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19 February 1977
AN OPEN LETTER TO IAN ANDERSON ...
Thought I'd drop you a few lines to say how much I enjoyed your concert last Friday. You know, I've followed your work for seven years now, and modesty has never been your middle name. But at Hammersmith Odeon, I did realise that you've every right to be as proud of your achievements as you sound in all your interviews. A wonderful show. Couldn't take my eyes off the stage. You all worked so hard, and the result was worth all your effort. Thanks for sending me such a good ticket.
As I'm sure you'd be the first to point out, I'm not a child any more, and naturally all those awfully loud modern pop groups hurt my ears, numb my senses. But you seem to have a sound which doesn't blast everyone's head off, while using decibels to clever effect. Still, you've been at that game for ten years now, so you ought to know your stuff — and I suppose you've grown out of the noise thing, judging from the solo guitar bits.
You write such gripping songs that I wish I could have heard the words better, though I hope you won't mind my pointing out that not everyone goes to your concerts knowing your entire songbook!
It was good to see you so physically fit, Ian. I could tell you had a bit of a cold, and somebody told me you were dosed up with antibiotics, but I can assure you the only fever you showed was when you made those digs against the press. More about that later in this letter.
Anyway, the show was everything you'd led us all to expect. I'd not seen your band, remember, for more than two years — the Rainbow in London was the last time — and the precision, the lighting techniques, the marvellous pace and powerful texture of the show was an eye-opener. The bloke sitting across the gangway from me was going absolutely bananas, and this sort of behaviour reminded me of the funny carryings-on at festivals which I'd seen on TV, with the crowds acting it out so wildly. Mostly men in the audience, I noticed.
Nobody in the crowd could compare with your own acrobatics, though. You reminded me of a whirling dervish, a demonic ballet dancer! Who dressed you so enterprisingly, I wonder, in scarlet bowler hat and hunting attire so that your sartorial elegance matched so perfectly the countryfied mood of the songs? Lovely.
I missed the famous codpiece, Ian, but I see you're still using the old flute as a phallic symbol. Really, you reminded me of that dirty old man "sitting on a park bench," as it says in one of your popular songs. 'Aqualung' is it?
At your age, Ian! I feel I've got a duty to tell you that I was also surprised — not shocked, mind — by your liberal sprinkling of four-letter words.
You see, Ian, it's obvious from how you speak to the audience that you're SO much more well-spoken and articulate than most of those other pop stars we see struggling to string three words together. So many of them just about manage something like: "That was ... and the next number from the new album is ..." that it was a pleasure to witness an artist with interesting things to say. And then you go and reduce yourself to the escape-route for people who can't find the right words to express themselves.
I hope you don't mind my saying this, because I can tell you've been educated properly, and I don't like to see you letting yourself down by taking easy roads. As long as I've known you, Ian, you've been keen to push yourself.
Don't lapse ... even if you do feel overawed by what you later described as an "elite" audience. I know you weren't talking about me and your auntie, Ian — I'd imagine you meant such luminaries as Paul McCartney, Susan Hampshire, Melvyn Bragg and Tony Palmer. Goodness, I should expect them to be impressed with such a skilful exhibition.
While I'm mentioning your speech, I was gravely worried by your continuing paranoia about reviews, Ian. Again, for a musician of your status and achievement, you belittle yourself after all this time by appearing so petulant.
Come on, now — you're no novice any longer and you should be well and truly above this sort of pettiness. Just because a writer doesn't hail your every record or concert as a masterpiece.
Also, I was deeply hurt by your malicious little slight on my good friend Chris Welch. Dedicating a song like 'Too Old To Rock 'N' Roll, Too Young To Die?' to him struck me as both childish and dangerous on your part. After all, old man, we're none of us spring chickens any more — I happen to know that you are 30, and Chris is only 35, you know.
I don't write letters to you often, and I see you even less frequently, but I feel I've got to tell you that you shouldn't aim to score cheap points from the stage in press-baiting when the audience is on your side anyway (or they wouldn't be there), and you shouldn't be making juvenile jibes against individuals who don't deserve it. Most of the audience didn't understand all this "in-fighting," either!
So please, don't appear so obsessed, and let the show speak for itself, because believe me, it does. I mean, you can't have gathered around you such supreme musicians without earning their genuine respect, and that's what really matters.
That guitarist in the multicoloured striped suit, Martin Barre, far example — he is a wizard at his craft. I reckon I've seen all the really important bands in your field now, and I think you'd go a long way to beat Martin as a guitarist. Such outstanding techniques and old-fashioned melodies. Keep hold of him, Ian — don't let him go.
I enjoyed the extra man at the keyboards since the last tour, David Palmer, but I still have this thing, which I wrote to you about last time, about the longer-established pianist John Evan. The piano is a handsome instrument, but he's so heavy-handed and insensitive.
And I was utterly shocked to see that he's still wearing that hopelessly ill-fitting and inappropriate white baggy suit, and still clumsily jumping about the stage in a vain attempt at custard-pie humour. Really, Ian, you must know your musicians well enough to tell them to act their size and behave in an orderly fashion. I know John's an old mate from Blackpool, but can't you forcibly restrain him, if necessary, from muscular activity which compares so embarrassingly with your own lithe strokes?
Well, I suppose I've said enough for one letter. I thought the new songs sounded interesting — especially 'Velvet Green' and 'Hunting Girl' — and the oldies were golden. Nice to hear 'Skating On Thin Ice' and 'Wind Up' again. Good songs don't date.
You must have felt better, cold or no cold, with such a responsive audience. Your flute-playing was splendid, and all in all the show was a superb piece of theatre. Glad you're not a tax exile, incidentally.
I hope you'll invite me to your performance again, and that you will appreciate that if I've made some harsh observations, it's because I enthuse about your career, as I know you do and it's obvious to me that Jethro Tull is a band to be cherished. Age should not weary them, nor the years condemn.
I'll be interested to hear more about your long study of the countryside. As you say, it's a cruel place, but if you can convert it into music, it somehow acts as a catalyst for your own strong personality. You're a bit of a beaver yourself. I know you're a strong and serious person — it shows in all your work — but do try to stay cheerful, too, and don't feel so persecuted. Some of us do care, Ian.
Yours sincerely —
Thanks to Mike Wain for this article.