OVI magazine - July 2011
A Hope, Wish, and Dream Come True
by Melanie Rose White
For the many loyal fans of Moody Blues rocker Ray Thomas, trying to buy original copies of his solo albums on CD in recent years has been nearly impossible. If you were willing to scour vintage record stores or online auctions, you could sometimes find the music on worn vinyl (usually tucked inside a not-too-pristine album cover). Fans in search of a nonbootlegged CD in mint condition, though, were hard pressed to locate Ray’s music.
Fast forward to the fall of 2010 and imagine the collective sigh of delight when Ray announced his release of From Mighty Oaks . . . Hopes Wishes & Dreams—a newly formatted box set containing his solo albums and a new song and DVD—all encased in an attractive, substantial package.
Ray’s box set has captured the attention of music lovers around the world and has proven to be a treat well worth the wait. And although some of us will never be able to stay out of used record stores (who knows what’s lurking in those bins!), I’m happy Ray has made his solo albums readily available —particularly for younger fans who weren’t around to buy his music in the ’70s.
Threshold Music & DVD Shop Hosts Launch Party
thresholdrecords_400To commemorate the official release of his new box set on September 24, 2010, Ray Thomas welcomed hundreds of fans at a signing event held at the Threshold shop in Cobham, Surrey. It’s especially poignant that this celebration was held at Threshold because less than six months later—in February 2011—this familiar Moody Blues landmark shuttered its doors. For more than four decades, legions of fans who had come to London for a Moodies concert or just to sightsee made the short trek to the shop, often arriving via the local train.
That was the scene on September 24 as fans from around the world gathered at Threshold to meet Ray and his wife, Lee, and Bias Boshell (with whom Ray worked on the box set). When longtime fan Pam Hollingshead of Fairborn, Ohio, read about plans for the upcoming Threshold party, she knew it was the perfect opportunity to catch the Moodies in London and to visit with Ray in Cobham.
Pam arrived at Threshold early that morning. Before long, fans from Europe, Japan, Canada, and the United States had lined up in a drizzly rain, and the queue extended farther than Pam could see from inside the store. Waiting patiently with fellow fans was a four-legged friend (a dog!) who had come to see Ray as well. (No word on whether the pooch brought along any collectibles for signing.) Quite a few fans in line had never been to a Moody Blues show prior to 2002, so it was their first opportunity to see Ray in person.
From a back office, Ray entered the shop to a hearty round of cheers and applause. For several hours, he greeted fans and graciously autographed his box set and other memorabilia. Fans were encouraged to make a donation to Wildlife Aid—one of Ray and Lee’s favorite charities—in exchange for a selection of photographs. Pam had her box set along with a poster from a Moodies show in 1997. The poster had been previously signed by band members Graeme Edge, John Lodge, and Justin Hayward. As Pam handed Ray her poster, thrilled that she would finally get that one last signature, Ray laughed and with a twinkle in his eye said, “That John—he always picks the best place on the poster to sign!”
Another dedicated fan, Nancy Jussen of West Chester, Pennsylvania, was also delighted to attend the signing. “You could tell Ray was very pleased and maybe slightly overwhelmed at the number of people and all the nice things they were saying to him. He was a joy to speak to and more than happy to have his photo taken with us.”
For both longtime and newer fans alike, what an honor it must have been that day to have a chance to chat with Ray and to at last acquire his solo material.
A Peek Inside the Box Set
by Ken Barnhart
The new Ray Thomas box set From Mighty Oaks . . . Hopes Wishes & Dreams is definitely a pleasant, smiling trip down memory lane.
Ray was the singer/songwriter/flutist for the legendary British classic rock band the Moody Blues. His music career began in the late ’50s with local Birmingham bands such as El Riot & The Rebels. Ray founded the Moody Blues in 1964 and remained with the band until his retirement at the end of 2002. The Moodies achieved phenomenal success in the recording studio and on tour, selling more than 65 million albums (each album went at least platinum) and filling concert venues all over the globe.
What some of the more recent/younger or more casual Moodies fans may not know is that the band took a brief hiatus in the mid-’70s to pursue some musical experiences outside of the group. For Ray, the result was two wonderful solo albums—From Mighty Oaks (1975) and Hopes Wishes & Dreams (1976). Filled with songs of peace and brotherhood, love for family and nature, and the simple joys of life, these albums represent the very essence of Ray Thomas.
At the time, many of the Moodies were using Tony Clarke to produce their solo albums. So what made Ray decide to take on that task himself? “I couldn’t get Tony,” Ray explains, “he was busy with other Moodies! I had Derek Varnals, who was the Moody Blue’s engineer. I knew what I wanted the album to sound like and he knew the technical side, so we made a great team.”
Was it easier doing two solo albums than a Moody Blues album? “Yes,” states Ray, “it was easier because I made all the decisions! After living in each other’s pockets for so many years, it was fun…nice to work with fresh, new musicians.”
This new four-disc box set contains a re-release of those two albums, and is a real treat for fans or for anyone who appreciates the music of this era. I admire all of the thought and care that so obviously went into the creation of this package, and there are lots of extra goodies to please even diehard fans and collectors.
