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20 October 1979
TULLS ANCIENT AND MODERN
What's it like to be bossed around by a one-legged flute player who fancies himself as a country squire? STEVE TAYLOR extracts confessions from Martin Barre, who's been putting up with it for years, and Dave Pegg, who joined Jethro Tull only last month
It seemed like a good idea at the time: Stand Up followed This Was, emphasising the controlled eccentricity of Ian Anderson's songwriting, and Martin Barre replaced Mick Abrahams as Jethro Tull's lead guitarist.
In many ways, that move set the pattern for the band's next ten years of musical output - a decade during which Anderson has remained a 'figure', despite the steady loss of credibility and critical praise, recruiting a string of old mates to replenish the changing line-up, giving interviews from a succession of anonymous American hotel rooms, and habitually dressing in garish plaids and gentleman-farmer hats (sartorially, rock's answer to Jeremy Thorpe).
Anderson now lives out the rustic fantasies he peddles to credulous American kids; the "This is a traditional English folk song I wrote in the Boston Holiday Inn" touch. He's an eccentric countryman in the manner of other wealthy 'progressive' British musicians rich enough to fabricate a virtually extinct lifestyle.
Meanwhile, Jethro Tull (named after the inventor of the agricultural seed-drill: we ought to have known from the first) continue to fill stadia, shift albums in quantity, record and play Anderson's songs, and lose members - most recently their bass player John Glascock.
Hence the presence, here in Chrysalis Records' sumptuous Oxford Street offices, of new bass-man Dave Pegg, formerly of Fairport Convention, and the aforementioned Barre, respectively the most recent and longest-serving Tulls. Anderson, one presumes, is now beyond these minor tremors in personnel, a full ten years after 'Living In The Past' made the top five. Was that a prophetic title? Let's see.
MM: How did the bass slot in Tull become vacant?
Barre: Well ... sad story. John got an infection in his teeth, which turned into a blood infection and got to a heart valve — he had a heart murmur, anyway. It was straight into hospital and an operation to replace the valve — he ended up with a bit of pig in him. What he'd been through had upset his whole metabolism, so he couldn't take the strain of going away with us. Tony Williams, a friend of Barry's (drummer Barriemore Barlow) from Blackpool, did the tour while John was in hospital for three months. This year we completed an album's worth of material, and then we went away to America — and when we got back, we listened to it again and it wasn't there at all. There was nothing in it. So we all decided to start again. We were all going through quite a lot of pressure, anyway, and it was worse for John, not being in 100 per cent condition.
MM: Dave, when and how did you become aware of the possibility of joining?
Pegg: I come into the story around July, when Ian phoned me up several times while I was working with Fairport, who were gigging incredibly hard because we were knocking it on the head after a long time — about as long as Tull. We had the usual bills to pay off.
MM: Did you have any idea what you wanted to do?
Pegg: Not really. What I wanted to do was produce records, which is every musician's dream. I produced Ralph McTell's last album, Slide Away The Screen, which I really enjoyed doing.
MM: Did you know Ian before?
Pegg: No, but I was very aware of the band, obviously because they'd made a lot of albums, been going for a long time, and Fairport had worked with them in the past on tour in the States. In 1970 there was a bill on at the Fillmore West, which was like one of the havens of rock 'n' roll.
Barre: Peace, love and drugs ...
Pegg: It was that if you were part of the audience.
Barre: It was if you were on stage, you only had to breathe.
Pegg: I've got a great poster in my living room from the Fillmore: Jethro Tull, Fairport, Clouds, and one other whose name escapes me ...
Barre: Chuck Berry, was it Chuck Berry?
MM: You've played with him?
Pegg: We've played with everybody; you name it, we've played with them.
MM: What did Ian Anderson say to you when he phoned?
Pegg: Are you willing to smoke a pipe? Will you grow a beard? Have you got a Co-op number?
(To see how much Dave was putting me on, I asked him if he'd had a beard before joining Tull, and he admitted he hadn't. So what about the tweed jacket and earth shoes, then? I didn't dare delve further.)
Barre: Dave's from Birmingham, and the thing about the band was it was supposed to be from Blackpool; John Evans, Ian and Jeffrey are all from there. It's changed, though. Barry was in Blackpool, but is originally from Birmingham; I'm from there, David Palmer's from Wolverhampton; now we're trying to find a Brummie replacement for Ian.
MM: Do you remember any differences between the way Dave joined and how you got into the band?
Barre: Slightly. I went through a terrible audition. There was a bunch of guitar players, all playing exactly the same: Mick Taylor, Paul Kossoff, Tony Iommi, Eric . . er . . Tony Iommi got the job, but he only lasted a week. I failed, but I rang back — I thought the job ought to have been mine. The first week I was with the group, nobody spoke to me. It was Christmas week and Glen, Clive, Ian and me went to this basement in Soho. There was this woman in the room with filthy hair, knitting and reading a paper, who used to make us sandwiches. Christmas Day, Boxing Day; it was like the bomb had struck, there was paper tumbling along Shaftsbury Avenue. We used to play for half an hour and then have a break; they'd sit at this table, I'd be sitting over the other side of the room and they wouldn't talk to me for about a week.
MM: Recruiting a player who's obviously got his roots in English traditional music; is that an acknowledgement of a major element in Tull's music?
Barre: No, we'd never admit to anything like that; if Ian was asked, he listens to a lot of Scottish folk music, but nobody else in our band would admit to liking it. I hate it. I don't even like Fairport Convention, but then I don't like anything much.
Pegg: But Ian writes traditional songs: 'Heavy Horses' could go down with anything else that's come out of the folk movement.
Barre: We considered every kind of bass player imaginable — in theory, I'd be wary of choosing someone who's 'folk' — or, say, a 'jazz' player, because I don't know anything of either. It just has to be the right person.
MM: Has it made any difference starting to work for a band with a much bigger established audience and market, more responsibility?
Pegg: I've had to really work. They work much harder than any band I've been involved in. I've done more in the last month, doing rehearsals, than I've done for about the last four years. I like that. I'd like to sit back and think about it too, but it's going to be a long time before I can do that.
Barre: I think it's a good time to be joining the band. The first three years we were trying to make it, then we had made it, and for another three years we were riding the tidal wave in America. We've gone through a stage of relaxing a bit, necessarily; you can't go in top gear for ten years. We're beginning another stage where we're going to be much stronger. In the last two or three years there's been a lot of pressure: from England that you're going to be ignored if you don't do something really good, but not because of musical reasons. In America it is for musical reasons; over the last two years the standard of rock musicians has got staggering, incredible.
MM: To what extent does anyone joining Tull have to fit in with Ian Anderson's dominating role?
Barre: When anyone works with Ian, Ian dominates. He's a very strong person, a very strong musician, with strong musical roots and direction. I couldn't write songs with him, 'cos he would dominate and I would sit back. It's a shame, that ... but it's good, because it works.
Pegg: I can see it, because Ian writes all the lyrics and is the centre of attention on stage. But apart from that, in terms of organisation he's better equipped than any of the people who run offices like these we're sitting in today. In terms of business — the whole thing comes down to business — he's taken control and coped with the music business to the extent where he can almost run the band — period.
MM: Do you find that refreshing after all the cock-ups with Fairport?
Pegg: I find it absolutely amazing ... incredible.