Musician known for the Moody Blues

Born: December 29, 1941;

Died: January 4, 2018

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RAY Thomas, who has died aged 76, was a British musician who sang, played flute and composed songs for the rock group the Moody Blues. One of the founders of the band with keyboard player and old friend Mike Pinder, Thomas was a part of the Moody Blues’ biggest successes, including their debut hit, the beat group ballad Go Now in 1964, and the huge transatlantic crossover Nights in White Satin, which fully broke the band in America in 1972, five years after it was originally released.

Although they bore a long and successful career themselves, the Moody Blues were also noted for their loose association with the Beatles. They supported both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones on tour, including during the former’s final American dates in 1966; they were briefly also managed by Brian Epstein under the Apple stable from 1965; and Thomas once claimed that he and Pinder contributed backing vocals and instrumentation to the Beatles’ I Am the Walrus and The Fool on the Hill.

For artists with such a length of service and breadth of recordings, however, the above singles were the only genuinely iconic and enduring hits which the Moody Blues produced. They released the first ten of their 16 albums between 1964 and 1981, nine of which went top ten in the UK, with four repeating the feat in America. After initial British success with the poppy, R’n’B-flavoured The Magnificent Moodies in 1964, Days of Future Passed (1967) instigated a prolific period of psychedelic progressive rock records.

These seven albums, released over an intense five year period, are seen by most as the band’s creative peak. They explored the quest for knowledge, dreams and space exploration respectively on the lush and orchestrally expansive In Search of the Lost Chord (1968), On the Threshold of a Dream and To Our Children’s Children’s Children (both 1969); returned to a more basic sound on A Question of Balance (1970); made music itself the loose theme of Every Good Boy Deserves Favour (1971) and had their first US number one – partly buoyed by the reissued Nights in White Satin – with the more political Seventh Sojourn (1972).

The classic line-up of the group returned after a six-year recording hiatus – during which time Thomas released the solo albums From Mighty Oaks (1975) and Hopes, Wishes and Dreams (1976) - with 1978’s Octave, although Mike Pinder soon left and was replaced by former Yes keyboard player Patrick Moraz, precipitating an increasingly more synthesiser-led sound over the next decade.

The new makeup of the band served to sideline Thomas’ musicianship. Although he contributed songs and vocals to Long Distance Voyager (1981) and The Present (1983), he was absent entirely from The Other Side of Life (1986) and Sur La Mer (1988), returning to prominence on Keys to the Kingdom (1991) and Strange Times (1999). He finally left the group in 2002 after 38 years for health reasons.

Born in 1942 and raised in Birmingham, Raymond Thomas was part of a Welsh mining family and identified as being from the country; “English by birth and Welsh by the grace of God” was how he put it. Shown a little harmonica playing by his father when he was young, he was entirely self-taught as a flautist, and went on to play saxophone, oboe, harmonica and other wind instruments with the Moody Blues.

A member of Birmingham Youth Choir, he played in local blues bands before forming El Riot and the Rebels with Lodge, later adding Pinder to the fold. Thomas and Pinder went on to create the Krew Kats and finally the Moody Blues in 1964 with Edge, the late Clint Warwick and Denny Laine.

Thomas announced he had prostate cancer in 2014 and died at home in Surrey in 2018. He is survived by his second wife and three children.

DAVID POLLOCK