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BBC RADIO, WORLD SERVICE
THE JETHRO TULL STORY
Part 2: Benefit to Aqualung
[Song]: The 60s had ended for Jethro Tull with a major British single hit with that song 'Sweet Dream'. It reached number 9 in the British charts, and at this stage in their career, although they had two hit albums behind them, it looked as though they were aiming to be primarily a singles band.
I.A. "We only had a fleeting relationship with the top 20 singles charts. It wasn't just Jethro Tull: all of the groups at the time, all those underground groups, all had a hit single, I think; nearly all of us did at some point along the way. Not because they were particularly commercial tracks that we released as singles but because we had a very large following, and people like John Mayall or The Nice or King Crimson or Spooky Tooth ... all those groups had hits ... Family, you know ... all had top 20 singles. I think we probably had two or three around then. People actually rushed out and bought the record because they were not album tracks: they were either released before the album or they were special tracks for singles, specially recorded. Therefore people did rush out and buy them in enough numbers to get them into the lower end of the charts and then the radio really had to play it since they were already there.
"We had those few successes, but I'm sure we never really thought of ourselves as a singles group, or that those singles really meant anything other than a sort of token reflection of our popularity given that albums were about to come out or that tours were about to be embarked on. We never really took it that seriously. It wasn't like being 'stars' in the sense that you were suddenly on television; it was a particularly different point in the music business anyway when hit singles weren't necessary, and the fact that you had them didn't make that much difference."
Nevertheless, as soon as 'Sweet Dream' fell out of the chart it was replaced by another Tull single, 'Witch's Promise', which did even better, reaching number 4 in the British charts.
[Song]: Playing on 'Witch's Promise' with the regular members of the group was none other than John Evan, who Ian had played with in Blackpool.
"John Evans lived in the bedsitter next to me and was studying at London University, doing pharmacy I think. I said, you know, I'm sure you still remember how to play the piano a bit, come and play on this track that we're doing tomorrow. And he did, and later came and played on some of the tracks on Benefit ... he played a bit of piano. It was only when we went out to America to perform some of that material on stage that we suggested to John that he might join the group, and he did so just on a twelve month basis. He was going to take a year away from university and then go back and finish his degree course after his year of touring with the group. He would expect to earn a bit of money and afford a new car or something, so he could go to university in style, or have hot water piped to his bedsitter or something ... some sort of luxury that it might afford him. However he just sort of stayed on and never went back."
[Song]: 'With You There To Help Me', the opening track from Jethro Tull's third album, Benefit, released in early 1970, on which John Evan became a permanent member of the band. It was the first time, too, that David Palmer was not called in as an arranger.
"Well I think the fact that we had John on piano gave the group (as it needed then) a bit more ability to produce different arrangements and different sounds. I also play quite a bit of electric guitar on that album, which I picked up again. So it allowed a bit more freedom, and David Palmer was not called upon because we already had that measure of added instrumentation without David being necessary; and obviously the songs as they were reflected the line-up at the time. I think all our albums have been very difficult to record; there's always something on every album which becomes ... retrospectively, you think, that's why that sounds like that, or that's why it doesn't sound like that. There was always some factor like that."
Certainly, one notable factor evident when listening to Benefit is the use by the group of electronic gadgetry.
"That was actually a bit silly, really. We were wondering whether we were drying up, and whether we had to inject some special production ideas into the music to make up for a lack of basic musical quality or instrumental ability. We fell into the trap of using the studio to produce some interesting noises of its own, and of course they were quite boring noises which had been done before by The Beatles and such like anyway, so I don't think they were important or very useful. That's the trouble with a studio, you do get carried away; and now we don't. We just make our records without having the studio make them for us."
Song: 'Play In Time'
1970 was the year which saw Jethro Tull embarking on their first headlining tour of America.
"For groups who are just beginning to become successful, headlining your own tour is a very special thing. We were very reluctant to headline a tour; we never wanted to be top of the bill. We always wanted to be second on the bill, because when we were second on the bill we did really good shows ... quite often we did better than the top group ... and it was fun and exciting. But when you're headlining there's nowhere else to go except down, and you always run the risk that your support group is going to blow you off, and that's the terrifying thing. So we were very reluctant to do it. We weren't really headlining: we used to share the top of the bill with people like Fleetwood Mac, just before Peter Green left, or Joe Cocker or somebody like that who was also bubbling in America. I was a token headline thing, a lot of smallish theatres. It wasn't really until 1971–72 that we really started playing the kind of halls that we've played since then, the biggest ones, the arenas, the 15–20,000 seater indoor places, Madison Square Gardens, that sort of thing. The first ones were much smaller and weren't always full; it was a token headlining thing, and we didn't really do that well. We did OK, just about."
In fact the group did more than just about OK. The tour had coincided with the release in America of Benefit which, as a result, reached number 11 in the album charts, their highest placing thus far. Their growing popularity inevitably produced a heavy touring schedule, one which allowed the group little spare time beyond that spent in unfriendly and uncomfortable hotel rooms.
