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BBC RADIO, WORLD SERVICE
THE JETHRO TULL STORY
Part 1: This Was to Stand Up
Ian was born in Scotland but grew up in the north of England seaside town of Blackpool, playing with a handful of friends who, over the next few years, would have a large part to play in the story of Jethro Tull, including John Evan, Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond and Barriemore Barlow.
We recently visited Ian's country home where the present band were rehearsing for a new tour, and we asked him to tell us about those early years.
I.A. "When we began in Blackpool, still being at school at the time, we formed a very amateurish little group, playing at John Evans' local youth club, which was one of those Roman Catholic youth clubs which had a dance every Friday night. The group at that point consisted of John Evans, playing the drums to begin with, me playing the guitar and signing, Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond playing the bass guitar, and ... that was before Barrie joined, so there must have been somebody ... I think it must have been a three-piece, yes, it was a three-piece to start with. And we called ourselves The Blades, not because we had aspirations to fight with knives or anything, but because M's club in the early James Bond novels was called 'Blades', and it seemed like rather a nice name.
"So we called ourselves The Blades and used to play on Friday nights ... quite badly ... and we only became the John Evans Band at the point when Barrie Barlow came down from Birmingham to live in Blackpool, and John Evans left the drums and took up the organ, which was a little easier for him because his mother was actually a piano teacher and had obviously given him a basic grounding in piano technique, so he knew a bit about that. He wasn't really a very good drummer. So we became the John Evans Band, largely because John Evans' mother paid for the group van, and since we couldn't afford to pay her back money we thought we'd pay her back with some fame by proxy and called the name of the group after her son, in lieu of cash, and we struggled on like that for a while.
"We moved to London all together in a last-ditch attempt to make a full-time living out of it because we owed parents and friends quite a bit of money, which they'd put up for equipment and vans and that sort of thing. It actually got a bit serious, because we really did ... we'd come to the end of the road in the north of England. We couldn't find enough work to sustain ourselves, and we had to have a crack at the then emergent blues scene that was predominantly the London pubs and clubs that had a blues night every week. And we came down with no more than three or four gigs on the date sheet, and at the end of a week the group actually split up because we had no food and nowhere to stay ... I mean it was just ridiculous. They all went back apart from me and the bass player who had replaced Jeffrey after a year or two, Glenn Cornick. He and I stayed down in London.
"We moved down at the beginning of December '67, so there were three months of literally ... as far as I was concerned anyway ... more or less starvation, because Glenn Cornick, his parents had moved down to London ahead of him and he had a place to stay, he actually went to London to stay. I lived in Luton in this £3-a-week bedsitter attic room without really any money or any means of surviving. I had to take a part-time job in the Ritz cinema in Luton, cleaning out the toilets and vacuum cleaning. It was mornings, starting about 8 in the morning till about 1. I got a pound a day."
Despite the difficulty Ian was having supporting himself he perservered with his musical efforts, and it wasn't long before he and Glenn Cornick were joined by guitarist Mick Abrahams and drummer Clive Bunker, who together formed a four-piece blues band.
"We'd met Mick on one of our rare gigs with the John Evan Band down to the south of England. We'd met Mick in Luton in fact when we had a gig there, and he professed some interest at that time in joining the John Evan Band as guitarist, should we move down south as a permanent base. We came down south with a view to enlisting Mick's help, but not Clive, so it was only when the group folded up after a week that the obvious thing was to try and have a crack as a four-piece, with Clive and Mick joining Glenn and myself.
"When we began playing in the spring of '68 we had, I think for the first two or three months, we had a different name very week, because the only ... we fulfilled a certain number of dates as the John Evan Band, and our agents at the time, the Wright Agency in London, managed to find us one or two gigs a week, which was just enough to keep me ... my share of the money, you know, a few pounds a week or something which kept me with some heating and a bite of food. Glenn and Clive and Mick all lived with their parents, so they were essentially looked after. I used to go into London two or three days a week just to sit in the agent's office: only by embarrassing them and pestering them would they find us one or two dates ... as a seven-piece, the John Evan Band, you know, they still booked us out as the John Evan Band, and believed that the group consisted of two sax players, guitar, organ, bass, drums, a singer, which was absolutely untrue because by that time we were a four piece.
"I think we must have done a month's worth of gigs, and it was only when promoters started saying to the agency, "They were very good that group, we quite liked them ... it was a shame about the other three that got involved in the crash on the motorway on the way to the gig ... it would have been even better with seven."
