Acoustic guitar hero Mike Dawes on playing with Moody Blues’ Justin Hayward at Belly Up Aspen
Special to The Aspen Times
IF YOU GO …
What: An Evening with Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Thursday, Aug. 15, 8 p.m.
How much: $50-$95
Tickets: Belly Up box office; bellyupaspen.com
English fingerstyle guitar player Mike Dawes has been touring with the Moody Blues lead singer and guitarist Justin Hayward since 2013, The classic rock legend’s unique solo tour, which comes to Belly Up Aspen on Thursday, also includes the addition of flute player Karmen Gould.
“A lot of classic Moody Blues songs are very flute-heavy, so we’re able to integrate those into the set,” Dawes said in a recent phone interview. “There will be a lot of surprises for the fans who have seen the show before.”
Hayward’s four-piece band also includes Julie Ragins, who played with the Moody Blues for many years, on keyboards and backing vocals.
Dawes developed his love affair with the guitar when he first moved to a new school as a kid. In order to fit in at this new school, the “cool” kid happened to have a guitar and knew how to play. So, at first, Dawes started playing guitar just to fit in.
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“As soon as I started playing my first little riffs and chords, I became completely obsessed,” Dawes said. “And then I moved to acoustic guitar later and actually learned classic Moody Blues songs from old chord books that my mum had. Who would know years later that I’d end up playing with Justin and playing these songs onstage with him?”
In his unusual style and the technique, Dawes simultaneously plays drum parts, baselines, chords and melodies all live together, at once, on the acoustic guitar. It allows the group to get a bigger sound out of just four pieces.
“Justin is playing on some of his amazing guitars out of the woodwork — some of which he used to record some of the band’s classic records,” Dawes said. “There are 17 acoustic guitars on this tour. Any guitar nerds will get a kick out of that.”
His style initially stemmed from the fact that Dawes was from a very small town in England and he couldn’t find any other musicians to play with.
“I always had this passion to create music,” Dawes said. “So that, combined with being a bit of a control freak, led me to the acoustic guitar where you can ditch the guitar pick and use your fingers to create all of these different textures. The acoustic guitar has a hollow body—making it easy to create a nice, big sound.”
Dawes was named “Best Acoustic Guitarist in the World Right Now” in both 2017 and 2018 by Total Guitar Magazine/Music Radar. In June 2012, he released his first solo instrumental arrangement of Gotye’s smash hit “Somebody That I Used to Know.” The YouTube video was an overnight success — receiving 1.5 million views in just one day.
“It totally went crazy. Suddenly I was getting all kinds of concert offers from all around the world, including the United States,” Dawes said. “So, I started traveling — went to every continent on the planet, playing shows from tiny little bars to big theaters. Along the way, I met up with Justin and have been working with him on his tours, which has been an absolute thrill. He lets me play some of my own tunes during the show, as well. It’s always a privilege to play to his audience. His audience consists of fantastic, loyal and very supportive fans.”
Currently working on his third album, due out next year, Dawes is showcasing some of his new tunes on this tour.
“My days off are usually spent behind the guitar working on new music,” Dawes said.
Dawes has never played Aspen, though he said it’s always been on his bucket list. After traveling the world, the U.S. is still his favorite place to play.
“The people here just get the guitar,” Dawes said. “They understand acoustic guitar music. Also, I inject a little bit of awkward, cheesy British humor into the show which I do think a lot of Americans respond to. It’s really the perfect place to play.”
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