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Denny Laine to bring The Moody Wing Band to Portland

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“We were kids who wanted to do something in music,” rock icon Denny Laine told me of his early days in Birmingham, England. That kid eventually became a key member of two legendary rock bands – The Moody Blues, and later, Wings, where Laine was the only consistent member - other than Paul and Linda McCartney – for that band’s decade-long existence.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer is planning to bring his Moody Wing band to Portland’s One Longfellow Square for a concert on Tuesday, January 8, to perform two classic albums in their entirety.

Laine has long held a reputation for being one of rock and roll’s kindest players and that affability was certainly evident during my interview with him.

Even though Laine’s time spent in The Moody Blues and Wings represents a mere fraction of his musical life, he says he understands why the public continues to be fascinated by that period, and says he has a new level of appreciation for the timeless music he helped create.

During his upcoming tour with the Moody Wing band, Laine and company will perform The Moody Blues’ 1965 debut album “The Magnificent Moodies” as well as 1973’s “Band on the Run” album by Paul McCartney and Wings, in addition to hits and solo favorites. Laine says he’s greatly enjoyed the experience of becoming reacquainted with both albums.

“I’ve been listening to the songs on ‘The Magnificent Moodies’ not only to re-learn them for this tour but also because the record was recently remastered, and it sounds really good. You can hear everything,” Laine said. “I’m a fan of the technology involved in making this music sound better than ever.”

Laine laughs when he says the passage of time has allowed him to listen to the music he helped create in a new way.

“It’s funny, you know? Enough time has gone by that it’s almost like I wasn’t there, and I can now enjoy the music as a fan. I can appreciate the songs and how good the band was. It’s been the same thing with ‘Band on the Run.’ Those two albums kind of represent me more so that’s why I decided to do them for these concerts.”

The seeds for Laine’s decade-long collaboration with Paul McCartney were sowed years earlier when he was a member of the R&B-driven, pre-“Nights in White Satin”-era Moody Blues. With Laine on lead vocals, the band scored a #1 U.K. hit (#10 in the U.S.) in 1965 with “Go Now.”

“The Moody Blues toured with The Beatles during their second British tour,” Laine remembered. “We would do that song every night and I would look over and see Paul standing at the side of the stage checking us out.”

Aside from presenting The Moody Blues on their tour, Laine says The Beatles further aided The Moodies when they were going through problems with their management firm.

“The Beatles talked to their manager, Brian Epstein, about looking after us. By the way, most management problems in this business are financial in nature, in case you didn’t know (laughs). Things worked out well in the end and we became part of Brian’s stable of artists at his NEMS organization.”

Laine left The Moody Blues in 1966, making way for Justin Hayward and John Lodge to join the band they continue to lead today. Laine formed The Electric String Band – an experimental outfit which added cellos and violins to a guitar, bass and drums rock lineup.

“We were closing the first half of a Jimi Hendrix show at Brian Epstein’s Saville Theatre,” Laine recalled. “Paul McCartney was there with John Lennon and Peter Asher (of the pop duo Peter and Gordon. Asher became head of A&R for The Beatles’ Apple Records label in 1968 when he signed a then-unknown James Taylor). They saw me doing a little classical rock which nobody was really doing at that time. When Paul was ready to put a band together, he called me because he knew me and because he had seen me doing something original.”

Laine says he and McCartney bonded over shared musical influences and spent their first days together just jamming. The rawness and excitement of that time can be heard on the newly-released box set reissue of the first Wings album, “Wild Life” from 1971.”

“We were away from the press and the pressure and just eased our way into playing,” Laine said. “Wild Life” was basically us running through a few things and recording it. Some of those songs were very raw but many people like that album for its rawness. We went from that very raw sound to “Red Rose Speedway” (1973) with a completely different attitude.”

The Maine Edge: What are your thoughts on the new deluxe box sets for the Wings albums “Wild Life” and “Red Rose Speedway.”

Laine: The honest truth is I haven’t listened to them yet because they’ve only just arrived in the post. I’m looking forward to listening to them because I love to hear remastered songs. The packaging is nice on the new box sets. It’s fun to look at all of the photos from the time period – things I’d forgotten about. I did manage to see a bit of the ‘Bruce McMouse’ film.

(Note: ‘The Bruce McMouse Show’ was a partially animated concert film from 1972 featuring the members of Wings performing onstage during their Wings Over Europe tour, while a cartoon mouse family, led by ‘Bruce and Yvonne McMouse’, carried on with their lives under the stage. The film was completed but remained unseen until its appearance on the super deluxe reissue of “Red Rose Speedway.”)

Seeing the photos and videos really takes me back to those days and it’s been fun to see and hear it all again. I love how technology has come full circle and also that vinyl has become so popular again. When you listen to remastered reissues that you’ve been involved with, you can appreciate the technology used to make sound so good but it’s like you’re on the outside looking in. It’s like I’m looking at someone other than me.

