On the road - The Moody Blues' Justin Hayward: "Take the volume of the amps right down and start low. Starting loud in a soundcheck is a disaster"

The Moody Blues’ guitarist Justin Hayward extols the virtues of low on-stage volume and correct seating apparatus…

What was your first ever gig?

“My first gig was at St Saviour’s church hall in Swindon with a group called The Kestrels. It was pretty messy, I think - a little bit under-rehearsed. I would have been 10 and there were a couple of boys who had nice instruments but they couldn’t play, whereas another couple of us had terrible instruments but knew the chords…”

Describe your current stage rig…

“With the Moodys I use my 1963 red 335, my ’65 Telecaster, my Collings D3 and two McPhersons - a 12-string for Nights In White Satin and a six-string for Tuesday Afternoon. The acoustics go straight into the PA and I put an LA Baggs preamp in front of the PA for the 12-string McPherson just to fiddle with the tone a little bit. 

I think starting loud in a soundcheck is a disaster - just start quiet and bring it up from there

“I have a Boss GT-3 that I’ve had since the '90s on the floor. I boost the output of the guitars with a Pete Cornish booster because the 335 doesn’t have that loud an output, so I just put that before the GT-3 so it has a hotter signal going in. On top of that I have a [Lovepedal] Kalamazoo pedal, which is the best oomph pedal I’ve ever had; it gives just that little bit more warm distortion.

“There’s a stereo out from that, which goes to a Fender Dual Professional on the left hand side, the right hand goes to a Mesa Boogie combo that I’ve always liked and behaves well in the studio. They give a nice stereo balance between them.

“In the middle, on a completely dry signal with a little MXR compressor, there’s a Marshall 50-watt top that sits on a 4x12 cabinet. It’s not pumping out a lot of volume. You can stand in front of it and not get hurt or anything.”

What’s on your rider?

“Bananas, rice milk, tea, water and some berries. Oh and M&Ms.”

What’s your best tip for live sound?

“I would always, every gig, take the volume of the amps right down and start low. I think starting loud in a soundcheck is a disaster - just start quiet and bring it up from there and hope that the drummers go along with that concept… which they never do. Also, you don’t always need a big PA. I’ve found that, on my solo gigs, smaller PAs are often better and sweeter and more comfortable for everyone in the room.”

What non-musical item couldn’t you do without on tour?

“The must-have item is a West Elm Classic dining chair. I was having some trouble with my back because I spend so much time on a moving bus and in different hotels with different comfy seats, hard seats, no seats… you know? I went into a store and tried one of these chairs and thought,‘Oh, that’s perfect, if I could have that in every dressing room that would be brilliant.’ So it’s in every dressing room and I have another one that they put at my guitar station on stage left, because I tune all my own guitars.”

How do you get the audience on side?

Be yourself and be honest. If you’re having a problem, share it

“I think it’s just to be yourself and be honest. If you’re having a problem, share it. Keep it light and always remember that there’s a kind of glass curtain between you and the audience that you really shouldn’t cross. Never get into dialogue, personally, with somebody in the audience, keep it about the music and plough on because if you know that the music is good, you’re confident and you’re well-rehearsed - persevere!”

What’s the best venue you’ve played?

“I love doing my solo tours, which are all acoustic, and lately I’ve come to love a place called The Concert Hall at the side of Central Park in New York. I think it was once a lecture hall and it’s a place of learning, attached to a library, but it’s a lovely place to play and it has a lovely vibe in there.”

What’s the worst journey you’ve had either to or from a gig?

“There have been so many over the years with the Moodys - 50 years of touring. The ones that used to terrify me years ago were when we used to return to London after playing up north. For instance, we would play at the Cosmo Club in Carlisle and we would start off at 1pm and get there at 10pm at night, then we’d leave at 1am in the morning and get back home at 11am.”

What’s the nearest you’ve come to a Spinal Tap moment on tour?

“We turned up exactly a year late for a gig at the BBC, thanks to our drummer’s handwriting. If you can imagine - the guy said, ‘No, not today’ and our drummer’s saying, ‘No, it’s here, look, in the diary…’ and the guy said, ‘Yeah, 1967, not 68’.”

What’s your favourite live album?

“The big one was that boy from The Herd, Peter Frampton. They did a great job, everything just fell into place for him on that and you have to give him credit for that, even above the things he did in the studio, which was curious.”

Days Of Future Passed Live out now on Eagle Rock.

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