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16 October 1971
ROCKING IN THE USA
This week, Jethro Tull flew out to start their eleventh tour of America. Like other top British Rock acts, they are reaping the rich rewards of making it big in the USA. But what's life really like on the road? IAN ANDERSON talked to Chris Welch before his latest trip.
A British band's conquest of America is the modern day equivalent of the Crusades. Instead of seeking the Holy Grail, they pursue the Holy Dollar with religious fervour. It is a stirring tale, this pioneering by bold bands of adventurers across the prairies, mountains and deserts in search of limitless treasure. See them battle with the pirate agents and promoters. Thrill to the sound of savage audiences whooping a greeting to electric warriors from far lands.
And when they return, battle weary and triumphant, the rock crusaders strip off their boots, sink into a pile of skins and recount their deeds, hardships and struggles, eyes glinting, lips curled over their teeth.
"It's often extremely difficult to find a launderette," said one such hunter, Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, this week.
Ian has plenty of experience in the art of touring America. His band has been ten times, on each occasion building up their reputation, until now they stand as one of the most popular and highly paid. It's often difficult for fans at home to realise just how big are some of the groups they used to see at their local bier keller or jive bar. Jethro Tull are giants in the States, but on their native heath ... "they hardly played Aqualung, our last LP."
Just how did Ian and the lads crack that impenetrable continent? What was the story of Tull's success? And what of launderettes? Read on.
"America is consistent for us but here's it's trailed off as far as most people are concerned, in that we are not talked about so much. In the final analysis — we do all right. We were too fast coming up in England. In America it was very slow. I saw Yes in America and they went down well — much better than we did on our first tour. We bombed out in a lot of places.
"Our first tour was in January '69 when we played the Fillmore in New York. All our gear had been sent to Boston, and we were on with Blood, Sweat and Tears. We were completely up the creek. They vaguely knew our albums, but basically we were unknown. At the time I thought it would be our first and last tour. I thought England was the place and that we were a little club group. In the States the groups at the time were like the MC5 and we were a little more subtle. I was surprised when we started to get a good reaction.
"After 13 weeks we lost money so we had to go back. The second tour was with Led Zeppelin, and much improved. We played to 5-10,000 a night and we seemed to be scoring. On the third tour we were on our own, earning money, and we felt good."
"I hated the country at first — I really didn't want to know. It distressed me to see so many kids taking drugs. But after playing four nights a week, suddenly my attitudes changed. America became the place to play and England was where I wanted to live.
"On our last tour we actually had a few days off. Yes I remember now — we had a day off in Vancouver!"
Does Ian feel physically exhausted after an evening of fluting, guitaring and leaping?
"Not really exhausted — if you keep a sensible pace, and don't use all your energy right away. It's like a game of football. You give up smoking and do deep breathing exercises. We rehearse before a tour and gradually work up to it, with a final dress rehearsal. When we're on tour it's total involvement. Even when we're not touring, we're recording.
"The first week home after a tour of the States is written off completely to adjust to the time changes. Then you get bored and start writing or practising. That's something we're just beginning to do — practice. I'm starting to practise the flute for the first time.
"Basically I have always just jammed in the studio. But because of the structure of what the band is doing now, we have to improve ourselves technically. I find I'm writing things I can't play. I can only play in four keys, and I remember been given a piece of rock on a wooden stand for flute playing by the MM. If I'm going to win another bit of rock next year, I'd better start practising.
"I've been practising the violin lately — well it's all music. I bought a violin in New York and cut it up to fit it with frets. Then I taped on a pick-up. I finally used a hack-saw to take out a great lump, and inside saw the maker's name — 'Stradivarius'. Oh, I'm sure it's a fake. I couldn't be that unlucky. I've got another violin which is a much better instrument. I don't think I could play it on stage, but it would be good for sessions."
Tull have a kind of maxi-single on release at the moment ['Life Is A Long Song' EP] with five songs, which Ian describes as an interlude between albums.
They have a new album on the way about which he waxed enthusiastic and they are playing a British tour this month.
"It'll be nice to do a proper tour of England, where it will be so much more relaxed than the States."
How much of a strain was it on the road?
"It's a routine. Sometimes it's a 'plane job. Sometimes you can go by car, which means you can see something of the country. Usually it's a two hour 'plane trip. If you're late you go straight to the gig. If you're early you get a sound check. After the gig it's straight to the hotel and it's difficult to sleep because you are shattered, so you play cards. We play 'Black Bitch', and if my wife travels with us, she's one more hand at cards. There's no club-going — we all go to bed, and we don't very often go outside the hotel, except to find a launderette. We go to bed about 2 am then up at 10 am and off again, to the airport.
"Once you get into the routine of airports you can work reasonably well, and write songs on the 'plane, or catch up on reading.
"As I said, our main problem is finding launderettes, for — er — highly personal washing. None of us wash our stage gear."
I mentioned that Ian's famous old dressing gown looked like it hadn't been cleaned for half a century.
"It's not a dressing gown!" said Ian with mild indignation, eyes popping slightly.
"It cost £60 and I had it made in Carnaby Street. But it has got slightly ripped. If I don't wear it — I feel uncomfortable. It stinks something awful, but it's part of me. It's a personal piece of memorabilia, and as much a part of my playing as my flute. It's only about two years old, but it started off when my dad gave me an overcoat to keep me warm when I came down from Blackpool. It got nicked in Chicago. The new one is a frock coat. I expected it would cost me about £15 — not sixty quid! But it's a nice bit of material. None of that cheap Rod Stewart rubbish y'know."
But apart from trouble with laundry — what about the mace battles, the untamed audiences, the brutal police?
"It's pretty humdrum really. But once we played at Hampton Beach ..."
Go on ....
"And we played the most disastrous set of the tour. We played so badly we decided to get them clapping on the beat. People started jumping on the stage and fighting. The promoter tried to snatch the microphone away from me and kept yelling: 'I'm the promoter — get off, get off!' But we carried on playing and the police came pouring in. I understand they haven't held any concerts there since."
In a way it's rather comforting that the hopping flautist, who can still raise the eyebrows of any passing City gent, is more concerned with the washing of smalls than spreading chaos.