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26 April 1980
ROCK'S OLD MASTERS
Such a storm! Such a season of wonder! In this sun-stroked spring, the old masters are coming out again and making most (not all) of those children, who have recently been masquerading as rock stars, understand how much they still have to learn.
Thus, after Genesis, nights of delight from Jethro Tull at Hammersmith. Ian Anderson, leader, in his 30s — looking wickedly like Errol Flynn almost looked in those Spanish Main movies — leaping and declaiming around the stage with his zany companions, while producing music of splendour.
How to tell the story briefly? To begin ... Tull's sheer humour, fun, spirit. It is, as Anderson cavorts, as keyboards man John Evan beams loonily in his Ruritanian Admiral's finery and as seagulls erupt on the set, like a cross between Monty Python, Hellza Poppin and the Crazy Gang.
But (do I hear?) wherein lies the music? Consider, say, Anderson's statement that Tull play "English rock." He is so triumphantly right.
There are passages in his last album, Stormwatch, when the dark lyricism of guitars, piano and pipe-organ suggest he is the street man's Elgar. At times, the keyboard counterpoint reminds me of Byrd.
Yet there's so much more. The folk element grows strong in 'Heavy Horses' (Anderson's superb anthem to Clydesdales) or 'Songs From The Wood'. Since bassist Dave Pegg joined the band, the reels flow more thickly. On Friday, Tull played Henry VIII's hit, 'Pastime with Good Company'. Anderson must guest at the Schools' Prom one day.
Yet even this only adumbrates Tull's mastery. Anderson sings, of course, but also offers a flute extravaganza spanning a mad Roland Kirk voice-over and smooth jazzy Herbie Mann. Martin Barre's lead guitar is stunning, while the twin keyboards (Evan and David Palmer) and Barriemore Barlow's powerful drumming round out this world-class band.
They played, unbroken, for two hours ten minutes. For the last half-hour the audience was standing, not menacingly, but laughing, clapping, drinking in the joy, Anderson seemingly amidst them.
He began his encores with 'Too Old to Rock and Roll' (which you never are, unless atrophied), 'Too Young to Die'. The oldies sang along. As Don Black so cannily said, in 'Tell Me On A Sunday': "You only act your age if that's the age you want to be." Glorious Jethro Tull.
Note: This review is for the 11 April 1980 show at the Hammersmith Odeon, London. These five nights were the last live performances with the 'old' line-up.
"After Genesis . . ." Genesis played three nights at Hammersmith at the beginning of their Duke tour, 27-29 March 1980.
'Pastime with Good Company': i.e. 'King Henry's Madrigal'.
"Schools' Prom": a children's version of The Proms (classical music festival) as opposed to the high school dance.
Thanks to Bruce Carribine for this article