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JETHRO TULL — "I Want To Go On The Road And Play Gigs."
For a year Ian Anderson secluded himself to work on the film project of the decade. Now. however, he's shelved the cinema and is impatiently preparing to launch one of the biggest American tours of the year.
It's been well over a year since Jethro Tull withdrew from the public in the middle of an American tour on September 29 1973. The surprise move came in response to the international slagging which their best-selling Passion Play album and tour aroused from the critics. Disappearing across the ocean to the seclusion of his homeland, Tull's sulky genius, Ian Anderson, nursed his wounded pride and passed an artistically confused winter full of false starts and shelved multi-media projects. Then, in the spring of 1974, the shaggy composer suddenly came up with a new album and gave notice that he was ready to come out of hibernation.
"We didn't really retire," he declared adamantly, making press notices of his hermitage sound like premature obituaries.
"I mean, the papers made it sound like we were never going to play again. We just said that we were discontinuing concerts indefinitely, which means that we had no definite idea that we were going to start again on a specific date."
Now it seems that the man who was cheered on by a million fans despite the critics his last time out is finally ready to make his move. This past August, Jethro Tull tried out a new stage act in the critically remote Far East, playing five dates in Japan, live dates in Australia and two in New Zealand. That show consisted of retrospective "best" of Tull's past material, and also introduced for the first time in performance parts of their new War Child album. Then the band displayed their wares in their homeland, blanketing England with 14 gigs in November. The real test is still to come, though, as Anderson's men prepare to confront the whole USA on a three-month swirl during the opening months of 1975. Looking uncharacteristically neat and swanky in his trim black leather suit, a game Anderson explained confidently his decision to face the public again.
"We have lots of things that we'd like to do if we had the time — ideas for a ballet, a movie, many things. But we feel the most important thing to do is to play concerts. Anything else we do, we have to fit in between."
REST AND RECUPERATION
Certainly it's been a long time since Jethro Tull gave fans something to cheer about, but the way Ian tells it, the post-Passion Play vanishing act was nothing so unusual.
"We decided in the summer of '73 that we were going to stop for awhile. It wasn't a sudden decision, but the press capitalized on that particular line that said that we were hurt by the criticism. It's been a good time for everyone in the group to get themselves together. Everyone had women and children and houses and motorcars to look after, which they've been able to do in the months that we've been based in London again. So it was all sort of necessary. I think it's good, every four or five years, to take a little time off just to sort things out."
Perhaps another reason for the silence of Jethro Tull through most of 1974 was the artistic frustration Anderson met as he tried to get his projects together.
"You see, the English music scene is very different from the American one. In England, so much progressive music has come out that the English audiences and certainly the English critics are a bit tired of music that's too adventurous. Not only have we had bad criticisms, but so have Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer, who also continue to try and make new music."
SCOUTING THE ORIENT
Once Anderson got the urge to perform new material, the early part of the summer began to bustle with preparation. Production Manager Art MacKenzie flew off to Japan almost immediately.
"He goes out ahead of time with drawings of the stage and plans of the lighting, so that everything is set up. Every country is done two months before we arrive in the country. Mac goes there personally and spends a day in each town, arranging security and dressing room facilities and hotels and everything. When we arrive in town for a concert, everything is already working for us."
The Japanese shows, however, were not exact carbon copies of what American audiences can expect in 1795.
"It's very difficult in Japan, or Australia, or New Zealand, or Great Britain, or France, or Germany to do the same kind of show we do in America," Ian noted, pushing back a wisp of his reddish hair. "In America we play to a much larger audience. Therefore, we make more money; therefore, we can spend more money. It costs a lot of money to take around a film projector and two men to run the projector and a screen which comes down. It costs thousands of dollars to do, and if we did that in Australia or Japan, we would lose money. Because we can't play to enough people there, you see, and it costs so much travelling to Australia and back. Some of the group even travel second-class on airplanes."
JAPANESE ARE NEAT
Fortunately too, Anderson has never felt his group's performing ability depended on how much hardware they could lug around.
"We don't like gimmicks," he intoned. "I'm not going onstage and having my head chopped off or hang myself, because that's a gimmick. And then next year I would have to do something even more impressive, which I can't do. So we deal in little surprises, nice surprises. Like the telephone was important to let the audience know when it is the end.
"In Japan, you know, they don't like us to play too long. They like it to be about an hour and a half or something. They think it's a long time. We usually play about two hours and a half, so we have to take it easy there. The very end has to be complete, and I think Japanese people understand that. In America they don't. The American people are very coarse; they don't understand these nice enough beginnings and ends and rounding things up. Japanese people, like English people, like to be polite and formal and they like things to be just right . . . neat.
"I like Japan, it's a good place to play. I mean, it was the nicest thing that ever happened when we did a show in Japan, and a little girl brought some flowers for us at the end. That was a really nice surprise. No one has ever given us flowers before and I did not know what to do with them because I don't collect flowers. We took them and went down to the audience and gave the flowers to the audience to take home.
"I like playing in America too," Ian elaborated, "but America is so fast. You can't say it's better, it's just different. American tours are so much longer and you play every night. Everything is very big and very powerful and fast. It's very exciting."
Perhaps it's that powerful excitement which keeps Anderson's appetite for the road keen. Travelling, he has admitted, often has a marked effect on his composing impulses.
"I wrote a piece for an orchestra when I was last in New Orleans, which is a very French town. It was a classical sort of waltz. When I got back to England I arranged it for orchestra and we recorded it. And a friend of mine, who is an arranger and who conducts the orchestra, said the first time he heard it, it sounded like a French piece of music, sort of romantic period. I don't listen to classical music, so I don't know, but maybe it's because I wrote it in New Orleans."
That orchestral tape never made it on 1974's War Child LP, but lies instead on a shelf with reams of movie soundtrack music projected for a film also called 'War Child.' When Jethro Tull quit touring in 1973, it was announced that they intended to spend the balance of the year on the massive film project. As events developed, however, the film took more time to put together than Anderson's patience could bear.
"If we were to make the film now," Ian stated, "it would take us another whole year."
But even though the video section is in limbo at the moment, the score is already conceived.
"There's a fifty piece orchestra and John Evan plays some piano and I play some flute and Martin Barre plays classical guitar and Barrie Barlow plays timpani and Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond plays double bass with the orchestra. But it isn't the group playing as Jethro Tull. We're just members of the orchestra. Even if we never make a film, I'm sure we'll release it one day. But the music is sort of vaguely classical sounding. It's not the kind of music we could sell as being Jethro Tull. It would be unfair, because lots of people wouldn't like it."
The movie soundtrack isn't the prolific Tull's only unreleased material.
"Actually we recorded a double album in Paris awhile ago that was all separate songs. We brought it back to England and thought it wasn't quite right, so then I went away for a week and wrote the whole Passion Play thing. So we still have that double album of music which has never been released. In fact there are a couple of little bits that are on the new album which I took from those tapes and added some more instruments to."
For now, though, Ian Anderson has no time for the myriad projects scampering around his brain clamoring for attention.
"If we worked on finishing the film it would have been another year before we went back on the road again and that would have been nearly two years between concerts, which is too long. It took us nearly a year to actually write and record music and get ideas for films and talk to people in the film business about making one. But I think we will have to do another year's worth of concerts before we go and make the film. Otherwise we'll never play and that's what we like doing the best.
"I mean, I don't want to be a movie star. I wouldn't mind making a movie, but it's not what I want to do all the time. I want to go on the road and play gigs."
Thanks to Harry Auras for this article.
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