"It was very difficult to be in a hotel and just force yourself to pick up a guitar and play when you were really sick of it and just wanted to go home. Touring then was much, much more difficult than it is now, because the hotels were terrible and the transportation was terrible and the food was awful. In America particularly, you do need an astonishing insight into the ... where to go for a good cheap meal or a nice cheap room, or you need a lot of money, and back then we didn't have either so we didn't have very enjoyable tours. They were pretty awful, and every tour I vowed I was going to leave the group at the end of it. I was determined that this was just a terrible way of life. I enjoyed the concerts, but everything else I really, really hated, and couldn't see doing it again. Every tour was the last one. I forced myself to pick up the guitar and play it because I wanted to inject something into a lonely hotel room other than groupies and dope, which seemed very boring and something which everyone else did; I didn't see much point in doing that, so I just wrote the songs. And that was all I had, and that was my only recreation."
Song: 'To Cry You A Song'
On a later American tour that year, one of the band's concerts at Carnegie Hall in New York was recorded and later formed part of the compilation album Living In The Past. That particular concert was in fact a charity performance.
"Well it was a drug rehabilitation centre in New York which asked us to do a benefit concert, so we did. I must confess, my general reaction is ... you know, that's not the sort of people I would actually ... I wouldn't really choose to make them the beneficiary of the proceeds of a concert, actually. It was something that was suggested to me as being probably a good move, politically or publicity-wise. I mean obviously there are worse things than helping people out, but I must confess that ... I mean I feel sorry for people who get themselves into that state, but I think there are more urgent cases really, you know."
Song: 'Dharma For One' (live, Carnegie Hall)
At the end of that tour, bass player Glenn Cornick decided to part company with Jethro Tull.
"Well Glenn was in a peculiar situation. Out of all of us in the group he was a much more gregarious person and did enjoy going to all the clubs and meeting other musicians and jamming with other musicians. He just sort of grew apart from the rest of us in the group and wanted rather more of the social intercourse that the music business life could offer than the rest of us were prepared to ... contribute towards or join in. It was just decided at the end of one tour that maybe his way of doing things and our way of doing things were perhaps better ... parting. And he was quite keen to form a group of his own with other friends that he had. There was no bad feeling about it, it was just one of those things. He quite enjoyed going off and starting a group ... very sadly he never really made it, because he started off pretty quite well, it was quite a good group."
Glenn Cornick's replacement was Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond, yet another old friend from Blackpool who'd been in the John Evan Band, but in the meantime had given up playing.
"Jeffrey was actually an art student. He'd played in the original John Evan Band and played a little bit, but very very simple music, and everything he played was taught to him note-for-note by John or myself. When he rejoined as the bass player of Jethro Tull he knew absolutely nothing about music at all, and what little he knew about playing bass guitar had left him ... it was three or four years since he'd played a note. He only had about a week before he was in the studio recording on the Aqualung album. You don't have to be a great musician to play in Jethro Tull: you've just got to be sort of OK, and you've got to be keen, and you've got to have something about you that makes you not the regular rock-type player who can sit in and join any group and play with anybody. We've never had those sort of players.
"All of our players are a bit peculiar because they can't play anything except with Jethro Tull and what Jethro Tull plays. We're all like that; it's the only thing really that we have in common. We're all useless when it comes to playing anybody else's music or playing with anybody else. We don't have either the self-confidence or the background musical knowledge to be able to do it. None of us could get up and jam with other groups convincingly because we just don't know enough pop music; we don't know any of the songs that everybody sits down and plays when they get together. We don't remember any rock 'n' roll ... we don't have anything in common with most other musicians. And Jeffrey fitted into that completely, and that's part of the magic of having a group: it depends on the members, and our group does depend on the members. If Martin wasn't in the group it just wouldn't be Jethro Tull ... and likewise all the individuals."
Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond's first recordings with Jethro Tull were for the Aqualung LP, an album which marked a new direction in that it had a theme. One side concerns Anderson's view of the hypocrisy of the Church, while the other centres around a tramp-like figure called Aqualung.
"I think I'd always felt a bit embarrassed about writing songs which had to be about the same things as all other pop songs are about, you know, being in love or being out of love, or being blue, lonely, whatever. They become rather trite emotions by their utterance in pop lyrics; it becomes rather meaningless to regurgitate the same old tired clichéd lyrical phrases. I wanted to avoid that and write about whatever else there was: real sort of problems, real sort of reactions to things that affected me every day, which were the sort of things I started to write about with Aqualung, and write in more of an abstract fashion as well, to avoid the clichés of the love song.
"For me it was easier to be sincere, lyrically, when I wasn't playing the game or obeying the rules of popular songwriting. It was easier for me to be really genuine and outspoken and a bit more emotional, so in that sense it was good. Unfortunately the way I wrote those things now seems rather naive and a bit childish, you know, looking back at it now. But at the time it was certainly a good exercise for me to go through."
For the first time, the lyrics to the songs appeared with the record.