The box cover was designed by Phil Smee and features a very clever merging of the two original album cover art paintings. Both original covers were painted by longtime Moodies artist Phil Travers. Smee seamlessly morphed the two paintings by Travers to create one image. Lee Thomas worked extensively with Smee on the box set design and said, “Phil [Smee] is brilliant when it comes to covers, booklets, and anything to do with packaging.”
Upon opening the box, one is greeted with a striking portrait of Ray by Canadian artist Monique Trempe. This is featured on the cover of a detailed booklet insert. The booklet includes all of the original album information and lyrics for every song from both albums. There is an informative, current interview with Ray about the making of both albums and the creation of this box set. Filled with plenty of photos throughout, the booklet also contains some lovely dedications.
And now to the music. The first disc contains all of the tracks from the original 1975 album From Mighty Oaks. Opening with a full orchestra overture that borrows musical themes from songs on the album, this track is absolutely thrilling and has the same impact today as it did 35 years ago when originally released. My personal favorites include “Love Is The Key,” “Adam & I” (a tribute to Ray’s son), “I Wish We Could Fly,” and the overture.
Likewise, the second disc contains all of the tracks from the original 1976 album Hopes Wishes & Dreams. Fans living in the United States will be very pleased because this album was never released as a CD here, and this is their chance to finally add the music to their CD collection. I like “Within Your Eyes,” “Didn’t I,” “Carousel,” and especially “Migration,” a poetic and imagery-laden piece about birds flying south that features some very interesting instrumentation.
The re-mastered albums sound terrific. We asked Ray how hands-on he was with the re-mastering process and he responded, “I wasn’t hands on at all, Bias Boshell handled all of the re-mastering for me.”
It must be difficult for a songwriter to choose, but we asked Ray if he had a favorite song on each album. “I have two favourites,” Ray reveals, “‘I Wish We Could Fly’ and ‘Migration.’ And I was surprised at how good ‘High Above My Head’ sounded, it’s stood the test of time.”
Both discs are clear and quite enjoyable, with a wide variety of song styles and textures, and tunes/phrases that tend to come back and haunt you later (in a good way). On both discs, Ray handles lead vocals, flutes, and harmonica. And it’s nice to see that both discs are housed in their own gatefold sleeves, sort of miniature versions of the original vinyl album covers.
Disc Three is a DVD that showcases the entire From Mighty Oaks album in 5.1 surround sound adapted from the 1975 unreleased Quadraphonic Mix. Visually, a camera scans and zooms in on various parts of the original album art. A true gem awaits at the end of the disc with a promo video for the song “High Above My Head,” featuring the Ray Thomas Band rocking out with Ray on lead vocals and playing some great harmonica.
Disc Four begins with an original 1975 interview, but here we have Mike Pinder asking the questions in 2010, while Ray answers the questions in 1975. The interview is followed by several “single versions” of songs, some released but some previously unreleased. The single versions often differed from the album versions of the songs, so it’s nice to have all of these variations consolidated into one source.
Disc Four closes with a new song, recently recorded by Ray, titled “The Trouble With Memories.” It’s a pensive piece, reflecting the wisdom that comes from life’s experiences. It’s a song of love, gleaned from its final line of dedication. Ray co-wrote the song with Bias Boshell, who also contributes guitar and keyboards. The song features Finbar Furey on Uilleann (Irish) pipes and whistle. Ray’s still-glorious baritone is strong and clear on the vocals, and the instruments are sparse (yet effective) so as not to overwhelm the lyrics. And Ray adds, “Derek (Varnals) was there for the recording of the new song…as an advisor!”
“Migration” has long been my favorite Ray solo song, since its release in 1976. It has now been relegated to #2 with the release of “The Trouble With Memories.” I admire this song, and it makes me yearn for Ray to record an entire album of new material. I guess that would be my hope, wish, and dream.
There is yet another bonus worth mentioning…two mini-postcards depicting the full opened-up cover art from the original albums. A very nice addition.
As I said, a lot of thought and care went into this package. I’ve had a difficult time finding any fault with it. There are no printed lyrics for “The Trouble With Memories” but, perhaps, Ray could post them in the future on his website www.raythomas.me . The fans might appreciate seeing some of the many rare original picture sleeves from around the world, but those can be found on sites such as https://moodybluesattitude.yuku.com. Overall, this box set is a very satisfying package. Kudos to all involved.
If you’re a Moody Blues fan, you’ll definitely want this box set. And, if you’re a Ray Thomas fan, this box set is absolutely essential.
Copies of the box set are available on Amazon.com. Both of Ray’s solo albums are on iTunes and Amazon.com as MP3 downloads. On August 1, 2011, Disc 4—including the 1975 interview with Mike Pinder, six songs, and the new “The Trouble with Memories” will be released on iTunes and Amazon as MP3s.
Visit https://raythomas.me/ for the latest news about Ray Thomas, a photo gallery, contest information (currently underway), and much more!
Melanie Rose White and Ken Barnhart have written and co-written numerous articles for the Moody Blues fanzine—Higher & Higher.