Denny Laine, star musician with Moody Blues and Wings, dies aged 79

<span>Photograph: David Cole/Alamy</span>
Photograph: David Cole/Alamy

Denny Laine, the frontman of the Moody Blues who went on to huge success with Paul McCartney in Wings, has died aged 79.

He had lung damage caused by interstitial lung disease. His wife, Elizabeth Hines, wrote on Instagram: “My darling husband passed away peacefully early this morning. I was at his bedside, holding his hand as I played his favourite Christmas songs for him … My world will never be the same.”

Laine was the voice of Go Now, one of the defining ballads of the 1960s, and co-wrote one of the biggest-selling songs in UK chart history, Wings’ Mull of Kintyre.

Born Brian Frederick Hines in Birmingham, 1944, he took on a snappier stage name and began his first band in his teens: Denny Laine and the Diplomats, whose singer was the future glam star Roy Wood and whose drummer was the future ELO member Bev Bevan.

Along with other rising stars of the “Brumbeat” scene of blues and R&B, he formed the Moody Blues in 1964. The group had a big hit from the off with their second single, Go Now, a cover version of Bessie Banks’ R&B ballad. Powered by one of the most distinctive, melancholic openings to a pop song ever – a downbeat Laine soulfully singing “we’ve already said goodbye” to a newly ex-lover – and a stunningly harmonised chorus, Laine’s hurt, jazzy delivery of the song’s top line helped make it a huge success, reaching No 1 in the UK and No 10 in the US.

The band initially struggled to match that success, although a Laine co-write, From the Bottom of My Heart (I Love You), reached the UK top 30 in 1965. The Moody Blues toured with the Beatles on the latter’s final UK tour later that year, but with the band at a low ebb in 1966, Laine left. (Justin Hayward replaced him, and the Moody Blues would find success with a more psychedelic direction thereafter with songs such as Nights in White Satin and the album Days of Future Passed.)

Laine’s next band, the Electric String Band, was a more psychedelic proposition and they played on bills with the likes of Jimi Hendrix. Laine released solo tracks, joined the Brummie supergroup Balls and took up a post in another supergroup, Ginger Baker’s Air Force. But his biggest and most sustained success came with Wings, the group formed by Paul McCartney and his wife, Linda, in the wake of the Beatles’ breakup.

Laine was tooling around with a solo album but dropped it after a call from McCartney. “I’d known [Laine] in the past and I just rang him and asked him: ‘What are you doing?’” McCartney has explained. “He said ‘nothing’ so I said: ‘Right. Come on then!” Beginning with the debut album Wild Life, Laine spent the next 10 years with the band, earning co-writing credits including on the strident Celtic ballad Mull of Kintyre, a Christmas No 1 in 1977 and the first British single to sell 2m copies.

Wild Life failed to make the UK top 10 but the band – perhaps aided by McCartney adding his name to the group for a spell – were soon hugely popular, with their next five albums (including the live LP Wings Over America) all topping the US charts. They included an enduring high point in McCartney and Laine’s back catalogue, Band on the Run, which features the Laine co-write No Words.

Mull of Kintyre, meanwhile, was written by Laine and McCartney overlooking the mull of the title where McCartney was living. Laine said: “Paul and I sat with a bottle of whisky one afternoon outside a cottage in the hills of Kintyre and wrote the song – Paul had written the chorus and we wrote the rest of it together.” Given an extra Scottish flavour with the addition of a local band of pipers, it then eclipsed the Beatles’ She Loves You to become the biggest-selling single ever in the UK, a record that lasted until Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas? in 1984.

As well as mainly playing guitar, Laine paired with Linda on harmonised backing vocals and also chipped in with keyboard, bass and woodwind parts. His pedigree was acknowledged in the Wings Over America tour, with a solo section where he performed Go Now and other songs, and in 1977 the McCartneys backed Laine on his solo album Holly Days, a collection of Buddy Holly covers.

Laine contributed to a pair of early 1980s McCartney solo albums while Wings were still a going concern, and while drummers and other guitarists came and went, Laine was the sole member to stay alongside the McCartneys for the duration of Wings’ career.

But he fell out with McCartney over the band’s business affairs and interpersonal frictions and left in 1981, precipitating the end of the band. He recorded a number of his own solo LPs that decade, and later revisited the Wings material, including in a number of McCartney-less band reunions.

Laine also continued to tour solo, including his Songs & Stories tour earlier this year, a hybrid of acoustic performances and career anecdotes.

Speaking this year, he reflected on his career. “I’m just a normal musician who doesn’t really think about the fame side of it. That always surprises me, the fame side of it … I never really had a big hit, but then people will come up to me and say: ‘I’ve got all of your solo stuff. I know every song you’ve ever written.’ It’s a compliment and it does give you a good feeling. You’ve gotten across to a lot more people than you thought you did.”

Continuing her tribute, Hines wrote of Laine’s illness: “He fought every day. He was so strong and brave, never complained. All he wanted was to be home with me and his pet kitty, Charley, playing his gypsy guitar … Denny was an amazingly wonderful person, so loving and sweet to me. He made my days colorful, fun and full of life, just like him.” She thanked fans and medical staff for supporting him.