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BBC RADIO, WORLD SERVICE
THE JETHRO TULL STORY
Part 5: Too Old To Rock 'n' Roll to Songs From The Wood
[Song]: The title song from the album Too Old To Rock 'n' Roll: Too Young To Die, released in the spring of 1976. It marks the first appearance of a new Jethro Tull bass player, John Glascock, as Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond had decided to part company with the band after the end of their American tour at the end of 1975.
I.A. "A lot of people will lament the passing of Jeffrey because, apart from anything else he was internally within the group, he was a very colourful figure on stage ... and a very animated one. Most of his nervous energy was burned up designing clothes for himself to wear. He finally ended it all by going out in a blaze of zebra stripes, which was his last outfit (as I'm sure everyone will remember). He played double bass on one song which was also zebra-striped, black and white diagonal stripes to go with his white silk suits and his zebra-striped bass guitar and his zebra-striped electric six string guitar which he used in one song. We had a zebra come on stage as well, for Jeffrey, for a year. He did a juggling act with zebra-striped balls which were ejected from the rear end of this two-man zebra ... you know, the old pantomime horse thing, but striped.
"It was supposed to represent the zebra, er, defecating (as zebras are inclined to do from time to time just like the rest of us), and Jeffrey would catch these (of course just tennis balls) and juggle with them as something else was going on ... I'm not quite sure what, I can't remember. But he did this juggling act; and on the last night, Jeffrey's last gig with the group, substituted for the tennis balls was, er, I suppose about three pounds in weight of the real thing. Not actually the real thing: it wasn't real zebra ... belongings. We actually managed to get something from a horse — squeezed something out anyway which looked like it — about two and a half pounds of steaming hot horse turd dropped out, and Jeffrey just about managed to get his hands apart in time, and this stuff lay all around him steaming in the spotlights. That was his farewell concert. Nice present from the lads, you know."
For many bands, the departure of such a long-established member could have caused serious musical difficulties, though it seems not so with Jethro Tull.
"No, there were no troubles at all. Jeffrey wasn't a musician in the sense that he really had a command of his instrument: he was always taught everything he played. There were one or two songs where he got the gist of it by himself and then I would put it in order as a final part, a final arrangement for him; but he didn't begin as a musician at all and had no formal training, and really not very much natural aptitude for picking things up. On the other hand he did have an amazing memory, and even the more complex pieces of music that we played he was taught what to play and which fingers to use to play which note conveniently, and he would execute two hours' worth of fairly complicated music as a prodigious feat of memory. It's not that he didn't have a musical ear: he was musically aware, but not one of those people who just pick things up and learn to play them by themselves ... he doesn't have that sort of naive bravery that produces the innovators in rock music.
"Most of us are self-taught, and it takes a sort of naive, impassioned sort of ... bravery, if you like, just to go out and bash away at simple chords and attempt to entertain people. Jeffrey was very retiring as a musician and would never do anything unless he was told by one of the group that it was right. But then given that assurance that he had the right thing to play and which fingers to put down on which frets, he would then hurl himself into it with a sort of abandon which was very laudable. He was living proof that anyone, I mean anyone, can be in a successful rock group. They might not have the real musical talent, but anyone can learn to play."
Even so, it would be wrong to assume that recruiting a new bass player for a group like Jethro Tull was that easy.
"The only two bass players I'd ever played with were Jeffrey and Glenn, and when Jeffrey left we didn't know ... we just couldn't think of a bass player. There was only one of the support groups we had on our American tours, Carmen, and we sort of went back through the last year or two and thought, "They had a bass player, he was English, and he was alright," you know. And he was the only bloke we could think of. I personally hadn't even talked to him, or hardly at all, when he was on the road. So we asked him. Even then we only dared ask him because we knew Carmen had broken up: another difficult thing is when you are in a group that's well known, you feel (and you ought to feel) very guilty about pirating a musician from another group who are probably struggling, because that poor guy has got to weigh up — does he stay with the bunch of guys he's with, hoping they're going to make it, or does he take the offer of (perhaps) instant success and money to join the big group. It's a very difficult thing. I'd be very reluctant to take anybody from another practising, playing group because they might well join for the wrong reasons."
The new bass player John Glascock, before being a member of Carmen, had played in several British recording bands including The Gods and Toe Fat (who were also to provide the nucleus of Uriah Heep). His first recording for Jethro Tull was, as we said, for Too Old To Rock 'n' Roll: Too Young To Die.
Song: 'Quizz Kid'
The album had evolved from an idea for a stage musical ...
