A packed house greets Justin Hayward on the Essex coast tonight. It’s the sort of venue where usherettes sell ice cream in the auditorium between acts, and Justin Hayward is on at an unfashionably early 8.15pm, but while it might not be very rock’n’roll, the sound is crystal clear. Hayward, on acoustic guitar, is joined by Julie Ragins, a touring member of The Moody Blues, on keyboards and backing vocals; and guitarist Mike Dawes, who switches between acoustic and electric.
The opening Out And In establishes that Hayward isn’t trying to replicate the sound of the band with which he’s most associated, however much the set draws on their greatest hits. The crowd recognises Tuesday Afternoon almost instantly, and the bouncy riff brings the room to life. This Morning, from 1975’s Blue Jays album, lends itself to the acoustic format, with nimble finger-picking guitar work from Hayward that was smothered by strings on the studio version.
“We’re going to do some new things and old things in the show. I’ve got a lot of old things,” Hayward jokes before Lovely To See You. And the middle of the set sees the singer dipping into his solo work, particularly 2013’s Spirits Of The Western Sky, while passing through his 70s and 80s releases like Songwriter and Night Flight.
In Your Blue Eyes, The Western Sky and new composition The Wind Of Heaven are all well crafted and gracefully performed, although they lack the progressive scope and ambitious structures of the Moodies material. They’re just a bit Radio 2. Hayward’s voice has aged well, and while he seems slightly careful in the early stages whenever the high notes come into view, by the mid-point he sounds confident and comfortable. Dawes, all tossed hair and sculpted cheekbones, provides tasteful accompaniment, and his percussive use of the body of his acoustic guitar adds a little drive to One Day, Someday. Forever Autumn goes down a storm, while the folky Never Comes The Day gets the audience clapping along.
The final stretch features the sort of material most songwriters can only dream of, beginning with Your Wildest Dreams, which sounds gorgeous in this acoustic format, without the heavy production of the 1988 recording. “I need your help in this song,” confesses Hayward before Question. “There’s a line in the middle I can’t get to any more.” And true to his word, Hayward leaves the high notes for the audience, who are only too happy to oblige. But he has no trouble hitting all the big moments in Nights In White Satin, which earns a standing ovation, and he encores with _I Know You’re Out There Somewhere. With material like that, Hayward just can’t miss.