"It finally dawned on the Ellis-Wright Agency that there weren't in fact seven of us any more, so we then became officially a four-piece group, changed the name from John Evan Band to a variety of names that really did change every week, because the only way we could get enough bookings to survive was to be booked back into clubs after we'd played there one week: we needed to be back in there in a fortnight just to survive, you know, we had to get return bookings, and it was only by changing the name that we were able to get those bookings.
"Most of the time the people didn't want us back, you see, so we used to go back under a different name, and hoped for the best that they didn't recognise us. I mean we were literally down to almost dressing up in different clothes every time: we had to remember "What did we wear last time we were at that club under that name" and made sure we wore different clothes this time in case the promoter realised we were the same lousy lot he had a fortnight ago. It was only when we got a very strong reaction from promoters that we could afford to stick with the name, and that we did. In fact it was perhaps the second time we played at the Marquee ... or the third time ... we played once at the Marquee as the John Evan Band, went back, sort of hiding our faces from John Gee the manager, and became Navy Blue the second time we played the Marquee, and the third time we played at the Marquee we were Jethro Tull, and luckily that was the one that stuck."
So the band at last had a name and very soon their first recording contract.
"Well the first record deal we had wasn't really a deal ... it wasn't even a gentleman's agreement. It was just an accident. Just before we'd made the break to come to London we'd done a demo for an independent producer called Derek Lawrence at MGM. He was a sort of house producer and used to dabble in various odd things on the side, trying to do independent productions which he hoped to persuade MGM to take up. And we did a demo of a Ray Charles song, I think it was, which he thought was quite good, and later had us in to do a few songs of our own, which he took to MGM. I don't think they were particularly keen, but at some point afterwards we achieved some small measure of success at the Marquee club as an up-and-coming group, and MGM suddenly decided to release one of these tracks that we'd recorded very early on. In fact just after Mick joined the group we went back to do this song at MGM called 'Sunshine Day' which was a song that Mick had written, and it wasn't indicative of the songs we played on stage or indicative of the songs Mick wrote or I wrote: it was just some sort of fairly poppy thing which he thought would be quite nice. We never played it on stage or anything."
[Song]: 'Sunshine Day', the first recording made by Jethro Tull back in 1968. However, the group found that they'd made their debut (according to the record label) under the name of Jethro Toe.
"Well, Jethro Toe was obviously just a misprint. Either Derek Lawrence had forgotten what we were called or MGM had read the name wrongly on the back page of the Melody Maker when we were playing at the Marquee, but Jethro Toe was obviously a misprint of some sort. Quite luckily it didn't sell ... it obviously sold very few copies because I remember, it must have been three, four years later, I got a cheque, in English old money, for seven and sixpence. It might have been twelve and sixpence ... it certainly wasn't very much. I presume we sold about ten copies or something."
One trademark of the Jethro Tull sound is not in evidence on that first recording: Ian Anderson's flute playing.
"I began the flute just before we came from Blackpool down to London because I sold off, in order to raise some cash and to settle some debts, I sold an electric guitar that I had. Since Mick was going to join the group on guitar it seemed pointless keeping it, so I tried to sell it for cash, but the shop wouldn't take cash; they said "We'll let you trade it in against something," and the only things I could think worth having that were sufficiently portable, to put in a pocket during that rough and ready existence that was to follow, were a microphone and ... as I looked round the shop, I saw a flute hanging up and thought "I'll have that." It represented £30 worth of the £60 that they were allowing me against this guitar, so I went off with a flute in my pocket, and learnt to play it, painfully, over the next month, and managed to make a few noises."
During the summer of 1968 Jethro Tull made an enormous impact at the annual Jazz and Blues Festival, which was held that year at Sunbury in south London. The band were by no means top of the bill, but their performance took press, audience and record companies by storm.
"The blues festivals which ran in England every year, whether they were the Sunbury festival or the Reading festival or whatever they were, there's always been one every year and it's always been called a 'blues festival'; but of course it wasn't really blues or jazz, it was whatever happened to be the rock 'n' roll idiom of the time. The one at Sunbury was the first time we played in front of a very large audience. Up until then, all of our concerts or gigs had been little clubs all around the country; a hundred people, two hundred people, or five hundred people if it was a big club and it was really full. What we failed to take into account, and certainly the press did, was the fact that all those little two hundred here and three hundred there, lots of people in all these little clubs, added up when you put all those people in one place.