The Maine Edge: I’m guessing the financial renumeration for your songwriting credits and involvement in creating the music has been a positive thing.

Laine: Well, there’s always that. The thing is – we don’t do it for the money – we never did. If money was the main reason why we did it, we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere. If you do something you really want to do – something you believe in – you will be rewarded financially but not if you go into it with money being the most important factor.

“Red Rose Speedway” was originally going to be a double album produced by Glyn Johns. Glyn left the sessions early, leaving Paul as producer. In the end, it came out as a single album. It moved slowly at first but then it really took off.

My song “I Would Only Smile” was going to be part of that double album and it’s on the new reissue, which is good for me. It was recorded with Denny Seiwell on drums and Henry McCullough on guitar.

The Maine Edge: When you wrote songs with Paul McCartney, did you sit across from each other with acoustic guitars or would you bring half-finished songs for the other to finish off?

 

 

 

 

Laine: Both. We wrote songs together in different ways. We tended to go places where we knew we would have a certain amount of time each day to write. For example, we’d go off to Scotland or Spain to take a bit of a holiday but specifically with the idea of writing songs. I would go down to Paul’s house and we would write for a few hours every day. We knew we would come out with something if we treated it like that. We would treat it a bit like a job because you need that pressure sometimes. We had the same influences and we learned from each other. I learned a lot from Paul and vice versa, especially about recording and having a laugh about silly lyrics sometimes. Paul encouraged me to write more songs, which is how I really got into it. Prior to that, I’d only really written with Mike Pinder in The Moody Blues.

I did have a song during the Electric String Band days called “Say You Don’t Mind,” which was a bit of a hit. Then Colin Blunstone of The Zombies recorded it and it became a huge hit in England. That’s when I realized that I may want to write songs that other people may want to cover.

The Maine Edge: Did the success of ‘Mull of Kintyre’ take you by surprise?

Laine: It was a complete fluke. We lived in the mull of Kintyre so all we had to do was look around to the hills and we got all of the lyrics.

(Note: Since 1966, Paul McCartney has owned High Park Farm in Scotland, which is located near the headland of the Kintyre peninsula. McCartney and Laine co-wrote ‘Mull of Kintyre’ as a tribute to the area and invited the local Campbeltown Pipe Band to add bagpipes to the song. The single hit #1 in the U.K. at Christmas 1977 and stayed there for nine weeks, selling more than two million copies. It was the largest selling U.K. single of all until 1984’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas” charity song by Band Aid.)

The Maine Edge: Even Glen Campbell recorded a version of ‘Mull of Kintyre.’ He did a pretty good job with it.

 

Laine: I only recently heard Glen’s version which was really interesting. He was like us. He couldn’t read music but he was a great player and had a great ear. He just loved music like we did. Then he got involved with (songwriter) Jimmy Webb, whom I know very well, he’s a lovely guy. Even though I never met Glen, I love the fact that he did ‘Mull of Kintyre’ and he played bagpipes on it, which blew me away (laughs).

The Maine Edge: Do you plan to perform ‘Mull of Kintyre’ during your upcoming tour?

Laine: I certainly will but it won’t be with the Cambeltown Pipe Band like we had on the original (laughs).

The Maine Edge: The story goes that you, Paul and Linda loaded the bagpipe players up with either free beer or whiskey after the session. Is that true?

Laine: It wasn’t our fault. They loaded themselves up with it. It was Scotland in the 1970s, come on (laughing). They were really great, down to Earth people and we had a great laugh with them when they came down to do the TV show with us at Christmas-time that year.

Scotland was a great place to be at that time, away from the press. After ‘Mull of Kintyre’ became so huge, that area became a sort of tourist attraction. Tourists from all over the world started coming there because of that song which has done them a lot of good.

The Maine Edge: What was your favorite period of Wings? The early days when the band was just starting and you would pull the bus up to a University and ask if they wanted McCartney’s new band to play that night? Or was the later stadium-filling success of Wings your favorite time?

 

 

 

Laine: I liked both for different reasons. When you start out any new thing, there is never a guarantee of success. Wings was kind of a gamble in the early days. It was very exciting and fun but the pressure was on. When we got to the stadium level, we got the feedback from that great audience. In those days, there weren’t many bands that could fill a stadium. I wish I could have been in the audience because I know I would have enjoyed it. We never got to see what it was really like because we were on the stage. I enjoyed the success just as much as the early days when we were getting started.

The Maine Edge: I’m looking forward to the eventual release of “London Town” (1978) and “Back to the Egg” (1979) - two excellent and vastly underrated Wings albums, in my opinion. Do you know if those records are in the pipeline?

Laine: There will be reissues of all of that material, I’m sure of it. The great thing about that music is that it’s withstood the test of time. Very young kids come up to me today to tell me how much they love that music which is a great compliment when you can get the music across to them. They’ve probably been influenced by their parents and grandparents but they recognize great music when they hear it.

