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24 August 1974
THICK AS A STUFFED MOOSE
(or, a few words from Iron Anderson)
You've heard of the Watergate Tapes? Of course you have. Well, we don't have them. Aahh, but we do have the Anderson tapes, or at least ANDREW JOHNSON has, and he has transcribed them onto paper for us.
Ian Anderson lay on the divan with his pale complexion staring out of the open balcony window, the view stretching for the Sydney Heads clear out into the Pacific Ocean. It was an exceptionally clear day outside with hardly a cloud in sight, the sea lay peacefully, rippling occasionally as one of the yachts down below set sail and eased its way into the Middle Harbour.
"It doesn't smell a lot here, like it does in some places," (the sea), Ian commented: "It doesn't smell particularly briny, but perhaps I'm used to it.
"I was just eating some mussel soup and I thought: 'Christ that takes me back to being about six years of age on the beach at Gullen in East Lothian,' with the smell of seaweed, mussels and mirk infested rocks of a strange English or Scottish smell, very strong, very potent — it doesn't seem to be like that at all here."
Ian placed two sugar packs into his coffee and lit a Silk Cut cigarette, inhaling and looking extremely content. The debris from what looked to be a good hearty meal was on the sideboard of the Commodore chateau apartment.
"Even the seafood here doesn't taste the same as if you get it from a barrow at Fleetwood (an English sea port near Ian's home town of Blackpool), but I like sea food."
With the topic of lunch well and truly digested we started the interview in earnest. I asked Ian what it was like being back on the road after the band's retirement.
"Well we turned right at the second set of lights and went straight on to Sydney, taking off on our first tour for ten months and beginning an eighteen month commitment towards travelling and touring, playing to all those people again.
"It's really actually something of a relief to get back on the road, for all of us. Perhaps more so for the others than me because they went back after the last American tour with the intention of getting embroiled in domestic affairs, sorting themselves out you see. After being on the road for three years and having no permanent base for their wives, children and mopeds and the other encumbrances of life, they became a bit disillusioned with it after a month or two, whereas I went back with my suitcase, and opened it in a rented apartment. Having divorced myself, though not literally (yet), from my immediate new-found family ties, really being home wasn't that much different from being on the road, except that it meant working in the studio all the time.
"I was the one who, two days after the group had split, phoned the others up and said, 'Right, we've had our little rest, time to start up again.' But I think they were all anxious to get back on the road again. Me too.
"As soon as our recording schedule was through it was very nice to get back on the aeroplane again and do that sort of five musketeers thing, which is really nice."
Ian started to discuss the concept of bands touring the world.
"It's a very physical act, getting on the aeroplane going from A to B to C to D and back to A again. It's a very physical shifting of one's material body around and it takes place on stage in the same way, but there's a necessity for a physical performance, a physical expression of what essentially is just a pile of jumbled abstracts in the form of a loose verbal imagery and a cacophony of notes under which one attempts to discern some logical harmony and time signature. A very physical thing, I think that's what it's all about.
"You know after a while, after a few years of touring you being to equate physical moving of yourself, the travelling with the sense of day to day progression of your life. The minute you stop still and stay in one place it really feels like you've lost all your impetus, stopped moving, stopped living almost.
"Travel becomes very necessary after a while and becomes addictive in a certain sense. You have to continue to play a constant reaffirmation of your worth as a human being, in the most elementary way — to discern once again who you are and what you're here for: We provide a public service. I suppose it's a bit like gas and electricity. I mean, we are our own natural resources.
"That's why I like sea food so much, it's the only thing we eat that has any measure of freedom. I mean, cows are all chained to walls or chained within the field perimeter, whereas the fish I just ate could have got away, but the damn fool happened to be a dummy and got itself caught. I mean, it could have got away if it had played it's cards right, it could still be out there somewhere."
Ian's black, shirt-sleeved arm pointed out into the Pacific aimlessly.
"That's why I like them, because you feel that whatever you've got inside your stomach churning away with yesterday's spaghetti, it's like a taste of something we all hanker after, which is a room with a view."
