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NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS
1 July 1972
A TULL STORY
With their latest Thick As A Brick album only recently deposed after three weeks at No. 1 in America (it reached the top in an incredible three weeks) and an impressive retrospective Jethro double LP Living In The Past on release this week, NME looks at the evolution of one of Britain's most important and successful 2nd generation progressive bands.
Reading the NME Andrew Oldham interview of a few weeks back one particular quote from the one-time Rolling Stones manager caught my attention. Oldham was discoursing on the image he helped build around the Stones in the early days, and he commented cryptically: "It was the sort of thing Jethro Tull copied years later, very badly".
Oldham is right in asserting that Jethro Tull initially tapped the same area as the Stones before them. He's wrong in my view, that they did it badly, although that's a matter of opinion; yet what Andrew Oldham knows full well is that the Stones themselves were never first in that particular sphere.
The spit-in-the eye of parental and establishment authority didn't even start with the original hot 'n' sexy Presley or Big Black Bad Berry: nor even with the earlier screen characterisations on the same theme as by actors like Marlon Brando and James Dean. It didn't start — it hasn't finished — with either the Stones or Jethro Tull. Sure thing, though, Tull made capital out of a premise that many used before, and many have used after them: the premise that what shocks one generation is likely to provide the necessary fillip to what stimulates the other.
Yet Ian Anderson took that simple premise off in a totally different direction to Jagger. While Jagger was teasing sex-provocateur — youth at its most decadent — Anderson suggested total depravity and filth-society at its lowest ebb. His hair a wild, matted mane, his clothes a cross between an embankment tramp and a raggle Errol Flynn, Anderson on stage could have stepped out of society's worst nightmare: the one who wouldn't be pushed into a corner and keep quiet while forgotten.
The character given to scratching his balls or belching into the mic if the mood took him, was a demented degenerate totally lacking any sense of moral decency. He both disturbed and stimulated, and although familiarity lessened the nightmare, and the illusion slipped as the private Ian Anderson began to show his colours, the character he becomes on the stage remains a figure that mixes compulsion with revulsion.
Anderson was and is Jethro Tull. Now the only founder member of the band remaining, those that have come and gone in the Jethro ranks have been merely bit-players to his lead role as both the figurehead and creative power behind the group.
In the beginning — there was Blackpool and a young art student who formed his first band, in the 6th form at school, basically, or so he says, as a means of pulling chicks.
He and a school friend Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond, now Jethro Tull bassist, had gone to watch a local band at a Blackpool youth club.
"There they were," recounts Anderson drily, "all these fantastic birds, long hair, make up, false eyelashes, round this scabby group of teenagers called Johnny Breeze and the Atlantics.
"Jeffrey had never had a girl-friend in his life; so we thought, 'This is for us.'"
With Anderson on guitar and vocals, Hammond on bass and a third friend on drums, they formed a trio after the style of Johnny Kidd.
"Little girls used to watch us in front rooms," recalls Anderson. "Jeffrey had bought this crappy £12 bass guitar which came with an amp in a cardboard box."
At art school, Anderson saw music as a route to freedom if all else failed. It was either that or journalism, but when the Blackpool Evening Herald rejected his services it was music that won the toss.
Still mainly as a vocalist, he joined the John Evan Band. Evan, too had been at school with Ian, influenced more by British outfits like the Graham Bond Organisation, Zoot Money and Mayall.
They made out on the Blackpool circuit for a while playing a homespun version of keyboard-based rhythm and blues. Then they decided to head for London.
"It was winter and very cold and dismal in Blackpool," Anderson recalls. "And the way things were at home for me, the only thing I had to look forward to was sitting in the bedroom listening to the radio. As things got more dismal I moved off, feeling that some kind of change of scenery might bring a change of spirit."
Before he did, Anderson made a decision without which there might have been no Jethro Tull.
A few weeks before the John Evan Band left for London, he went into a local record shop and tried to sell his guitar. The shopkeeper refused cash settlement and offered Ian goods instead. Though he couldn't play it, Anderson settled for a flute and as a makeweight a microphone in exchange.
The Evan Band was seven strong when it initially arrived south, but in a matter of days the three-man brass section had returned home disillusioned. Evan hung on a few weeks longer, but as the band's financial status and prospects became bleaker and bleaker he too eventually packed his bags and returned to Blackpool.