The Maine Edge: The last Wings lineup – with you, Paul and Linda, Laurence Juber on guitar and Steve Holley on drums – was killer. What a great band. Had you hoped that lineup would have lasted longer?

Laine: I really did, especially since I was the one who found Laurence and Steve. Steve was a neighbor of mine who’d been working with Elton John. Paul and Linda came to my house one weekend and they met Steve there. Laurence was playing guitar on the David Essex show that I’d performed “Go Now” on, which led to me recommending him to Paul when we were looking for a new Wings lineup. Unfortunately, the Japan problem with Paul stopped everybody in their tracks. We couldn’t go back and work live because it was all about getting visas and stuff, which suddenly became a problem.

 

The Maine Edge: You’re referring to January 1980, when Wings arrived in Japan for a sold out tour. Japanese customs agents opened Paul’s suitcase to find a half pound of marijuana sitting on top of his clothes. Paul was looking at seven years in prison. Why do you think he took that chance?

Laine: You tell me. Well, for starters, it was probably very good grass (laughs). I don’t really know. I do know that he knew it was a mistake, but at the same time, I don’t believe he thought they would actually go through his bags. The big worry was that Japan’s laws were so strict Paul really could have been put in prison for many years. It was a scary time.

The Maine Edge: You can legally purchase it in Maine now. Does it seem odd that there was once such a fuss over it?

Laine: I never felt pot was a drug. It’s a plant – it’s not messed with. It is funny to see pot legalized in my lifetime and I love that people are getting the medical benefits from it – from kids with epilepsy to people fighting cancer. It’s a great thing so I’m kind of proud that we were involved with it back then. I had my own legal problems with it in the ‘70s. I got stopped with it a couple of times.

The Maine Edge: Later that year (1980), Wings hit #1 with the live version of “Coming Up,” – a song with many fans, including John Lennon, according to an interview he gave that year. I remember hoping those words might lead to John and Paul getting together.

Laine: I also know for a fact that John was a fan of the “Band on the Run” album. If Paul didn’t come up with something good, John was always going to be critical. When Paul did come out with a good one, John was always very complimentary. That’s the way they were together.

Paul and I were always bouncing ideas off of each other and he and John were the ultimate songwriting couple who did that.

The Maine Edge: You were with Paul when John was killed. It must have been an extraordinarily difficult time.

Laine: It was. We went into George Martin’s Air Studios in London, just to get Paul out of the house after he received the terrible news. We were five stories above Oxford Circus trying to make sense of it all. We talked about John all day. I remember at one point Paul and I stared out the window at the traffic below and this big furniture truck with the world ‘Lennon’s’ written on the side drove by. We both looked at each other in disbelief. It was just really weird. We were in shock – him especially.

John was a friend of mine as well. I’d visited The Beatles during the “Sgt. Pepper” sessions and the Moodies were always inviting The Beatles over for parties. John and I used to go out with a neighbor and we always had a good time.

The Maine Edge: Jack Douglas (producer of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s 1980 album “Double Fantasy”) has told a story about Paul calling The Hit Factory when he heard that John was recording again after five years. Jack claims that Paul tried to reach John but Yoko allegedly intercepted the call and wouldn’t let them speak. Did Paul ever tell you if that story is true?

Laine: I could imagine it could be true. I’m really sad to hear that it might have happened because it would have been great if Paul and John had worked together again. I do know that they had at least ironed out some differences. It’s so sad what happened – that John was on the verge of doing what Paul had been encouraging him to do. Paul wanted John to get back out there and play live and John was so close to doing that when he was killed.

The Maine Edge: Here’s a happier subject – I understand that your Moody Wings Band will soon film a concert to air later this year on PBS.

Laine: That’s the plan. This band started out as Peter Asher’s band and then we changed a couple of members because they had to go work with him. The musicians in this band are all very good players. We recorded a show at (Daryl Hall’s) Daryl’s House Club in Pawling, New York, and I’m now doing as many gigs as possible to tighten the show up and get them to the front. They all have a song each when we do “Band on the Run.”

I’m also doing some solo shows on the side with me telling stories and playing guitar and piano. If you get a chance to check that out, you should come because we do have a lot of fun and I know you would enjoy it.

At our upcoming band shows, including Portland on January 8, we’ll play the two albums which will be about 90 minutes, followed by a few other Wings songs at the end and a couple of my own things.

The Maine Edge: You’ve led an incredible life in and out of music. Will we ever see a memoir by Denny Laine?

Laine: (laughing). Please. That is too much work for me. The fact is, I tried to do that once. I had an English literary company involved but they wanted it to consist mostly of stories about Paul and Wings. I told them that’s not me. There’s more to my life than just being part of Wings. They put the pressure on me to do a book and that turned me off. If I’m going to do a proper memoir, I’ll do it on my own time.

Tickets for the January 8 performance by Denny Laine and the Moody Wing Band at One Longfellow Square, 181 State St. in Portland, are available at www.OneLongfellowSquare.com

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