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11 October 1980
LIVING IN THE TWILIGHT WORLD
Difficult days for the juggernaut bands. Led Zeppelin are tragically suspended, the Who are growing old gratefully, Genesis and Pink Floyd are, as always, playing down their personalities and playing up their music ... and dear old Jethro Tull are coming up for air again.
A new album, a world tour including concerts at London's Royal Albert Hall next month, and even the traditional single culled from a current LP. Twelve years on the road, 20 million albums sold, but still Ian Anderson is not running out of steam.
Ah, but are they relevant at the dawn of the new decade? asks a Melody Maker reader.
It depends entirely on how we measure relevance. To about 13,000 people who will see their two London concerts, and half a million people who will attend their worldwide shows, and enjoy them enough to go and buy Tull's old and new albums, the band is relevant. Judged against, say, the Teardrop Explodes or the Pretenders, Jethro Tull take on a positively paternal, nay grandfatherly, look.
Ian Anderson is under no illusions. He's 33, married with two children, a landowner and active conservationist and fish farmer whose whole standpoint seems far removed from the world of rock.
But yes, the reason he's relevant, and people continue to support Jethro Tull, is that they exist outside the generally accepted rock ethic. They are into music, and that doesn't necessarily mean they have to reflect a rock 'n' roll lifestyle.
"We're neither one thing nor another,"
Anderson said, talking about the new band he has assembled for the American tour which began this week, and which also features Whitesnake.
"We're neither today's hot news nor a band that can be written off, because I believe that we're at a very invigorating time in the life of Jethro Tull. Let's face it, once you've been up there, as we were in the headlines of a decade or so ago, you can never recapture that position as new bands come along and assume importance among the kids simply because they're fresh, new and energetic.
"You can only become, in our position, middle-of-the-road OR carry on in that twilight world in which we exist ... that's why we get this mixed reaction from those who come and have to reach a conclusion. People like us or really hate us because they find it very difficult to pinpoint us.
"I know when people meet me, particularly for the first time, they're not really sure what to make of me, you know? They think hmmm, here's this weird bloke who's been a rock star and still trying to keep it going, and they think I'm very devious, pulling the wool over their eyes.
"It's a confusing identity. Then I further compound the conclusion by being interested in fish farming — that's got to be the last, non-commercial thing to be talking about. It's exceedingly boring to most people. And my great interest in salmon farming stinks of capitalism at its worst, having ripped off the record-buying public for huge amounts of money. And at its best, it displays some sort of quaint nuttiness just to be doing these things."
While Anderson displays the outward personality of a member of the landed gentry, with homes in Buckinghamshire and Scotland and a passionate interest in ecology, his personal scrutiny of his band in the past year has been no less intense.
Everyone who has known him for a few years talks of his burning conviction (some say arrogant determination), and last year, during the annual tour of the old band, he decided it was time to look at the Jethro Tull situation carefully.
Some 18 months ago, he
"served notice on everybody in the band that in another album's time we will probably want to change direction and do something different."
That meant suspending the band's existence as an entity and planning solo projects.
Jethro Tull last year included the three musicians who have now left: David Palmer and John Evan (keyboards) and Barriemore Barlow (drums).
Anderson says he set about a solo album and because his first thoughts were keyboard-based, he phoned Eddie Jobson, the ex-Roxy Music and Frank Zappa sideman whose outfit U.K. had supported Tull on last year's American tour.
Jobson, it transpired, was on the verge of winding up U.K. and was delighted to help out on Ian's solo work. Eddie then suggested an American drummer, Mark Craney, whom he had auditioned in the States — and Anderson re-enlisted Martin Barre from Tull, plus Dave Pegg. The scene was set for what Anderson thought would be a period of musical refreshment, with his solo album taking good shape.
But when friends and his record company men from Chrysalis heard the tapes, they said it was the best Jethro Tull album for some time and what began as Anderson's private pet ended up as a re-launched Jethro Tull.
The new album, simply called 'A', is without a concept and with the deft keyboards touch of Eddie Jobson and enterprising lyrics by Anderson, it is indeed a new direction for the band.
"With the old line-up, nobody was under the impression that we were going to necessarily just continue on and on and on doing the Jethro Tull thing," Anderson continued. "The longer you play the same circuits, the more you have a certain reputation to uphold in terms of the way you perform and there's always a kind of demand on you as to the material you are obliged to perform.
