Review by Paul Quinton
With the Moody Blues seemingly taking a break from performing in 2016, bassist and songwriter John Lodge recorded a solo album, and is playing a series of dates around the country in support. The tour includes several dates in and around the Midlands, the first of which was in the cosy confines of Lichfield’s Garrick Theatre, which looked to be pretty full for the evening’s entertainment.
Support on the tour has been Birmingham’s own Tom Walker Trio, a blues band, and I have to say, with the Moodies drawing a more mature crowd these days, there were a few looks of apprehension on some faces when the band entered the stage and Tom Walker cranked up his first riff. They needn’t have worried, though. While most Blues bands these days have more than a hint of a Stevie Ray Vaughan or Joe Bonamassa influence, this isn’t really the case here. It’s much more of a Clapton feel, not least in Tom Walker’s vocals, but you had to like the amount of original material they played and the quality of it, particularly the slower song ‘Human Nature’, was very good indeed. They also had a likeable stage presence, which won the crowd over enough to get them clapping and singing along in the set closer; a cover of ‘Knock On Wood’. This was a pretty impressive set from the band, who on this showing are well worth seeing.
The original publicity for John Lodge’s tour was that he would be playing his own material as well as some Moody Blues favourites. There was certainly a strong Moodies influence in his band, named after his solo album, as well as himself there was Gordon Marshall on drums, Alan Hewitt on keyboards, and the excellent Norda Mullen on flute, occasional guitar and vocals, all long standing members of the Moodies touring band. While guitar duties were taken care of by the enormously experienced and respected session man Tim Maple, Lodge indulged himself a little by adding a cello to the line up, something he said he’s always wanted to do. Superbly played by Gemma Johnson, it definitely added depth and something different to the overall sound.
It was one of those Moody Blues favourites that opened the show, after an intro tape that featured brief extracts from the Moody Blues back catalogue, almost acting as an overture, then a voice over introduction for Lodge himself. The opening song was the Moodies’ favourite ‘Stepping In A Slide Zone’, which had some changes to the arrangement that gave a familiar song a fresher sound. It has to be said, though, that in the opening part of the set, Lodge’s voice seemed to be having problems. ‘Slide Zone’ has quite a high vocal part in places, and he definitely sounded as if he was straining on the higher notes. However, as the set went on, things improved and some of the harmonies between himself, Hewitt and Norda Mullen were quite superb.
Apart from ‘Slide Zone’, the early part of the set might have been unfamiliar material to a lot of the audience, who in turn, were very quiet, clapping politely at the end of songs, but not much else. Apart from the songs from his album, he reached deep into the Moodies’ back catalogue for songs that he said had never been played live before, or if they had, not for several decades. Songs such as ‘Peak Hour’, from Days of Future Passed and ‘Nervous’ from Long Distance Voyager were surprising choices, as was ‘Saved By The Music’ a song from the Blue Jays album he did with Justin Hayward. Of the songs he did from his new album, they were noticeably his songs, but were more varied in style than you might expect. The title track itself might sounded very Moody Blues, for example, but ‘I Can See You’ sounded more like Kansas, which was interesting, to say the least.
Inevitably, in the closing part of the show, he gave the crowd what they came for with a burst of Moodies classics, although, reasonably enough, he concentrated on his own contributions to the band’s success, in fact the only song played that didn’t have a John Lodge solo writing credit was ‘Gemini Dream’, co-written with Justin Hayward. ‘Isn’t Life Strange’ was brilliantly played and sung and brought the house down, and ‘I’m Just a Singer In A Rock’n’roll Band’, closing the 75 minute main set, finally got the crowd on their feet to clap along. There was a single encore of ‘Ride My See Saw’, fascinatingly sounding more like it came out of California in the mid 1960s than it did a Moody Blues song.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this show, but I liked that he chose less obvious songs from his career as well as wanting to promote his new album, and I also can’t say enough good things about his band, who were collectively excellent, although perhaps we could have wished for a little more presentation, as with the exception of Norda Mullen and Lodge himself, while Alan Hewitt was pretty animated behind his keyboards, there wasn’t a lot of interaction with the crowd. Musically, though, an awful lot to enjoy.
John Lodge plays Stratford Artshouse on 23rd September and Birmingham Town Hall on 30th September.