Graeme Edge Of The Moody Blues On Their ‘Return To The Isle Of Wight’ And Dealing With ‘Nutty’ Fans
Moody Blues drummer Graeme Edge would be the first to tell you that it’s been a long time since the group began their voyage. And he would know — he’s been a part of that trip since their debut in 1964.
The group have been more focused on looking back in recent years. With the upcoming ‘Return To The Isle Of Wight’ cruise, which will depart on April 2, they’ll celebrate the legacy of the classic 1970 Isle of Wight festival with a lineup that features some fellow alumni from the event, including legendary Who frontman Roger Daltrey.
The Blues’ original lineup featured Edge with keyboardist Michael Pinder, Ray Thomas on flute and other instruments, bassist Clint Warwick and vocalist/guitarist Denny Laine. This particular formation would last only a couple of years, just long enough to score a No. 1 hit with a cover of the track ‘Go Now.’
By 1966, Warwick and Laine would exit and be replaced by Justin Hayward and John Lodge. With that quick swap, the classic lineup of the Moody Blues was born and the band began what has truly been a cosmic journey of exploration in song. Lodge and Hayward each brought a distinct new voice to the group with both their vocals and songwriting, whether writing together or alone.
In those early years, they were very focused on the creative process, an intense period which Hayward described to us by saying that “We were on a fast train in the ‘60s with our heads down, plowing away at this stuff.” Looking back at the ‘Classic 7’ albums, a span of material that began with the ‘Days Of Future Passed’ album in 1967 and wrapped up with the ‘Seventh Sojourn’ album in 1972, it is apparent that there wasn’t a moment wasted in that time.
We spoke to Edge recently to get his thoughts on the nautical trek and what it’s been like to be a part of the Moody Blues for a half-century. Our conversation with the British drummer (who is living in Florida these days) was a jovial affair, often punctuated with laughter, especially while discussing the idiosyncrasies of dealing with fans. At nearly 73 years of age, it’s clear that Edge has had a good life and he continues to enjoy the process of sharing his love for music on the concert stage.
Let’s talk about this cruise that you’re doing, ‘Return to the Isle of Wight.’ That’s a theme that has a strong connection with Moodies history for you guys.
Yes, indeed. Of course a couple of the acts that [played the festival] are on with us, [plus additional bands like] the Zombies. They toured with us on the last boat and they are excellent. Roger Daltrey [is also coming on board and] it will be fun to contact him again.
Obviously the Moody Blues and the Who probably knew each other back in the day.
Oh, absolutely. Well, everybody knew everybody back then. It was just a couple of clubs that everybody used to go to and you ran into each other. We were all on the same circuit. We all bumped into each other, either clapping while they got an award or them clapping you while you got an award and it was all lovely, fresh, exciting and wonderful. You soon get fed up with putting the black tie on, especially when you start getting old! [Laughs]
What are your memories of playing the original Isle of Wight?
Extremely pleasant, mostly. [I remember] enjoying Jimi Hendrix. Actually, the first time I ever saw him play, I was playing drums for him. We were in a club called the Scotch of St. James. We all used to go in there after getting back from gigs. The band used to finish at about 2AM, but they had a music and drinking license until 4AM. So we’d all come back from all over England and dive into the club and get on and jam after they got off.
I was on there with Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton. Chas Chandler brought Jimi Hendrix in — nobody knew him then — everybody knew Chas Chandler, of course. Hendrix got up on the stage and I was sitting there and me and Jack Bruce were watching what was going on and it was amazing. It’s been put in about three or four books, most famously by Jeff Beck, and nobody ever mentions the bloody drummer or bass player! [Laughs]
They just talk about the two guitarists! I went up to Jeff Beck the last time I saw him and I said “Man, why didn’t you mention me” and he said “I didn’t know it was you!” [Laughs] I suppose you can’t blame him — watching those two, you can’t blame him for not noticing who was playing drums and bass. But also it means that we must have been good enough, because if we weren’t good enough, they would have noticed us! That’s what I cling onto anyway! [Laughs]
That’s quite an experience…
It was. And dammit, there were no cell phones and nothing like that back then, so of course there’s absolutely no record of it apart from a few written words in books. But such is life.
This is your second cruise. What was the experience like the first time you did it?
As I always do, I enjoyed the playing. It’s kind of a little weird being stuck on a boat with a bunch of people who think you’re much more than you really are. So you tend to stay in your room. You get a bit locked in there.
