Norda in Monaco

The late bloomer shines in the garden of music ....

By her own admission, Norda Mullen was a "late bloomer". Indeed, outside of session music circles, cult followings of one of her bands, or as a martial arts specialist (she is a 4th degree black belt). Norda's name wasn't exactly household knowledge until her big break came in joining the Moody Blues in 2003. But, like the most beautiful flowers that don't show until summer is waning, Norda's beguiling musical talent is now lighting up stage and recordings alike as she enters her 50s.

Born in Tennessee in 1960 to an artistically rich parentage (her mother Helen was Greek and a classical violinist, and her father Perry half Irish), Norda began learning piano at the tender age of 8. "But I wanted to do something different and opted for the flute at age 10" says Norda in describing her transition to the instrument that would signal her as a virtuoso performer. So began an adolescence dominated by practice at home and graduation at school - Interlochen and Northwestern - where she majored in Flute performance in 1978.


An early clue to her eventual rock n roll destination came at a party her elder siblings (Norda has 5 in total - brother Wesley and sisters Jeananne, Maureen, Deena and Christie) were having at in 1972. The surprise big number 1 of that year was the Moody Blues re-released "Nights in White Satin", and it and its parent album, DAYS OF FUTURE PASSED, were prime material for any teenage party. "I wasn't allowed to go to the party as the young pain in the neck kid, so I stayed in my parents' room and just figured out the solo to "Nights"" comments Norda on her glimpse into the future.

In the 1980s Norda co-fronted the much vaunted Cause for Passion with then boyfriend Jo Pusateri... "A kind of Thompson Twins meets Talking Heads combination with haircuts to match!!", but it wasn't until another collaboration with Jo in the 1990s that Norda really found her musical direction. The critically acclaimed Bahu-Rang gigged extensively in California in the 1990s and had a loyal cult following. "We so nearly cracked it" comments Norda, "but the big record deal just wouldn't materialise despite a lot of interest". Nonetheless Bahu-Rang did record and 1997s just try to walk is a tantalising glimpse of what might of been - a melodically rich cocktail of "acid pop" featuring Norda on flute, harmonica, melodica, pan-pipes, guitar, keyboards and vocals. (see Sound and Vision for links).

Cause for Passion  
Justin and Norda at the Station Inn Nashville

The 90s also gave a taste of what was to come in a busy and richly rewarding decade when Norda received a call on behalf of Moody Blues front man Justin Hayward who was touring his newly released solo album THE VIEW FROM THE HILL. "I said to an agent friend to send me a list of 20 possible flute players who could play but looked the part for a rock band" said Hayward in 2005 "but the agent said I've got one name and it's the only one you'll need!" So Norda was recruited to play some gigs with Justin in California in 1996, but after that tour all was quiet and she assumed that was it!

But Hayward wasn't the only big name to admire Norda's talents and in 2000 she was recruited to play on the Randy Newman penned score to Toy Story beginning a collaboration and friendship that lasts to this day. Indeed Norda was featured on Randy's 2008 album Harps and Angels and many other famous musical scores since (Seabiscuit, Matrix, Meet the Parents...). "I owe Randy a lot" says Norda "as he always showed faith in me and it inspires a lot of confidence to have the support of a true musical genius like him".


Fast forward to 2002 and Ray Thomas, the Moody Blues founder member and longstanding flute player, decided to retire from touring. "I immediately thought of Norda" said Hayward on the daunting task of replacing Thomas "and it was just an issue of persuading the other guys to have Norda out front standing where Ray used to be!" But the audition that followed was a formality and Norda was welcomed into the Moodies fold in February 2003 with open arms - by the band at least! The Moodies have never been big on showiness or self publicity and they approached their Spring 2003 USA tour in typical style - no announcement was made of Thomas' departure and fans found out about Norda at the first gig. "I was nervous - not because of the music or because of the Moodies, who made me feel right at home" said Norda "but because some sections of the audience clearly missed Ray!"

But it was a short lived frostiness with even the most hardcore Thomas devotees won over by Norda's beautiful flute playing, rich harmonies and playful stage presence. In 2003 Norda joined the Moodies in recording their Winter themed December and made her debut on live CD/DVD in 2005 with Lovely to See You - Live at the Greek. Norda says of her role with the Moodies "It's an absolute privilege to play with one the THE great bands; everybody over 35 this side of Bolivia knows the Moody Blues and Justin Hayward remains a great songwriter!!"

Norda with Ray Thomas  

So as the Moodies enter their 44th year of touring in the Hayward/Lodge era, what does the future hold for Norda Mullen? "Well I will play with the Moodies for as long as they'll have me and it's enjoyable, and I will be continuing to record and play with Randy Newman and on major scores as long as I'm invited. I'm also doing more work with my flute friends Resonance" (A new CD of movie themes is slated for 2010 release to follow up 2005's Christmas CD A Flute Tootin' Yule!.)

"But I also want to record and tour my own material. In 2008 I got to meet Ray Thomas - a dear, sweet man - and through him indirectly met my fiancé and some English musicians I've played some charity gigs with; we plan to do some more gigs in 2010 and we will see where that takes us, but I can say with some certainty that I'm going to be singing lead - something I love to do!! I've got a lot of music in me to express. So watch out for some events in between Moodies tours this year. I'm going to cut down on my music teaching so I can write and record and in between I want to have quality time with my fiancé, family and dog - Billie ... to them I'm just Norda, the southern girl, and it's the way I like it!"

Norda Mullen - blooming marvelous!

Copyright: Kelvin Cheatle 2010