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8 August 1997

Twenty-five years ago this year, I didn't go and see Jethro Tull for the first time. If I had, I would probably have got them out of my system, along with other youthful enthusiasms like lager and lime, love beads and roll-ups in liquorice paper. As it was, I had an exam the next day so I stayed at home and watched Steptoe. It wasn't until four years later, when my mate Dave lent me his copy if Minstrel In The Gallery, that I was hooked.

What I heard that balmy April was, loosely speaking, seventies rock music. It must have been, it had the riffs to prove it. But round the thundering distortion of Martin Barre's Gibson SG swooped shimmering acoustic guitar lines, like swallows hypnotising a rhino. And through it breathed the flute of lan Anderson, by turns as sweet as a lover's sigh and asthmatic as a lecher's cackle. The music was peculiarly English at a time when almost every other band wanted to be translantic. It constantly took you by surprise with its balance of delicacy and power, like a ballerina with a 12-bore.

I rapidly acquired the back catalogue, captivated not only by the switchback tunes with improbable time signatures but also by the lyrics. These songs of thwarted ambition, indecision, missed opportunity and the uncertainties of just being alive became the soundtrack to my first faltering steps in the job market. Eliot-esque, Dave and I concluded sagely, and went to the pub.

The band's cornerstone was and is, of course, Anderson, variously described as control freak, egomaniac and chief exponent of the much-derided concept album. Spectators see a ribald raconteur and a demented dancing master, arch and mocking as he cavorts around the stage urging the band to fresh heights. But there's more to it than that and to dismiss him as a pretentious megalomaniac is to miss the point.

In the tradition of a tragic hero, Anderson's persona is noble, but flawed. With no apparent intention of being an elder statesman of rock, he's the court jester, much given to codpieces and high boots. But he's Lear's fool, too, tempering his lyrical Grouchoisms with a knowing sadness.

And that's why, after 25 years, Jethro Tull can still fill stadiums and concert halls with fans half of whom are less than half their age — because Anderson speaks to all of us who recognise the distance between what we are and what we would like the world to believe us to be. No, maybe I wouldn't have got them out of my system after all.