It was the album that firmly brought The Moody Blues into the 1980s.
The Albums That Saved Prog: Long Distance Voyager
Despite all the chaos,The Moody Blues produced what they believe to be one of the most crucial albums of their career, and one that any self-respecting prog fan should own.
It was also the one that precipitated a potentially damaging court case between the band and a former member, while also seeing them finally recording in their own studio, nearly a decade after it was built.
The album was Long Distance Voyager, and it gave the Moodies a massive commercial and artistic boost, proving their decision in 1977 to reunite after a three-year hiatus was a credible move.
“The Octave album [which was released in 1978] was a difficult one to make,” recalls the band’s bassist and vocalist John Lodge. “We began it at the Record Plant in LA, but it burned down. So we moved to Indigo Ranch Studios, but had a lot of trouble there.”
Adding to the band’s problems, keyboard player Mike Pinder decided he didn’t want to tour any more, forcing them to bring in former Yes man Patrick Moraz when the Moodies went out on the road in support of Octave. And he was the obvious choice to replace Pinder in the studio for the next album.
“Patrick brought a greater awareness of modern technology into the band,” says guitarist and vocalist Justin Hayward. “He introduced us to programming, sampling and what computers could do in general for our music. Our personal relationship with him wasn’t great, but there’s no doubting he did a lot of brilliant things musically.”
The loss of founder member Pinder wasn’t the only radical change facing Lodge, Hayward, Ray Thomas (flute/harmonica/vocals) and Graeme Edge (drums). Long-time producer Tony Clarke, who had worked on every Moody Blues album since 1967’s Days Of Future Passed, also decided to bow out.
“We were all having personal problems at the time of Octave,” sighs Lodge. “So, Tony decided to walk away. The guy I immediately thought of to produce us was Pip Williams. I’d worked with him on the song Threw It All Away, which was the B-side of my 1980 solo single Street Café. I liked his approach because he added some rock’n’roll to what we did. Pip had worked with Status Quo, and he brought that edge into what we were doing.”
Hayward also feels that engineer Greg Jackman played a crucial role in the studio. “I met Greg when I was doing some recording at RAK Studios in London. He’d been closely associated with Mickie Most, and we felt he would be a great partner for Pip on the production side. Greg had a very modern approach to recording. This was, for instance, the first time we’d ever used timecode. That meant we didn’t have to get things spot on all the way through. If I made a mistake, then it could be easily corrected without facing having to do the entire sequence all over again.”
For the first time, the band also used their own Threshold Studios in Cobham, Surrey to do a Moody Blues album. “Justin and I had done the Blue Jays _album there in 1975,” says Lodge. “And I’d done my Natural Avenue solo record there two years later. But we’d just not done a Moodies album at the place.”
“There’s a simple reason why the band hadn’t recorded there before,” chuckles Hayward. “It might have been built in 1972, but it hadn’t been ready for us to go in and do a Moody Blues record. Now it was, so it seemed daft to spend money elsewhere when we had this facility available.”
The band were originally due to start recording in October 1980. But in the end, this was delayed by four months, due to the major changes outlined earlier.
“We just had to rethink what we were doing,” admits Lodge. “And we just weren’t ready to go into the studio by the time we were supposed to be. However, I believe this worked in our favour because when we did get things finalised, the songs and our attitude couldn’t have been better.”
The album was recorded in a two-month period, with both Hayward and Lodge giving enormous credit to Williams for the way it comes across. “Pip worked so well with us,” reveals Lodge. “He made the entire process painless, and also gave the music a real lift.”
“What Pip did was update The Moody Blues without changing us,” adds Hayward. “We are a band who are difficult to produce, yet strangely easy to engineer. But Pip got beyond the problems and revitalised us. It was such a breath of fresh air after Octave.”
It’s often been debated as to whether Long Distance Voyager is a concept album at all. But it turns out that the definitive answer to this question from the band themselves is… well, there is no definitive answer.
“As far as I’m concerned, there is a loose concept linking some of the songs,” reveals Lodge. “I suppose you could say that it’s all about the further things are taken on a personal level, the more they remain the same. But not all the tracks are linked in this way. Which is why there was no preconceived plan to make this a concept album as such.”
“There is no concept at all,” states Hayward. “No subject matter links the songs. We actually had the album title Long Distance Voyager in mind before we finished recording, but this was just a jumble of words that appealed to us. There was no grand design behind the choice at all.”
The cover also happened by accident, as Lodge explains. “We did a photo session in London, at a museum. And on the wall was a sepia print that caught my attention. It seemed to tell the story of the Long Distance Voyager, so I suggested we should use it for the album sleeve, just adding in the Voyager spacecraft – and it worked really well. Some time later, I came across the original painting in a South London antiques store and bought it.”
