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BBC RADIO 1
'Fly By Night' is the single off the album Walk Into Light from Ian Anderson ... quite a suitable title, Ian, looking out the window at the moment ...
"Oh, goodness me, yes ..."
Darkness descends. Why do this solo project in the first place?
"Well really all the members of the band decided just over a year ago when we wound up our last American tour — or whenever it was, the end of last year — that it would be a good idea to go and get some fresh influences and fresh ideas by doing bits and pieces on our own. It's the usual solo album syndrome. In this case I came out with a solo project, Dave Pegg the bass player did a solo album, predictably in the folk vein, and Martin the guitar player went off to do some things at home, and we're now in the middle of doing a Jethro Tull album — back with a whole lot of different ideas as a result of doing this."
You set out to be distinctly different then, did you, on this record?
"To avoid what people would have expected from me, which is an album of acoustic guitar and flute music or something, yes."
You've gone on a crash-course of computers and synthesisers ...
"That's right, yes. The digital strings you just heard were in fact me playing the violin, which is the sample. Similarly, the flute these days is very often digitally put on a chip and comes through a keyboard."
Really? So you can literally lay just one note in, and it'll play it?
"It depends on the instrument whether you can sample a single note or maybe four or five in the case of a cello: because of the harmonics and overtones you have to be a bit more clever. But all these things are ... not cheating, they just open new horizons in terms of being able to do things, having a library of different sounds to work with."
Yes, I think in the press release that was put out by your record company you said that probably some of the classical composers would have loved to have had this technology at their fingertips.
"Yes, I think in the press release I said that Beethoven in particular would have had a ball with some of the stuff that's available now."
He didn't go deaf did he?
"Umm, that's a very good point, yes ..."
You'll have to change the press release if it's true ... Are you trying to get a new audience, then, with the music you're doing here, or to appeal to the people who are already converted?
"Not deliberately after a new audience. I think, you know, at my time of life it would be outrageous to expect that you're going to get a complete change-over just because you change your sound or something like that. But I think there's obviously a broader audience out there than simply that which watches Top Of The Pops religiously every week. And I think it's time — I'm talking about the group now rather than me as an individual — time to experiment a little bit more with the sound of the 80s and 90s rather than endlessly drone on ... playing at goblins and elves in a sort of wooded glade, which is unfortunately the sort of reputation which Jethro Tull has had, just because of what we've done in the past."
I think it's fair to say that the Broadsword LP, which is the last one I remember from Jethro Tull, changed that for the group in a big way anyway, didn't it?
"It was particularly successful in Europe — not in the UK, moderately so in America — but it was an archetypal elf and goblins sort of album. You know, it was a re-affirmation of that sort of style."
But, musically, was totally different. You'd moved into the 80s and 90s instrumentally ...
"There were a couple of tracks on it, yes, that were the beginning of my interest in the modern technology."
Going back to that press release, it says "characteristically called Walk Into Light", and I'm not quite sure why. What's characteristic about walking into light for Ian Anderson?
"Simply that there's a track on the album called 'Walk Into Light' which I thought might be quite a good title track. But the other thing is, walk into light, walk into the spotlight out of the shadow of being one of a group. Although there are people who would say that Ian Anderson has always been, as far as the public were concerned, the front man or the group even, which is patently not the case if you know much about the group. We have always been a fairly democratic bunch. Every ship has a captain, and I might be that, but nonetheless it's always been a group. And it is a group again at the moment with the new group album."
Whereas this time around on this LP it's distinctly you being everything, virtually.
"Well, I had to make a decision fairly early on whether I was going to engineer and produce the album, and then have someone else help to play some of the instruments, or whether I was going to play all the instruments and then work with an engineer and a producer. So I decided to do the former, on the grounds that after many years sitting behind the mixing console trying to look intelligent I thought it was time I put my nerves to the test and got hold of the knobs and faders. This was also done digitally, which was quite fun, so it was a bit of a step forward technologically for me anyway ... to embrace the new technology and remain within the digital domain."
Everybody tells me this equipment breaks down incessantly ...
"Well, I must confess, it's the first time I've ever taken a piece of kit out of the box, put a mains plug on it, and had no problems — from those wonderful people at, well, I can't mention their name, but unbelievably it just works, terrific."
The musician you brought in was Peter Vettese, of Jethro Tull ...
Oh right ...
"He is of Italian origin I am told — half Italian, half Scottish. The bottom half is the Italian half."
What influence did have, or was he working to your orders? I mean, you were God as far as this record was concerned?
"No no, Peter actually had quite a lot of input on the record, and one of the reasons I wanted to work with Peter was that he was relatively new in Jethro Tull, so it wasn't quite like getting one of your old friends to come in and help you. His influence was fairly new, and since he's a keyboard player, and I wanted the album to be keyboard oriented rather than electric guitars and basses and whatever, it was the logical choice. In fact he co-wrote several of the songs on it, as he has done on the new Jethro Tull album."
"A new young influence" it says in the press ...
"Yeah, he's young relative to us!"
Right, Jethro Tull and solo projects all happening at the same time, and you still have time to pursue an entirely different business in ... salmon fishing, is it? Or salmon schooling ... what do you call it? It's a salmon farm isn't it?
"Well I started off salmon farming about four or five years ago, and I don't have time to pursue it is the answer, I really don't. But it's something I enjoy doing, or being involved in — salmon farming, yes, trying to make use of the few resources that exist on the west coast of Scotland for industry, which is what it is now. A logical development of that was to process it and go into the smoking of salmon which we now do ..."
I wondered what it was you were smoking ... it smells pretty odd. So this smoking of salmon is a big business, or potentially is a big business for you?
"It's a very competitive business. There are a lot of traditional, well-known and well-respected smokers, particularly in London — hence the traditional 'London smoke', as it is known. Less smokers in Scotland, funnily enough, although you would think that's where they ought to be, since the majority of salmon are landed in Scotland in the first place. We work out of Inverness in Scotland, and I think the product we have now combines the best of the traditional thing, i.e. it's all hand-sliced and beautifully done ..."
Hand-sliced? Hand-sliced?? People literally, all day, slicing ...
"Yes. A team of lads were taken off the unemployment queues in Inverness about a year ago, and now they are ... well, they have to be as good as anyone at that job, it's terrific."
Why don't you use machines? We're getting off the musical subject here ...
"Well, machines will slice salmon perfectly adequately but they will produce occasionally the odd hiccup, they'll throw a wobbler and you'll get a quarter-inch-thick slice and then you'll get the whole lot rejected or something. Whereas, ironically, doing it by hand, the tolerances to which they have to work can be achieved — in spite of what is essentially a very boring job, and not one I could do all day, but that team of lads do a terrific job of it."
Fantastic for them. Right, as far as Jethro Tull are concerned, or Ian Anderson, what about live work? Is there going to be another mega world tour after this album you're recording now?
"Well it is going to be a world tour this time round. The album will be out mid-April and we'll be off first of all to America, then to Australia, then back here for something in the summer, then September/ October/ November doing the rest of Europe, so we'll be on the go until ... well, not quite this time next year, but near enough."
And you say that you're going to be shocking a few people with this LP — it is a little different ...
"Well, thus far, what the group are doing is like nothing that Jethro Tull has done before — a lot of people will say 'thank goodness'. It is more adventurous musically, more experimental, on the one hand; it also seems to sound more like the present day and the mood that I feel. Going back to the elves and goblins ... it's a lot of fun, but it's not really what life's about for me any more, and nor is it for our audience, I think."
Ian Anderson, thank you for talking with us today. Good luck with your solo project.
Interviewer: RICHARD SKINNER