"Well the album came about at a time when Jethro Tull was rehearsing in Switzerland. We started work on an album which was just going to be a Jethro Tull album, but it seemed as though some of the songs were leading towards something, and what happened was that David Palmer and I started to evolve (as the album was taking place) another thing going on at the same time, in our spare time between rehearsals: another project which seemed destined to become some sort of stage musical. And gradually the attention of the group drifted from the album we were supposed to be working on to this newer project. We decided then to make that the new group album, instead of the songs which we were working on. Not because they were any better, but because it was something we got more involved with: it had an identity or a concept (to use the over-worked word).
"We had plans ... not of our appearing in it in any way as a stage musical, but simply doing something — At the time, this was before the emergence of the Punk Rock and the new, more simplistic, direct, energetic music; which is really nothing new, it's just another cycle of returning to the rock 'n' roll roots and the aggression of youth and all the rest of it. Even the fashion styles, of course: the tight jeans, the pointed toes, all of those sort of trappings, it's all been done before. And really what Too Old To Rock 'n' Roll was about as an album was the fact that this would all happen again. The hero of the story, who's clung to his old styles, his interest in music and dress and behaviour and so on; suddenly the world catches up with him again, and he becomes the new hero."
Song: 'Too Old To Rock 'n' Roll' (extract)
The name of the hero of Too Old To Rock 'n' Roll: Too Young To Die is Ray Lomas.
"Ray Lomas is a real character. When we were putting a name to the character in the Too Old To Rock 'n' Roll thing, in the little story, David Palmer and I were sitting in a hotel in Montreux in Switzerland, sitting watching the mountains out of the hotel window over breakfast, and David and I were trying to think of a name: and he recalled this acquaintance called Ray Lomas who is in fact an old rocker character. And although being in his thirties now, he still clings to the old rock 'n' roll tradition, the old rock 'n' roll Teddy Boy era. So I said, great name: Ray Lomas, it just sounds like one of those people, and rather than hunt around for a name that's nearly Ray Lomas why don't we just use his name — it's a little bit closer to the truth. So we asked him if we could use his name, and he seemed to be quite happy with that."
The story itself is depicted in the centrefold of the album sleeve in the form of a strip cartoon.
"We tried to find someone who did a comic strip, one of the daily paper people, but they were all very busy. We finally found an artist who worked for one of the British boys' magazines like Wizard or Hotspur or something: he actually does the drawings for one of those magazines. He was given a little bit of a storyboard to follow but with a bit of licence to interpret it. I mean it's not supposed to be a rigid, hundred per cent meaningful story: all that is important is that it's just to say, 'Fashions may come and go, but having gone they usually come back again so there's really no point changing your clothes or behaviour: if you hang around long enough you'll be back in fashion again.' Which I think is an important comment ..."
[Song]: The saxophone solo in 'From A Dead Beat To An Old Greaser' was played by Tull arranger David Palmer, and although at the time he was not a permanent member of the band it marks his first appearance with them on record. The album was a return to the highly successful Aqualung format in that the ten songs telling the story of Ray Lomas are interconnected, and, as with Aqualung, the character on the Too Old To Rock 'n' Roll sleeve bears a close resemblance to Ian.
"It's part of the owning-up of there being a certain amount of oneself in any character that's invented to write a story or a song around. There's something of you in there, and it's wrong perhaps to cover it up ... so you slip a little bit of that in; or, in the case of Aqualung, the artist slipped a little bit of that in and made the Aqualung character look a bit like me. I'm sure (perhaps) that it helps sell records if the character on the front looks halfway familiar, but at the same time in invites that obvious criticism that the whole thing is literally and truthfully autobiographical, which is fairly far from the truth. I am not an old rocker ... in fact up until that time I used to invariably wear leather jackets and tight trousers and pointed shoes simply because it wasn't in fashion. I share that emotion of wanting to avoid the current fashion, whatever it is. But in terms of the familiarity with or the love of old rock 'n' roll music, I can't pretend to any sort of nostalgia or interest in that sort of music.
"I've always hated rock 'n' roll; I've always hated Bill Haley and Elvis Presley and all that mob. I've always found it very boring ... even when I was ten years old I found it very boring music. The same old thing, the same old words, the same old clichés ... within two or three years of rock 'n' roll being about it became the music of clichés and uninventiveness and record production tricks and heavy-sell techniques on the part of publishers, record companies and all sorts of promo men. I've always disliked rock 'n' roll for that which it represents in terms of the Music Business (in capital letters)."
Nonetheless, Ian does admit to an admiration for Adam Faith, a British rock singer of the early 60s. It's not generally known that when Too Old To Rock 'n' Roll was written, Ian had hoped that Adam might star in the stage version. certainly there are echoes of Adam Faith's style on several of the tracks.