“It’s amazing how many people look at the cover and don’t spot the spacecraft,” laughs Hayward. “I think this was so much better than the Octave cover, which has the band on it. There’s a lot more detail to hold people’s attention.”
In May 1981, when Long Distance Voyager was scheduled for release, the band’s label London/Decca, was undergoing a major upheaval. This would have been of considerable concern to most big acts signed to the company, but as Hayward explains, it actually worked to The Moody Blues’ advantage.
“A lot of people who were working for the label saw us as being well past our commercial peak. Octave had done OK (No.6 in the UK and No.13 in America), but there hadn’t been a big hit single on it (although Steppin’ In A Slide Zone got to No.39 in the US), and the feeling we got was they didn’t care about the band any more. Then, suddenly, all these people were gone, and the new lot who came in were incredibly enthusiastic about us! They heard _Long Distance Voyager _and thought it fitted perfectly into what FM radio was doing in the States. That was becoming more pop-oriented, and our approach on the album was exactly right for the new format.
“We’d been lucky once before with US radio, because Days Of Future Passed came out when FM radio first happened, and it had the right sound to come across brilliantly on air.”
However, the band faced a court battle before they could finally relax and get the album out. It was a lawsuit brought against them by a combination of Pinder and Clarke.
“Mike had brought the original case against us,” explains Hayward. “And his lawyers decided to add weight to their side by including Tony Clarke.”
What was the crux of the lawsuit? “Oh, Mike and Tony felt that without their involvement, we shouldn’t be using the name The Moody Blues,” shrugs Lodge. “We knew it was coming because the label had inside information on what they were planning, and warned us what to expect. But we kept on the sidelines and let our legal people deal with it all. The case did end up in court, but the final judgement was in our favour so it didn’t derail us at all.”
Pinder appeared to feel that the band had sidelined him, and while he wasn’t prepared to tour, nonetheless he was ready to contribute to new music in the studio. However, this claim is hotly disputed by Lodge.
“As far as we were all concerned, Mike had fully left us. He never said that he wanted to remain a recording member. He gave us the impression he was quitting The Moody Blues permanently. We never froze him out.”
Long Distance Voyager got to No.7 in the UK charts, a place lower than Octave, but in America it was the band’s second chart-topper, following in the footsteps of Seventh Sojourn in 1972. What helped to propel this success were two Top 20 hits in the States, namely Gemini Dream, which peaked at No.12, and The Voice, which got to No.15.
“Gemini Dream was originally called Touring The USA,” says Lodge. “It was the first song we recorded for the album, and it was written after we’d spent 18 months on the road in America. It was about the way you become two different people when you’re in a high-profile band. There’s the person onstage, and then there’s the private version of you.”
“We never thought Gemini Dream would be a big single for us,” admits Hayward. “Come to think of it, The Voice never stood out for us either. Those choices were left to the label. They understood that sort of thing better than us.”
Both Hayward and Lodge now believe that Long Distance Voyager should be considered one of the Moodies’ most crucial releases.
“I regard it as being the natural successor to Seventh Sojourn,” says Hayward. “This was a case of the right album at the right time. It was very introspective yet also accessible.”
“This was the start of a new chapter in our career,” explains Lodge. “Every song on the album was approached differently, but we were firing on all cylinders, the atmosphere in the studio was great, and it gave us a new lease of life.
“But it did spoil things a little for us,” he adds. “We tried to recreate the vibe on our next album, The Present, working again with Pip and Greg. But it didn’t work. That made us appreciate how special Long Distance Voyager was.”
Justin Hayward releases Spirits… Live: Live At The Buckhead Theatre, Atlanta on DVD, Blu-ray and CD on August 25 via Eagle Rock Entertainment. See www.moodybluestoday.com for details.
“I felt a great respect for their music as I was growing up…”
Damian Wilson reveals a connection with Long Distance Voyager.
“When Long Distance Voyager was released in 1981, I was an 11-year-old listening to AC/DC. For me, The Moody Blues was sensible music, an ‘older brother’ kind of band – strangely, as were the Sex Pistols for me too.
“However, I felt a great respect for their music as I was growing up, which was mainly due to the fact that I really got into this album. Despite spending many hours hanging around the band’s own Threshold record shop in Cobham, I never bumped into them. If I had, of course, I would have been very polite to them.
“My first manager had one of Justin Hayward’s old guitars that I would play at gigs. It was a very nice Washburn. I remember it had sweat damage to the varnish. I never knew whether it was mine or his. I did like to think it was Justin’s, though.
“While I don’t believe that our band name Threshold was derived from the name of The Moody Blues’ record company, I have always felt a close connection with them for it. And it was listening to Long Distance Voyager that opened the way into the Moodies’ music for me. Whether you like melody or sophisticated songs, the band had the bases covered. No wonder it still stands out all these years later – the sign of a classic album from a great band.”