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TULL DROP POPS
Along with Chicken Shack and Fleetwood Mac, Jethro Tull were among the first 'progressive' groups to break into the Top 20 singles charts. Their chart success lead to appearances on Top Of The Pops and helped break down the old idea that an 'underground' group must be selling out if their singles get in the charts. It came as a bit of a surprise, therefore, to hear Tull's guitarist Martin Barre say:
"It's quite probable that we won't make another single. Although hit singles get you on to television, they didn't get us on to Radio One. So we didn't get across to new people. 'Witch's Promise' was a dismal failure. It sold a lot in the first two weeks to our fans and then did nothing.
"They never played 'Teacher' on the radio, so I don't think it works putting singles out. We're not going to compromise and neither are the BBC, so that's the end of it. We wasted a week making a single, whereas it could have gone towards an LP. Albums are much better value anyway."
Although Martin thinks that Top Of The Pops is a bit of a farce, he admits that they helped open it up to other non-straight groups, and that despite miming to records it can be an exciting show.
"Visually it's way ahead of Europe, and America from what I've seen. And I think it will come round to being a live show. It's just a question of when they go live."
Meanwhile Jethro's new LP Benefit is upon us and the group will be featuring numbers from the album on their American tour.
"It'll be like starting again — musically — in the States," said Martin. "This time, apart from one or two numbers from Stand Up, everything will be new, and songs don't hit an audience when they hear them first time. But the album's coming out early there, so they should have got into them a bit.
"We're taking a bit of a risk, but it gets a drag doing the same numbers for a year. It takes about six months before you play a number really well. By that time you know the techniques that make it sound best. Instead of experimenting you just play the same solos every time.
"I got in the state where I'd come on stage, stick the lead into the hole, half volume for rhythm, full for solos. It was fun but there's more to it than that."
The group are now featuring a couple of quiet numbers from the new Benefit album. On 'Reasons For Waiting' Martin and Ian Anderson switch instruments — Martin on flute, and Ian playing acoustic guitar amplified through the PA system.
"Ian starts off playing acoustic through a cabinet, with a very distant vocal. Then it builds up and I take over the guitar part and it starts hollering. It's very difficult to amplify an acoustic. I get the mike right in front of the sound box and play finger style, but you can get enough volume if you play quietly and carefully."
Tull have also made changes with their stage sound set-up and will be taking their own sound engineer with them to America and to Germany for the two dates preceding their Stateside visit.
"We're using smaller amps now, with a monster PA system with echo and everything. John Burns, who is a recording engineer, will be coming with us mixing on the PA. Some things need echo, things come up loud and go right down, so you need someone who's a musician who knows what it's all about to operate it. He's got a more difficult job than we have.
"We're getting a really tight spread-out sound now. Everything but bass will be going through the PA to get rid of that distortion you get with amps. It needs a lot of thought though, or else it's a dead loss. PA's a weird thing."
However it will be a while before British fans hear the new stage set-up.
"When we play in England," explained Martin, "people think 'They'd better be good — or else.' We get that pop star stuff like 'They're big, so prove it.' If we did a concert now, we'd never do the same numbers as last time that much better. But in six months' time, with the new material it should be OK.
"Last year we never felt 100 percent secure. There was the pressure of concerts and a lot of worry. We were afraid of making mistakes and felt we had to impress because we were Jethro Tull. But now the pressure is off, people have seen us, and we don't have to prove things. We've got a lot more confidence, and we're not letting anyone rush us about. We've cancelled a tour to Germany so we can have time to rehearse. It's a temptation to go out and make as much bread as you can while you can, but I know we've done the right thing in taking time off.
"We can rehearse, sit back, and think about what we're playing. That might mean another year of better music. And I love playing more than I ever have done. It's down to what you get out of playing live. If you stop, I think you're only half a musician."
Are they afraid of getting forgotten before they play in England again?
"If we get forgotten in the papers, it doesn't matter too much," replied Martin. "The big thing is to see that our next concert tour sells out. If it doesn't, that's our fault."