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NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS
2 May 1970
JETHRO HAVEN'T FALLEN VICTIM TO THE MIGHTY DOLLAR
IAN answers the: 'Yaroo, you've sold-out' critics
Any band that appears to spend a good deal of its time in America puts itself in the firing line for accusations of having 'sold out' to the all-consuming dollar. Jethro Tull more than others — perhaps because they've courted both sides of the Atlantic simultaneously and been so damn successful at it — seem to have been a popular target for the most spiteful barbs of late.
In their case, it isn't just a question of turning the other cheek. Words do hurt, as I found out when I got Ian Anderson on to the subject during a talk at his London flat a few days before the band left for its fourth (first this year) tour of the States.
"It obviously hurts a lot when people think you have gone big time," he volunteered. "But let me explain to those people who say 'Yaroo you have sold out because you can get more money in America ...'
"In the States it has taken us six months of solid touring to reach the stage there that we reached here by playing round the tiny blues clubs. On the first tour we lost money, on the second we broke even and on the third we made a little. We are coming out a little ahead now but it's nothing like a big Led Zeppelin thing. So on this coming tour we hope we'll be at the stage we are at in England ... headlining our own concerts, playing where and when we want to.
"We haven't really achieved very much in terms of financial gain from playing in America. We have from record sales, but not from gigs. This year we want to go and play there again and sell more records and play to more people but if everything works out well there won't be any need to keep going back all the time.
"You see, we've made enough to put deposits on houses — we still need mortgages — but beyond that nobody feels a need to build up vast sums of money. At this time that isn't so important as playing and enjoying making music in the way you want. That's why it hurts when people say we've sold out."
As Ian explained it, the group will play mainly in America this year to reach a point where a demand can be maintained. When that has happened they'll be able to choose where they want to play.
"... And England is the place we'll choose first. You see we aren't going to make much money playing in England; it is just bread and butter money to do the odd concert here so we might as well forget about the money and just play for the people where we like. At the moment we don't mind America but we want to play here because this is home and this is where we started. We all think it would be nice to go back and play the Marquee but that is impractical right now. But after this year England will get more than its fair share."
Progressing solidly here and in the States in terms of standing, and having produced their musically most successful album in Benefit, Ian told me that he finds it "heartening" that Jethro Tull isn't looked on as a supergroup.
"We are one of those groups that sell large quantities of records and are big but we have never been called a supergroup or individually described as superstars. JT is not like that. It has had its success, rather like The Who, and is capable in the same way of producing good music. We have been around for two years and will probably be around for two or three more without ever becoming a tremendous fad. It's heartening to think that people can take us seriously and not think of us in a soft way as a trendy and silly, inconsequential product of the day."
As far as recorded sounds go, he says they plan now to produce two albums a year: with a second 1970 one around October.
"It never seems much," he put in, "but it is in terms of work."
John Evan, the young organist/pianist who played on Benefit and has since joined the band (see elsewhere in this edition), did a quick piece of mathematics on JT's song output, the results of which pleasantly surprised Ian.
"To think we have been producing songs at the rate of one a fortnight for a year is good," he argued. "Considering all the touring, that's quite an output."
When we do hear JT in England again, and Ian maintains that they hope to fix concerts here in the summer and again at the end of the year, there will not only be John Evan to listen for but also another, unseen John making a substantial contribution to the sound. This John is one John Burns, a young engineer from Morgan Studios (where he assisted on Benefit) who was lured away to become Jethro Tull's own travelling sound engineer.
Relying on equipment provided at each gig, the group has had to suffer through poor PA systems on previous US tours, often having to have speakers flown in from major cities at some cost. So beside the addition of John, they've now also got their own PA system — giving them 80 pieces of equipment to cart around the States. Tour manager Eric Brooks now needs four roadies to assist and the cost of the whole operation will take quite a chunk out of their earnings.
"It means," says Ian, "that half the money we earn on every gig will be gone before we even get there. And when people say you have sold out they should at least think of all the trouble you have gone to to make sure the sound is okay for those who've come to hear. You can get away with making excuses on stage about lousy gear, and you can get away with it to a certain extent, but it is eminently more satisfying for the audience and for us as musicians to know that the sound we are playing is the best we can make it."
* * *
FIFTH MEMBER JOINS GROUP — OFFICIAL
John Evan, when I found him at the London Lyceum rehearsing with Jethro Tull for their current American tour, wasn't exactly leaping in the air at the prospect of joining one of Britain's top money and music making bands (See Anne Moses' Hollywood column on page 12).
In fact — shy lad that John is — he was down on all fours hiding from me under a grand piano. It seems he was a bit apprehensive about his first ever interview — a fact not aided by Ian Anderson putting him on about the questions I'd ask — and John had decided to go to ground. When we eventually coaxed him out he remained a little uneasy throughout our talk.
