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DISC & MUSIC ECHO
8 November 1969
"THE ONLY THING WE HAVE IN COMMON IS OUR MUSIC"
It's quite possible that John Peel — let's face it, the creator of Britain's underground scene — does not like Jethro Tull. John was praising The Spirit Of John Morgan in his column in Disc last week and came up with the phrase "They're no one-man group, star plus backing."
They may well deny it, but Jethro Tull is star plus backing. The star is Ian Anderson, self-appointed leader, writer, singer, flautists, talker and extrovert extraordinaire. On stage that is. Offstage and in the dark back regions of a Soho cafe Ian is still a good talker and still a writer, but beneath those multifarious whiskers lies a man who is both very polite, very honest, very clean and still shy.
As you read these lines Ian and the rest of the group are enjoying their first holiday since the band was formed two years ago. Ian is in Scotland "where there's a good bit of weather" and the others have departed for destinations unknown.
They leave behind them a staggeringly successful concert tour of our major halls and their third hit single 'Sweet Dream', to return to a four-week tour of America — their third — and Christmas at home, the end of a year of music that has dumbfounded critics and knocked Britain sideways. The success of 'Sweet Dream' is one of Ian's major triumphs to date.
"Our record company did not think the song was commercial,"
he says, but as he believed in it, he had it released on the new Chrysalis label, formed specially by the group's agency and managers Chris Wright and Terry Ellis.
"Although our previous label thought the last two songs were OK, they were worried about this one. And I'm not clever enough yet to write a song that has immediate impact.
"The song isn't immediately catchy but it makes an impression after about five or six plays, and I don't think people will get bored with it so quickly. I've heard it 100 times already and I still like it, which I couldn't say about 'Living In The Past'.
"It's heavy and strong and much more insistent — in fact on the whole more in keeping with what we do on stage. And it's the only single so far that we DO play on stage."
Of course it is the three hit singles that have given Jethro Tull two-fold success (under and overground) where most of their contemporaries still appeal only to the growing progressive minority. They've been accused of 'selling out' and have been shunned by some of their former supporters, but Ian takes criticism philosophically.
As it happens he has never professed to be anything but a showman. Five months ago he was saying how much in favour of the 'showbiz tradition' he was.
"Our records and our stage act are still basically independent of each other, and likely to remain so. A stage act has to be visual as well as aural, and the chat I give the audience between the numbers is very important as well.
"I know a lot of people think my strange jiggings about on stage are still a terrible gimmick, but they're completely unrehearsed. I just seem to be motivated by the music — it's as if the music was holding me up. I'm quite honest about it — the music just takes over and gradually the movements become part and parcel of it.
"In fact I'm tending to write in physical terms now. It's almost as if I can hear things on the tapes which can be translated into music.
"Off stage I just can't do it. I've been asked by photographers to pose standing on one leg and I just fall over!"
Unlike Alvin Lee of Ten Years After, for example, Ian considers singles — and hit singles — vitally important. He is certain the LP Stand Up would never have been so successful had it not been preceded by a Top Ten hit. But single-writing for him is no easy task.
"There's more to it than creating a tenth of an LP where each song is relative to the next. You can't afford to let anything escape you — it's all got to be pieced out absolutely accurately so you can say anything you want in three minutes, combing it with a catchy melody and rhythmic structure acceptable to public taste. It's really a question of combining your integrity with commercialism."
So while Ian writes the hit singles, causes all the excitement on stage, and gets his picture printed everywhere, Glen Cornick, Clive Bunker and Martin Barre remain silently in the shadows.
"The reason for the rest of the band doing what they're doing is the love of an instrument. They want to improve themselves technically on that instrument, whereas I never played anything properly and I doubt I ever will. I don't want to be a super-flautist — I just enjoy being involved with music.
"I suppose I am the person who comes up with ideas for the group to play, but I always write with them in mind. I'm the one who's more capable of looking at the whole band objectively ... because while the others are at home rehearsing I'm thinking about what we can do next.
"On stage the others probably do more than me. If you were to take one person out of the band and still have the music left — it would be me you'd remove.
"But replacing the band with other members wouldn't work. It's very difficult to find people who are musically compatible. We're not matey at all in our personal relationships. We're all very different people; we all accept this and we don't make any deliberate attempts to be chummy if we don't want to be. I don't imagine we would be friends at all if we weren't involved in the same business.
"The only thing we have in common is the music, and because of this moodies and bad tempers don't matter, whereas if we were more involved with each other personally that would make a hell of a lot of difference to our playing.
"We're just good companions. My personal friends are not involved with the music scene at all. I think it has to be like that. You have to have someone who will throw the whole thing into perspective."
On the face of it, it's a rather gloomy picture of life with Jethro Tull that Ian paints. But Martin Barre, the guitarist who replaced Mick Abrahams almost a year ago also has a voice, and what he has to say is rather different.
"Obviously outside the group we all have different interests, but we do live together most of the time, especially on tour and in America and we are all good friends. But 24 hours a day of Jethro Tull would be very limiting. I find I want to do more and more things consciously outside the group, at the same time without having any intentions of leaving. If you can talk and play with other musicians outside the group you work with you will gather more ideas and become a more valuable asset to the group.
"In the short time I've been with the group I've learned more about what is good and bad in music than ever I did before. I'm much more enthusiastic than ever before.
"Although Ian does all the talking we do talk as well ... it's just that he usually has it all worked out in his mind what he wants to say!
"And don't take too much notice of him saying he'll never play anything properly — I know he wants to be a really good musician. He wants to learn and play piano, because he knows it's difficult to do too much with a flute through 2000 watt amplification!
"Maybe our material ideas aren't the same, and maybe Clive and Glenn don't talk very much, but musically we're all the same, and that's what counts."