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Peoria Civic Center, October 7, 2013

Onstage Tour
The Moody Blues Today VIP package included both an Onstage Tour and Storyteller session. We met in the lobby at 5:15 p.m. After we checked in and received our laminates and lanyards, we were taken to the stage. We were also informed that the band had encountered some traffic and construction while en route from Chicago, and had only just arrived.

For the Onstage Tour, we entered from stage left and walked across the front of the stage. We were given time to photograph anything and everything. While we were there, both Alan and Gordy came out to check on their instruments, and we enjoyed saying hello to them and shaking Alan's hand. Before he left, Gordy warned us that he was "going to be making some very loud noises soon!"

Friendly lighting designer Mick was on hand to take photos of us in front of Graeme's drums, if we wished. Then we walked behind the drum platform, where we could see the keyboards and drum kits from the rear, as well as towels, water bottles and tambourines stacked on top of travel cases. One final perusal of the guitar rack, and we were back in the audience area, where we took our seats in the first few rows for the Storyteller session.

Storyteller Event
We watched while roadies set up the familiar folding chairs that are used for all Storytellers sessions. However, something was wrong....Justin's chair was missing. Mark Hogue, the band's tour manager, sat a few rows behind us with a microphone. He welcomed us to the Storyteller session. Then he said, "You may have noticed that there are only two chairs on stage. Due to unforeseen circumstances, Justin will not be participating in the Storytellers today." That was the first indication that all was not well with Justin. Someone asked if he would be at the show, and Mark assured us that he would be. While we waited for Graeme and John to come out, Mark spent some time answering questions and telling us about next year's Moody Blues Cruise.

Graeme and John came out and took their seats on the folding chairs. Mark asked the questions, which were chosen from those we had submitted in advance. I have paraphrased the questions and answers, which are presented here in random order. I tried to remember as much material as I could, but it's possible that I may have forgotten a question or two.

OK, here we go!

If they made a movie about the Moody Blues, who should play you?
This was a difficult question for them. Graeme couldn't think of anyone in particular. Then he said maybe their sons could play them when they were younger, adding that he also had several ladies who could play his ex-wives! John was also unable to name any particular actors, finishing with, "It would have to be a cartoon!" (this remark made me think of that old Beatles cartoon from the 60s).

What countries would you like to perform in that you haven't?
Graeme said that the band had never played in India or China. He recalled, back in the Core 7 era, when they discovered that they were selling a large number of albums in India. They inquired about touring in the country, but received a negative response. They narrowed the scope of their tour request, but were still discouraged. This continued to baffle them, until they did a little research and realized that all of the albums were being sold in one particular village in India, which happened to be relatively close to the border with the Soviet Union. The albums were being sold to Russian fans! To this day, they still haven't played in either India or China.

Tell us about some tour adventures.
John answered first. He recalled a time when the band landed at an airport and couldn't understand why no one was there to meet crew, no fans, nobody. Then they realized that they had landed at the wrong airport! The correct airport was 50 miles away, and they knew it would be impossible to get a vehicle large enough to transport all of them and their equipment to the venue in time. Then they spotted an elderly couple with a motor home. "Surely they'd like tickets to a concert?" they thought. They explained their predicament to the couple, who replied, "Moody who?" Then they said yes, they would take them in their motor home. It would be a good adventure, but no thanks, they didn't want to see the show! So the entire band and their equipment squeezed into the motor home for the trip to the venue.

Graeme then told about another time when they were leasing their own aircraft, which had previously been used by Elvis Presley and which they had nicknamed A Question Of Turbulence. They landed at an airport with big flames coming out of the engines, and with all sorts of fire engines and emergency vehicles racing to meet them. Another time, they were sitting on a runway in a terrible storm, and a plane nearby was actually blown over on its side by the wind. Graeme looked out the window and saw lightning hit a tree, which burst into flames in the rain.

John, what keeps you motivated after all these years?
John took us back in time to the early 60s, when he was playing with Ray Thomas in their first band, El Riot & The Rebels. Graeme interjected with, "Do you remember what they called you? El Rot & The Rabble." John said when they first got together, they had only played a few chords of their first song, when there was a knock at the door. They looked at each other...who could it be? Then there was another knock at the door. They opened it to find two girls standing there. "Can we come in?" they asked. Girls! John knew right then and there that the music business was for him! It motivated him then, and it's what motivates him today.

