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March 1979


Part 6: Heavy Horses

The BBC presents 'The Jethro Tull Story', a six-part radio documentary covering ten years in the life of one the world's leading and most original rock bands. In this final part, we'll be looking with Ian Anderson at the group's latest album, Heavy Horses.

[Song]: The title track of Jethro Tull's new album Heavy Horses, which, like the group's previous album Songs From The Wood, is concerned to a large extent with pastoral subjects; but this time there's an almost indefinable hard edge.

I.A. "Yes, it's a rather more menacing sort of album; not menacing in the sense that it's a 'downer' or negative, but a little more bite. I think the group are playing better on it as well. It's a cross-section of the ways that we record, which is a very important part of making an albums. There are so many different ways you can make a record: you can rehearse a song absolutely note-perfect and then just go in and get it down, all playing, one vocal overdub and finished, or you can go into the studio with a vague idea and slowly build it up and add things and take things away, like an artist working with a painting, and arrive at the product that way ... and it's the product of a lot of imagination, a lot of creativity, which is very spontaneous and which hasn't been rehearsed. Sometimes I go in and do just vocals and a guitar track and then leave the other get on with adding things around it; or they go in and do something and I haven't even written the lyrics yet. Then I have the problem of working around something they've done.

"All this is is trying to avoid using any kind of formula in making records — we try to apply all the different ways of making a record. Hopefully the songs have their own individuality and identity as a result of that variety of processes of recording. That is one of the reasons it has taken us a while, because obviously we tend to start work on certain songs in the studio and find out they're not going the right way and have to throw them out. I mean as usual we must have recorded twenty pieces, of which six or seven pieces in some tape lying around will never be dug out again, half-completed things."

Ian's told us in the past that many of his songs have been written in hotel rooms. We asked him where most of the new ones were created.

"Well, once again they've been written everywhere. Some of them have been written in hotels on tours during the last twelve months. I usually try to write at least one song on the train, out from Marylebone station to ... the other end, and I did that again, so there's another train song. One or two I have actually written at home, surrounded by animals and goodness knows what else. The thing is, it's always easier to write songs about your own surroundings and your own real feelings not when you're in the middle of them but when you're sitting in the Holiday Inn or wherever it might be, because then you have a far more objective look at your own life, or the lives of other people for that matter too. The artificiality of the Holiday Inn room existence is an incredible bonus ... I mean just think what works of pure wonder Beethoven would have turned in had he been ensconced in the Holiday Inn, Miami, for the last ten years of his life ... half a dozen more symphonies ..."

We next asked Ian for an explanation of the album's title.

"Heavy horses, as you may or may not know, is the term given to the very large working horses indigenous to this country: the Shire and the Suffolk and the Clydesdale, and the borrowed Percheron from France. I have a soft spot for horses. I don't ride them: I don't like sitting on top of them, but I make friends with them and I have a few at home. Not that sort of horse, but ... I suppose ... I suppose it's rather like ... I shouldn't be saying this, it's silly to say ... but it's a bit like an equestrian Aqualung, if you like, where the downtrodden creature that I'm singing about is the poor old heavy horse who used to be in his heyday as the all-round working animal, both in industry and of course in agriculture. And very nearly disappeared altogether but for a few breeders who took a delight in preserving the species, and now it is beginning to come back again as a working animal.

"I wrote that one while we were in America, and it's one of the rather long ones. There are two long songs on the album, and that's one of them. It has a mixture of several different styles and a degree of ups and downs and level ... what do they call it, dynamics or something. So that's the title track. One thing looking at the list of songs, now, is that they are all actually about something, which makes me happy, when I can actually see they are about something. The worst thing in the world is to find yourself writing a lyric which isn't really about anything at all; it's just an excuse for opening your mouth while the group make a funky, danceable, exciting, crowd-waving-their-arms sort of sound, which is pointless rock 'n' roll. Maybe some people would say it's not pointless and that it is in fact what rock 'n' roll is all about: unfortunately I do aspire to these higher pretensions and I must insist that it has to be about something. I mean Johnny Rotten sings about something, and in a very different way so do I."

Apart from the title track, a number of other songs on the album are about animals.

"I always have a soft spot for my cats, because I love cats, and I don't like cats that sort of ... well what I do love about cats is cats that appear to just lie there and sleep and do nothing, but in fact they're extremely vicious, aggressive, nasty animals who tear heads off little mice and do all sorts of despicable things. And I call my cats at home — because they are salaried employees of mine, and they're there to keep mice away from the kitchen and kill rats and things, which they do; they find rats in the barn going after the horses' feet and that sort of thing: they dispatch them with all due alacrity, as David Palmer might say if he were here (laughs) — I call them the 'mouse police'. That's my little name for them all, collectively; they're the mouse police, so I have a song called '.... And The Mouse Police Never Sleeps', which is really about one of the cats in particular, called Mistletoe. '.... And The Mouse Police Never Sleeps' is quite a good one. It's just an attempt to ... people always have this idea that nature is soft and sloppy and something even worse than hippies going on about love and peace, but it isn't at all.

