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
DISC & MUSIC ECHO
30 August 1969
JETHRO TULL'S IAN: "I AM A CONFORMIST!"
Every year hundreds of British groups make the hectic slog across thousands of miles known as the American Continent. It means weeks of travelling, hard work, coming off stage to wring out their shirts, seeing places as far apart as Alabama and Chicago at a jog trot, living a world of perpetual rushing.
They come back to Britain usually exhausted, mentally and physically washed out. Why then do they do it? Because "making it" in and to America is still the biggest achievement for a British group, both financially and emotionally.
Jethro Tull have just returned from their second tour of America in seven months. They have literally stormed through America treading in the footsteps of the Beatles, Stones, Hendrix and the Cream. Like them, they have found ready acceptance of their music, massive crowds, and a magical response that is foremost the prerogative of American audiences.
What IS the magic British groups seem to put out to American audiences? And why is it that a British accent can almost guarantee instant success? Ian Anderson, who managed to emerge from the melée with a newly-written album under his arm, sees his tour of America from the view of a musician and yet, much more than any other British artist, almost as a social surveyor:
"American audiences appoint you as their representative. To them — whether you like it or not — you are a group that stands for everything that's inside them.
"They think you're anti-police, anti-establishment, pro-love, pro-drugs (which we're not). You can't explain to them that the very reason you've GOT long hair is because you are confirming — to the pop image.
"I could stand up and say I didn't know anything or want to know anything about all that. That I'm just a professional entertainer trying to play music the best way I can, and it wouldn't make any difference. They still throw all kinds of stuff on the stage — it's incredible.
"This attitude is particularly American and yet every time I come back to Britain I can feel it growing here too.
"I believe America has changed a lot in the past two years. When the Beatles were at their height people wanted artists who had mystique, who were untouchable. Real pop idols. Now they want to see an extension of themselves on stage."
"American youth is no longer involved in a kind of fantasy freedom. They've turned it into a bitter resistance against everything, which is frightening, more so as we've been appointed to represent that."
Seeing things from Ian Anderson's viewpoint can be quite a revealing experience. In many ways America appears to be the most satisfying as far as the audience reaction goes, but also the most nerve-racking. Their last visit was for 14 weeks.
"After the first couple of weeks you get nervous and irritable and wish you weren't there. Every hotel bedroom starts to look the same, and you lose all that lovely security you have at home. Getting any writing done is almost impossible unless you literally lock yourself away, which I had to do. Because you can't look round and see one familiar object. A kettle or a dirty cup that actually belongs to you.
"Sometimes I've been on my way to a gig in a black limousine and thought: 'Oh God, another place to play — I wish I was at home with mum.'
"But then you actually get into the theatre and everything's got to be done. You have to talk to the promoter or an amp blows up, and when you step out on stage you're there, body and soul 100 per cent, and you really wouldn't be anywhere else.
"And the one thing in favour of American audiences is that they DO know how to be an audience.
"I suppose it comes from experience. But they know how to get into and out of a theatre, stand around looking 'groovy'. Unlike the British audiences who come out of the Albert Hall in London looking sneaky and as if they feel that they shouldn't have been there at all! Americans feel this rapport between the artist and themselves. They're part of you directly you step out on stage."
"In America you have to talk to everyone in the street. This may sound nasty but it does get boring to have to treat everyone who comes up as an individual when you're used to treating them as an audience en masse. And there's this latest American saying about having a 'rap.' This means, as far as I can see, talking for fifteen minutes about a lot of meaningless rubbish that doesn't get either of you anywhere.
"People come up to you in Los Angeles or San Francisco and say 'Hey man, have you time for five minutes rap' and I find it all a bit mentally exhausting."
Ian Anderson is an astute, kind, well mannered man, very intelligent and perceptive. But even he finds it hard to actually pinpoint Jethro Tull's appeal to American audiences in such a comparatively short time.
"We're really only very adequate musicians, I mean I don't even KNOW the rest of the group properly, and you have to know each other very well before the music really works the way you want it to.
"But in America, you see, there are NO groups, except possibly Blood, Sweat and Tears. American music has suddenly become non-directional. And considering the size of the country it doesn't produce many really good musicians. Britain seems to have them all.
"Since the Cream, British groups have really become the 'thing' in America. Well, they don't even know where their groups ARE. They 'go missing' in society. Even in San Francisco nobody knows where the Grateful Dead are. So many groups split and form breakaway elements who suddenly turn up jamming with friends but aren't actually a group, that Americans are continually mystified. Look at Buffalo Springfield. Some of them are on an island place and others are all over the place.
"American music has lost its identity. And it's twice as odd a situation when you consider that in the States pop music is part of their way of life. We can play a gig in the middle of a desert and 10,000 people will suddenly emerge to hear us!"
Thanks to Dag Sandbu at Collecting Tull for this article