Going Solo (1974 to 1977)
For three years the Moody Blues went their separate ways. It was a chance for each of them to spread their wings and develop solo projects.
Every great band has a moment when they have a moment when they stop and reassess everything. The Moody Blues were no different. By 1974 life on the road had taken its toll. The magic wasn’t working any more. They didn’t so much split, but they went their separate ways for a while. It would be three years before the world saw the Moody Blues again and, even then, it was in a slightly different form.
For most of the band, this was a chance to stretch their legs and do something for themselves. Justin Hayward and John Lodge released the highly successful Blue Jays. Edge produced a couple of albums with guitarist Adrian Gurvitz, Kick off you Might Boots and Paradise Ballroom. Mike Pinder, meanwhile produced the Promise in 1976.
It was Ray Thomas, though, who arguably produced the most interesting solo work. Thomas teamed up with Nicky James who had been a former band mate of Denny Laine and produced two rare but fantastic recordings.
“It was great, absolutely great. Nicky James – he is dead now – and I, worked really well together,” he said in an interview to the Hit Channel. “We had our own studio with the Moody Blues and Derek Varnals (ed: producer, engineer) was on our staff, and it was absolutely fabulous to have complete control of it.”
From Mighty Oaks (1975) and Hopes Wishes and Dreams (1976) have a cult following among Moody Blues fans. It was here that he was able to bring his own haunting sounds to the fore and really give his flute the space he’d have liked all along. By the time he returned to the band he’d have a new nickname ‘the flute’.
For his first album, Thomas went back to the formular which had made Days of Future Passed. Once again, the LP opened with an orchestral arrangement from Terry James pulling together themes from the rest of the tracks. It called back to the classical/rock fusion which had made the Moodies so popular.
Elsewhere the tracks have a contemplative, personal, nature to them. ‘Hey Mama Life’ is a drifting piece about the value of hard earned wisdom. Lyrics such as ‘Drinking whiskey by the jar’ and ‘I was once told the streets were paved with gold/now I know them for what they are’ give it a bitter sweet opening.
It’s followed up by the beautiful ‘Play it Again’ with lyrics such as ‘we chased our rainbows through the sun’, before things get a little more upbeat with ‘Rock a Bye Baby Blues’ and ‘High Above my Head’, an upbeat number with booming with a strong brass accompaniment and giving him a chance to let out his old harmonica.
‘Adam and I’, meanwhile, is a beautiful love song to his own son. ‘I waited for so long for you to come along, hoping my love would bear a son.’
The album had modest success charting at 23 in the UK album charts and 68 in the US billboard.
Hopes wishes and Dreams
The trio came back a year later for a follow up ‘Hopes Wishes and Dreams’. Again, Thomas and James collaborated on most songs aside from the Nicky James opening ‘In Your Song’, and the closing track ‘The Last Dream’ from Thomas.
It produced one single One Night Stand which was released in both the US and UK, a powerful track featuring a great opening with the guitar and bringing in elements of brass. It was in keeping with a more upbeat album infused with his enduring optimism. This is perfectly encapsulated in track six Keep on Searching. Backed by pounding piano and up-tempo trumpets this contains elements of big band blues.
It’s a very different feel to their first collaboration and contains plenty to delight most Moodies fans. However, it didn’t make much of a splash in the charts. The album limped to 145 in US Billboards.
The albums were re released on CD in 1989 as part of a Moody Blues Box set. They were also remastered towards the end of his life in another box set. His solo albums also came out in the 2020 release Ray Thomas Words and Music.
Coming back home
His albums were recorded and put out through Threshold, the label the Moodies had set up under license from Decca. Although very much under the auspices of Decca, the label had given them the musical freedom they needed and allowed them to sign up a few artists.
Threshold meant that, although they were apart, the band always stayed connected. After a few years refreshing their batteries and working on other stuff, it was always likely that they would return. The reformed to record their eighth album Octave, and a world tour. Although the album was to be a great success, it would see them part ways with keyboardist Mike Pinder.
For the others, though, time away had reinforced their bond. They would stay together for the next thirty years until ill health forced Thomas to retire in 2002.