Denny Laine knocked around Birmingham, England, with a few bands before tasting success with the Moody Blues. In short order, Laine and his mates headed to London.
There’s one powerful reason the city became a magnet for musicians in the early 1960s: it was really the only place to go.
“There were no recording studios or record companies outside of London,” Laine said in a recent phone interview. “All the bands trying to make it in those days moved down.”
The Beatles dominated the scene, and EMI’s Abbey Road, with producer George Martin, served as the preeminent studio. The Moodies worked for a different label and thus didn’t record there. But Laine and the Fab Four were close friends, and he visited frequently.
It afforded Laine an occasional glimpse of pop history in the making.
“I went to a couple of Sgt. Pepper sessions,” he said. “I remember going upstairs and they were doing a test for Pink Floyd, a recording test, and me and Paul went up and gave it a thumbs up. Generally, Abbey Road was a central point … it was a pretty kind of happening place.”
Later on, Laine would make his own music at the iconic studio, during a 10-year run with Wings, the band formed by Paul McCartney a few years after the Beatles broke up. On Jan. 25, Laine will revisit Abbey Road, playing material he worked on there and performing the album the Beatles named after the place in its entirety.
“It’s just a general picture of the songs I recorded or overdubbed at EMI with Wings,” Laine said. “They all have to do with either George Martin or Abbey Road.”
Laine couldn’t talk about his Wings days during the interview due to the upcoming deluxe reissue of Wings Over America, part of an ongoing McCartney project.
“I just did a huge interview with the Rolling Stone guy about that, so we want to keep that under wraps until it comes out,” he said.
But he was forthcoming about plenty of other topics, like “Go Now,” the Moody Blues’ lone hit before Laine left the band. American DJ B. Mitchel Reid brought them the song, originally recorded by Bessie Banks.
“He came back with a suitcase full of singles and said, ‘Pick a few songs that you’re interested in doing’ … a lot of people wondered where the hell we got that music from — that’s how we got it.”
Laine made the well-received single “Say You Don’t Mind” with Electric String Band, an ELO forerunner that featured cello and violin soloists from the Royal Academy of Music.
“Fusion was going on with the Beatles; they were sort of the leaders of all that,” Laine said. His difference was bringing it to the stage, “using pickups on violins and stuff like that. So whereas the Beatles and everybody else [worked] in the studio, I was doing it on the road.”
Touring, however, was difficult.
“These guys were hard to pin down because they were always going around the world with orchestras and stuff,” said Laine.
But those who saw the shows came away impressed, including a former Beatle who watched them open for Jimi Hendrix at London’s Saville Theatre in June 1967.
Hendrix played a rousing version of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” just days after the Beatles released the album, reportedly blowing McCartney away. But Sir Paul’s response to Laine’s new band led to a big career boost.
“It gave Paul an opportunity to see what I was doing … that’s one of the reasons he obviously called me up to join Wings.”
Laine is writing an autobiography.
“It’s a work in progress,” he said. “I’ve been given the go-ahead to write about the McCartneys, but obviously I’ll run it by Paul. I’ve written a lot of the early Wings stories ... but it’s not just about the Wings period. I don’t want that to be the central point. I’m going from Day 1 right up until the 2000s. Finding the time to finish is the problem.”