Can you share some memories of your late manager, Tom Hulett?
Tom was someone they all remember fondly. Graeme said Tom was part Native American, and his tribe had recently found oil on their tribal lands. You had to have at least 1/8 Native American blood to receive any cash from this discovery, and Tom spent a great deal of time researching his family tree to come up with that 1/8. Unfortunately, all he could verify was that he was 1/16 Native American. John said he and Tom used to play tennis quite a bit. When John got a new titanium racquet, he proudly showed it to Tom, who said, "We don't play tennis anymore! We play golf!" "Golf?" said John. "Golf? I can't wear those clothes!" When Tom booked them for a tour of the Philippines, the band protested, saying nobody in that country had ever heard of the Moody Blues. Tom replied, "They may not know you, but they sure know Nights In White Satin!" They both mentioned the fact that Tom was responsible for the Red Rocks concert with the Colorado Symphony, which was a turning point for the band in 1992.

Graeme, you wrote so many profound poems for the Core 7 albums. Did it bother you when Mike Pinder did the speaking parts instead of you?
Graeme said he wasn't opposed to doing the speaking himself, but it was a production decision, and he was fine with that. Mike's voice was more "abused" back then, and it definitely sounded better than his own. Then he said that his voice now has that "abused" quality. It's lower and sounds better, thanks to a few hundred scotches, a few thousand red wines...oh, and the curry that he loves so much. Graeme and John then informed us that curry is the favorite dish in Britain, having surpassed the traditional meat and potatoes diet.

What artists would you like to collaborate with?
Graeme said that all of the people he would choose are dead! Then he said he actually played once with Jimi Hendrix when he was new to the scene, as well as Eric Clapton, and it was a fantastic time. John listed Buddy Holly as his top choice, followed by artists like Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry.

Tell us the origin of the name "Moody Blues."
Graeme told us about the Birmingham brewery Mitchells & Butlers and the large assembly rooms that were located on the second floor of most brewery pubs. They were very desirable venues, because they could hold up to 400 people, rather than the 25 people you could squeeze into a youth club. The newly-formed band decided to call themselves the M&B Five in the hopes that the brewery owners would hire them for gigs. Unfortunately, this didn't happen. Shortly afterwards, the band moved to London. When fans asked what the M and B stood for, they figured they couldn't say it stood for a brewery, so they borrowed "moody" from the song Mood Indigo, and "blues" from the blues music they were currently playing. Ironically, just when they established themselves as the Moody Blues, they stopped playing the blues!

Graeme, tell us about your new English car. What other cars do you like?
"Well, it's a Morgan, it's red, and it has three wheels. It's not a convertible, it doesn't have a roof at all. The doors don't open, you have to climb over the side to get in. You take the steering wheel out while you climb in, then put it back. It will go 120 MPH, but I'm only comfortable doing 90." Over the years, he's owned a few other models, but his first love is a Jaguar.

What are some favorite concerts that stand out in your mind?
Both agreed that Red Rocks was a top venue, a beautiful place, and one of the best locations they've ever played. John also mentioned a venue in Portland, where the stage was on the edge of a cliff and the audience looked down onto the stage and into the ravine behind. He also recalled Madison Square Garden, where they sold out twice in one day during the Core 7 era and received the venue's Golden Ticket award.

Graeme, you once mentioned hearing one of your songs in the supermarket. Did you yell, "Hey, that's us!" or did you sing along?
Graeme said he did neither, because it wasn't them playing. It was a Muzak version of one of their songs. You know you've hit a milestone in your career when your songs are recorded as Muzak. It's about as ridiculous as a polka version of Nights In White Satin!

John, what inspired you to play a Fender bass?
Well, he knew Buddy Holly played a Fender guitar. In the 50s, the rock music he heard while growing up in England didn't have any bass guitar in it, and he had no idea such an instrument existed. When he was teaching himself guitar, he was particularly fond of playing notes and riffs on the bottom four strings. When he was about 15, he went to a concert, and he saw a guy playing a Fender Precision bass. It was the first bass guitar he'd ever seen, and he knew that was the guitar he wanted. He went to a local music store, and there was a Precision bass in the window for 200 dollars, an astronomical sum in 1959. He got his dad to loan him the money and sign for it ("I'll pay you back!"), and he used it on all of the Moodies albums until 1980. He said he still has the original contract for it!

Graeme, in the graphics on stage behind you, there's a photo of you playing the violin. What can you tell us about that?
Graeme said he can't see the images that flash on the screen behind him, and he has no recollection of the photo in question. But he figures it must have been taken when he was fooling around and picked up a violin and pretended to play it. He said he can't play the violin. A guitar player could play it, because they have "corns" on their fingertips and can get the right sound out of it. Being a drummer, his "corns" are on the palms of his hands. John agreed, he has no idea what's happening on the screen behind them during a show!