"Yes, to a certain extent that was in my mind. I must admit, in the days when everybody was into the beginnings of British pop music (and of course to an extent they copied the Americans, I mean Cliff modelled himself to a very discernible extent on Elvis and Adam Faith modelled himself to some extent on Buddy Holly's vocal style) I always preferred Adam Faith because he was a bit more rough and ready, a bit more of a 'bad boy', whereas Cliff was always (even before he got into religion and neat suits and a telly programme) the good guy. So to an extent Adam faith has always been in the back of my mind as the 'real' one of that early bunch. Likewise the Stones: I always preferred the Stones to the Beatles for the same reason. Contemporaneous as they were, the Stones captured all of that aggressive, rebellious youth thing whereas the Beatles were clean-cut lads from the word go.
"I suppose subconsciously you find yourself dealing in ... in this case, because it was a totally independent stage production, a musical thing, I did have it in mind to approach Adam Faith. It was only at the time of recording it that it was quite obvious from our enquiries that Adam faith was engaged in something else, in fact he was in a running West End thing at the time, and had started to announce that he wasn't interested in singing any more anyway ... I talked to him actually, very shortly afterwards, and he was very disenchanted with the whole music business viz à viz his own singing career. So clearly it wasn't for him, it couldn't have been for him; but I think a little bit of the Adam Faith thing must have crept in there, yes. Which isn't a bad thing."
Song: 'Pied Piper'
Well, no doubt enormous numbers of Jethro Tull fans would be interested in seeing Too Old To Rock 'n' Roll staged despite the passing of time. So, is there a chance of that happening?
"No, I don't think so, because Punk Rock has really said it all. There's no point in bringing out something of this sort which would attempt to delineate the cyclic nature of music and fashion because Punk Rock has demonstrated that; at least to those of us who are too old to be Punk rockers it has, because we know that music and fashion and behaviour has been through this cycle before. I started off that way, the equivalent of today's Punk rocker, only back then we were doing rock 'n' roll and blues and rhythm 'n' blues. Musically there's not a dissimilarity between the two styles or indeed the modes of dress and the manner of behaviour. I mean I didn't actually spit on people at the Marquee when I began, but, you know, certainly insulted them a fair amount ... So, no, I don't think there's any point now. As a document, it has been superseded by the reality of the new cycle of progressive music."
Too Old To Rock was not the most successful of Jethro Tull's albums, but 1977 saw the band returning to their previous level of chart success with the release of Songs From The Wood, and, as Ian sees it, it marks the return of another sort.
"In Songs From The Wood we did go back to the roots of what our music was about, at the same time avoiding what had become the clichés of blues as spawned by the Americans. It's a peculiarly British sounding album, but is in no way a traditional, academic interpretation of old folk song; I mean it's not a Steeleye Span number at all. It's something else ... it's still my songs."
[Song]: The title track from Songs From The Wood. It was released in February 1977, reaching 13 in the British charts. It's immediately clear on listening to the songs that Ian Anderson was in a mellower mood than we'd come to expect from the band, with little sign of the anger and abrasiveness which marks much of Jethro Tull's music.
"In retrospect ... that is what is wrong with the album! (laughs) You know, it's a nice album, it's a very nice album; I really like the album. But, the one thing it doesn't have is that other thing. That was just one particular ... I'd just come back to ... a couple of years ago I settled down, bought a house, got married, and had a baby. Not necessarily in that order, but almost. It's obviously indicative of my mental state at the time, and the other guys too, because we'd all settled down in Britain, accepted the fact that we were going to pay enormous percentages of our income in tax, came to realise that that has to be, that we did not want to become tax exiles and live in Liechtenstein or the Bahamas or whatever other place had been suggested to us. So, there comes about a general acceptance and an enjoyment of our environment; I don't mean just in the sense of living in the country, but in the sense of Britain as a whole.
"We have in Songs From The Wood a situation in which I'm trying on the one hand not to be socially critical, on the other hand trying to keep some of the musical roots of which the group is known for. I'm really trying to express some sort of joy, in all the songs. Occasionally there's something like ... er ... I'll just look at the cover ... excuse me a second everybody out there ... um ... 'Hunting Girl'. We're talking about a certain sort of act, a certain personality, a certain behavioural sort of thing, but it's all done in a warm way, a tongue-in-cheek way: there's nothing bitter, there's no sort of social critique involved there at all."
Song: 'Hunting Girl'
"My own criticism of the album is that it doesn't have that lyrical bite. On the other hand it seems to have been far more popular, far more easily accepted by most of our fans because it is an album that has a certain joy to it, a certain warmth and a relaxed quality. And at the time that was the most important thing for me to go for: that truly did represent the way I was feeling at that particular point in time.
