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22 June 1978
JETHRO TULL RIDE THE ROCK FRONTIER
Ian Anderson's rural influences command 'Heavy Horses' LP
Ian Anderson, the Pied Piper of heavy metal and the leader of England's Jethro Tull, is in love with his horses. But the distinguished singer and flautist and creator of Heavy Horses (Chrysalis) isn't into anything very kinky. In fact, Heavy Horses is a loving dedication to Shire horses — those beautiful working creatures that are currently facing extinction. Jethro Tull, the exceptional combination of hard rock and soft folk which brought you Aqualung and Thick As A Brick and a dozen other memorable woodsy rock classics, are facing anything but extinction. Their popularity throughout the world, according to Anderson, who lives a rural life in England, ought to have a saving effect for the horses — and sell a lot of records besides.
To Ian, the animal love expressed on the new album reveals the songwriter's basic country gentleman personality. Ian now lives in the British countryside, on a huge estate surrounding a 500 year old farm house, and it is here that Anderson composed his latest pastoral pastiche.
"I find the music I am writing now embodies something of the very earliest musical tradition, an almost religious music of celebration," Ian told Circus Magazine. "I want to try to evoke something a little more spiritual and emotional."
Actually, Ian's 'spiritual' approach to music has always had a close connection to the countryside. When the band began back in 1968, out of the British blues scene, the boys decided to name the aggregate after the inventor of the seed plow — immediately establishing their closeness to the people and animals who've worked the land. Ian, now in his low thirties, was born in Edinburgh and started in music at 17, playing the northern club circuit with The John Evan Band. That unit broke up shortly afterward, leaving Anderson to start his own group with blues guitarist Mick Abrahams, bassist Glenn Cornick, and drummer Clive Bunker.
Almost immediately after settling on the name Jethro Tull, Abrahams took off to form Blodwyn Pig, feeling that Tull had already become too much Ian's ego project. Mick was right, for from then on, it was the quirky Anderson as supreme dictator, racing through 10 personnel changes before settling on the current six member band. Tony Iommi, guitarist for Black Sabbath, was with Tull for a short time, as was Davey O'List of Keith Emerson's Nice, but only those willing to buckle under to Ian's dominance have stood the test of time. Even today, as publicist Linda Steiner explains, Ian doesn't like the other members of the band to talk to the press.
Still, the one main focus may in fact be the reason Tull has lasted so long — almost 10 years, with 14 albums to be exact, a record ranking with The Who, Kinks and Stones for rock & roll longevity. "I would say it's a group that built up a reputation very early," comments Steiner on the band's longevity. The Who, Tull, Zeppelin, The Stones — they all peaked early in the 70s and they've all stuck in there since then. Ian as the focal point certainly helps. To some people, the other members could leave and they wouldn't know the difference.
In these ten years that Tull had endured, Ian has always remained unpredictable, writing about God, Satan, child molesters, shopping bag ladies and now Clydesdale horses (like the ones you see The Tonight Show's Ed McMahon fawning over in the Budweiser beer ads).
"I don't want it to just be a formula for Jethro Tull," Ian explains of his ever expanding writing style. "So I must actually prevent myself from exerting it any longer. I might write a song about the sort of thing you shouldn't be singing about, according to the laws of what is successful today. Consequently, I must believe that even though it may not be very successful, I'll write about it anyway."
Certainly, Ian, in his long career, has been able to write about the most seemingly un-commercial subjects (like his religious holy-rolling dialogue in Passion Play) and still be very successful — spawning 11 gold and 5 platinum albums so far. This success has given Ian more time at his country home over the last few years, allowing him the leisure to focus on the poetic images that arose in the last Tull alum Songs From The Wood, and continue on in Heavy Horses.
The bucolic nature of the lyrics is reflected in the emphasis on British traditional melodies, as in 'Acres Wild' and 'Moths'. Such songs could almost be the work of bands like Steeleye Span or Fairport Convention, sharply contrasting the heavy metal of Aqualung or Benefit to a comfortable folk music style.
"The music is reflecting his lifestyle and the things he's experiencing around him," explains Steiner, of his new mellowness. "You know, he's not a street guy anymore. He went from being more of a bluesy, hard rocking street type to now, where he's very well established. He's got a lot of money, he's got a wife, Shona, and a kid, James Duncan (one year old) now. He has lots of property. He's very self-contained and very much more at ease and I think that's why the music has gotten a lot easier."
(Ian protects his family's privacy with not unusual dedication.)
Still, Ian doesn't like to think of his music as easy or safe.
"There is safety in numbers, safety in Elton John, safety in Mick Jagger, safety in Jethro Tull," Ian admitted last year. "But I feel rock music shouldn't be that safe. My next album is going to be a real stinker, everyone is going to hate it."
As challenging as the music is on Heavy Horses, it's doubtful any true Tull fan will hate it. Right alongside the softer numbers are cuts like the title track, a battle hymn of a song, that reinforces Ian's on-stage image of the heavy metal pied piper.
Unfortunately, Ian will not be offering us that live on-stage image in the U.S. until the fall, following some European dates in the summer. In October, though, the band plans to release their first full live album (the only other live Tull tracks are on Living In The Past), to celebrate their tenth anniversary which comes during that month. In the meantime, it's the countryside.