John — whom Ian jokes looks like all three Walker brothers rolled into one, which he does somewhat — is a 22-year-old native of Blackpool, the town that can also take the responsibility for producing Ian Anderson and Glenn Cornick. John has known Ian since they were at school together 11 years ago when they were both in a band that also included that Jethro folk hero Jeffrey — yes THAT Jeffrey — on bass.
For a while Ian was in the John Evan Band, and then just over two years ago John, along with Ian and Glenn, were among the seven Blackpool musicians who came down to London to make good and, after whittling down, emerged as the nucleus of Jethro Tull.
John never made it as far as Jethro. After only two weeks he had gone back home ...
"fed up with playing that sort of blues music ... and homesick too. We were also all going hungry."
While JT went on to make their reputation John went back to school in Blackpool, returning to London 18 months ago to study for a career as a pharmaceutical chemist at college in Chelsea.
"My mum used to follow you lot,"
he broke off to tell Ian, who was enjoying John's discomfort immensly.
"She used to write back, 'Glad you did well in your exams. Did you see Jethro Tull on Top Of The Pops last night?'"
Meanwhile, over in the USA, Jethro Tull were putting their heads together and deciding that the shortcomings in their music could best be righted by the introduction of another instrument. Back home they brought John in to play piano on 'The Witch's Promise' single. More and more often John would be summoned by a phone call from Ian for further sessions until he had played on all but three tracks of the group's current Benefit album. It was a natural progression for them to ask him to join them on stage too, but John — who as well as shyness appears to have the level-headed attitude that seems to be a prime qualification for Jethros — was loathe to chuck up the two years of work he'd done at college.
"I'd decided I'd sooner be a scientist than a musician," he says, "and I didn't want to leave if I couldn't ever get back into college again."
The college authorities were most understanding, telling John that if he came back in the summer to take his second year exams, and did well at them, he would be free to return to complete his final year whenever he wished. So John, who won four prizes for his first year work, will be going back to the classroom to take 11 exam papers during Jethro's June break before returning to the States again. It makes a nice change from going down to the country cottage anyway.
While he doesn't look on JT as a temporary attachment, the open door to get back to what remains of his first love is a security for when the band can go on no longer.
"How long are JT going to last?" he asks. "Two, maybe three years ... or maybe they'll become another Beatles. I might be able to fit the two together and that's what I'm hoping."
He says, surprisingly, that the difference between college and JT is
"mainly the loss of freedom. Being in a group is like being in the army."
But he doesn't seem at all excited.
"Well I've never been out of this country before or even on an aeroplane so I am looking forward to that."
John, in fact, had played with JT before the American tour. Without publicity they took him with them on two gigs (four shows) in Germany a fortnight ago and, said Ian, they all expected him to be a bundle of nerves on stage. As it turned out it was the other new John — sound engineer John Burns — who got the jitters. John Evan sailed through it, taking the fourth standing ovation for his 8-minute piano solo with arms above his head like an Olympic medalist.
* * *
ANN MOSES IN HOLLYWOOD
TULL ORGAN SUCCESS
Jethro Tull's Long Beach Arena appearance last Sunday (April 19) marked the American debut of their new piano/organist, John Evans. John and Ian were school friends and used to play in youth clubs when they were around 16. While Ian became a professional musician John continued his chemistry studies at college. Recently Ian invited John to sit in on their recording session. As Ian explained to me this week:
"I wanted to feature piano more. I played on a couple of tracks on the album, but I thought it would be better to get somebody that could really play properly. So I asked John to come down and do the sessions and it worked out very well.
"He played on most of the tracks, and later we got around to thinking it would be nice to have it on stage as well, to give us the same sort of freedom we have in the studio — to play more varied and full music. We sort of suggested it to him and he thought it over and decided to leave the university. So that's what happened."
I wondered why John's addition to the group had not been publicised. Did they hope to use the American tour as a 'testing ground' for the new member?
"Nothing like that," Ian was quick to answer. "None of us had planned any interviews recently and nobody asked and it just didn't seem very important to make a big thing of it. The only way to do it would be to ring up the papers and say, 'Look, here's some exciting news.' That sounds a bit soft! So we thought we'd just wait till we played and people would hear about it, rather than making a big thing of it."
John adds a new dimension to the Jethro Tull sound and received a warm reception in Long Beach on Sunday. Ian believes:
"There's a lot more variation musically, a lot more light and shade, and the piano particularly as opposed to the organ, which John plays as well. Most of it's piano and it's not very often you find pianos being played in loud groups. It's too difficult to amplify. But we've managed to overcome the problem. John plays a sort of grand piano and plays concert type things."
Thanks to Gerrit De Geus for this article.