"I mean things like 'Ring Out, Solstice Bells' ... completely irrelevant really, you know. We don't celebrate the solstice, and they never did ring bells anyway during this winter solstice ... um ... I suppose in the back of that, you see, even there there's some sort of ... something going on. That was just before Christmas and I wanted to write a Christmas song, but, you know, I was damned if I was going to write a Christmas song about Christianity: I wanted to write a song about what Christmas really is all about, which is something way before that, before the Christians adopted the date ... try to put something of the joy of the original Christmas festivity into a song which is seemingly innocuous. But really the thought behind that is directed very much against the idea of the Christian Christmas festival."
Song: 'Ring Out, Solstice Bells'
Songs From The Wood marks the entry into the band as a full-time performing member of David Palmer as a second keyboard player.
"He came in on this album really as a member of the group. Up until then his services had been employed on the basis of if we required an orchestration for a couple of violins and a cello we would ... I would telephone him and send him a 7½ tape and tell him the session was tomorrow at 2 o'clock and could he please be there with forty-five of his friends, you know, (laughs) and play something. So he would have to stay up all night and do his famous, very speedy arrangements. From this album on he became part of the rehearsal process, and the arranging process was integrated into the group in that sense."
The presence of David Palmer in the band seems to have resulted in an increased use of synthesiser on Songs From The Wood.
"I personally would far rather use the conventional, individual, man-played instruments: French horns, flutes, oboes, bassoons, violins, cellos and whatever else, than hear them attempted as a synthesised likeness, which I usually find lacking in spirit. David came in with the idea of utilising existing instruments ... we don't use synthesisers anyway really to imitate; as I say, I don't find that to work. We try and use the synthesiser in broad terms, to make sounds for whatever value they intrinsically have, not to imitate violin lines or imitate French horn lines, because they don't do it very well, and what you're going for anyway is an emotional quality, not merely a likeness to something. It has to work in its own right. So David's use of synthesisers is not to replace musicians, it's to try and come up with different sounds which, from the final emotional point of view, serve the same purpose."
Song: 'Cup Of Wonder'
Songs From The Wood contains a fair variety of songs, and that's reflected in the variety of ways they actually came together in the studio.
"Something like 'Cup Of Wonder', which is a fairly full-group sounding piece, began as acoustic guitar and bass and drums played live on the backing track because I felt that since the simple rhythmic essence of the thing had to be conveyed on that first backing track recording I should play acoustic guitar with drums and bass; which is not very good because you have separation problems, and I have to go in a booth so the drums don't leak down my mike. Having arrived at a backing track which was right, then we add the different things around that; and in a song like 'Cup Of Wonder' there was very little rehearsal done. All that I did was rehearse with the bass player and the drummer. The other things were conceived afterwards — all I had was a vocal tune, a set of chords, and then worked out a bass and drums part.
"With 'Hunting Girl', on the other hand, it was completely arranged with the group as a group, using some of their ideas regarding the arrangement and the parts they played, and very much rehearsed (and finally recorded) with pretty much everything other than the flute and vocal, which went on afterwards. I should imagine doing 'Hunting Girl' we must have spent three, four days rehearsing that piece, so that when it really came down to it every note that everybody was going to play we all knew, and it was proven in the rehearsal room that it would work.
"'Songs From The Wood' not so, because it consists of two different sorts of musical theme: there's the a cappella vocal, the acoustic guitar bit, which was done separately; lots of overdubs again, worked out in the studio, worked out all the harmonies; and only the section where the group play ensemble, actually giving it stick as a bunch of guys together, that section was rehearsed, out of the studio, so again they knew every note they were going to play, but they had no idea what the context of the song was. For them, they were learning a piece of instrumental music; they didn't know what I was going to do. And all these things are fun. Sometimes they know nothing about a song until they arrive in the studio and we try and whip it together in a few hours before putting it down on tape. On other occasions it will be rehearsed for several days or a week or maybe over a two-week period, odd days here and there until every possibility within the arrangement has been explored. What we finally put down on tape is the result of a lot of trial and error considering an accurate arrangement.
"I mean I remember on 'Pibroch' on this record, with the guitar piece at the beginning, I said to Martin, 'Play me this guitar line' ... and he didn't know what for. I said 'Go out to the studio and play this little tune,' which I played for him on the flute, and then he went out and played it. And he had no idea what was going on inside the control room with all these echo effects ... I did everything with that tape to make it sound as if you had about twenty guitars playing, all slightly ... different, staggered intervals, playing this thing that was meant to evoke the same emotional thing as a set of bagpipes playing on a windy hill. I mean Martin standing out there thought he was playing a blues riff; had no idea. He then went for a cup of tea and came back, by which time I'd played around with the tapes and done this to it — it absolutely staggered him. He said, 'Absolutely fantastic, that! Me ... !' You know ... 'Great!' Which I found was very amusing, and very creative also: it's employing someone's naive involvement in something and then twisting it around and then throwing back something totally different as a result."
Song: 'Pibroch (cap in hand)'
Interviewer: BRIAN MATTHEW