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GROOVES

December 1979

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JETHRO TULL'S STORMIN' AGAIN

Ian Anderson is a man who is highly opinionated, master of his own fate and the absolute leader of Jethro Tull. He also detests conformity and has said on a number of occasions that he's never so much as smoked a joint and that he frowns on "denimed conformism" — the phenomenon that causes practically everyone in his audience to blend into a sea of blue denim jeans. He's also said that he won't let other members of his band talk to the press, and that he doesn't make friends easily.

His friends aren't famous. Nor does he attend the international jet-set parties where the ashtrays are overflowing with cocaine. He hates "namby-pamby health-food addicts," and he quit cigarettes to take up the pipe. The band indulges in precious little consorting with groupies, but it is unclear whether to attribute this to Anderson or to the personal habits of the band members. But, above all, Anderson has a reputation in the press for being tiresome and arrogant.

Grooves found neither of these characteristics in Anderson.

My attitude is not negative at all to the press (the pied piper of rock told us recently). My attitude toward the press is very serious. I take the job of critics and writers very seriously. I just wish that they would take themselves seriously — they're incredibly important in bridging the gap between the unfortunate artist, who may not be able to communicate everything he wants to, and the public. The rock press must perform their function with the greatest sense of responsibility.

The rock critic is there to illuminate facts that are tempered by opinion, not the other way around. I've no objection to adverse criticism if it is intelligent so that the reader can weigh it and say, "I can accept all this, but I'd still like to buy the album." Or if he doesn't buy the album, he knows why.

It certainly doesn't help me (Ian continues, warming to his subject), and I'm the first to admit that on more than one occasion I've benefited from adverse criticism. I've learned something about myself and my music, maybe realized that I was going about things a bit wrongly. Reading bad things has its values. It's equally pointless to write sweepingly good statements like, "Wow, the new Tull album is out-a-sight, man; it's really far out, really heavy." That stuff doesn't get us anywhere, either. It's just a pat on the back. It's not interesting to me, and I'm sure it's not interesting to readers.

Whew! O.K., Ian, I believe you. When you get answers like that, you'd better be sure of your questions.

When Jethro Tull started out, it was a blues band. In 1968, the line-up included Ian, Mick Abrahams, guitar; Glenn Cornick, bass; and Clive Bunker, drums. At that time, the difference between Tull and countless other blues bands in Britain was Ian, perched precariously on one leg, blowing the blues out of a flute. Throughout the years, there have been twelve Tull members, including such diversified talents as guitarist Tony lommi, who went on to form Black Sabbath, and Davy O'List from Keith Emerson's first band, Nice. Abrahams, the original lead guitarist, ultimately founded Blodwyn Pig and is now a swimming instructor. Original drummer Bunker now plays with Steve Hillage. Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond, bass, left to pursue a life as a painter.

The current line-up is Anderson, flute, vocals, guitar, alto sax, soprano sax, sopranino sax, banjo, mandolin, trumpet, organ, piano, synthesizer, tin whistle and harmonica; Martin Barre, guitar; John Evan, keyboards; David Palmer, keyboards; John Glascock, bass; and Barriemore Barlow, drums.

Although he plays a multitude of instruments, Anderson claims that he plays

a lot of bits and pieces, none of them particularly well. Most of the things I play are sufficiently to the forefront so they sound impressive. But actually, I have very limited technique. I play what I think I can play well.

But surely the technique that he displays on his famous flute is not "limited." Or is it?

Oh, very limited, very limited (he replies). What I play, I can play convincingly and well, but I'm limited in that I can't use the whole range of the instrument and its different voicings. Basically, I play with two sounds and have a limited ability in a limited number of keys. If there's too many sharps and flats in it, I'm lost. My flute playing is either in D, E, A, G or F. You won't find me playing anything in any other key besides set phrases. I can't play anything that's fairly free or improvised other than these keys.

Be that as it may, Anderson's gasps, heavy breathing and syncopated rhythms have become a standard to which all rock flutists aspire. Just ask Jeremy Steig or the guy in Horslips or any number of local bar-band flutists.

Tull's first two LPs, This Was (1968) and Stand Up (1969), introduced a new strain of progressive hard rock to the scene. Acoustic ballads mixed with low, throaty vocals perfectly counterpoised the dynamic rockers. But it wasn't until 1971's Aqualung that Tull blossomed into international stars.