"And of course kids came to those festivals from all over the country, you know, a two or three day festival. And when we walked out on the stage, we were a group who everyone had seen two or three times in the last three or four months, and we were a big favourite. But we didn't realise just how popular we were until we got up on the stage, and comparatively speaking most of the other groups were much bigger names, but of course didn't play very often in the flesh to the kids; consequently they didn't go down much better than we did. In fact, the truth of the matter was that I think we had the best reception of the festival with the exception of Ginger Baker and Eric Clapton who just appeared unannounced to jam together. Apart from that I would honestly believe that we had the most genuine response of that three-day festival. It was terrifying really: it was terrifying getting up on stage in front of thousands and thousands of people ... I suppose there were 50,000 people there ... and the fact that most of them actually knew us was really overwhelming."
Apart from Ian's flute, the most distinctive thing about the band was the extraordinary appearance of Ian himself. His hair was long and apparently 'ratty', and he performed his flute solos balanced precariously on one leg, wearing a large and very shabby old overcoat. Ian's image on stage was decidedly eccentric.
"Well it wasn't so much an image as a way of life, because that was how I was. I lived in one of two bedsitters for the first three or four years of being in Jethro Tull, with no hot water, no heating, perhaps a one-bar electric fire or something. I mean I literally was freezing and hungry and all the rest of it quite a lot of the time. They call it 'paying your dues' — I suppose everyone goes through a bit of that. In my case it wasn't too bad: I mean I didn't actually starve, but there were quite a few nights I went to bed very hungry and very cold, and I used to wear my coat in bed, so it wasn't too much of a hardship to keep it on the next day and actually wander on stage with it. It was part of the way of finding out who you were: you had to have some identity, in that particular stage of music and that particular stage of growing up. For me, the coat was part of my identity and I kept it on all the time ... for quite real reasons, though."
With a growing reputation as a progressive rock band and the line-up established, Jethro Tull went into the studio to cut their first album.
[Song]: 'Song For Jeffrey', from the first Jethro Tull album, This Was, released in Britain at the end of 1968. It impressed a lot of people as one of the best debut long-players of the year, reaching number 10 in the British charts. The Jeffrey of the title was in fact Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond who'd been with Ian in the John Evan Band in the Blackpool days, and Jeffrey would be coming back into the story later. However, despite the success of the album, looking back on it Ian refuses to be impressed.
"Well, already most of that music falls for me very profoundly into the area of nostalgia, because as soon as I hear it I can't help thinking about Mick Abrahams threatening to beat up Glenn in the back of a van or something, or sitting in Hyde Park watching the Pink Floyd and realising we had to get up and play in a couple of minutes; all those memories which are very strong for me. Musically, I can't detach enough to say I like it or I don't, but as a first album it's not a bad first album. I must be credited with a little foresight, having thought of calling it This Was, because at the time we made it, although those songs were fresh and new for us, I knew then, within a year, it would be all left behind. One can't go on just playing the bulk of the material that's written by the group: it just has to go."
[Song]: That's another track from the album, 'Move On Alone', for which Ian used the talents of musical arranger David Palmer who's been connected with Jethro Tull ever since, although he didn't actually join the group till much later.
DAVID PALMER: "I was in the studio one day in Chelsea and the telephone rang, and a friend of mine asked if I could put some strings onto a Jethro Tull album. I'd heard the group at Sunbury, and thought ... not because I'm a member of them now and I'm being patronising ... but I thought at the time that if a group was going to do anything for English music that group was, as the Beatles had done, which in my opinion is English folk music. I took the telephone call and said yes, of course I'll do it.
"At that time I was whizzing round from one studio to another in the new but reasonably obtained white Jaguar, the complete whiz kid arranger, and got hold of this tape, and rang up Terry Ellis whose name was on the box that the tape came in, and Ian and Terry arranged to meet me at my home. They came, and that was the first time I met Ian, this shaggy individual in a tartan duffel coat and red trousers, I remember quite clearly. And I just played to them a lot of Quincy Jones arrangements and various other arrangements of that genre, so they could appreciate the kind of sound you could drag out of a bunch of brass instruments. Ian said, "That kind of thing's good" ... I'd written out the song in long-hand music, which Ian thought was marvellous, that someone had written his music out in black and white. And that song was 'Move On Alone', and it wasn't Ian's song at all, it was one of Mick Abrahams' songs."