"I made that decision because I felt those lyrics were better than the ones I'd written before, and did warrant being read as well as being half-heard. I really wanted people to sit down and read them, and see exactly what I was singing about. There were very few people writing those sort of lyrics, really; most people just obeyed the rules of songwriting and wrote the kind of lyrics everybody else wrote because it was safe. Unknown to me, all I was doing was voicing the sort of sentiments that most other kids had but were not the subject matter that appeared in most pop songs or rock songs, and therefore in my own way all I did was create another little area for people to say, "He's really singing the sort of things we feel, or we think about, or we wonder about." Any 15, 16, 17 year-old kid goes through that stage of questioning all those establishment, rather dogma-ridden rules which have to be obeyed at school and beyond. I didn't realise that everybody did think that way or did go through that stage, but of course they do."
Song: 'Hymn 43'
The lyric to the title-track is credited to Ian's first wife Jennie, and indeed the inspiration for the album had originally come from her.
"My first wife had taken some photographs, wanting to become a photographer. She'd been round photographing various London tramps and down-and-outs in the seedier parts of London and produced the subject matter for that particular song and came up with some of the lyrical ideas. I'm sure she'd be the first to admit that the actual writing of the song was still really me: the writing of the lyrics as lyrics was me, but most of the imagery came from her, therefore I afforded her the credit of having written the lyrics since that seemed fair. I don't ... if someone else has got an idea I don't like to take any credit for it."
Anyone familiar with Jethro Tull's stage act will have noted that the Aqualung figure pictured on the album's sleeve bore more than a passing resemblance to Ian Anderson himself.
"The Aqualung character on the album sleeve is actually a bit of a throw-back, visually, to my stage appearance of two or three years prior to that, which is a bit of a joke, you know, a bit of an in-joke; but at the same time it was something that got a bit out of hand because the artist commissioned to do that particular piece was under some guidance as to the way this character should look. As an illustration of the sort of down-and-out we were looking for, perhaps jokingly Terry Ellis might have said to him, "Something like Ian but about twenty years older, out of his brain on methylated spirits" or something.
"So the chap actually went away and got some photographs of me and sort of drew me into it ... rather more than he ought to have done, although the clothes that were suggested to him were the sort of clothes I wore on stage. So it accidentally became a bit too much like me, and the danger was that it suggested all those songs that I was singing were very autobiographical, which of course they weren't really. They were much more a part of my imagination, either speaking on behalf of those characters in the first person singular, or describing them through what I'd seen, having wandered round large cities in various parts of the world."
Because there was a theme running through the album, Ian paid much more attention to the shaping and organisation of the songs than had previously been the case.
"When I wrote the album I set out to write several stage kind of songs which would be interspersed on the album with short acoustic pieces, like little ... I mean I really saw it as being several loud, hairy songs on record, and instead of blank spaces, the grooves in between the tracks, they would be filled with short acoustic pieces. Of course those short acoustic pieces became more important as they were recorded and weren't just token throwaway things; they became very much part of the album. But that was the reason for them being there, and the fact that they did gain some importance on that record ... it was really the first record where I did do some acoustic songs on my own with David Palmer doing the string things in the background, adding the orchestra later, and I'd never really done that before and it was very enjoyable, and they became more important as a result.
"I think they work well on that album because there is that great dynamic difference between the songs, and they were certainly put in there to be breathing spaces between the larger, heavier tracks which were written as stage material. Indeed some of the songs had been performed on stage before they were recorded in the studio."
Song: 'Wond'ring Aloud'
The album climbed comfortably into the top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic, remaining in the American charts for over a year, but ironically the recording had been beset with problems.
"A lot of things went wrong in the studio because some of the songs that we had done on stage, and thought worked well on stage, when it came to doing them in the studio they didn't translate into the studio thing at all. The technique required to get them across on record was different and lacking, and we had a great deal of difficulty recording the Aqualung album and getting it to sound right. The acoustic ones were the easy ones; all the other stuff was quite difficult and fraught with a lot of problems, musically.
"At that point Clive Bunker, because it was his last album with the group, he had become rather tired of touring and had a girlfriend and wanted to get married and settle down, and was finding it quite difficult to play his part in the group. He seemed lacking in his contribution on that album compared to his contribution on earlier albums; he just wasn't so into it. The studio too was a new studio, which shall remain nameless, and was difficult to get good results in. We found it so anyway."
And there were particular problems in the studio with the track 'Locomotive Breath' which forced Ian to give one of his rare performances on electric guitar. Did this perhaps reflect his temporary disenchantment with the flute after standing on one leg for several years?
"No no, it reflected a temporary disenchantment with what Martin was playing that particular afternoon: he just couldn't get it right. He couldn't get the sound I wanted or the thing I was trying to get out of him. In the end I went out and picked up his guitar and played it. He played half of it and I played half of it ... I added another guitar on because I felt what he was doing wasn't enough ... that's all it was. I happened to be able to produce this certain sound, this certain thing in the background that I was looking for, so I did it. Nothing to do with disenchantment with the flute ... I'm being facetious saying it was disenchantment with Martin, but essentially it was. He just wasn't doing what I wanted to hear, and he couldn't understand what I was getting at and he couldn't get the sound, and kept blaming his equipment, and I said 'Rubbish, that guitar cost you $2000, it's got to be able to make this noise.'"
Song: 'Locomotive Breath'
Interviewer: BRIAN MATTHEW