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13 February 1971
JETHRO ENSLAVES THE ROMANS
Chris Welch reports on a temperemental trip
A dainty pair of ladies' panties nestled coyly on the luggage conveyor belt at the end of a long line of suitcases. Jethro Tull gathered close and watched.
Eventually a dazzling blonde, suntanned and draped in furs, arrived to gather up her lingerie, smile, and wiggle in the direction of Tokyo.
It could only happen at Rome airport in the land of sour goats' milk and Roman ruins.
A lightning two-day trek with Ian Anderson and friends from Milan to Rome last week was like every Italian movie ever screened at the Golders Green Ionic.
Arriving with the determination to eschew silly fallacies about the Latin temperament, exactly sixty seconds were allowed before this determination was assailed.
Then I met the promoters.
Just about to hire a cab to the hotel, a yell came from a cheerful, if panic stricken, young man in a dark suit, accompanied by a girl in the hottest of hot pants.
"Kreeze Weldge?" came the cry. "Where are Jethro Tull? Are they with you?"
There followed a nightmare three hours of panics, towering rages, arguments and apparent disorganisation of a kind that doubtless brought Ancient Rome to its knees.
Jethro Tull should have arrived some hours earlier in time for an afternoon matinee in Milan.
Francesco, who spoke good English, telephoned London, Montreux and his office in rapid succession.
"They should have flown in from Montreux. The equipment has not arrived either. There are 3,000 fans waiting at theatre ..." Francesco shrugged expressively.
There followed a drive to his office which shall forever live in my memory. Our Citroen sped through the city streets in a manner calculated to wing pedestrians and bounce off tram cars.
"Don't worry," said Francesco twisting around in his seat as we threaded through Milanese on a zebra crossing at speeds in excess of fifty miles per hour.
In the promoter's office a first class row blew up about the missing group. Everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves thoroughly.
"Perhaps they are at the railway station," I suggested. We drove like lunatics to the railway station. Finally we arrived at the theatre where fans yelled and beat on the glass doors demanding admission.
They were allowed in by opening a door slightly and fans squeezed in and ran to any seat they could grab. "The equipment must be on stage soon," was the cry. Meanwhile I escaped by rescueing my case and grabbing a cab to the hotel.
There was manager Terry Ellis on the phone, calming down the promoters. And Jethro Tull were all firmly ensconced in respective beds sound asleep, where they had been for some hours.
A press reception was held attended by one Giorgio Gomelsky, the well known internationalist and ex-group manager. Ian Anderson was surrounded by earnest young hippie journalists, while the rest of the group, including Tir Na Nog, their accompanying folk duo, ate sandwiches.
These were the last concerts of a tour that had taken Jethro and the Nog men across Europe. They were tired but still enthusiastic.
"When we get back we've got ten days' recording, then an English tour,"
said Clive Bunker, their nattily dressed, moustashioed drummer. "Ah, what it is to be a pop star," sighed Sonny Condell, of the Nog, a little Irish chap with a round hat and round face fringed by whiskers.
The two bands, although vastly opposed in musical concept, get on extremely well and apparently always tour together.
On the three out of four concerts I watched, both went down extremely well, with noisy but enthusiastic fans. Leo O'Kelly and Sonny had a hard job to make their quaint attractive songs heard, but coped with the yelling Italians without apparent acrimony or nerves.
Even when the sole spotlight in the Rome theatre failed, they continued their set in total darkness to a tumultuous ovation.
Jethro Tull proved fantastically popular. Indeed, in Rome, we experienced the rare sight of pop fan mania. In the coach leaving the theatre for a wild party, thousands of fans jammed the streets yelling and beating on the side of the coach.
"Wow, it's Jethro Mania," I breathed.
"Don't you dare put that on the front page," warned Terry Ellis. "That headline is the kiss of death."
At the theatre in Milan the road managers struggled to get their equipment working with ancient electrical systems and ludicrous red tape. "They are such idiots here,"said a Scots roadie. "I've never met such idiots in my life!"
The crowds at each concert proved to be like football fans. Noisy, excitable, they reacted to simple guitar choruses by Tir Na Nog as if a goal had been scored. Said Ian at one point, "Milan 3 - Jethro Tull 1."
Police who entered the theatre in Milan with the obligatory steel helmets and wire mesh grills were greeted with boos and jeers. One felt, how stupid to jeer, and how stupid to wear steel helmets at a pop concert. A kind of rage at the current mania for official and unofficial violence gripped the stomach. It's the same phenomena witnessed in Holland, France or Germany. Let's hope it doesn't happen in England. But make no mistake, we are stupid enough to let it happen. Only apathy saves us from anarchy.
Jethro are playing at the peak of their ability. Their act is now thoroughly musical, featuring the talents of brilliant pianist John Evan.
John plays a beautiful piano duet with Ian on flute, which ranges from classical to blues and jazz influences.
The group like to perform pieces which involve various members 'laying out' and this emphasises their use and control of dynamics.
Tull are not a loud or gimmicky band. They are singularly entertaining, original and highly advanced in their understanding of various musical devices.
Ian is as amusing a musician who has ever set flute to lip and guitar to plectrum. The chants of "Jethro!" proved that his visual comedy and audible musicianship can communicate with the people of any nationality.
And apart from his minstrel-like appeal, and one-legged genius, there is also the rounded, mature brilliance of drummer Clive Bunker, and the solid guitar work of Martin Barre.
New bassist, Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond, proved something of a mystery, playing straight bass and saying nowt.
The phlegmatic control of Jeffrey was in marked contrast to the ever raving activity of our Italian chums.
"Happy now?" I asked as the fans cheered endless ovations.
"Si," said Francesco. "But at one time, we were going to shoot ourselves."
Thanks to Harry Auras for this article