‘Long Distance Voyager’ Graeme Edge05:34 PM Friday 1/31/14
Moody Blues founding member/drummer Graeme Edge talks with Pollstar about the band’s 50th anniversary and what he and his bandmates are planning for the upcoming Caribbean cruise based on the 1970 Isle Of Wight Festival.
Scheduled to depart Miami April 2, destinations on The Moody Blues Cruise include ports of call such as Grand Turk Island and Nassau, Bahamas. The theme of the excursion is “Return To The Isle Of Wight,” and commemorates the British festival that featured unforgettable sets by the band 44 years ago.
But members of The Moody Blues won’t be the only Isle Of Wight vets onboard. Also appearing will be The Who’s Roger Daltrey plus The Zombies, Carl Palmer, The Orchestra feat. ELO former members, Starship, Little River Band and others.
The cruise is one of two upcoming progressive rock voyages by the MSC Divina. On April 7 the ship will steam out of port with English prog pioneer band Yes on a trip appropriately called “Cruise To The Edge” that will include Marillion, Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisited UK, Saga, Three Friends (former members of Gentle Giant), former Yes keyboardist Patrick Moraz and more.
Chatting with Pollstar from his home in Florida, Edge – who is the only founding member still playing in The Moody Blues – also commented on his group’s legacy, what the band learned from touring with The Beatles and why they once kept their personalities “hidden away.”
This will be the second Moody Blues Cruise. Was there anything about the first cruise that made you want to do another?
Yes. … Normally we don’t get out into the audience. It was very interesting to be amongst that many people and see … how nice our fans are. They treated each other nice.
The Moody Blues began when there was often a clear separation between bands and fans. Now, with social media, meet-and-greets and cruises, do you enjoy meeting with the fans?
Mostly. Like anybody I have irritable days when it’s a pain in the neck. Mostly, I enjoy meeting them and it gives me a reminder of who got me all of the great things that have happened in my life. It reminds me to be grateful to them. … That sounded schmaltzy, didn’t it? I mean it but didn’t it come out schmaltzy? [laughs]
Wasn’t there a time, say the early 1970s, when The Moody Blues seemed to be a somewhat mysterious band and people didn’t know much about the individual members?
Yes, but that was quite deliberate in the early days. We toured with The Beatles. We saw how their immense success removed any lives they had. They were trapped in dressing rooms, the police wouldn’t let them go outside.
I remember we were in one town and they wanted some new boots, the famous Beatles Boots, and the police wouldn’t let them go shopping. So they asked the shop to bring over some boots. Well, the shop, with eyes to the publicity, loaded up a van with every shoe they had and dropped them over and laid them all out for them. The boys were suitably grateful and bought some boots. But the next day the newspapers printed “Beatles Getting Too Big For Their Boots” … which was not true. The police said they couldn’t go out in the streets [because] they would have caused a riot.
We saw that side of them … having to eat in the kitchens of restaurants and things like that … and we thought, “No, no. We don’t want it to be like that.” So that’s why we actively didn’t [distribute] too many photographs of ourselves. … We kept our personalities hidden away. Of course, now the fans come at us two or three at a time … so we can handle them. … Also, a 56-year-old woman has got nothing like the strength of a 15-year-old hysterical girl.
The cruise will feature a few other acts including Roger Daltrey.
I’m looking forward to meeting him again. The Who and us were doing the rounds … at the same time so we ran across them quite a lot in the early days. I haven’t seen him for some time. The last time we met was actually 25 years after England won the World Cup. We were in a show in Germany and they had a whole bunch of acts on there.
It was what I called “pretend play,” miming to a backing track, which bores me. So I had been at the bar because I didn’t have to [really] play.
We were walking off stage and Daltrey said to me, “Looking up there at you, it really reminded me of good old Keith [Moon].” And I was good friends with Keith as was almost everybody in show business. And I said, “Oh, that’s nice.”
And he looked at me and said, “Yeah. I couldn’t understand how he could stay on the stool either.” [laughs] I’m looking forward to meeting him and I’m very pleased he agreed to come on the cruise.
You released the Timeless Flight box set last year. What’s it like to see your entire career assembled into one small package?
It’s very nice. It turned out very well. Because it’s limited and expensive I had to buy [copies]. So I bought five for my grandkids. They’re all going to get one each when they’re 21. That’s how I feel about it. This is what your grandpa did. I hope they can still play CDs when they’re 21. The youngest is only 1 year old.
You’re the only founding member still playing in The Moody Blues. How have personnel changes affected you throughout the years?
The only thing that really affected me … when Mike [Pinder] left in 1978. I wasn’t happy with that but he just got on with it. Ray [Thomas] left due to illness. I miss him. Of course, we don’t do anyone’s songs if we don’t have the lead singer, so it also meant we don’t do “Legend Of A Mind” anymore, which I enjoyed.
Getting back to the upcoming ocean voyage: When it comes to your own leisure time time, do you enjoy going on cruises?
I was a sailor for a long time. I had my own 75-foot sailing boat. I sailed across the Atlantic with it, did a lot of long-passage work. Loved sailing, loved being on the sea, loved everything about it. Was never, ever, ever seasick, ever.
One time a whole bunch of friends and I … decided to go from New York to England on the Queen Elizabeth 2, which was a very exciting thing to do. I got on that, the huge QE2 with stabilizers and all that sort of stuff, and was sick as a dog. I cannot handle a big ship. Of course … everybody had been on my boat and had suffered seasickness and suffered me being quite insufferable … [their seasickness] due [to them] being landlubbers. So I had absolutely no sympathy on the QE2 whatsoever. They were reveling in my discomfort. And I don’t blame them.
