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NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS
23 January 1971
HOW JEFFREY DECIDED NOT TO MAKE OWLS
... and joined Jethro Tull
Touring with the present Jethro Tull, I reflected on the flight out from London to join their current European tour, must nowadays be not dissimilar to being on a day outing from a monastery. The allusion anyway, I plotted to myself, would make a snazzy, reader-catching intro to be stored away as a stand-by for the feature.
It's not so much that Jethro by reputation are a non-groupie, non-pot, non-club going band, but that with Glenn Cornick, the most gregarious of the five, now departed they must present an appearance, to the stranger at least, of being a strange and strongly introverted group.
Martin Barre and Clive Bunker have never had much to say to outsiders, neither has Ian Anderson away from interviews, while John Evan hid under a piano the first time I sought to interview him.
Of Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond, the replacement for Cornick via Leicester Square and other songs, I could only go on Ian's build up of him as a fragile youth terrorised by the world and not given to saying boo to a goose.
In the event, my three days with the band didn't approach the anticipated cloistered calm. The three outlawed categories remain outlawed, but there was running through the band very much more of a good-natured, dare I in a heavy feature say a happy-go-lucky atmosphere, than I'd experienced with them on the somewhat doomy, illness-fraught American trip of a year ago. Two changes in the line-up of the band within that year have given Jethro noticeably new impetus, renewed enthusiasm, and opened new avenues to be grasped at and used to keep the band fresh and experimental.
There was a strong streak of humour running through the two performances I saw, with the rest of the group brought into the action as well as Ian, who is now well into playing more acoustic guitar. He has now to compete for sartorial honours with John Evan, in a baggy white suit and polka-dot neckerchief looking like Max Miller's freaky grandson, and Jeffrey, a stoic figure on stage, resplendent in rakish black hat, black buttoned overcoat and boots set off by a pair of flying goggles.
It was explained later by their manager, Terry Ellis, that much of this is experimental and he agreed with me that some of the clowning had been over-used and that where it was non-incidental to the music content it tended to distract and detract from Ian's songs.
The Jethro/ Tir Na Nog tour, ten days old when I joined them, is a hectic but highly successful junket, seven countries in 27 days with only three nights free. I was due to meet them in Copenhagen which I duly did, but not after an involuntary round trip of Europe. With fog over not so wonderful Copenhagen Airport I was first diverted to Hamburg, Germany, and then when a second attempt to land in Denmark failed six hours later, got re-routed to Gothenburg in Sweden. A six hour coach trip, involving a ferry crossing, finally got me into Copenhagen at 4.30 the following morning.
The next day I found that Jethro had their own fog story to tell. They'd been aiming for the Danish capital from Stockholm and after an increasingly pessimistic seven hour wait at the airport had chartered their own jet. It transpired that we'd both been circling Copenhagen Airport at the same time and while they'd taken a 50/50 chance of getting down and made it I had got there just a few minutes after the fog had closed in again.
In a mad rush from the airport they had made the first of the two concerts at the Tivolis Koncertsal. They'd packed the 4,000 seater K.B. Halle in the same city the week before, but had still managed to sell out in advance the 1,700 seats at the Tivolis for both shows, a total audience for Copenhagen only equalled by the Rolling Stones.
In the hotel lounge the following morning it wasn't only your reporter's travel-blitzed perception that failed at first to recognise Jeffrey from the person I'd met once at Ian's home. Clad in a black velvet cap, and knickerbockers tucked into boots, he might just have jumped off an entrant in the London to Brighton car rally.
Jeffrey, who is not a skinhead despite subversive teeshirts to the contrary, is now the main butt of the humour in Jethro Tull. His is the role first taken by the (one time) accident- and nerves-prone Martin Barre, who in turn had the 'great burden' lifted when John Evan was recruited.
During one late night two hour coach drive, in which Jeffrey was tormented by Evan and Anderson (Jethro's crash course in confidence, patents pending) and forced to seek refuge under the brim of his cap, Ian explained for me how when Glenn Cornick had quit the group at Christmas time they needed a replacement bassist in some haste. Jeffrey, who with Evan and Anderson was in the original forerunner of Jethro Tull, a 'school' band first called the Blades then the John Evan Band, had been studying art at college and hoping for entry into the illustrious Royal Academy. The very fact that he was in the final 50 out of which half would be chosen is an indication of his artistic ability.
But up until the summer, when Ian gave him a guitar as a birthday present and he got back into playing, Jeffrey hadn't been near an instrument since leaving the John Evan Band four/ five years ago. Ian's inspired gift and the news that he'd made the reject half of the 50 meant that when Cornick left, Jeffrey was well timed and well placed as the obvious replacement. His only reservation, he says, was the understandable fear of facing such huge audiences.
"He was going to buy a barge with a friend and sail around making and selling owls,"
volunteered Ian mysteriously in a break from the torture being inflicted on the unfortunate Jeffrey.
The show that night, a 2,500 sell-out in the northernmost part of Denmark, was an illuminating one as to the way the band is arriving at a new act. Several new numbers are incorporated into much longer sets (that night they ran on for two hours) with the new pieces 'Aqualung', 'My God', 'Locomotive Breath', 'Wind-Up' and 'Cross-eyed Mary' all lengthy compositions which can switch from aggressive riffs to tender acoustic passages, featuring Ian alone on guitar, to classically inspired piano solos from John Evan.
Clive Bunker's drumming is full of ferocious intent and classy skill, while Martin Barre, particularly on his solos, improves in leaps and bounds. More melody too is apparent in the new Anderson compositions and, of the old ones, the beautiful 'Sossity' from the Benefit LP has to be one of the most under-rated songs of 1970. As Liam O'Kelly of Tir Na Nog brogued Irishly: "'Tis a shame he's not more known for his lyrics." Right on Leo.
If groping, smoking and club-land going have no part of Jethro's life on tour, a useful energy outlet and time-passer is provided by a healthy pursuit, football — equipment courtesy of tour manager Eric Brooks. In an impromptu kick-around at Copenhagen airport lounge Jeffrey gave a dazzling display of footwork which ended, to his acute embarrassment, in a hooked over-head kick extinguishing a lounge light, and outside Hamburg Airport the porters got into the spirit of the game even though the straighter passengers looked with a mixture of amazement and disparagement on the high-kicking freaks.
The Hamburg gig was the 2,000 seater Musickhalle theatre, sold out two weeks in advance, a Sunday afternoon show. I had half expected riot scenes but was told by the German promoter that the ugly happenings of a few months ago had now cooled off. Promoters had met agitators and explained that their actions up till then had only served to stir interest in the concerts involved and that if they wanted ticket prices to come down their best course of action would be to boycott the halls.
After the show, a success for both groups, the record company had laid on a meal at the hotel for the entire JT entourage, who were also called upon to perform for a Berlin film crew, having to be filmed repeating their arrival at the hotel and then eating in the restaurant.
John Evan, who punctuates periods of silence with outbursts of lunacy, managed to enliven the proceedings by falling off his chair during the meal, then disappearing under the table, while the waggish film-makers prepared a surprise in the form of a live crayfish which came crawling across the table when Ian unsuspectingly lifted the lid off the platter. Gales of hearty Germanic laughter.
Not that it's all fun and gaiety dear reader. Ian's wife Jennie had to go home ill during the time I was there and the group's sound engineer John Burns told me that he will be reluctantly leaving Jethro after the next British tour because the pace of his year with the band is taking a telling effect on his nerves and stomach.
Thanks to Matthew Korn for this article