1967-68 | 1969 | 1970 | 1971 | 1972 | 1973 | 1974 | 1975 | 1976 | 1977 | 1978 | 1979 | 1980-81 | 1982-84 | 1987-89 | 1990-94 | 1995-98 | 1999-2001 | Home
"Let us put down this group now, before they contaminate our youth as did the Rolling Stones"
Said the disc-jockey, in what he figured was an amusing voice: "Did you see Jethro Tull on Top Of The Pops? Weren't they great? Mind you, they had to fumigate the studio immediately afterwards!"
And already one schoolmaster, choked with disbelief after watching the redoubtable Ian Anderson in close-up on the goggle-box, has written to his local paper pleading: "Let us put down this group now, before they contaminate our youth as did the Rolling Stones."
That last bit is not made up. And, unconsciously, that schoolmaster has hit on what inner pop pundits have said about the emergence of Jethro Tull from the depths of the underground. Not since the Stones has a group kicked off with such love-or-loathe reactions from the populace. The Stones, until recently in near-retirement, became somehow a part of the establishment ... no such fate has yet hit Messrs. Ian Anderson, Clive Bunker (drummer), bassist Glenn Cornick and guitarist Martin Barre.
There is a similarity in the unkempt appearance of the two groups. And Ian adds fuel to the comments by proudly talking of his trousers ...
"Worn them on every gig for the past eighteen months," says he "They're rotten. You can stick your finger through them. I can't remember when they were last washed and when you think how sweaty I get on stage ... well, you can appreciate that they smell more than a little."
There was his famous down-to-the-ground padded-shouldered overcoat which was a familiar sight in London hostelries, even on steaming hot days ... but which was eventually lost, stolen (or it could have strayed) during a visit to Chicago. Which figures ...
Now the Stones originally studied the blues sounds of such as Elmore James, Jimmy Read, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry. So did the Jethro team. Later, the Stones developed their own sources of music, mainly through the writings of Jagger and Richards. Ian Anderson himself copes with the whole material scene for Jethro ... and has come up with some startlingly original ideas, though he himself feels that he needs time before he can come out with anything really constructive.
But here's the big difference. As the Stones built, they turned on the fans to some of the lesser-known American blues men — and those fans went out and bought the original recordings. So developed a rhythm 'n' blues boom. But Jethro's sound is so distinctive that there is only one place to get it — and that is from the group itself. One has to buy a Jethro album because it is the only genuine source of their music.
"Originally I was just a singer. But I wanted something to do with my hands, so I bought a flute and learned to play it. It wasn't a conscious thing to do something different but from that we've evolved our own sort of thing. It was an ambition to get a single from the underground into the pop charts — and when it happened with 'Living In The Past', it simply triggered off a lot of other ambitions."
UP THE CHARTS
In fact, Ian was talking from the States. As the single moved fast up the charts, so the group had to take off for two months in America. But they weren't worried. The album Stand Up is out this month — replete with an unusual sort of sleeve which features stand-up cut-outs of the group.
"Yes, we're pleased with the album. It shows where we are, musically. We've avoided the current temptation to go in for marathon solos and involvements ... improvisation is kept well down. If it adds something — fine. If not, forget it."
Early signs are that Jethro Tull is doing great business in the States — at such places as the California Pop Festival, the Miami Jazz festival and, naturally, Fillmore East. When they get back to Britain, a month will be spent in the recording studios and they go out on a first national tour, including the Royal Albert Hall — almost certainly with a top American underground team. Specially important is finding the right single follow-up.
The Stones had no compunction about going for a commercial success. But with the underground it is different. A hit single can lead to cries that the group is "selling out". Said Jethro:
"We don't see it that way. We think that having a hit merely opens the door for other groups out of the underground. People become more aware ... and that is surely helpful. We're not selling out. We wanted to reach the young fans but only by playing our own sort of music. If we keep our integrity, we're not to be blamed. Anyway what is there to be self-critical about if you make a valid and honest single and it clicks?"
Pop music every so often throws up the real controversial group — the sort of team that half the world loves to hate. Or anyway does hate. Ian Anderson is wary of comparisons. But he's already run into his share of arguments with head waiters and disputes with smart-aleck knockers who take the mickey in pubs. Like all the group, he is unashamedly hairy and extrovert and this is doing them no harm at all on their personal appearances.
"We've even done a night club date — and it was amazing to find the hairy fans turning up in bow-ties and dinner jackets because it was the rule of the house. One puts up with the arguments. But I'd hate to think that the way we look detracts from the way we play. For us, the order is gigs first, then records ... with albums considerably more important than singles."
However, the presence of a single in the Top ten came up again for discussion.
"What happens is simply that people who otherwise would be totally unaware that we exist start coming to see us. It's hard to know what they expect and maybe some of them simply stay to have a quiet laugh. But that doesn't worry us at all. Some will stay and not laugh and listen — and that way we can make a little further progress."
"That's as long as we keep our music completely valid. After all, the single started moving without any of the usual full-page advertisement kind of thing. We made it, talked about it — it was there to hear, if people were sufficiently interested. Now we simply have to keep our own standards that high ..."
Which is bound to happen, anyway, because of the pressures exerted on the group by their disc producer Terry Ellis. He has said often:
"Because I care about pop music and the way it is going, I feel sick about the poor standards of some of the groups who make it in the charts. There has to be an insistence on standards, not just churning out any old rubbish so that the fans can be hoodwinked into buying."
This then is the situation built up round the controversial Jethro Tull. A group of musicians who came together because of shared tastes and who are all aiming in the same direction. Fast becoming one of the biggest in-person draws in the business. Serious guys when it comes to thinking about and talking about music. But . . . also an outrageous bunch who torment unsuspecting people; who maybe don't have the original hard-hitting controversy of the Stones but who are very much in the same mould.
The next few months is likely to be vital. After the American tour, the British tour, then back to America. In between new records.
Basically they dig the American scene. They went there expecting a certain amount of opposition and lack of understanding, but their original album sold well enough to get their musical point of view across. Ian Anderson finds much of the American music scene has not progressed; but that which has impresses him very much indeed.
It's unfortunate that there is so much comparison with the Stones ... but it was bound to crop up. While the Stones are certainly nowhere near being a spent force, there is still room for another musically-progressive and highly-competent team to come through with a similar image. As Ian Anderson said:
"We're lucky in that we've evolved a style which is hard to copy. Just so long as we keep doing our own material, we should avoid the mimics and build ourselves a long-term career."
And so say all of us.
Note: colour photo, Ian at the BBC studios before the Top Of The Pops performance of 'Living In The Past', 5 June 1969. Second photo is from that performance