vietnam? What will indeed be our ‘last thought’? The song throws up more questions than answers. The song is really in two parts. The mysterious lyrics that engage the mind and the strong bass lines and rhythm that engage the body and motor you along when you’re running. I have always wondered about these last couple of lines about comfort and pain. About whether or not it relates to the innocent bystanders of the terrible war who couldn’t predict their personal outcome because it was totally out of their hands.


The final Hayward song is next, called The Land of Make-Believe. It is one, it seems to me, of gentle despair. I say ‘gentle’ because the music is lovely and upbeat and hopeful and at times soaring, but the words have a certain darkness, and depict a world in which ‘make-believe’ becomes an unreal escape from some kind of awful claustrophobia:


‘We're living in the land of make-believe
And trying not to let it show
Maybe in that land of make-believe
Heartaches can turn into joy.

We're breathing in the smoke of high and low
We're taking up a lot of room
Somewhere in the dark and silent night
Our prayer will be heard, make it soon.’


This is as dark as it gets for Justin Hayward. There is usually a way out of things. In a hit song on an earlier album called The Story in Your Eyes he sings: ‘Listen to the tide slowly turning/ Wash all our heartaches away/ We’re part of the fire that is burning/ And from the ashes we can build another day.’


In The Land of Make-Believe he seems to be appealing to a new naked sort of honesty, as if that is the way out of things, rather than this false life that really doesn’t achieve anything:


‘Open up the shutters on your windows

Unlock all the locks upon your doors

Brush away the cob-webs from your day dreams

No secrets come between us any more…’


The song is very clean and compact. It simply is four stanzas with a consistent rhyme scheme that repeats itself, albeit a little more passionately the second time around. It’s a good representation of an album I have always liked. It sits with me incredibly comfortably because I know its nuances so well and I like every song. It’s interesting that The Moody Blues were going through a turbulent time during the making of the album, that there was less collegiality this time compared to other albums, that it was strained in the studio and had become apparent that this would be the last album for a while- indeed as a unit, because Pinder left shortly after. It’s a similar story with The Beatles who put together Abbey Road as a last magnificent hurrah after the turbulence and dislocation that was the making of Let It Be.


The second last song is another Pinder song, and probably my favourite. When You’re A Free Man is lovely and melodic and lilting. It seems to be about Timothy Leary. I see somewhere that he was arrested and placed in jail around this time, and the reference to ‘Rosemary’ must be his wife. But it’s more than a song about Timothy Leary. There is more than one kind of ‘free’ that is alluded to as well:


‘I often wonder why

Our world has gone so far astray

Someway I know I’ll see you shining

When we’re all free men again.’


Pinder is always singing about our world going astray, and who can blame him? The hope and optimism in these last two lines is beautiful and touching. There is a section of the song that makes reference to two men being on a mountain-side, which reminds me of the philosophy of D H Lawrence. It is the closeness of men he always wrote about, ‘Blood Bruderschaft’ and specifically I have an image of Lawrence talking intimately with his good friend Aldous Huxley in Switzerland during ski season or at Lawrence's home, the Villa Mirenda, near Florence, about all manner of things men:


‘High on a mountain-side

We laughed and talked of things to come.

Someday I know I’ll see you shining

When we’re all free men again.’


And then we have Lawrence again near the end, and his idea of a close, reliable community of genuine friends, his Rananim:


‘You gave love freely

To those with tears

Your eyes were sad when

You saw the need.

You know that love lasts for eternity

Let’s be God’s children

And live in perfect peace.’


It is the atmospheric music I like above all. The flute soaked fadeout is gloriously wistful. It gives way to the growing sounds of a real rocker, the most prolonged soaring guitar solos that The Moody Blues ever produced- John Lodge’s anthem ‘I’m Just a Singer (In a Rock And Roll Band).’


It has a frantic pace throughout with lots of single syllable words helping create this freneticism:


‘I’m just a wandering on the face of this earth

Meeting so many people

Who are trying to be free

And while I’m travelling I hear so many words

Language barriers broken

Now we’ve found the key.’


The words are fairly despair-laden and take us back to the Pinder song at the start of the record. Again, we are dealing with the frustration of war, poor communication, a lack of understanding:


‘How can we understand

Riots by the people for the people

Who are only destroying themselves

And when you see a frightened person

Who is frightened by the people

Who are scorching this earth.’


Lodge says ‘Music is the traveller crossing our world/ Meeting so many people bridging the seas.’ But in the end music can only do so much. And the ban can only do so much. After all, collectively, they are ‘just the singers in a rock and roll band.’ The John Lennon/ Yoko Ono frustrating pleading- ‘All we are saying/ Is give peace a chance.’










































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