Late in his set, in this most civilised venue on this early autumn Sunday, Justin Hayward inadvertently causes a ruckus. After a rafter-rattling take on the Moody Blues Question he flicks his plectrum out into the crowd. The two eager middle-aged men who’ve been given almost every single song a standing ovation both launch themselves at the now-hallowed piece of plastic, and neither’s giving up their claim. This could’ve turned ugly, but, ever the professional and with a placating smile on his ageless face, Hayward simply places another pick between the contenders. Decorum is restored. “Well,” he quips to the hundreds-strong crowd, “that’s tonight’s profits gone!” And with that he strikes up the impeccable closer, Nights In White Satin, of course.
In this simple setting, what becomes apparent is the elegance and romance of his songwriting.
Hayward’s Stage Show Tour is his three-man show (he’s joined by new folk guitar supremo Mike Dawes and wonderfully adept keyboardist/co-vocalist Julie Ragins), and it’s the archetypal ‘An Evening With’ event. Nice and relaxed in black sweater, jeans and trainers, he plays stripped down versions of some of his milestone tunes, some new ones (“Please be patient with us!”), and he throws a few stories in too.
His old school songcraft has been treated to some wonderfully grandiose production in its time, but in this simple setting what becomes apparent – on the protean Tuesday Afternoon, the rocking Lovely To See You, the wistful Watching And Waiting – is the sheer elegance and unalloyed romance of Hayward’s songwriting. One Lonely Room has lost none of its desolating power, and taken from an upcoming movie, new ballad The Wind Of Heaven is long and compelling.
Some of his stories are touching. The Western Sky is prefaced with memories of his brother, their family home in Swindon and how his bedroom window has always framed his perspective on the world. Others are funny: when the Moodies sold out Madison Square Garden he flogged some tickets to some punters outside the show, just to freak them out when they saw their touts were actually the turn. There’s also a fun anecdote about how he came to perform Jeff Wayne’s Forever Autumn (blame a kid who worked at the Moodies’ own record shop, Threshold…).
The years have been kind, both to Hayward’s enviable hairline and, more importantly, his voice – it’s unmistakable, and a thrill to hear live. The fans here certainly think so. The standing ovations are numerous, and – bar the one – peaceful. After encore I Know You’re Out There Somewhere it’s not clear when the last round is going to stop. Such is the affection for the man and his music.