The seven reduced to two, Anderson and bassist Glenn Gornick, the pair of them meeting up with southerners Mick Abrahams and Clive Bunker to form Jethro Tull. Terry Ellis, Jethro's manager with Anderson, the major moving force in the bands success, came onto the scene soon after. For a time it seems, Ellis believed he had a seven piece band on his books.
Glenn Cornick remembers how they kept up the pretence by informing quizzical club managers that the brass section had been held up in accidents.
How Ian Anderson, witty, but retiring character off stage, became the beast incarnate on stage is a little obscure. Partly it was because he felt that being merely a singer wasn't sufficient justification for his inclusion in the band. Partly again because Jethro quickly realised they would need to do more than just regurgitate the blues format of the day to surface from the hundreds of other bands surfing in on the progressive wave.
Ian already had the necessary bizarre appearance, an eccentricity of dress derived at first anyway more from lack of bread than any plan of action. He wore battered and grubby plimsolls because all he possessed were battered and grubby plimsolls. Same with the rest of his clothes, a typical student's army surplus jigsaw of questionable taste: it was the overcoat, ankle length and outlandishly too large, that accidentally became the first recognisable Anderson trademark.
Ian said it was a present from his father when he left Blackpool; his story being that he wore it in the clubs because it was winter.
When they started playing in the south and on stage in certain venues it could be "bloody freezing". When the temperature rose, however, the coat stayed. There had been no deliberate concocting of image, but it soon became obvious to Ian that he'd cottoned onto something interesting. Oddly as soon as he realised, he dropped it.
"When friends began to point out that the clothes and actions were becoming trademarks and suggesting I should play up the role, I became frightened and abandoned everything of that kind for good some time after.
"After that stage, it crept back and when it did it had nothing to do with needing confidence on stage. It had begun to be a personnel expression of the music, something that amplifies the music, a visual extension. I express myself through putting on overalls because it is the right gear for the job."
Anderson, however, never tried to hide the fact that a lot of his stage theatricals were just that: theatricals. In the first interview with Ian in November 1968, he told us:
"Everything we do, consciously or not, is show business. A lot of people pretend the show business thing doesn't exist. They say 'Look at us, we are down to earth people.' I don't think there is an honest person in show business. Every time you go in front of an audience you become an act."
Aside of the music, there was one other ingredient needed to turn the embryonic Jethro Tull into a stimulating experience. That was Anderson's control of an audience, and his wit, and that was totally natural. Against this conscious and semiconscious build-up of an image, the four-man Jethro were concocting a music that, however naive it may have been in the beginning, was to seal their break away from the pack. Along with other second generation progressive bands like Family, Nice and Fleetwood Mac, Jethro were harnessing tradition to originality and freshness. This was the birth of the so-called Underground boom.
After all, people like Ian Anderson had still been at school when the Beatles and the Stones were first infusing life into a music scene in need of fresh blood. In 1968, it was the turn of Anderson's generation to elect their own heroes.
Musically, Jethro were a hotchpotch mixture of jazz, pop and blues. Led by Mick Abrahams' fine blues guitar playing and Anderson's flute, it was a distinctive and arresting format, even if Ian's playing could be criticised as a pinch from Roland Kirk.
In a remarkably short space of time — just under a year — Jethro, with a show-stealing Windsor Jazz and Blues Festival appearance under their belt, had become the most talked about new band on the by now bustling club circuit.
It was only the commercial world of pop, slowly dying from a dirge of inventiveness and a need for stimulus, that was taken aback when the first Jethro album This Was rocketed from nowhere to a top five chart placing in late 1968.
Very soon after, it became apparent just how prophetic was the title of the This Was set.
A split between Mick Abrahams and Ian Anderson has been on the cards virtually from the inception of the band. Anderson didn't like Abrahams' material. Abrahams didn't like his.
According to Anderson, the guitarist wanted to extend Jethro into blues. Ian, on the other hand, wanted to simply extend himself, to be free to write in whatever style and direction a natural evolution took him.
So Abrahams left to form Blodwyn Pig — Martin Barre took his place. Ian Anderson became the one front man, the one songwriter and leader of Jethro Tull, and the first results of that were the immensely successful No. 1 album Stand Up.
Next week: Part Two
Thanks to Mike Wain for this article.