As well as playing drums on stage and on all 16 of the Moody Blues’ studio albums, Graeme Edge, who has died aged 80 of cancer, was also the band’s in-house poet. When his bandmates considered his attempts at lyric-writing too verbose, they decided to use them as spoken-word pieces instead.
Edge’s somewhat portentous poems – initially recited by the singer and keyboardist Mike Pinder – first appeared on Days of Future Passed (1967). Of his seemingly lugubrious piece Late Lament on that album, Edge, who also enjoyed a reputation as the group’s bon vivant, insisted that it was intended to be joyous and uplifting. “It’s a young boy discovering that he loves somebody for the first time, and he just wants to shout it out from the hills – and shout it out again!” he told Rolling Stone in 2018.
Edge’s contributions would become integral to the Moody Blues’ grandiose sound pictures, as they racked up a streak of bestsellers stretching into the 1980s. In Search of the Lost Chord (1968) opens with Edge reciting his own piece, Departure, and it reached the UK Top 5 and the US Top 30.
Their first British chart-topping album was On the Threshold of a Dream (1969), a feat they replicated with A Question of Balance (1970) and Every Good Boy Deserves Favour (1971). Meanwhile they were enjoying booming sales, even if their art-rock began to fall out of favour with critics, and they topped the US album charts with Seventh Sojourn (1972) and Long Distance Voyager (1981).
The first album on the group’s own Threshold Records label had been To Our Children’s Children’s Children (1969), and their very first was on Decca – The Magnificent Moodies (1965), a mixture of R&B cover versions and original compositions, notable for the inclusion of Go Now. This was originally recorded by the American soul singer Bessie Banks, and the Moodies’ version topped the UK singles chart in January 1965.
However, it was with their second album, Days of Future Passed, that the group established the musical approach that would define them. This combined rock music with orchestral interludes played by the London Festival Orchestra, Decca having initially proposed that the group record a version of Dvořák’s New World Symphony to show off its “Deramic Sound” stereophonic technology. However, the album’s producer, Tony Clarke, decided to use the group’s original songs instead.
With its conceptual storyline about the passing phases of life, it became a milestone in the history of progressive rock. As the Yes and King Crimson drummer Bill Bruford observed: “Once one band had an orchestra, everyone wanted one.” The single Nights in White Satin (a UK Top 20 hit in 1967, but a much bigger UK and US hit in 1972) became their most definitive song.
Edge was born in Rocester, Staffordshire, into a musical family. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather had all been music-hall singers, while his mother was a classically trained pianist. His family moved to Birmingham when he was six months old.
He trained as a draughtsman, but the arrival of rock’n’roll had a huge impact on him. His first job was as manager of the Blue Rhythm Band in Birmingham, with whom he gained his first performing experience when he sat in temporarily on drums. He was inspired to buy his own set.
His first stab at pop stardom was with Gerry Levene and the Avengers, who enjoyed success playing in pubs; the band also included Roy Wood, later of the Move and Electric Light Orchestra. The Avengers appeared on the Thank Your Lucky Stars TV show, but after they disintegrated in April 1964 Edge teamed up with the guitarist Denny Laine and the bass player Clint Warwick to form the R&B Preachers.
This unit also fell apart, whereupon Edge, Laine and Warwick joined forces with the singer and flautist Ray Thomas and Pinder as singer-keyboardist under the name of the M & B 5, which subsequently became the Moody Blues. By the time they recorded Days of Future Passed, Laine and Warwick had been replaced by Justin Hayward and John Lodge.
In the mid-70s the band, jaded from too much touring, took an extended break. Edge realised that he was suffering from a loss of perspective. “I thought I was God. Then I realised I was just the drummer in a rock’n’roll band,” he reflected. He decompressed by sailing around the world on his yacht Delia, living in Corfu for a time, and forming the Graeme Edge Band with the brothers Paul and Adrian Gurvitz. They released two albums, Kick Off Your Muddy Boots (1975) – which featured a guest appearance by Ginger Baker – and Paradise Ballroom (1977), the latter inspired by some of the rhythms he had heard in the Caribbean.
He rejoined the Moody Blues to record Octave (1978), the start of a further spell of commercial success. Edge’s last composition for the group was Nothing Changes, from Strange Times (1999). They released their final album, December, in 2003, and Edge was behind the drumkit when they played at Glastonbury in 2015. He suffered a stroke the following year. In 2018 the band were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
He is survived by his partner, Rilla Fleming; his daughter, Samantha, with his first wife, Carol; and son, Matthew, with his second wife, Sue. His third marriage was to Amanda, with whom he lived in Florida.
• Graeme Charles Edge, musician and poet, born 30 March 1941; died 11 November 2021