Spirits of the Western Sky

Justin HaywardI needed to play the songs from the ‘Spirits’ album live. I had played them so much at home – I just had to experience that vibe in concert.

How to do it? Should I have a drummer? There were drums on the recordings. Should I find a bass player? Paulo and me both did the bass playing parts on the sessions. I played on some tracks, he played on others.

I had certainly decided to make the whole show acoustic, with maybe a bit of electric. That’s how most of the songs were demo’d or written.

I knew Alan could sample and re-create all the keyboard parts – and he is such a great personality to share a tour with. Julie is such a fabulous, underrated musician and I knew she could do all the harmonies from ‘Spirits’ as well as bass and lead lines on keyboards as well.

But – first of all I needed another guitar player. I searched high and low, in the USA, the UK and Europe and listened to so many guitarists, but I could never settle on a player.

Then, one night in my music room, I was listening to a girl called Karima Francis, who is absolutely brilliant (I’m a fan) and I saw a connection to a young guitar player called Mike Dawes.

It was obvious that he was exceptional and, best of all, very rhythmic and percussive with his playing. I got in touch and asked him if we could meet. Yes!

I arranged to see a couple more players, as well as Mike, one morning in April and Mike was first to arrive. We nervously made some small talk while opening our guitar cases, and we ’twiddled’ and tuned for a few seconds – and then we played.

I felt a little shiver as we started into ‘In Your Blue Eyes’ and I knew this felt right, that’s all, just right. I had forgotten the feeling of joy that playing new songs can bring, when they are played with care, sensitivity and awareness of the other player.

Mike had learned about four songs from ‘Spirit’s’ and after we played those I started playing ‘New Horizons’ and he got completely into it and played along, adding exactly the right rhythm and chords – he had never heard it before – remember he was only 23 when we met – but before we had finished the song I had made up my mind. Mike was the guy.

As he left I said I would catch up the next day, but sitting with a cup of tea, with the memory of our guitar playing still lingering and ringing in my head, I decided to get in touch with the other two players to tell them I had made up my mind already.

What a wonderful day – for me and Mike anyway.

I got in touch with Mike and we confirmed – it was going to be great.

We kept in touch. Mike works all the time, so I had to fiddle around with dates – but Julie, Alan, me and Mike agreed to meet up in Italy after the Moodies UK tour. Mike was on route to Austria and we all rehearsed for a few days in Alberto’s studio, with Alberto’s mum cooking for us – fabulous. I made a giant wall chart, of possible songs, and we rehearsed them all. Sadly not all of them made it in to the show. The promoters were very clear about how long they wanted from me and we had rehearsed too much material.

However, it was a great few days and I knew then we needed nothing but the four of us.

The tour was still about a month away, but we were all talking and emailing regularly about technical details, about parts and arrangements, chords and inversions etc.

The agent and promoters wanted a support act for each show and suggested a couple of names and artists local to each venue. But after seeing Mike play (with just me Alan, Julie and Alberto for an audience – most of the time when Mike didn’t realise we were paying attention to him and exchanging glances between ourselves) I decided that Mike was our tours own opening act. You couldn’t fail to be turned on by his playing.

So – a month later we were off, and what a brilliant tour we had. I loved every moment. I had wrongly assumed that smaller gigs – between 500 and 1,100 seats – would naturally not be as nice as Moodies gigs, in terms of facilities and dressing rooms and such.

How wrong I was. The family atmosphere of the gigs we played was very special, the food tasty and nourishing, the dressing rooms clean and tidy (unlike many larger gigs) and every promoter asked us back. We are very lucky, and I am forever in the debt of the beautiful audiences we had.

Will we do another tour? – you bet! I can’t wait.

Love,
Justin