As one of the primary singers and songwriters of prog rock legends The Moody Blues, Justin Hayward has had a five-decade long career performing some of the most memorable songs in popular music. Though their recorded output has dropped off in recent years, the band is still very active today, performing around 50 shows a year and currently planning a 50th anniversary tour for their landmark 1967 album Days of Future Passed. One would think that for a 70-year-old superstar this would be enough, but for the past several years Hayward has rekindled a solo career that began when the Moodies took a break in the mid-70s, touring far smaller, more intimate venues than the band would ever be able to play in. Last week he was at The Birchmere, and on Sunday night he returned for the fifth year in a row to the Rams Head On Stage in Annapolis.
While Moody Blues performances are always large, multi-layered productions, touring solo has allowed Hayward to present more intimate, mostly acoustic renditions of his songs that strip them down to their bare essentials. Joined by his two regular touring partners, virtuoso acoustic guitarist Mike Dawes and keyboardist and backing vocalist Julie Ragins, Hayward performed an hour and a half-long set showcasing many highlights from throughout his career, including both band and solo songs. The main set was bookended with two tracks from Days of Future Past, starting with “Tuesday Afternoon” and culminating with one of his best-known compositions, “Nights in White Satin.”
The intimate setting also allowed Hayward to bring a more personal touch to the songs by telling stories or anecdotes behind them, such as getting the call from fellow Moody Blues member Mike Pinder asking him to audition for the band, being approached by Jeff Wayne to perform “Forever Autumn” for his Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds project, and recording his latest song, “The Wind of Heaven,” as the theme to an upcoming movie of the same name about a veteran returning from Afghanistan. Hayward’s voice is as strong as ever, and when he had to punt on one line from “Question” claiming that he’s unable to hit the note anymore (the one time of the night where there was any indication that his voice has aged at all), the audience was happy to fill in.
From the Moody Blues catalog, Hayward featured several of his most popular songs, including “Watching and Waiting,” “Never Comes the Day,” and “Your Wildest Dreams.” He also performed several tracks from his most recent solo album, 2013’s Spirits of the Western Sky, including “In Your Blue Eyes,” “The Western Sky,” and “One Day, Someday,” along with “This Morning” from 1975’s Blue Jays (a duo project with Moody Blues bassist John Lodge) and his cover of Clifford T. Ward’s “The Best Is Yet To Come,” which Hayward recorded on his 1985 album Moving Mountains. He returned at the end for a one-song encore, playing “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere” from the Moody Blues’ 1988 album Sur La Mer.
In addition to backing Hayward, guitarist Mike Dawes also opened the show with an impressive, acrobatic solo set, featuring several songs from his first album, 2013’s What Just Happened? (including his impressive, multi-layered cover of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” – seriously, if you want to see some extraordinary guitar playing, look it up on YouTube) as well as songs from his forthcoming second album.