In 1972, Thick As A Brick came out to negative reviews from the critics and cheers from the fans. Radio programmers were driven up the wall by the fact that the music ran continuously over two sides, with no song divisions. As in Aqualung, the theme stated the case for the world's luckless rejects. That year's tour was an ambitious, grandiose undertaking, complete with props and wild theatrics. Later that year, Living In The Past, a compendium of live cuts, singles and LP leftovers, was released.

A Passion Play (1973), which had a grotesque cover photo of a dead, twisted ballerina with glazed eyes and blood dripping from her mouth, also contained continuous music and received a hearty "boo!" from most critics. The fans, however, loved it. The accompanying tour featured a film that was directed, written and edited by Anderson.

After the group's first rest in five years, War Child, in 1974, was both an artistic and a critical success. Here was a rockin' Jethro Tull, back to a straight song format. As well as a truly spectacular tour, cuts like 'Bungle In The Jungle', 'Back Door Angels' and the title track kept both fans and critics happy for the first time in three years (since Aqualung).

The next album, Minstrel In The Gallery, was pieced together in Europe in 1975. Recorded in their new mobile recording unit, Maison Rouge, the album took a surprisingly mellow stance. This was evidence of Anderson's fascination with English folk music; never before had he dared to go so far in one direction.

I am absolutely not interested In what other groups are doing (he stated flatly in an interview with Judith Sims at the time). My inspiration is more historical. I'm looking for something people might enjoy, not this year or the next; but maybe in a hundred years somebody will say, "That chap did something different, rather interesting, not the same old thing."

After a greatest hits collection, Too Old To Rock 'n' Roll, Too Young To Die came out in the spring of 1976, and it seemed that Anderson was becoming obsessed with ageing. Through the eyes of protagonist Ray Lomas, presumably fashioned after himself, he sought to communicate the horrors of becoming an old rock 'n' roller. Two years later, he expounded on the subject to Simon Frith in Creem:

I find it a little bit disturbing to walk out on stage and see two 14-year-old girls screaming just like I saw them do to the Beatles. And I'm thinking it's 1977 — it was when I was last on stage — and here's a couple of little girls, much too young to copulate with, actually screaming and doing a number equivalent to Beatlemania. I think this can't be. I'm thirty now and this just isn't really decent. But it's still marginally acceptable at the age of thirty. At the age of forty it's going to be quite indecent. No one's got there yet, but Mick Jagger's well on the way. Nobody's got too old to rock 'n' roll, but there is a difference between being forty and being thirty....

In late 1976 came Songs From The Wood, an album expressive of Anderson's true concerns. Throughout all the hoopla, the glory and the money, Anderson has lived with his second wife Shona and their two-year-old son James Duncan in Pophleys, a sixteenth-century red brick farmhouse on 74 acres, in Buckinghamshire, thirty-eight miles outside of London.

Clive Walter, an English accountant who now handles lan's affairs, says:

He's very much into the English countryside and the care of his land properties in England and Scotland. On his estate in Scotland, he's concerned with fish farming, forestry and livestock development. He's hoping to improve the lives of people who live on this estate — the farmers and fishermen.

He's involved with the breeding, raising and nurturing of salmon in captivity (Walter continues). His endeavors bring wealth to an area not noted for such things. He hasn't acquired this land as a playground. It's a serious attempt to improve the lot of the people there and improve the heritage of everybody concerned, and by improvement, the value of his investment will improve also.

After another greatest hits collection, last year's Heavy Horses showed more of Anderson's love affair with the English countryside. This was followed by Bursting Out, the only live album, and a new LP is being recorded as I am writing this and being released as you are reading it (or very soon after).

Anderson refused to talk about the new LP. When a call was put through to London, Anderson brusquely told the Chrysalis publicist, who had called on our behalf, to "leave me alone, I'm recording!"

I don't know what will be used or scrapped (offers Walter). They recorded more songs than they need, and the ones that get used will depend on things like running order and such. The songs I've heard sound great. Before he went into the studio, Ian publicly announced his intention of producing a more rock 'n' roll-oriented album this time. He was talking about leaving the English countryside and the songs about woodland animals, and perhaps getting back to something more reminiscent of the old stuff. I do know he intends to feature the new album very strongly in the new American stage show.

So there it is — new album, new stage show, with wife and baby waiting back home on ye olde English estate. Jethro Tull isn't finished yet; let the punks spit and cry, but Ian Anderson, getting older, is still going to whip those blue-denimed, stoned youngsters into a lather with an instrument which — he says — he can't even play very well.

MIKE GREENBLATT


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Thanks to Harry Auras for this article.