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NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS
24 March 1973
In a rare interview, Ian Anderson discusses the new album, stage act and the decision to play only two British concerts in '73
Although their current 1973 schedule allows for only two concerts in Britain this year, there are no signs of a let up in Jethro Tull's apparent ambition to take the title of The World's Most Travelled Rock Band.
In between sessions at North London's Morgan Studios on the upcoming Passion Play album, Jethro recently completed a European tour playing to capacity houses all along the line. In Copenhagen they opened a new concert hall, and drew a sell-out crowd of 5,000 — the major part of their set, approximately 1½ hours, consisting of an improvised Thick As A Brick.
After the show Jorgen Kristiansen spoke to Ian Anderson for NME, and tackled him first on the group's decision to play only two British concerts — the Wembley shows in late April — during 1973. Are Jethro Tull ignoring their British audiences, he asked, or simply taking it easy?
"Certainly not," says Anderson. "I can't remember when I had my last day off. It must be well over one year ago. This year we're going to play three American tours — each one lasting four weeks. We're in the middle of a European tour, and we're going to the Far East and Down Under. So far we're not as big in Japan as we are in England and the States, but we got a very good reception in Japan the first time we played there, and we're going back this year.
"Anyway, I'm not interested in the markets, only in the music. Besides this hard programme, we have recording plans. We've already taped numbers for one and a half LPs to come after Passion Play, but I'm not sure whether we'll use this material.
"Passion Play was also recorded almost a year ago — but the music changed a lot after we taped it. So, after a few months, we decided to do the whole thing again. Thank God we're in a financial position where we are able to re-record, in spite of the high costs. That's why Passion Play has been a long time on the way."
What's the theme of the album?
"It's a piece I wrote about life and death. But it's not limited to that subject. Thick As A Brick isn't the same to me as when I wrote it. People can put into it what they want. As long as they like the music."
Anderson denies that 'Brick' is a religious piece, but agrees that it's possibly about a human being searching for a higher meaning in life. It sometimes appears that Jethro has a schizoid identity — serious on records, but the essence of humour on stage.
"I can't see the paradox," says Anderson. "Our stage act is both funny and serious. Serious because life is serious, and funny because the audience would be bored if they got more than two hours of seriousness."
He also denies that his behaviour on stage, like a flamingo gone berserk, is a choreographed piece that takes away concentration on the music.
"I'm just acting because I'm living the music; it makes me act. I'd be bored to death if I sat in the audience and had to listen to a group playing for hours, with no movement."
Are his movements with the flute, then, sexually based?
"Wrong. I'm not on that level. It's just humour. Neither is it a satire on other singers. I don't even think Mick Jagger takes himself too seriously when he's doing his sexy stage act. Talking about Jagger, I still think the Rolling Stones are the world's greatest rock 'n' roll band. Maybe they're not the best musicians. They've got charisma, though. And good ideas."
Anderson feels that Jethro are the only band out of the old late 60s underground clique still regarded as underground. But the image, he says, doesn't concern him at all. Only the music.
"In 1974," says Anderson, "we won't be touring as much as this year. We need a rest — a rest to create a new show totally different to most other presentations nowadays."
Explicit plans he is reluctant to discuss, but he does reveal that his ideas will need a lot of financial support and that the new show will be a kind of Jethro Tull Theatre — a whole evening with Jethro Tull, with films projected on a screen behind the stage, two female ballet dancers and animal characters played by the group.
"Extended Walt Disney," he says by way of explanation.
"I'm very interested in animal psychology. Desmond Morris is one of my favourite writers. The animals in the show will have a human mind. Maybe one of the greatest disasters of today is that man is too far away from animals and nature."
Does he have any opinions about Jethro's contemporaries in rock?
"I'm working almost 24 hours a day in Jethro Tull, so I don't have much time to go and see other groups. I wouldn't slam David Bowie — but his music does nothing to me. Alice Cooper is an interesting fellow. I don't think he takes himself too seriously. He just creates a shocking effect — that's what it's about. David Cassidy has a good voice, but awful material. He's the typical American showbiz teenybopper, created by some smart people who probably earn a lot more than he does. I think he's a pretty lonely boy at the top. At least, the Osmond Brothers have each other to lean on, while Cassidy is on his own. He's a typical industrial product."
Would Anderson be able to perform in a purely entertainment group?
"Certainly not. I couldn't go on night after night just to entertain without saying a meaningful word. It's my personal philosophy that you have to put a mirror in front of yourself each night to see what you've done that day. In a way to have to analyse yourself."
Anderson's often been attacked for his dictatorship over Jethro Tull. It's obvious too that he's the centre of the band.
"After all, I'm the only original member left," he counters. "But we are very much together as a group. When a group has existed a few years, one learns to tolerate other people. I don't believe in the Who's we-hate-each-other gimmick which they used in the beginning. I really think they are as together as a group as we are. The other members of the band aren't just musicians — they are friends."
Can he see a time when Jethro might return to albums built not on a theme but as a collection of songs in the old tradition?
"I don't think so. We're very satisfied with what we're doing now. Of course, we play music lasting for 3-5 minutes. But today it's phrases within the whole work."
Thanks to Gerrit de Geus for this article.