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DISC & MUSIC ECHO
27 June 1970
HONEST JOHN ... FROM DEBUSSY TO JETHRO TULL
John Evan is the new man of Jethro Tull — and disconcertingly honest! The former pharmaceutical chemistry student guested as 'session pianist' on Jethro's last LP Benefit, was subsequently almost begged by Ian Anderson to join the band on their American tour — now half completed — and is now a temporarily permanent fixture.
He hasn't touched a piano seriously for three years and has only this week found time to put in some proper practice.
"I phoned the manager from America asking him to find me a piano for a week — and he's been true to his word. I got home to find a studio with piano had been booked for me for seven days from 10 am to 6 pm ... and there I'm stuck with all my old Beethoven and Debussy sheet music trying to get the real feel of the instrument again."
John feels he is now part of the group, but confesses quite openly that it is the weekly wage above all else which is keeping him there.
"In some ways I have regretted joining the band, in that it has taken me out of an environment which I wanted as a career and into show-business which I did not want. I recorded Benefit as a session musician, spending two hours in the evening adding piano to their tapes, which I thought wouldn't do any harm, but then Ian kept phoning me, saying it was impossible for him to carry on with just four musicians as they couldn't get over on stage the way the music was evolving.
"I was eventually persuaded to join them with two thoughts — it would be better for me to sit at college for my degree with money behind me — and also I really believe Jethro would have broken up if I hadn't joined them. They felt they had reached their peak with the existing line-up and couldn't face the thought of retrogression.
"Initially I just felt as if I'd got a new job, collecting my wages every week. I imagine this sort of break must be totally different for a musician who has come up the hard way and for whom music is his life. But music will never be my life — I'm simply not a creative enough pianist for that. Technically I suppose I'm OK, but I have very few ideas."
John, it will be remembered, was largely responsible for Jethro Tull's formation. Both Ian and Glenn Cornick were with him in the semi-professional John Evan Band. When John decided there was no future for him as a musician, the two carried on and eventually formed Tull.
"Superficially, I think Ian has become a lot more detached since the early days," says John, "because he feels able to trust very few people. But to me he's still exactly the same person. He was always a very good guitarist, and although he's not a master of any instrument he can play several adequately, which gives him the knowledge and experience to be able to write for the whole band.
"The main difference between him and the rest of us is that his showman tendencies are a genuine natural extension of his own personality. He can't play well unless he hops on one leg or talks to the audience. I always find myself getting engrossed in what I'm playing and forgetting about the audience and have to make a conscious effort to put on a showman's face!
"Ian is also the co-ordinator of the band. There has to be one. If a band has no leader then it's bound to fall apart very quickly. Ian tells me what to play, and I enjoy playing his suggestions, far more than if he left me to my own devices. The extra member has also meant that a great deal of strain has been taken off Martin. Before he was quite unable to take any proper solos because he was working so hard keeping the music together. Now in our stage act we do five or six numbers, and during those, four of us take a solo — all except Glenn. The reaction has been very favourable, and it's very noticeable how much Martin has improved just over the last two months."
For John the last eight weeks have been exhausting, frustrating, yet wholly enjoyable. He's exhausted by the heavy schedule, frustrated at American audiences' total lack of critical ability, yet totally satisfied to be playing piano again.
"American audiences are amazing. They applaud and applaud no matter how badly we play, with the result that almost every concert has been a bad one from our point of view. If only they'd criticise us. It's what we need most of all. The only consolation is that perhaps our music doesn't exhaust them completely, like so many 'heavy' bands, and that when they get back home after the concert they think about it, and maybe decide that we weren't so good after all!"
Jethro have also suffered at the hands of the militant American students and three or four of their college dates on the last tour were pulled out because of demonstrations.
"The trouble with American kids is that none of them are average. They're all extremists of one kind or another — and all totally neurotic. The 'love' people are all so forcibly peaceful that it scares me. Here, progress is a slow evolutionary process which is good and as it should be. In America they're trying to move the forces of progress unnaturally.
"I loathe the place and I'm not looking forward to going back again. But on the other hand I wouldn't have missed the last tour for the world. This is the main reason I'm looking forward so much to our autumn British tour. Audiences here are much more objective and you can sense if they don't like you or think you're not playing well."
John doesn't tie himself down to a time, but for him the future still lies in pharmaceutical chemistry. Should Jethro break up — and some day this is inevitable — John will not try and start again. As he says, it's really all down to the money, and when the money stops he'll be back to his studies with his share of the takings. A rare and honest approach to life.
Many thanks to Glenn Cornick for this article