"Look at this fact — if I went to see Frank Sinatra and he didn't do 'My Way', which incidentally he didn't when I went to see him at the Albert Hall, I'd be very upset, and I was! The same pressure has been on us for all these years, to go out there and play 'Aqualung'.
"It would actually disappoint a lot of people if we didn't do it, and for the sake of a few minutes' worth of playing something they want to hear, why not send them home happy, provided we don't dislike the material?
"So the old Jethro Tull, given all that back catalogue of material, had enormous restrictions as a touring band. Plus there were certain humorous elements in the band and light-weight musical attitudes which were not necessarily the way I wanted to go. I simply had to deliver that notice that put Jethro Tull as it used to be on ice, so to speak."
Surprisingly, Anderson planned as a solo venture not to veer towards his folk music aspirations,
"but I wanted to do a solo album that was just a bit more punchy, a bit more rock 'n' roll. Not in the Fifties sense, but definitely rock as opposed to the rather quaint sort of thing which everybody imagines was always my input. I wanted my solo album to dispel some of the feeling that I was the sole architect of the music having become a little rounded, a little bit too polished, perhaps."
"The strongest feeling I had when I cleared up the old Jethro Tull thing for a while was that I needed a group format where I could, for the first time in my life, actually play with some other musicians — because I've never actually done that before this experience! For 12 years, I've only been playing with whoever's been in Jethro Tull, and it occurred to me that since I was 16, I've only ever played with five or six different line-ups of people, mostly the same because Tull has never been a band to chop and change very much.
"This is far less an experience, musically, than the majority of musicians, rock or otherwise. Most people do jam sessions or whatever, but I never have done that, it's always been a 100 per cent concentration on Jethro Tull, and obviously that affected the music and the way I saw it. So obviously I wanted to have a go at playing with some others . . .
"I elected first of all to work with Dave Pegg because he hadn't recorded with Jethro Tull, so as far as the recording thing was concerned it was like playing with a new guy for me. The rest fell into play quite naturally — and then, surprise, surprise — the record company people strongly recommended that the name Jethro Tull be used for what was conceived and recorded as my little solo album which would sell probably only 250,000 copies and be buried as Ian Anderson's indulgence."
Anderson is a shrewd business organiser as well as a creative musician and songwriter. Although he was making the suspension of the old band sound a convivial and co-operative decision, there were bad feelings among his former musicians, especially at the time of the new Anderson sessions and eventual decision by Ian to launch his solo LP as a new Tull.
While his friendship with John Evan and Barrie Barlow dated back to his youth in their native Blackpool, there was no love lost between Anderson and Barlow, although Ian is full of praise for his musical contribution to the sound. He is less generous about John Evan's input to Tull; Evan's pre-occupation with classical music was obvious and Anderson says his stay in the band since 1969 was prolonged
"more or less accidentally ... he never expected to stay in Jethro Tull for long, anyway."
But the sheer mechanics of getting the band on the road, doing the sums and planning, is a powerful asset in Ian's make-up. This gives him a domineering personality. Did he agree he was a bossy type who got his colleagues' backs up?
"By the standards of a lot of people, perhaps I am but not in the sense of 'be in by ten o'clock tomorrow and do this and that'. I don't see me in the same way that I see Frank Zappa, for example, and the band has always been more of a co-operative thing than people have realised. Not economically, because about six years ago I took on the business administration when terry Ellis ceased to be our day-to-day full-time manager.
"Just like the Beatles didn't want to replace Brian Epstein, we didn't want to replace Terry with a day-to-day management figure who wouldn't have the credibility because he wasn't with us at the beginning. So all the business administration was taken on by me and with that comes a certain amount of bossiness because you've got to get things organised. But I've never been a sergeant major telling my private how to behave on the barracks square!
"I'd be interested to hear what the other guys say about the way I carry on — particularly from Martin Barre and what he feels about Jethro Tull — because he's certainly playing differently now from what he was six months ago. If there was any animosity in the band it was between Barrie Barlow and me. I hope that on a professional level it didn't show, and he certainly injected lots of good drumming and ideas into the band. But we had nothing in common and we didn't get on too well — yet he probably had more to do musically with the Jethro Tull arrangements than any other individual except me."