Back in the day, you recorded some Coca Cola commercials. Did you write the music for them?
Graeme said yes, they did write the songs. They were given the freedom to write in their own style, as long as they included the slogan "things go better with Coke" somewhere in the song. He said that the earliest jingle was recorded while Denny Laine and Clint Warwicke were still with the band, although by the time the accompanying magazine photos were taken, Denny and Clint were gone and Justin and John had joined.

Would you consider touring with a symphony orchestra again?
Graeme said it was very difficult to play with an orchestra, since their rhythms and tempos are so strict. It would be nice to do it once in a while for something special, but not all the time. John agreed with this. He also mentioned that some orchestras don't rehearse properly before a show with them, thinking they can do it on sight. They don't realize that playing with a rock band is a whole different ball game. John remembered hearing a great many clinkers during their time with an orchestra, and it was all he could do to keep a straight face! Again, if they do a symphony show, it would have to be something special.

Tell us about your possible connection to the French Connection.
Apparently, during the early years, the band was booked on a very strange tour. They arrived at concerts, only to be told that someone else was playing. They were invited to a party on a yacht, but something happened and the yacht didn't sail. Things began to look very suspicious, and they later found out that the person responsible for the bookings was a drug smuggler who was part of the infamous French Connection heroin ring. The band assumed that the only reason they were asked to do the tour was so their equipment or vehicles could be used to smuggle drugs. They don't know this for sure, however.

Graeme, you've written so much beautiful poetry. Do you have a muse?
Graeme said he wasn't sure what a muse was! Well, he knew it was some sort of fairy, and he wishes he had one. He figures that most creative people, when they finish something truly beautiful, don't really feel like they've created it, but rather that it flowed through them from somewhere else. Then he illustrated just how much work can go into the spoken word passages on their albums. It only took a few hours to come up with the first lines of In The Beginning ("of course you are, my bright little star") but it took six months to match the meter to finish the rest of it.

Graeme has told us about his anxiety dreams before a tour, when his drumsticks turn into bananas. John, do you have any anxiety dreams?
"Forgetting my hair dryer!" was John's immediate reply. After we stopped laughing, he said his anxiety dreams (not necessarily tour-related) are the same dreams everyone has. You're late for school ("...and it's always exam day," Graeme added), and you panic, and then you realize, I'm 46 years old! I don't have to go to school! Graeme shared more of his anxiety dreams. He can't find the stage, he can't find the dressing room, the curtain opens and he's in the 10th row and he's trying to get up to the stage and everyone's knees are in the way. He's had more dreams, but being naked on stage isn't one of them. Mark expressed doubts, and we chuckled. Graeme replied, "That second laugh was because you pictured it in your minds, didn't you?" More laughs! He said that his anxiety dreams and nervousness always vanish the minute he plays the first downbeat of the first song of the first show.

Do you guys like American football?
John said yes, he liked football very much. In fact, he was at Soldier Field the day before, and he saw the Chicago Bears play the New Orleans Saints. He had gotten to know the Saints, and he was able to go on the playing field during their practice time, and he enjoyed it very much. Graeme said he also liked football, but he could never go to a football game. He has to watch it on TV. When he watches a game, all he sees is a brawl. He needs the announcer and the replay and the diagrams to help him understand it. He didn't grow up with it, so he will never be able to follow the game without those aids. He said it would be the same for us if we saw a cricket game. We wouldn't be able to understand it because we didn't grow up with it.

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Justin's absence from the Storytellers session was the first indication that he was not feeling well. What began as a few sniffles in Milwaukee had grown into a full-blown illness. His voice was just about gone, and he struggled as best he could. Julie's voice was amplified in the mix to help him out, and his microphone was turned down in key spots. At one point, he apologized and said, "I must have left my voice in Milwaukee." It was sad to hear Justin's voice failing him while knowing how much he values putting on a good show.

The intermission was longer than usual, possibly to give the band time to create a plan for the second half. John did most of the talking, and four songs were cut: Gypsy, The Other Side Of Life, Driftwood and Question. John did his closing speech ("keep the faith, keep smiling...") during an extended introduction to Ride My See-Saw, and it illustrated just how much of their onstage patter is done by rote.

The following morning, it was announced that the next two shows were cancelled. The Des Moines concert was rescheduled for the following Sunday, and the Appleton show was rescheduled and added to the 2014 tour.

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