Although on this new huge boat, there’s an area they call the Yacht Club, which they’re going to seal off just for the musos, so we’ll all be able to hang out together. I believe there’s a little pool there, so it may be a little more civilized this time. But also, you haven’t got a lot of time — we’re doing two gigs, we’re doing a one-hour lecture each, at least one hour of the three of us, talking completely about the Isle of Wight experience and as a threesome, playing songs from it.
Then there’s several cocktail parties, meet-and-greets, you know, standing in a line grinning into a camera while you have photographs taken with people. So you really don’t get a lot of time to yourself. You can’t go in the bars or anything. Bless them, they’re lovely people, but they always ask the same four questions. You know, are you going to retire? Are you coming by us? Are you going to make an album? You get tired of answering that. And then some of them, very few, I’m delighted to say, some of them are a little bit nutty as well. [Laughs]
The last cruise, I was going through the boat and there was just one little section where we ate. Our cabins were at the far end of the boat from where they had a private little dining room for us. So we used to have to walk through the boat, mostly through the kitchens and the staff area, but one place we had to cover about 20 yards and in that 20 yards, this girl was walking across, stopped in front of me and she was sort of shaken and could barely talk.
What was even worse was that it wasn’t even for me! She said “Tell Justin that I’m the one!” I think she was referring to Justin’s song, ‘I Know You’re Out There Somewhere,’ the poor thing. And she was with her husband! The poor thing was shaken and not quite, but virtually drooling and you know, that’s really embarrassing. You know, you put your pants on one leg at a time like everybody else, so you don’t like running into that kind of stuff.
But I would guess that you run into that a fair amount. Do you ever get used to that?
Your music has that effect.
Yeah, because we were asking questions, the same as a lot of people at that time, such as [what] Justin says in the song [‘Question’], “Why do we never get an answer / When we’re knocking at the door / With a thousand million questions / About hate and death and war.” Just because we were asking the same questions, people thought we had the answers and we didn’t — we were as dumb as s—!
You’ve been a part of this band for 50 years now. That’s incredible. What have been the most important keys to your longevity as a performing artist? You’ve seen it all in this band since day one.
Yeah, I’m the only guy that’s played every Moodies gig, yeah. [Laughs] As I’ve gotten a little older, each year I abuse the body a little less. That’s the key. [Laughs] I’m almost a bloody monk these days. I don’t drink and I have only one bad habit — smoking. I’ve given up a lot of stuff and out of all of them, that is by far the hardest. The only thing I haven’t had was heroin, which I believe is harder, but I never got into that.
The band has weathered a number of storms, not the least of which was surviving and finding a new wave of success in the ‘80s that has helped to carry things far enough forward that we’re speaking about the Moody Blues today. The band worked with Tony Visconti on ‘The Other Side of Life,’ the album that would really launch that next wave. What was the state of the band at that point? It would seem like it would be potentially make or break time.
You’d think that looking from the outside, but somehow or another, I don’t know, we always had sort of a confidence and always felt that the next album, the next song and the next thing was going to be okay. We still…people ask us now about making another album [and] we’ve got no plans, but something’s probably around the corner and something will turn up. It always has. Tony Visconti was of course a great asset and brought a fresh view of everything, which was good because Tony Clarke was sadly missed.
We were somehow always confident. I don’t ever remember fear as being part of my career. When things were wrong it was always our manager’s fault. [Laughs] I don’t want to appear arrogant, because I don’t think we were arrogant, but we were just never afraid. We were just always confident and we’d figure out some way or another of surviving. Because we couldn’t think of anything else to do.
If I wasn’t playing music, I don’t know what I’d be doing. I’m going to be 73 at the end of this month and I’ve got no plans to quit. I’ve got a bloody elliptical — I just bought an ellipitical and I’m exercising trying to thrash out the last five or six years. [Laughs] But I just don’t know what I’d do without the audience — I just love playing live and we all do.
Without getting an audience in front of me and looking down and seeing them grinning at each other and putting their heads together when you play their song — of course I use those people to suck energy from. I look down and pick out five or six groups of three or four people or couples and just watch their expressions when you start a song that’s a particular one of theirs.
You see their heads turn and look into each other’s eyes. I suck energy from them and I’ll watch them and pump a bit harder and their heads start to rock and that makes me pump harder. That’s how I get on with it. I don’t know what I’d do without that. I’d be incredibly bored. I know that much.