I sat in amazement. What was Mr Anderson muttering about? Stomach? Room with a view?
"When the guys all come into the motel they all say: 'Wait a minute, have we got a room facing the harbour?' That's not because of the pretty colours but because they say I'd like a boat like that red one over there."
Anderson's long spider arm pinpointed to a little yacht nestling in an alcove of Rushcutters Bay. This afternoon was just right for a rave. The atmosphere was tranquil, with fresh warm air drifting in through the open balcony window, fluttering the lace curtains. When we weren't talking the only sound was the occasional click and whir of Phil Morris' camera. Indeed a raver's afternoon.
"The reason they want a little red boat is because it's limitless, because it's the horizon, because it's the sea and, again, because it equates with our life of moving. Just as we'll do again on Monday when we jump on the aeroplane, and take off for the next country."
"Where are you going to next?" I asked.
"Over to Auckland then on to Japan," Ian answered.
Japan, the newly found mecca for Western rock groups, I wondered if Tull would find it as hectic as other bands have.
"Yes and no," Ian replied. "Some aspects of Japanese life are hectic, such as the travel and the apparent speed of the cities, but I really think the Japanese people on the whole are slow. Very industrious, but rather slow. They seem to lack the hectic intuition of the English or the Scottish, or even the Americans.
"Their press things are unbelievable. They get you in a room with a big table and a PA system, it's all laid out. Then they herd fifty or a hundred journalists into the room and they all move at a snail's pace and sit down. Nothing happens unless you take the initiative and actually jump up in the air and run around shaking hands insisting people talk to you.
"Last time I went there I speeded it up a little for them, which they remembered months afterwards."
A wry grin appeared on Anderson's face. The image of him bounding all over the Japanese press 'Hurrying things up a little bit' made us both smile.
I decided it was time we talked about the musical side of Tull, having covered the culinary and travel side of the band. Did Tull do much during their retirement?
"Well the retirement only lasted for the first weekend really. We split up on a Friday on the plane a reformed again on Monday after breakfast. When I phoned the others and said that we were going into the studio and that we should all go together. It was not really a retirement, we were back together as a group after a couple of weeks of rehearsing, and working on a whole lot of things, I mean different types of music.
"We spent a long time in the studio, doing about two and a half albums worth of music of various sorts from which we picked the obvious connected material. It was connected in the sense of what 'they' refer to as a concept album. We stuck it all together and it will come out as the next group album called War Child."
We then got down to the money world and its relation to the band. The money world incorporates the record companies which Ian refers to as "they".
"The rest of the material we recorded will make it one day on some level as a record, as 'they' refer to it in the market place of the business, which is not bad really. I'm not poking fun at the market place, or 'they' for that matter. All that is really very necessary, in fact one of the things I have to be reminded of frequently is my responsibility to myself in disposing of my extremely ill-gotten gains in the most advantageous way for myself and ultimately my country.
"Since to do the wrong thing means disposing of it in not the most advantageous way for either — paying vast amounts of income tax to be dispersed as half a bottle of milk to some screaming infant in Bradford (a northern city in England), or as a few precious molecules of Uranium 237 in the warhead of some borrowed atomic powered American missile.
"Neither of those are ways in which I'd like to use my money. I don't quite know what I'd like to use it for, but I'd like to have the freedom to do something with it which would be of some use. I feel that obligation. In fact, that was one of the things we found out last month when we got down to working out how much we were worth and horrifically finding out that we weren't actually worth anything at all because we couldn't actually get the money we'd made. It wasn't actually ours, it belonged to various companies. The whole thing is very weird — you find yourself coming down to the situation where you're working for a weekly wage, just like anybody else, and it doesn't amount to that much more than the national average."
This time I was determined to tie Ian down to a specific music question. We apologised for raving, but added that it was bloody interesting, which it was. Anyway, before catching the raving bug, I asked Ian what we could expect from War Child.