Turning to his new music and the new album, Ian describes it as a collection of news stories set to music. He has never been one to write disposable songs, and the material is more thought-provoking than many a current stab at meaningfulness.
'Fylingdale Flyer' is a particularly eerie commentary on what could have happened when the American early warning system went wrong recently. 'Protect And Survive' followed a news documentary about the current state of civil defence in Britain — a reflection of what little information the government gives to the people on what to do in the event of war. And 'Working John, Working Joe', taken from the LP as the new single, points out the truism that there are pressures in all walks of life.
"There's no set theme to the album, but I do feel the meter is good and so are the rhymes. The words aren't the usual hackneyed variety you find in rock songs. They're simply a decent set of lyrics that nobody has written yet. And those are what I always try to write," said Ian.
"Obviously I do it from a middle-class standpoint which agitates and irritates those middle-class writers in certain other papers who profess only to like the working-class philosophy, the really rough-and-ready gut level reaction based around a few ideas and a few words. I can go along with all that but there have to be some middle-class writers of lyrics who steer away from that kind of attitude.
"Not that there's anything wrong with working-class lyrics. But I maintain that there are classes in our society and I do write from a certain standpoint and it would be silly to pretend I didn't.
"Mine is not street music. I don't go to football matches every week and sit there and throw beer cans. I don't even go down the pub. I've missed out on that — rather sadly. I'd like to have done a lot of those things but it's too late now for me to get on to the terraces with everybody else. I wouldn't enjoy it and they wouldn't enjoy having me there.
"So I do things I enjoy in a different set of circumstances with different company. Unfortunately that puts me into a rather uncomfortable niche in rock music, which is inhabited by only a tiny assortment of people, most of whom try to hide those middle-class sentiments or middle-class origins if they have them.
"Like Pink Floyd — they're a fairly middle-class sort of group but they make sure none of that comes to the surface, ever since Syd Barrett left. He was the first guy in the history of rock music, I think, to actually sing with a proper English accent, without it being Joe brown and the Bruvvers singing with a Cockney accent. Syd Barrett's voice was incredible when it first came out — and it suddenly made me realise that I didn't have to pretend to talk in a sort of Lancashire accent or something so that I could be one of the lads."
And so Anderson re-enters the arena with a Jethro Tull enervated by its leader's freshness and a band that contains the best of the old while adding bright new blood. Asked the obvious question about the band's future and whether he had potential problems with an ageing audience, Anderson naturally demurred.
"It's funny. That's something I'm often talking about. In London when we played Hammersmith last year, a great section of the crowd was nearly as old as us, and that's very apparent from the stage. They seem to come out of the woodwork! Whereas when we play America and Europe, our audience really is young, and that's partly, I guess, what keeps me going.
"That's one of the really great things about this band. We really have been thankfully able to pull them in; we lose them at the top end because there is that old story that they have a wife and two kids and a mortgage to support. But we're getting younger audiences all the time ... and although sales of catalogue albums are generally down in the record business at the moment, ours are doing consistently well. 'Aqualung' has done about four million and is still going, and they must be being bought by youngish people. So I don't accept that the band's audience is ageing."
Although he doesn't have any intention of laying his flute or his codpiece to rest in the foreseeable future, Ian has a clear picture of himself in that vein, and expects to be remembered, when he eventually goes, as
"waving my flute around, going crazy on stage, in tights and codpiece.
"It doesn't worry me," he added. "That's something that comes naturally, just a way of performing, and performing takes different forms with various people who go on stage. If I went next week, I would at least be able to rest in peace knowing that for a few thousand people — perhaps 500,000 after a big world tour, that would be a good memory.
"But if I last through next week, and say another 20 years, I'd like to be remembered not just for being a rock musician, and much more than the guy who got up on stage and played flute and jumped about on one leg. I'd like to make some other contribution to things as they are in this world, on some other kind of level, which is what I do in my spare time, basically, with my fish farming in Scotland. Selling food is rather nice ... selling food on the one hand and music on the other is complementary.
"We all sell something. We all work for a living. We either find the jobs that suit us or we become what the jobs we have dictate that we become, as people. You are what you do between nine and five, or four and midnight in my case. So don't fight it, get on with it, and do it well. That's what I'm trying to do, and for as long as my eye can see, I'll be involved in making music."