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23 August - 5 September 1984
(Issue no. 75)
"The reason I've survived whilst others from my era like Keith Moon haven't, is quite simple — I'm so boring!" Jethro Tull's IAN ANDERSON tells MALCOLM DOME
Countless thousands of words have been spilled onto paper about Jethro Tull mainspring lan Anderson. The flautist who gave the flamingo a place in rock myth, lan has garnered reputation (unfairly as far I can tell) for being decidedly tetchy and temperamental when it rock 'n' roll ethic (if they ever did exist) have long since passed into the juvenile scrapbook. In 1984, Ian Anderson is more than anything else a successful businessman. He owns 650 acres of farmland in one of England's most fertile rural districts; he has a trout farm; he sells firearms on a small scale; he owns an island off the Scottish coast . . .
Relaxing in the semi-gloom of his own recording studio down on the aforementioned farm, lan Anderson does indeed cut a quietly effusive figure, impressively charismatic yet in a maturely stolid manner. It's hard to equate the ebulliently intelligent man seated before me with the popular media image of the rustic lunatic.
"Well, I still crack up on Wednesdays and Fridays as a rule! I find it more rewarding to keep my crazy side to a strict timetable. No, seriously, the reason I've survived whilst others from my era like Keith Moon haven't, is quite simple — I'm so boring! During the Sixties when everybody else was taking all the drugs they could get hold of, I never had any interest in that at all.
"You see, I'd been around the sort of people who indulge in 'substances' since the age of 16 at art school. The whole drug culture and the attitudes of the kids within that circle just got up my nose, if you'll forgive the pun. Consequently, when I eventually made it into rock, I'd had enough of the drug scene.
"I never wanted to take anything. In fact, I got exceptionally irritated when Tull would play on the American West Coast before an audience totally out of their heads. It was tantamount to performing for people with brain tumours. I hated the whole hippy culture which existed during that period."
Anderson has a very objective, if slightly mocking, viewpoint of a time held dear by many as the most exciting/ creative period in the history of rock 'n' roll. Yet one can't help but be impressed by his reasoned arguments. The bottom line is that the man has no need in the Eighties to spend his valuable time talking to the press because musical success surely no longer means as much as it once did. He chose to grant this interview because he wanted to chat and air opinions for public consumption.
Maybe it's a sign of ego to believe that anyone could be intrigued by your viewpoint, but at least it made for an enthralling conversation. And, strangely enough, Anderson scarcely plugged the new Tull album, Under Wraps, a sure indicator that he no longer looks upon encounters with the journalistic fraternity as a means of persuading Joe Punter to open his wallet in the cause of the greater capitalist dream.
"Oh, I'm sure I'll hate at least half the material on the new album in six months time. It's always the same with me. But then, I suspect, if you ask any number of artists to express an honest opinion on their work all of them would probably admit to loathing a sizeable percentage of their recorded output."
The new album was recorded at the Anderson farmyard studio and features the hardy team of keyboardsman Peter-John Vettese, bassist Dave Pegg and guitarist Martin Barre. It was this mob who helped out on lan's solo LP earlier this year, Walk Into Light ("a spectacular disaster"). Now, they've been joined by 27-year-old New York drummer Doane Perry, for whom this is a dream come true, as he himself explained . . .
"There were four bands I'd always wanted to join — the Beatles, Weather Report, the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Tull. I've been a fan of the band for years. In fact, when I was 15 I wrote a letter to Clive Bunker who was my drumming hero, asking if I could possibly meet him when Tull next played in NY. Well, to my surprise, he kindly answered and invited me backstage. Everybody in the band at the time was extremely nice to me and I've stayed in touch with Clive ever since.
"Mind you, my illusions were shattered within 30 minutes of the first rehearsal I had after joining this lot. There were constant arguments over which songs we should be doing and how they had to be arranged! I'm just amazed that things have come together so well."
The new LP, due out on the Chrysalis label in early September, represents a slight electronic turn for Tull, although the unmistakable Jethro trademarks (billowing flute lines, folk-style vocals, etc) are still very much in evidence.
"The best way to describe Jethro Tull is that we're eclectic," stated Anderson. "But these days to be put into such a category is the kiss of death. Everything has to be 'street'. It's all about a temporary culture (fashion) and imitating what's currently hip. There's nothing original anymore and everyone you meet in rock circles is trying to develop a working class image. It seems that if you come from anywhere further out of town than Acton and have claims to a middle class background you've got no chance in the music business.
"I think we established a certain style years ago. Sure, Tull went through a period in about '72/'73 when we were producing heavily arranged, almost symphonic music, but in the end that wasn't satisfying. So we've concentrated on recording short songs since those overblown days."
Exactly how much of the new stuff finds its way into the Tull live set will become apparent when the band hit the road for their '84 world tour on August 30 (beginning at Dundee Caird Hall — see Mayhem issues 71/73 for full details); the tour takes in, aside from the UK, America (with the Headpins supporting), Australia and Europe (the band's Saturday headlining gig at the National Rock Festival, Lilford Park, can now not ahead due to the festival's collapse).
"We're spending something like £250,000 on pre-production for the show, but it won't be a spectacular effects-orientated staging. We've always tried to put the emphasis on people rather than one-off effects like lasers. For example, our roadies invariably have three jobs to do, two of which involve dressing up and coming onstage.
"We're still putting together the music for the live show, but one number likely to be included is 'Living In The Past'. To be honest, I've always loathed and detested that song. In fact, when it was first a hit (reaching the Top Five in '69), I used to hide in a corner and cringe. But the guys in the band now are keen to play it, and you know, I'm beginning to grow accustomed to the damn thing."
But enough of the mandatory 'news' digestion, on with the interesting stuff. It's been 16 years since lan Anderson first donned his medieval codpiece in the pursuit of fame, fortune and an itchy groin. Despite numerous personnel shifts, the name of Jethro Tull has remained a respected one in the annals of Progressive Rock. Alongside Yes and Genesis, Tull have not only survived the excesses of the Sixties, but lived to prosper in the Eighties.
"Why have we survived? I really couldn't begin to answer that question. Perhaps we've been very lucky never to have been dubbed teenybop idols. Being ugly does have its advantages. I was once the centrefold in 'Jackie', which must have given all those girls at finishing schools up and down the country a really nasty shock. Can you imagine, having David Cassidy one week and me the next?! But seriously, once you get dubbed a 'teeny performer' your career is virtually over. No-one comes back from that sort of stigma; David Cassidy, Adam Ant, the Bay City Rollers, they've all suffered as a result.
"I've never really considered myself a man with talent. At school I wasn't exactly excellent at anything in particular. Oh sure, I was always in the top stream, but never outstanding at one subject.
"So, anyway, I finally ran away from school and very nearly joined the police. I've always had a strong sense of justice, and was in the process of filling in an application form, when the inspector who interviewed me discovered that (shock! horror!!) I had eight O levels, which meant I was too well qualified! I was therefore turned down. To say the least, I was shattered."
Fortunately, Anderson took his rejection like a man and took up the guitar. The rest, as they say, is history.