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NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS
27 March 1971
ON THE SIDE OF GOD AND THE OUTCAST TRAMP
IAN ANDERSON on JETHRO'S controversial 'Aqualung' LP
"I'm not a Bible-carrying Billy Graham type,"
states Ian Anderson, eager to get in with his explanation of Jethro Tull's Aqualung album before in what could become an ensuing controversy his motives are misconstrued.
"I'm not out to convert people. I'm just having a go at the people who mislead me,"
adds Jethro's songwriter, whose personal feelings concerning God and religion provide most of the material on the group's LP. Quite simply, says Anderson, the religious concept came when over a period of a year or so he found he had written four or five songs that had God in the subject matter.
"But it is not a concept album as such," he denies, "not in the same way as 'Tommy'. It doesn't tell a story, doesn't have any profound link between tracks, although there are statements made of a very personal nature. But they are not absolute truths."
The first was 'My God', which was written before the Benefit LP and has been a part of the group's stage act for near to a year.
"'My God'," says Anderson, "is a blues for God, not in any way a condemnation of God. It is on his side; a lament that there are so many different ways of worshipping God. He is a social crutch for so many. The thing I am against is that God is not a God in a spiritual sense but as a figurehead of religion. Poor God, and this is putting it frivolously, he must have a rotten time being God to his Roman Catholics, God to his Jews, God to his Protestants.
"'My God' is a slightly humorous lament for God's state of having to be God for everyone which in my concept of God he is, but they aren't thinking of it like that. They say he is MY God so he can't be your God. The Roman Catholics' God isn't the Jews' God and so on. He can't be the same God for everyone."
'Slipstream', a 45-second song about dying, 'Locomotive Breath', tackling its subject in a more surrealistic vein, and 'Wind-Up', current stage finale and based around Ian's experiences as a grammar school child brought up to recognise God as a figurehead, are also concerned with religion to varying degrees.
Of 'Wind-Up', Anderson points out:
"It is about my annoyance and beliefs to the contrary that children should be brought up to follow a religion that is essentially a belief of their parents. To me religion is something that you grow up to find in your own way."
"I am sure that a lot of other people believe in God the same as I do, that faith is a form of goodness round which you relate your life."
The other side of Aqualung is concerned, as Anderson puts it, with the human element of the spirit. The title character is the outcast from society; in this case a tramp. In another society it could have been a starving Biafran.
"This is where I believe one has to look for God. I don't think you have to look for God in a Church or in someone who gives his money to charity."
Through the blur of sweeping hair and coat and all the rest of the bizarre paraphernalia and imagery that surrounds Jethro's front man, it isn't too surprising that Anderson's talent as a songwriter is the least recognised facet of his ability. It seems a pity that such good, melodic songs as 'Sossity: You're A Woman', 'Reasons For Waiting' and 'For Michael Collins, Jeffrey And Me' to name a few, don't receive the attention they deserve. Attention they might receive if they were vehicles for a solo performer and not group workouts where the sum total tends to overshadow the skeletal melody.
Aqualung, the lyrics of which shouldn't go unnoticed, could right this situation, as could the fact that a number of the shorter songs on the album are basically acoustic, almost solo numbers from Ian.
"A lot of my songs are not suitable for a group,"
says Anderson, in agreement over his lack of songwriting recognition.
"Amazing as it may sound I have sat down at home and played 'Sweet Dream' on acoustic guitar and found it was much more satisfying to play. The sound is totally different, but a lot of my songs start off like that. Originally they are not group songs, although I know that at some stage they will be played by the group. But there has always been that loophole for me to play songs without group accompaniment."
Aqualung has been a long time in the making, a total of 150-200 hours of studio work. Before recording even started, three days were spent at Ian's Hampstead home when the band talked among themselves about the treatment for songs. In rehearsals various treatments were tried out, and suggestions made by all the band.
"During the first week of rehearsals I must have rewritten several songs that were not going right," says Ian, "and even scrapped some and started new ones."
Recording actually started soon after the release of Benefit, a full year ago, but most were re-cut when the band returned from an American tour and changed studios. They carried on changing and improving right up to the last, re-recording three tracks after the January-February European tour to take in the arrangements that had developed on stage. Final sessions, as recording time ran out, were in the midnight start - 10 a.m. finish category, making Ian's bland statement that "a lot of work went into it" a whopper of an understatement.
Note: "starving Biafran" — in 1968 the civil war in Nigeria gave rise to widespread famine in Biafra, and subsequent international aid initiatives. The food shortage only came to an end following the Biafrans' defeat in January 1970, by which time an estimated 500,000 to 2 million people had died of starvation.
Thanks to Matthew Korn for this article