"Nature is ... I mean most people can't face up to it: that's why we all live in towns and live in houses with central heating and want nice warm motor cars, because it's actually too tough for all of us. I'm just keen to point out that some of these things are a bit hairier than people imagine. Almost every morning I find some small, dismembered warm-blooded mammal. Mistletoe will ... he has a thing about the heads. He always eats the head and he crunches the skull and everything is gone, and he leaves the bottom half. Probably because it has the naughty parts and it puts him off a bit ... his stomach turns just at that point ... but he leaves these headless little furry mammals lying everywhere. That's pretty horrific stuff when you actually have to pick them up all over the place, and he brings them in, and the baby's in his pram, probably about to get a present from one of the cats ... half a shrew, you know (laughs). So anyway it's all about that. It's actually quite a good song ... I always say my songs are good songs, but this is actually a good one. It's well written, there's some nice lines in it."

Song: '.... And The Mouse Police Never Sleeps'

"Then there's another song called 'Moths', which is sort of the courtship of moths. It is your actual love song; that's what it's about, using the moths and the very transient affair that they will have around a naked lamp, or a candle in this case. It actually stems from a game that John LeCarré invented for Seamus in 'The Naive And Sentimental Lover' to play with Cassidy and Helen. It's a game on a billiard table where you put a candle in the middle, and taking a turn each you have to drive the ball (the white ball) one full bouncing-off around the candle, one full turn for one point. It's a very good game and I've played it many times. I don't know whether it's a real game or whether LeCarré made it up, but it's a good game, and I've even introduced that in America now ... apparently it's the rage in Beverly Hills, playing 'moths'."

Song: 'Moths'

"Then there's another song called 'One Brown Mouse', which is somewhat inspired by Robert Burns' "wee cowran tim'rous beastie." In fact definitely inspired by that. I've read very little of Burns' poetry, but I find him an interesting writer who was obviously a complete drunken lech, putting his heart into it. Just that particular theme appealed to me. I'm a very soft-hearted person when it comes to little animals, despite the fact that I ... blood sports and so on, is something that I ... I certainly don't support, but I ... if one includes in blood sports the killing of animals, as a sport, then obviously I do that to an extent, although, you know, I certainly don't approve of all of it. It depends on who's doing it; it depends on your personal motives and personal moralities. Despite the fact that I do kill animals, for food, and that's about the end of it, I do have a tremendously soft spot for some of them. And we're all just meddling about in that absurd balance of life and death which exists."

Song: 'One Brown Mouse'

There are a number of songs which don't have animals as their subject but which also seem to have been inspired by Ian's domestic life in the country.

"Well there's one which is called 'No Lullaby', which is a sort of anti-lullaby, really for my little boy James. It always amuses me that whenever he opens his mouth in the middle of the night he's descended upon by a flock of nannies and mothers and animals rushing to quieten him down and soothe him, whereas, in fact, you've got everything in the world to scream and shout about (laughs) ... everything in the world to be terrified about. So this is a sort of anti-lullaby saying, If you want to scream and shout and make a fuss then go ahead, because there's plenty to be frightened of. And in terms of the music it certainly isn't like a lullaby either: it's a fairly aggressive piece, so if I start playing that at him he'll definitely get no sleep."

Song: 'No Lullaby'

Despite the occasional heavy song like this one, it's noticeable that Ian Anderson has mellowed over the more recent albums. His songs no longer seem to reflect a desire to 'change the world' ...

"No, because the sort of issues that I could be publicly angry about don't readily translate into pop music. I mean it would be silly of me to start putting forward political (or anything like political) views that I might hold, and to be trying seriously to deal with other issues. It's the wrong time, now. If I want to do that I ought to be either a politician or a sleeping politician and write books about it, but not in terms of these songs. I think I'm dealing more with fantasy, and interpretations of things that otherwise might be taken for granted. I really don't want to use rock music as a social or political platform, doing a sort of latter-day Bob Dylan. It would amuse me to do that, but I don't think it would go down well with anybody and quite rightly so. It would upset me if I heard somebody else using their fame, as it were, to ... I mean no one really liked it when John Lennon started getting into that rather aggressive, pseudo-political approach. Everybody got turned off, didn't they. And quite rightly."

Nonetheless, there would seem to be a case for assuming that Ian's animal songs are saying something about society ...

"Well, yes, I think there is, and that's what makes them valuable as songs: I'm not just singing about cats, I'm singing about something that translates into human terms, and in all the animals that I ever sing about there is something of a personification going on. I'm singing about people as well. That's what I think makes them good songs. They're not just literal. As I explain them they might sound a bit banal, and who knows, they may sound a bit like that when you hear them, but for me, if they're worth anything (at least as far as the lyrics are concerned) it's because they do have other shades of meaning, which is what makes them good."

There are only one or two songs on the album which are inspired by subjects unconnected with the countryside.

"There's one song called 'Acres Wild', which isn't about ... well the first verse is, talking about beautiful, desolate, rural, hard fantasy, but in the next verse goes on to talk about the city landscape as being another facet of the same thing. Which is really just setting off the two levels of desolation."

