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NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS
20 December 1969
NEW YORK STANDS UP FOR JETHRO
Heading for the top in U.S.
NME's Nick Logan in America goes on the road with Jethro Tull
'The Word' on Jethro Tull in America is rarely bettered and fast improving on their every frolicsome outing on the U.S. rock circuit. The position of top British rock attraction in the States stands but a tour or two away.
I got a quick initiation into 'The Word' game within a few minutes of meeting up with Jethro in the lobby of their New York hotel after flying in to join the group for the remaining eleven days of a month-long tour. "What's the word on Nick Logan?" whispered Ian Anderson furtively, responding to my bemused reply with an explanation that 'The Word' is a kind of oral bulletin sheet on the standing of the acts that circulate among the American rock community.
"It's amazing," he added, "how the word can spread across the country. It'll start here on someone and ten days later you'll catch up with it on the West Coast."
Such is how reputations are passed on.
The way they are made are through shows like the four sell-out performances Jethro delivered that weekend at New York's Fillmore East. Or like the previous, frequently record-breaking dates on this their third American tour and the first with them topping the bill on every gig. It was also their first time topping at Bill Graham's Fillmore and to sell out four shows at the 2,500 seater theatre is an achievement even for a group of Jethro's standing.
New York comes second only to the West Coast as a Jethro Tull popularity centre and, with the Fillmore success under their belt, next time in the city they'll have graduated up to the 10,000 seater Carnegie Hall level. The Fillmore as a place does its best to dispel the magic of it as a rock institution. Empty and with the house lights on, it could be any one of the larger Odeons everyone has in their local high street. But no theatre would have a lighting and sound system so effective.
After rehearsals and a meal at the hotel we drove back to the Fillmore in a huge black limousine to see 'JETHRO FUNK MATTRESS' looming up in neon lights on the horizon.
With every seat full the theatre begins to regain its magic. With no high stage or orchestra pit to segregate the participants, and with the justifiably high-praised Joshua Light Show working excellently, the atmosphere is heavy and the effect a total involvement with the music. Fat Mattress had waved the flag and exited, leaving the stage to a boring and unoriginal American band called Grand Funk Railroad who nevertheless got a standing ovation and bore out Ian's feelings that a standing ovation U.S.A. style has to be viewed in perspective.
Ian was in good form with the asides and witticisms when Jethro took the stage later at 10.15. Each line, move, or roll of eyeballs drew the desired response while Glenn Cornick, Martin Barre and Clive Bunker worked hard and tight behind to turn in one of the best sets I've seen them perform. New York rock fans pride themselves on their super awareness and it soon became obvious that the standing ovation at the Fillmore is treated as a kind of ritual. The group knows it will do an encore — it has to be pretty dire not to get asked — and the audience knows it too. But the game must be played to the rules, and with the required amount of stamping, shouting and clapping, so it is.
After the show, Ian was saying that people back home tend to believe that America gets a much better show from British groups than they do in England.
"It's probably because so many groups have said that audiences here are really hip, and say they play better here to more receptive audiences. But it's not true."
"Our act here is no different from what you'd get at the Albert Hall. There's nothing fantastically superior about the playing here. Both get the same."
The second set got underway at 2.45 — a normal time for the Fillmore. The second house was older than the first — which had been the last to sell out — and were also more Jethro conscious as opposed to being interested. Consequently, there was more reaction for Ian's patter, which is noticeably bluer than in Britain, and for the music. Again a strong act with the standing ovation procedure observed. At the end the audience gave signs of standing their ground in their demands for more until the exit music dispersed their appeals.
Back at the hotel, totally whacked, I managed to get some sleep at six; 29 hours after I had got up in England. Five hours later I was up again, taking a cab out to Greenwich Village with Ian for him to buy presents for friends at home. In an hour or so we managed a tally of one poncho purchased, two requests of "Can you spare a dime?", one to Ian for a cigarette (he gave him one of mine), one Vietnam street demo, and a Black Power taxi driver who cut up everything in his path as he drove us back to the hotel.
The two shows that night went similar to Friday's with, if anything, a better, more attentive audience — who would no doubt carry 'The Word' around New York. In the dressing room after each show the changing was done quickly and quietly; the mood more in tune with disaster than the success it had been. My time later with the band on tour taught me that unless something had gone badly wrong this was usually the case.
The following day found us driving 100 miles north to a student concert at the University of Massachusetts. It wasn't until Glenn, Martin and Clive had gone off in the first car that manager Terry Ellis, Ian and I realised we didn't know the way.
Undaunted we set off, locking all doors as we passed out through New York, and managed to lose ourselves in the forested New England countryside. A heavy snow storm further slowed us down and at one point we began sliding backwards down an icy slope.
The other had been there an hour when we arrived. Spooky Tooth and Johnny Winters had played and the audience was patiently waiting for Jethro. Ian changed hastily and tuned up his mandolin with Martin while Clive drew a skinhead on a blackboard and he and Glenn got engaged in a discussion about Vietnam, Nixon and the draft with a student guarding the classroom-come-dressing room door.
The concert was in a large barn-like building normally used for basketball. A low wooden stage had been set up in the centre with seats all round. With 3,500 present the show was a sell-out. For many of the young audience Jethro Tull was a new experience and the genuine, immediate way they responded to the band and Ian's banter made a telling contrast in retrospect with the hip, pseudo sophistication of the Fillmore crowd.
The sound system was poor and the seating arrangement inadequate — Ian spent some time after pointing out to the student organisers how both could have been improved — but overall it was a greatly enjoyable show, as much for the way the audience responded as for the music. Afterwards we walked through the campus grounds, where youngsters were skating in the dark on the pond, to eat in the students' union canteen.
When we set off again at 10 the falling snow had thickened and we drove around in circles for an hour or so before finding the Massachusetts Turnpike to Boston, another 100 miles away. Ian slept in the car.
We made Boston by 2.30 a.m., the others having got there at midnight. Ian and Terry went off for a late meal; I crept off to my hotel room shattered. If this was a fair example of life on tour (and it was) my constitution was going to take a battering. I took one glance in the mirror at my crumpled clothes and the unwashed, unshaven, ashen-faced reflection and promptly collapsed into bed.
Next week: five towns in five days ... the strains of touring ... Jethro in Texas
Many thanks to Glenn Cornick for this article