Despite the flying start their first album and live appearances had given the group, tensions were developing between its members. In retrospect it seems odd that the first person considered for removal from the group was Ian Anderson himself.
I.A. "I was for the axe early on anyway because they didn't really like the idea of having a flute player in a blues group; it was not the thing. They were advised by one of Ten Years After that the flute was not part of the blues scene, you know, it was right out, so it was suggested that I become rhythm pianist and sit at the back of the stage and let Mick do all the singing: a notion that I fought, and sat down to write some songs quickly as a means of ensuring that I had something to sing and play on the flute in future. That was probably why it stayed in actually, because the 'Serenade To A Cuckoo' thing. My first faltering notes on the flute were that tune, which is why I played it, because that's how my flute playing actually began ... da da da, da da-da-da, the first notes I ever picked out."
[Song]: Ian's flute solo 'Serenade To A Cuckoo', written by Roland Kirk.
"Good little tune, you know, which unfortunately stuck me with lots of comparisons to Roland Kirk, but I could play no other way because the pure flute tone was totally beyond me at the time. I could only play in that very breathy way, so there wasn't much option."
But it saved Ian's place in the band, and eventually it was guitarist Mick Abrahams who left.
"Mick was very much into playing on a ... forever more he wants to be the amateur, you know. I don't mean amateur in a derogatory sense: he doesn't want to be committed to a full-time obligation to play for other people in a group or to the public or whatever. He was very much into doing three nights a week, near London, and no more. It got a bit difficult, because the rest of the guys really wanted to play as many gigs as we could find, seven or eight gigs a week, all over the country, which didn't go down too well with Mick. And as soon as the suggestion of an American tour came up, following this first album, he made it abundantly clear that he wasn't really into that degree of commitment, which left the rest of us with the problem of considering someone else, which we did. And during that period of consideration, Mick found out that he was being 'considered', or de-considered, and said, 'Right, that's it, I'm off.'"
Mick Abrahams was a tower of strength in the original Jethro Tull, and it was the blues influence of his tremendous guitar work that helped the group get off the ground. Here's the number that became his trademark with Jethro Tull, 'Cat's Squirrel'.
With plans for an American tour and a second album at an advanced stage, it was now vital to find a replacement guitarist immediately, and that replacement turned out to be Martin Barre.
"We had three days of auditions for a replacement for Mick, but unfortunately most of them really weren't able to play very well to begin with; they were very hopeful guitar players. The only two or three who were able were already set in some definite style of playing, which made them rather unsuitable, and the only one who had the right degree of ability and at the same time a lack of fixed style, someone who was still able to mould into the Jethro Tull thing, whatever it was or was going to become, was Martin. Only we were unable to hear Martin at the rehearsals because A: he'd not brought a guitar lead with him and was unable to play properly, and B: was so nervous on the day, when we did manage to plug him into something to get something out of him, he was just so nervous he just froze, he couldn't play a thing.
"We sent him off along with all the others at the end of the day's rehearsal, and it was only a day or two later he called me up and said "Can I come and have another try." And since we hadn't found anyone I said sure, come along, so he came along to my little bedsitter place ... this time with a solid electric guitar, no amplifier, no guitar lead, no nothing, which of course made absolutely no sound at all. I was kneeling on the floor with my head against the wood of the guitar trying to hear what he played while he played. In the end I thought, well I still don't know what it was he actually played but he seems to be keen enough, so we'll declare him to be a member of the group in the interim and see if it works out. We had tour commitments coming up and had to have somebody.
"Somebody who later played with Black Sabbath, Tony Iommi, stood in for us when we did the ill-fated Stones 'Rock and Roll Circus' television special which never got shown. There was some degree of confusion at the time: people though he had joined the group and then been thrown out again, when it wasn't like that, he merely stood in for that show and went off back to the group he belonged to."
Having found a permanent new guitarist in Martin Barre, Jethro Tull set off on their first foray to America, although at this stage as a support band.
"We supported a lot of very good groups in America. Unfortunately it was the first time I'd ever really been away from home, and our conditions on that American tour, thirteen weeks I think ... we didn't have that many dates that we were able to live very well. We were staying in the very worst of hotels; there was none of the glamour and endless parties of rock and roll. It was really very seedy: we couldn't afford to go out, and we'd just sit in our rooms and watch the television ... just nothing. I also picked up some sort of throat infection for which I was prescribed some drug which I was allergic to, which produced even more complications. Unfortunately we had a lot of bad luck on the tour like that.
