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NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS
11 March 1972
A NEW TULL
Portsmouth Guildhall was packed to capacity on the opening night (Thursday) of Jethro Tull's current tour. With one or two minor reservations, the audience got its money's worth.
The tour, Jethro's biggest-ever in the U.K., is also the first British tour for new drummer Barriemore Barlow, who replaced Clive Bunker shortly before the last U.S. tour.
Jethro are enormous in the U.S., of course, and the mistakes were the result of lack of acclimatisation with British audiences.
U.S. concerts are larger, seat more people, and therefore require more obvious stage presentation. English audiences are more subtle and on a couple of occasions Jethro seemed to have forgotten that.
The show was fast, furious, skilful and colourful though. Anderson spreads the spotlight more than he used to, and each member of the group got a section — either musical or humorous — all to himself. "A new Jethro", commented photographer Robert Ellis.
Tull arrived onstage in peculiar fashion and proceeded to launch their new sociological / scatological epic Thick As A Brick.
A review of this appears on page 10 this week, suffice for me to add the live performance is fast, technically perfect and even the hardest Tullheads in the front stalls were delighted and confused at the same time.
Ian Anderson, dressed in black knee-breeches and chequered coat-tails, still catfoots around the stage like a combination of Max Wall and Mephisto. Almost vaudeville and almost high camp, but most of all pure Anderson (yes, he still stands on one leg).
Martin Barre, dressed in a baggy suit of appalling houndstooth, contributed careful guitar-work with his usual diffidence, Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond, attired in revolting lime-green tails, moved well with a curious jerky dancing motion, and played precision basswork throughout.
Barlow drummed solidly and crisply, and his solo, which took place in the second half of the concert, was very fast and skilful — rather after the manner of Carl Palmer.
John Evan, looning from piano (stage left) to organ (stage right) resembled a dissolute planter, with his crumpled white suit and his wild hair and beard and all.
His looning was itself a put-on of Anderson's own unique movements, and on one occasion it got out of hand — so much so that Ian had to forcefully lead the raving Evan back to the organ stool and seat him upon it.
There was a curious interlude between Thick As A Brick and the closing pieces. It was, I think, 'humour', and it took the form of a comic dialogue between Hammond and Evan. It was well intentioned, but I personally didn't think it very funny. It didn't last long. Anderson was soon back, and he launched into 'Cross-Eyed Mary', which was received deliriously by the Tullheads. 'New Day Yesterday' followed, and finally 'Wind-up'.
All of these pieces were skilfully linked by taped voices, discussing the act, and the timing of these tapes, like the immaculate timing of the music itself plus other 'effects', was a revelation.
Off they went, and came back for the statutory encore. And this, in my opinion, was one place that Tull miscalculated. Prior to the last number, legions of fans had rushed the stage, obviously peaking in excitement. But the encore proved too long and too dynamically slow to retain this mass high.
Martin Barre played a long and slightly un-worked-out guitar solo which left me cold (in contrast to his fine work earlier in the performance), and the whole thing was allowed to droop unnecessarily.
But it was the first night of the tour, Jethro Tull are a highly professional and original band, and no doubt things will be adjusted.
* * *
'BRICK': IS THIS JETHRO'S 'TOMMY'?
JETHRO TULL: 'Thick As A Brick' (Chrysalis)
Ian Anderson's ultimate epic; with lyrics, allegedly, by one Gerald Bostock. And it's on lyrics that Thick As A Brick stands or falls. Personally it took me several listenings before I was able to make up my mind. I've finally decided like it.
Encased in a fine and well-designed sleeve (resembling a banal local newspaper), Thick As A Brick is an assault on the mediocrity and harshness of lower-middle-class existence in '70s Britain.
The set opens with a quiet acoustic guitar passage from Anderson in alternating 3/4 and 4/4 time. Anderson sings the main refrain in couplets while the piece slowly builds with piano flourishes and the occasional powerful stab from the rest of the band. A clean guitar phrase from Barre leads into a short organ solo from John Evan.
Building all the time, several machine-gun riffs lead into the second major theme, preceded by a short flute break. 'The Poet and the Painter', although majestic, suffers a little from banal lyrics. A long, slightly rambling guitar solo follows and then guitar and organ swop phrases before leading into a long instrumental passage in which Evan has the spotlight all to himself. His organ work flaps a little, and resembles Sandy McPherson at times — no doubt intentionally. The piece turns into a 2/4 march — still building — in which organ states and flute answers.
The final section of the first side is musically a folky jingle which develops into downright carnival music. At this point the whole Brick piece starts to get a little less strong lyrically but stronger musically. Side one ends with a three-beat pulse that is repeated, gradually mixing in echo, until the only thing left is the echo response.
Side two opens in a similar way, then drops into an amazingly fast 6/8 passage, slightly reminiscent of ELP on 'Bitches Crystal'. This feeling is enhanced when new drummer Barriemore Barlow takes a solo that, for all its warmer production, resembles Carl Palmer's work. He finishes with overdubbed timpani.
The drum solo introduces a free-blowing passage, interspersed by spoken words from Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond. Cacophonous, but it's probably intended to be. From now on the album degenerates. Lyrics and music get a bit boring, and the earlier inspiration seems to have died — although the arrangements and link-passages are still as exacting as ever. Shortly before the end an orchestra has about eight bars' worth of track then it's back to the original theme — both musically and lyrically — for the wind-up.
Throughout the album Jethro play extremely well and very tightly, and it's obviously intended to be Jethro Tull's own stand-or-fall epic after the lines of 'Tommy'.
To Tullheads it will, of course, succeed; personally, I have some doubts.
Thanks to Harry Auras for this article.