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NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS
21 October 1978
DANGEROUS VISIONS: THE TULL BLAND-IN
If television has turned the world into a global village, then Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull clearly sees himself as the global squire.
As he takes the stage for Tull's TV satellite show at Madison Square Garden, broadcast live last Monday to a potential audience of 400,000,000 worldwide, there's no mistaking his patronising attitude to the assembled peasantry.
Introducing a song called 'One Brown Mouse' before the televised segment of Tull's two-hour set, Anderson dedicates it to the Scottish poet Robbie Burns.
This name-drop prompts a round of applause, as does every other utterance, and it's interesting to note Anderson's response.
"Oh, we've read him, have we?" he sneers. "We are cultural, aren't we?"
It's his tone of voice that's offensive, as much as what he says. Despite his Blackpool origins, Anderson these days affects the accent of a haughty British aristocrat.
No doubt that's a major part of his appeal to young Americans, but it's ironic that Tull's concert programme boldly proclaims the location of their management company as the British Virgin Islands, a well-known tax haven. Clearly Anderson's upper-crust posturing does not extend to any very fervent patriotism.
Arguably, his lordly pretensions would be innocent enough, except for evidence that he takes himself very seriously indeed.
Reports are rife before the gig about Anderson's view of his own importance, and a wander backstage tends to support them.
There is, for starters, the business about the dressing rooms. Anderson has his own dressing room and the rest of the band have a separate one.
As it happens, both rooms are on a corridor that leads directly to the stage. Normally, it's the sort of thoroughfare that would bustle with activity. But when it comes to his privacy, Anderson is taking no chances. A burly Tull roadie bars the way. Anyone wanting to reach the stage must do so by a more circuitous route.
So far does this isolation reach that the word is that Anderson rarely talks to his band, never mind the rock press. (Only the most conservative of British rock weeklies has been invited on the trip, with the remainder regally ignored.)
There is also the matter of the thermometers. These are attached to the monitors of the support act, Uriah Heep. (No new wave bash, this one.) The thermometers' purpose is to help with the tuning up. Anderson apparently insists that Tull's instruments are tuned at precisely the same temperature as that onstage, regardless of the fact that they'll have to be carried along a cooler corridor to get there.
Obsessive? You might say so.
Apart from basing himself in a tax haven, Anderson is also said to take extra care with other aspects of the band's finances.
For example, while Tull leave their gigs in limos to impress the crowds, they actually arrive in cabs, which are obviously much cheaper. No wonder Anderson admires the canny Scots. With the current price of sea food, maybe he'll soon be swapping his codpiece for a fish finger.
A careful deployment of resources is also evident during the gig. Understandably enough, Anderson saves the strongest material for the actual broadcast.
As a result, during the 30 minutes or so before the gig goes live the gruel is very thin indeed. Convoluted, unmemorable melodies, topped off with pretentious, overblown lyrics.
Interestingly enough, the much-maligned Uriah Heep provide a pointed contrast to the early stages of the Tull set. They play 30 minutes' worth of short, sharp rock songs, with a lot of emphasis on heavy guitar riffs and accessible choruses. A dinosaur fighting for survival, instead of simply dozing into oblivion.
Happily, Heep eschew gimmicks, which is more than can be said for Tull.
Ian Anderson is forever prancing around the stage like a geriatric ballerina — all spastic lurching and inelegance.
He also has a very bizarre relationship with his flute. He tends to ram it into his crotch, and waggle it about suggestively, before sticking it into his mouth. Pretty weird, right?
Maybe it's simply a matter of showmanship, doctor?
Ah well, let's not be excessively dismissive of Tull's act. When it comes to the television millions, Anderson pretty well comes up with the goods, at least by his own standards.
What the viewer at home gets is the very best of the Tull catalogue. The likes of 'Thick As A Brick', 'Songs From The Wood' and 'Aqualung' all come up together, as well as the set's strongest tunes, 'The Dambusters' March' and 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen'.
To be fair, 'Songs From The Wood' does provide a sublime moment, when the band muster a superb four part harmony, and drummer Barriemore Barlow springs up from behind his kit to provide a few notes of flute accompaniment.
Anderson also turns out to have a nice way with ad libs. His ponderous flute solo is interrupted by a deafening, prolonged scream of feedback, and he comments:
"I thought the Russians had shot it (the satellite) down."
Maybe they should have.
Ultimately, you can't help but feel that there's something a little sad about using one of the finest flowerings of technology as a device to plug Jethro Tull.
There is after all something magical about the way a telecommunications satellite can transmit live pictures and sound around the world.
To use it in this particular fashion reminds me of an old Dave Allen joke about an Irishman and a leprechaun.
The leprechaun offers the Irishman three wishes, whatever he likes, and the Irishman says: "Three pints of Guinness."
No doubt this analogy is unfair to Irishmen and Guinness, but you get the idea.
One positive thing does emerge from this episode. The very notion of a global village is quite clearly exposed as absurd.
The fact is that Jethro Tull were once a band who were much admired by their contemporaries in Britain. They're no longer respected in quite the same way at home, and their income depends predominantly on the compliance of American teenagers, many of them half the age of the musicians.
There's something very disturbing about the wild delight with which old songs like 'Aqualung' are greeted. When that song was fresh, it was indeed very impressive. Nowadays, it seems to me to be no more than a relatively hallowed relic.
If the world was truly a global village, then American kids would be turning on to the music of young British bands, not mouldy oldies from the '60s.
Evidently America is lagging way behind Britain when it comes to the evolution of rock music. The spoon-fed adolescents there seem unable to think too much for themselves. The remarkable popularity of ageing bands like Tull seems to be a case of 'Daddy knows best'.
The saddest moment of the entire gig came afterwards.
A kid wandered drunkenly around the stadium, shouting "Clapton is God!"
You'd be hard pressed to find a more damning indictment of the state of American rock theology.
Clapton may have been God once upon a time. But a lot of false idols have been smashed since then.