"Some of the dates we did OK. Led Zeppelin were very good for us, since we got the chance to support them on lots of dates, and later again in the summer we support them for the greater part of one of their tours. Had it not been for Led Zeppelin becoming very popular at the time in America and allowing us to be their support group, I think we would not have had the success that we had, at least not at that time anyway. It was very nice for us when we were on their tour ... and very nice for Yes when they were on a Jethro Tull tour in the same situation a year or so later; they broke on one of our tours. In those days you could receive and pass on those sort of favours to other groups, especially other English groups making it over there. Nowadays it's not the same."
No sooner was that American tour completed than the group were back in the studio in Britain to record their second album Stand Up.
[Song]: 'Nothing Is Easy', a track from the second Jethro Tull album, displaying Martin Barre's talent as a guitarist. It was released in Britain in the summer of 1969, and at the time it appeared the group were already high in the British singles chart with 'Living In The Past'. 'Living In The Past' was Martin Barre's first recording with Jethro Tull, and despite his relative lack of experience the single and his work on the Stand Up album demonstrated that he was quite able to fit into the band without the other members having to make too many allowances for him.
"I think it worked out well in the long run. Martin was very frightened of us: he thought I was a homosexual for the first twelve months of being in the group ... because of course I wasn't. Martin was one of those guys we all saw fit to tease in certain ways, so I used to pretend to queer it up a bit in the back of the van, and Martin got absolutely frantic, you know, he'd be out of his mind in terror. Other people would put on funny voices or pull his already rapidly diminishing golden locks, so he got a bit of stick. He became the new fall guy instantly ... because he literally would fall over at the drop of a hat. If there was anything to trip over he would be over it and on his arse.
"He's still the same: he'll jump on at the beginning of a gig in front of 23,000 people at Madison Square Gardens, over a flash-box, and with god knows how many kilowatts of lights hitting him in a spotlight as he jumps on, and his lead gets caught in something and the plug comes out and he hits that first E major chord and there's sod all there, you know, nothing, and he's there in the light and he has to grovel on the floor in front of all those people trying to get the lead back in ... that still happens regularly twice a tour, he does that same thing after all these years of minor calamities that have befallen him, it still happens. But that's the way he is."
Of course Martin himself saw things in a somewhat different light.
MARTIN BARRE: "Well it was excitement for me, absolutely pure excitement. Jethro Tull, when I joined, were the band that was being talked about in England. They were the most exciting thing that was happening in England, musically, visually; it was a total turn-around on groups up to that point. The ten years before that, groups just didn't do things like that: jump about, and ... make a nuisance of themselves on stage! The first time I saw Jethro Tull was at the blues festival [Sunbury] which the Marquee used to do, and they were beyond any doubt the group of that festival, just because nobody else was doing anything like it. They were so astounding to watch and to listen to. Anyway, I was very nervous, joining the group, but when you're that nervous you don't actually think about what you're doing. You just go along with it. It's like riding the crest of a wave."
Song: 'We Used To Know' (guitar solo).
I.A. "That's the definitive Martin Barre track of the era; the first time he had anything other than a Vox AC 30. We gave him this big 200 watt deal and said 'Play this riff,' and it all came out ... the engineer actually stood with an 87, a big microphone, on the end of a cord, waving it round in front of the speaker to create a sort of Leslie sound, which is the sound of that particular song. Good old Martin ..."
[Note: the BBC have inserted the wrong song at this point, since Ian is referring to the track 'A New Day Yesterday']
Stand Up was a very significant album for Jethro Tull: a potential guitar hero having been replaced by a relative unknown, the band had to continue the momentum established with This Was. In fact, Stand Up did rather better and reached number 1 in Britain. It was important in another respect too.
"Stand Up was where the responsibility suddenly shifted to me to get together material, all of which was original apart from the one mis-credited there, the song 'Bourée'; a point which I consistently make. It's not a song of mine, but a deviation from a melody of Bach's, which was called simply 'Bourée', which has been played by many classical guitarists as a guitar tune, which is really what it's suited for, but the basic melody I took for that song. It wrongly credits me as being the composer which is entirely untrue ... they're still looking for this Bach fellow to try and give him the money, but so far he hasn't showed up ..."
Interviewer: BRIAN MATTHEW