[Song]: 'Acres Wild', a song contrasting urban and rural desolation. Does Ian feel the inspiration for the song was peculiarly British?

"No, it's completely universal, absolutely. Absolutely. That's another thing: it would amuse me also to sing songs specifically about British institutions or situations. I think if they were at all critical, they would be ... well I don't know. I just feel it would be a bit of a betrayal, in a sense: how could I really be so critical of it and still choose to live here."

It's very often been said over the years though that there's something inherently British about the music of Jethro Tull.

"Yes, but the only song that actually alludes to anything British is a song called 'Journeyman', which is the train song I told you about. Just one of those late night ... the last train back from Marylebone, which usually contains your businessmen who've usually been out on an expenses dinner, or who have told the wife it was a business dinner, and they're lurching home rather drunk and rather late on the last train, and they've just realised they've got to get all these accounts sorted out by tomorrow. Eleven o'clock at night and their briefcases are open and they're still frantically trying to get things sorted out that they've got to hand in the next day when they go back. And I only mention Gerrard's Cross in it once (laughs) ... because that always amuses me. It's just hilarious. I'm already on the train, and at Gerrard's Cross the carriage fills with these people. And you're always sitting in the seat that one of them customarily occupies, and it's his seat, and you get daggers because the seat he has every day has been taken."

Song: 'Journeyman'

"All of these songs actually do, musically (we're talking about lyrics all the time) ... musically that's where the Britishness comes in, because they do (with perhaps one or two small exceptions) avoid once again, as I think Songs From The Wood did, the Americanisms of rock 'n' roll. They still have rock rhythms and rock tempos and some of the excitement of rock, but they don't use the American blues and jazz influences. They retain something more precious, I think, about our own heritage of music. You'll hear sounds which will pull you gently over the border to the North, and some sounds which will certainly pull you back again down south."

Song: 'Weathercock'

There's only one more song on Heavy Horses and it's called 'Rover' ...

"... Which sounds as if it's a song about a rather footloose ... sounds as if it's about Rod Stewart, actually! But in fact it's about my dog Lupus, and I called it 'Rover' because dogs are reputedly called Rover, aren't they, either Rover or ... what was the other one ... Fido. That sort of thing. But 'Fido' just didn't sound like it made it, you know. I couldn't hear Brian Matthew saying, "Here's Jethro Tull with their new song, 'Fido'." But 'Rover' has a bit of romanticism to it, and it's really about my dog.

"He's running away, you see, and he has this basic desire to go out and ... copulate (laughs) ... which he can't unfortunately do because we had a little amendment made to his, um, (coughs) anatomy. We did that, unfortunately, because he did have this tendency to go off. He's a sheep dog, and given that livestock is nearby he will attempt to herd them, and is liable to be shot for his pains ... interfering with other people's beasties. I get very angry when he does this, of course, really furious with him. He's brought back in disgrace, covered in mud and whatever else. But he does have that basic free-ranging spirit which I am attempting to acknowledge and in a tacit way applaud in this song. Although it doesn't sound like it's a song about a dog; it's sounds as if it's a song about Rod Stewart ..."

[Song]: 'Rover' from Heavy Horses, bringing to an end the story of one of the most popular bands in the world, Jethro Tull. The series was scripted by John Tobler and produced for the BBC by Martin Reemes.

Interviewer: BRIAN MATTHEW


(Note: the tapes used for these transcriptions are taken from a 1980 Australian radio broadcast, and I must finish with the final comments by the astoundingly soporific presenter.)

"Well, there you are: the final episode in 'The Jethro Tull Story', a six-part series from the BBC produced in 1978 to celebrate the group's tenth anniversary. And the last song, 'Rover', from Jethro Tull's Heavy Horses LP, which we've now heard track-by-track, introduced by Ian Anderson.

"And in 1978, also to celebrate their tenth anniversary, Jethro Tull embarked on a major British and European tour which included (of course) Germany, where Ian Anderson is known as [reads slowly] 'Der Ratten Fanger of Rock van Roll', which means 'The Pied Piper of Rock and Roll'. Incidentally, 1978 was also the tenth anniversary of Black Sabbath and Yes, two other groups still going strong today, and I wonder if you can think of any others. I'm sure there are several more.

"Now I suppose it was appropriate in a way that Heavy Horses had a rural feel to it, considering that the name Jethro Tull came from a real Englishman of the 19th century who invented the agricultural seed-drill. But anyway, back to Germany and the European tour, which was not only a supreme success for the group but also resulted in the double live album Bursting Out. When it was released, one critic commented that nowhere on the album does it say that it was recorded in Germany. But everyone guessed it was, both from interviews Ian Anderson had done at the time, and that there are references on the record to American armed forces. Most of whom, of course, are stationed in Germany. That is, outside America of course. But anyway. As a live album it's one of the best ever put onto an LP. It's one thing to record an actual concert, say, for radio (as we've done here on ABC), portraying the performance as close to the actual concert ... but to do that for a record seems to be another matter. But, Jethro Tull ..."

[Tape ends]