"First of all there are ten songs. It has become necessary to work in that way again for the simple reason that we have such a lot of material to play on stage. There's no way without cutting up the long pieces of music like Passion Play and Thick As A Brick (and we don't like to cut them up), to include a cross section of what you enjoy playing without extending to outrageous lengths of concerts. I mean two hours is the maximum you can play to anyone without boring them or yourselves. It's not really boring them I suppose, it's just the mental weariness. It bombards the senses to the point where they become insensitive.
"We could see what was going to happen if we did another long thing, which is more natural to write and more enjoyable to write. We'd get to the situation where we'd be playing the new long thing and that would take up half of the show, leaving us no time to include any of the old stuff which deserves a place in the show.
"It seemed best to do ten songs and pick four or five to include on stage, so we can still play the things we enjoy best from the old days. Some of those songs from the old days are still all right. To me they're like an old pair of jeans or a leather jacket, something you wear to reassert your identity. That means we go on doing those leather jackets and faded jeans, and I suppose we always will.
"What War Child is about is aggression. It's the polarity of love and hate as opposed to the polarities of good and bad, which were Passion Play. It's not glorifying war or anything like that, it's just saying that within us all there is some spirit of aggression and competitiveness, whatever makes us, 'us'. Every race has this particular thing. In the heart of your heart there's this urge to live to the death, that's what it's all about.
"Another song which is ostensibly a love song is not really a love song. It's saying: 'War child, dance the days and dance the nights away.' It's embracing this idea and saying we have this within us, but we must use it to constructive ends. Recognise the force of it and not use it for doing the dirty on people, but use it for the furthering of the individual and mankind. The two things can be compatible and we must learn to make then so.
"That's what the album is about using imagery, which I hope will invoke something different in everybody. I don't believe in giving people a black and white story like the cat walked in the door here, and rubbed up against the thigh of the lady who picked up the head of the stuffed moose. I'm not into that bang, bang, bang clear cut stuff. I'd rather have something which is interpretive; having the sort of qualities where I, as the writer, can look back and say this isn't just a mirror of what I was then, it's something that grows, like having a shaving mirror where the colours keep changing, where you can look at it and not just see what you were but another possibility of what you were.
"I should imagine that the different people who listen to it, as a result of different experiences, will all have a very different way of looking at the lyrics, relating to different lines and conjuring up different emotions in relation to the individual's experiences. No less striking in fact, than say for the little thirteen and fourteen year-old girls who write to me, strangely."
(What was that?)
"This music reaches them for some reason, they seem more open, more willing to use their imaginations in almost fairy tale naïve proportions. I think it's amazing that at the age of twenty-six (GODDAMIT) I can still relate to people who are younger. Perhaps it's because I wear what appear to be some female clothes. I wonder if that's what they identify with? Perhaps they confuse my tights with the wearing of more grown up female attire."
Perhaps that's why David Bowie is so popular I commented.
"Yeah, well he's safe as far as the little girls are concerned isn't he? He's asexual, they can use him like a Barbie Doll, dress him, undress him and even bath him without any sexual connotations. But, obviously to anyone with post-pubic experiences he's very asexual, almost a challenge to them."
The conversation stopped while Ian tried to get some Mose Allison cassettes from Barry Peacher of Festival. Ian gave Barry a fright by saying that he thought that Benefit and Aqualung would cease to sell one day. Barry, naturally, disagreed!
Then on the balcony next door appeared Barrimore Barlow, who had just arrived from the hospital with a bottle of medicine.
"He thinks he's got cancer, but he's too frightened to have an X-ray in case he has," Ian later told me.
What about the Sydney Opera House Concert, Ian?
"Well it was just like a mountain or a planet, it was there, so we thought we'd play there just for the hell of it. But before we could go any further I would like to apologise to anybody who felt cheated by the appalling acoustics of the hall. It would have been okay if we were an acoustic band or an orchestra, bit for an amplified band it was next to impossible. It's a nice place, but not for an amplified band."
The afternoon was getting on, and Terry Ellis, Tull's manager, entered to discuss the photos for the new album cover with our own Phil Morris. Time to leave the happy scene and head back down to the Go-Set office with this interview and attempt to sort it out.
Thanks to Ed Donnelly for this article.