Among the Stars (1995)
By Ralph Burnett
"I consider myself now more as a writer-communicator than a performing artist," conveys Mike Pinder, cofounder of the Moody Blues, who is as much a philosopher as a musician. "The Moodies were really the first rock band to do conceptual albums and to work with a symphony orchestra (on Days of Future Past). Because of that, I realized that so many of my ideas were linked-up to this whole area of conceptual thinking and of communicating ideas to people by asking questions musically and through the lyrics."
It's been seventeen years since Michael recorded Octave, his eighth and final album with the Moody Blues, and his new album, Among the Stars, marks a bold return to his musical roots. "I'm not trying to influence the top-40," remarks Pinder, "I'm not trying to influence MTV -- that's not my approach. I'm really just trying to touch base with old friends and make some new friends along the way."
"Growing up, the only instrument I ever played other than the piano was the ukelele," smiles Pinder. "I still have vivid memories of all of us kids gathered at the front gate singing 'Four Legged Friend' which was my first tune on the ukelele."
"When I was a teenager," recalls Mike, "one of the biggest things was going out on weekends and finding various good country pubs that had modern jazz quartets or trios playing. My older brother and his friends were very much into that, so that influence is now coming out in my own music."
"I had a group called the Rocking Tuxedos," continues Pinder, "and that worked out pretty good. After that my brother and I had a group called the Checkers and we won a competition in Birmingham at the town hall. I have a photograph of us on stage collecting the check for fifty pounds. Later Ray Thomas and I had a band called the Crew Cats (but spelled in a slightly different way than in America)."
One of the indelible marks of Michael's sound throughout the years is an instrument he almost single-handedly made famous, the Mellotron. "I went to work for the Streetly Electronics Company," recalls Pinder, "which was only a couple of miles from my home. There I discovered the Mellotron but, unfortunately, didn't discover enough money to buy one at that time (they were about five-thousand dollars)." Real work, eventually led Pinder to form another band. "I left the job at Streetly Electronics and went and got Ray Thomas out of the factory he was working at as a tool setter. We went around all the Birmingham groups and tried to steal the best people we could, and that's how we formed the Moody Blues in early '64. The first thing we did as the Moodies, was play a lot of blues and R&B backing people like Sonny Boy Williamson, Memphis Slim, Slim Harpo, which was a great learning experience. Our first album was released on Friday, November 13th, 1964. We went on tour with Chuck Berry right after that in England and we hit the number one spot with Go Now during that tour. After the Moodies had been together a couple of years, we located a Mellotron at the Dunlop tire company's recreation hall and managed to pick it up for three-hundred pounds (which was about five-hundred dollars or so)."
Mike hit gold outside the Moodies as well. "The Four Tops recorded two songs of mine," submits Pinder, "one was called 'So Deep Within You' and the other was called 'Simple Game', which became a single for them. We hit a number one in England with it. I ended up singing some backing vocals along with them on the track. incidentally, 'Simple Game' won me a Ivor Novello award in England for social comment song of the year."
No matter what album comes to mind when you think of the Moody Blues, one album stands out as the cornerstone of Art Rock. "Day's of Future Past came about because Decca Records wanted to do an album of Dvorak's 'New World Symphony' using a rick group," recalls Pinder. "So we got in the studio under that pretense and we literally locked all the doors and came up with Day's of Future Past."
And what of the future? "This Summer I'm going to do an instrumental album," says Michael, "which will really be an extension of 'Among the Stars.' It will be poetry with instrumental backgrounds -- or another way of saying it would be inner landscapes." Michael is also working on a book of prose. "I am basically taking song titles like 'Thinking is the Best Way to Travel' or 'Have You Heard?' or 'Out and In', and doing conscious stream essays. Basically, I'm using the title as poetic license to ramble on into aspects of my own personal philosophy." There is also a children's album in the wings. "That is going to be ten or so short uplifting children's stories from around the world, with little musical atmospheres to help it along. Hopefully it will bring us back to the child in all of us and to those purer time before we were seduced by the world."
Along with a stellar cast of studio friends Michael has worked with down through the years, Among the Stars boasts some likely newcomers, Mike's three sons, Dan (23), Mike (16) and Matt (14). "They were in the right place at the right time," jokes Michael. "They saw that I was involved in music because I've got the studio in the house. But they never really put two and two together until some kids at school mentioned what their parents had told them, that I was involved in a pretty big band in the 60's and 70's. I remember them coming home one day and saying 'the kids at school said you're a rock star' and that's when I took them down stairs, opened the cupboard and pulled out a bunch of vinyl albums and later copies on CD and said 'well here they are and if you'd like to listen to it, there it is.'"
"A lot of people tell me that the more they listen to Among the Stars, the more they like it," concludes Mike, "and that's exactly what I like to hear about the kind of music that I make. It's the kind of music that might not hit you right away but at some point of your weakness, it will find you."