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NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS
13 March 1971
"I AM MUCH TOO PIG-HEADED TO HAVE PROSTITUTED MY MUSIC"
Ever since they blew south from bracing Blackpool with their eccentric, fiercely-guarded originality and enthusiastic naiveté which time has honed to enthusiastic musical flair, Jethro Tull have been something of an isolated outfit ... seeming intent on maintaining a very tight, self contained capsule of existence that feeds on and generates itself totally from within.
Removed from the mainstream of progressive music at most points, as individuals as well as musicians, sheltered from the excess of show biz sociality, organisers of their own tours and producers of music that owes little to anything other than the mind of Ian Anderson, they cruise along in their own enigmatic yet highly successful sidewater.
Anderson for example denies the need to listen to what his contemporaries are up to. From his house on the hill in Hampstead where he leads a quiet, retiring life when not working with Jethro, he has now almost totally stopped listening to other artists' music.
"I cannot think why I should listen to other people's music,"
he argues when it is put to him that if only from a purely business point of view he should take an interest.
"My music is all that is significant to me and if other people like it I am overwhelmed that they do. I know that I am doing something different to other people's tastes and I would not start affecting what I play by listening to other people's music. I know that there is a lot of good music going around that I would probably derive pleasure from listening to, but that is a time thing and I don't have much free time.
"As far as watching trends is concerned, if they changed so that people didn't like our music any more I would soon be aware of it. I swear to you and anybody else that I have never sold out or prostituted my music because it is a way of making money, because I am much too pig-headed to play anything I don't like. I wouldn't play anything that didn't satisfy me. It is a principle that I do hold quite firmly. Not that it is anything unusual though ... I am sure the majority of musicians feel the same way.
"But it isn't a conscious cutting off that I don't play records now. I don't like listening to records as background noise. I have to sit and listen otherwise it becomes Muzak and I, for one, hate turning music into Muzak by treating it as a kind of psychological balm. I used to have the record player on all the time but now I consciously keep away from music unless I can give it my full attention. And then it becomes a time thing. I mean I wouldn't put 'Tommy' on for instance unless I was going to listen to it. I wouldn't put it on for background over breakfast. That is not what music was written for."
Jethro are today what you might term second generation progressives, the third generation being the Sabbaths, the Deep Purples, the Curved Airs. They are at a potential danger period where a drop in enthusiasm or loss of purpose and direction could see them into an abyss.
Changes in personnel, however, have helped the band keep evolving and Anderson for one, with Aqualung the band's fourth album near release, exudes an aura or unabated resolve and enthusiasm. After discussing the manner in which Jethro's music is intended to employ a wide variety of styles, Anderson volunteered:
"We might not be as popular as some groups because we don't have a definite style but we have been playing now for three years and are at the stage where we are not a new group any more. We can be thought of as an established group like Mayall or the Who."
"And I think to a large extent the reason we are still around and evolving is that we have never tied ourselves down to using one style of music, like Mayall's band has never been tied down. He's mainly never tied himself down to musicians, but we've had changes as well, and I think that that is one of the things that has kept us going and kept us enthusiastic.
"There is a lot more enthusiasm on tour now. We can enjoy it because it is our job and everybody is involved with it and takes a pride in it ... a pride in actually going through with it and completing a tour without getting mentally messed up ourselves or physically messing up other people. As for the gigs, that's the reason we are doing it all in the first place. You have to get a kick out of that, otherwise there is no point in doing it.
"But it is always difficult when you sit in England for a month and generally everything seems to slow down so much that there is a danger of getting stale. I find now that I have to practise ... I never had to before. Because what we do now is a lot more demanding. If I go away for a couple of days, which is rare, I always take the guitar with me because I have to keep my hand in. As I said I don't listen to other people's music at all so my only contact with music is Jethro Tull."
The most recent change in Jethro's line-up has seen the replacement of Glenn Cornick — launching his new group this week — for the semi-mythical Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond.
"Jeffrey started off hiding," offered Ian when I asked how he was settling in.
"He was very nervous about going on stage when we first went to Europe.
"In the first few weeks he wore as many clothes as he could to cover himself up ... working on the ostrich in the sand principle in the hope that people would not see him. But last night for the first time he went on in his lightweight gear ... baseball boots and Ho Chi Minh grey denims. He looks the epitome of the popular image of a Communist leader."
It will be a gradual but sure process as the new bassist finds his feet and his role at this point has been a very basic one.
"It would be unfair," maintains Ian, "to make Jeffrey play a solo. Bass solos are a bit out of context with most of my songs anyway. Really he is just playing as a bass guitarist ... he doesn't play to impress people nor does he play to remain anonymous."
"Playing is new to him anyway. He has to concentrate quite hard on what he is doing. It is only a few months since he took up playing again after four years and his playing then was limited. But he gets a very good sound on stage; a lot heavier sound. Most good bass players are the ones you don't even notice, but if they walked off stage you would know something terrible had happened to the sound. Like John Entwhistle is the epitome of the silent bass player. I feel those bass players are the best; except in the context of a three-piece group where it is different.
"But for us, with guitar, organ, piano and flute, we cover the range of top frequencies pretty completely. I think Jeffrey's contribution is something that might not be heard as outstanding but, on stage, I feel his presence more than the bass guitar in the group in the past; because he plays a sound that shakes the floor, rather than separate lyrical notes."
Anderson has always worn his integrity on his sleeve as it were. I remember on our first meeting him saying that if he felt the band was failing to function as an honest outfit he would immediately pack it all in and go back home, to college or whatever. To what extent does he now see Jethro as a long range project?
"It has got to be good for another year at least because we have tours to play. Beyond that I don't really see anything other than Jethro Tull as a group playing together. I personally don't want to get into writing film scores, or making movies, or acting, or forming a supergroup.
"As long as we don't become stagnant. That's the important thing. It doesn't have anything to do with being popular. I used to think that if we weren't popular I would stop playing but I've changed my mind. As long as there are still sufficient people prepared to listen I would carry on. I'm getting too old to do anything else now anyway. I'm too old to go back to college and the qualifications have changed too. You need a degree to get into grammar school nowadays."