Did you feel any seasickness on the first Moody Blues cruise?
I felt queasy. I just don’t like big ships. Fortunately we had a balcony in that cabin. When I wasn’t trying to sleep or wasn’t working, I sat on the balcony, just breathing and looking at the horizon. You can’t take Dramamine because it slows you right up. … Can’t play properly.
Will you be taking any safeguards to prevent seasickness on the upcoming cruise?
I can’t see how I can. I can’t take chemicals. I’ll make sure I have a cabin with a balcony. If I’m sitting in the fresh air looking at the horizon, I’m much better. If I’m playing, it doesn’t matter much. But if I’m walking around shops and things … apparently those big old boats move really slowly but they do rock. That kind of enrages my balance. I’m used to being on a ship where you’re kinetically aware of how the boat is moving, and that doesn’t make me feel ill. But just all the verticals, moving three degrees out of vertical and then slowly moving three degrees the other way – for some reason that outrages my balance sectors. I don’t actually puke but I don’t feel good.
This year marks the band’s 50th anniversary.
Yes indeed. May the second, 1964.
Any special plans for that day?
Not really because … Justin [Hayward] and John [Lodge] didn’t join until 1967. Do I want to stand there and proclaim, you know, the early original lineup? Not really. … So we won’t be doing anything big about it. I should probably make a couple of gags about it onstage.
Back in 1964, did you ever think the band would last more than a couple of years?
More than a couple of years, yes. 50 years? Never. I wasn’t sure I was going to last as long as 50 years. You know what you’re like when you’re immortal? Sort of back then you kind of felt you weren’t going to play rock ’n’ roll after 30 because you and your audience all grow older together. You kind of felt that after 30 nobody plays rock ’n’ roll. … Rather than thinking about longevity I was thinking about the next album, the next tour, what we were going to be doing next, what was exciting and thrilling. … I was being 24 and looking for perfection in everything except myself where I could find forgiveness in any flaw. I was a 24-year-old rock ’n’ roll drummer.
You bring up an interesting point. The Moody Blues has played with symphonies and is considered one of the premier progressive rock bands, but when you talk about the music, you describe it as rock ’n’ roll. Did you ever see the band’s music as anything more than that?
No. A lot of people thought we had some kind of inside line to the cosmos or something. The thing was we were just asking the same questions as everybody else [but] we just could ask them louder. But [just] because we had some questions, we didn’t know the answers. Who does know the answer to the meaning of life? … Every generation is important. We were important because we were freeing up the people and equalizing the people. … Each generation has its own reason to be special.
So the song “I’m Just A Singer In A Rock ’n’ Roll Band” is pretty descriptive of where the band was at that time?
We were having all sorts of strange things happen, people coming up asking to be blessed and things like that. … That’s why John wrote that song.
Having been in the thick of it all, playing clubs alongside The Who and other legendary bands, having seen other acts rise and fall, musicians succumb to their own demons, do you feel like you’re a survivor?
Very much so. The only thing that bothers me is The Rolling Stones survived as well. Because they are three months older than us we can’t claim to be the oldest rock band still working. And Charlie Watts is still playing drums which pisses me off because he’s six months older than me so I can’t be the oldest rock ’n’ roll drummer. And nobody cares about being the second oldest.
I often remember one particular point early in our careers, between the third and fourth album, and I was talking with one of the secretaries of our agent … Sharon her name was, we were good friends. I was expressing a few doubts and worries then, and she said, “Listen, I’ve been in this business for 30 years and I can tell you are a survivor.”
When you run into another musician from that time period, such as Roger Daltrey, do you find yourself swapping old stories, perhaps about the clubs you played or the promoters you worked with?
Absolutely. … For the most part you talk about the good old days [like] the Blue Boar which was a famous café right in the heart of England where all the bands used to go on their way back to London. Talk about those days in the clubs, the various schemes and how we got robbed. All those bands from that period worked in Hamburg and every one of us got robbed one way or another. The first single we ever made, we lost the money. Disappeared in expenses, “creative accounting” is what we called it.
But everything eventually worked out well for you and The Moody Blues.
Couldn’t have been better. I’ve always had enough money to indulge myself in everything I could think of except I’ve never owned a plane. Never enough money to be too fat and lazy. Just perfect.
What is the band planning for the cruise?
We’re discussing … trying to put together a version of the exact set we played on the  Isle Of Wight Festival. It’s going to be difficult because Ray, of course, sang some songs and so did Mike. We’re either doing choral versions or instrumental versions of their songs. I’m leaning towards, the three of us in sort of an acoustic set, [with] a little electronic drum pad … in sort of a fireside chat performance. And we’ll be doing that separately from the two shows we’re doing.
Is there anything you’d like to tell fans about the cruise that they may not be aware of?
If you weren’t on the other one, it really is very warm and enjoyable … very comfortable. It’s so nice to be on a ship full of people, going to the bars, having a drink, and finding yourself surrounded with like-minded people. There’s no aggravation. Oh, you should have seen the costumes on the [last] boat. There were Indians, more buckskin than you could shake a stick at, all the hippie gear, the fancy dress part of it was great as well. It’s lovely to revisit your team, isn’t it? With a ship full of other people doing the same thing, it makes it a very enjoyable experience.