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NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS
30 May 1970
JETHRO'S IMAGE WAS BETTER THAN THEIR MUSIC — that's why 5th man John Evan was asked to join
Jethro Tull are an honest lot. How many bands can you see admitting they were "bigger in publicity than in their music" as Martin Barre did, talking candidly before their American tour of the reasons for bringing in fifth JT John Evan on piano and organ? Said the honest Mr Barre,
"The name Jethro Tull was so big, and we thought that the music was not good enough to substantiate it."
So they introduced John Evan to broaden their potential and, by reports coming back from the States plus the evidence here at home of the five-man Jethro on Benefit, they seem to have made a wise move.
Not only their music has blossomed out though, so it seems, because the assured John Evan I spoke to over the transatlantic phone last week was some way removed from the shy young man who a month ago would sooner hide under a piano than face his first interview. The band, said John, had arrived in New York that morning, for a weekend stint at the Fillmore East after three weeks on the West Coast and several concerts in Texas.
John, you may recall, was enticed away from his studies as a pharmaceutical chemist to join JT and was, when I last saw him, determined to return to college when the band returns home next month to sit for his second year exams. Successful results would give him an open door to return to his studies when he has had enough of music. But five weeks with Jethro Tull appear to have somewhat deflated his eagerness to be "a chemist rather than a musician".
He says he has barely glanced at the books he took along to study and now wishes he could get out of the exams.
"I'm fitting into Jethro much better than I thought I would do," he confessed. "Having enjoyed college I thought this would be bloody awful by comparison but it isn't as bad as I imagined. I'm rather relieved really that I find life with Jethro very good indeed. I've got much more interested in the music because as I told you before I didn't know much about the music when I joined. I'd only heard the first album and didn't like that much, and had only seen them once on stage."
Like Ian Anderson, John is reluctant to get drawn into social and political observations, but says of America:
"It has been a bit of a disappointment in some ways. You get the impression at home that it is that much bigger and better than England, but the truth is it is just bigger — leave it at that."
The group started this tour, their fourth, with a vastly altered act to take in new material and according to John it hasn't needed much changing en route to allow for audience responses. What has changed though is John's organ and piano playing:
"At the start I had to do more or less what Ian told me to do but now I've been with them a while I am able to use ideas of my own. I found that I really did fit in well with them right from the start. No, I can't say that I've had any nerves at all — apart from the Long Beach Arena where there was a 15,000 audience and it was rather nerve-wracking for all of us.
"We've been getting varied receptions. They've all been very enthusiastic but in different ways ... and the way they react depends on the size and the venue. There seems to be a critical size in audiences. At Long Beach there was a huge crowd in a restricted space and there was mass herding to the front so that people behind the first few rows got crushed and couldn't see. As far as we are concerned that is pretty worrying because the kids pay extortionate prices to get in — something like £2 or so — and we want to give them their money's worth."
The band prefer smaller venues, those with fixed seating "like an English theatre." Because, says John, it is then physically impossible for mass milling around and Jethro communicate better with a seated audience.
"The thing is," explains John, "you have so many rock groups who exhort their audiences to jump about and they give the impression that that is what the kids are there for. They become conditioned from the attitude of these groups into thinking that this is what rock and roll music is all about. But as far as we are concerned it is not. For a start, we don't play at full volume throughout a set. We have acoustic passages and try to introduce a lot of light and shade into an act. It is hard to do that with thousands of kids yelling their heads off."
NOT IN TEXAS
That pattern of behaviour was prevalent on the West Coast according to John but not in Texas where the huge auditoriums have fixed seating.
"In the end we went down as well there as anywhere we played on the West Coast but we were much more satisfied with that kind of reception."
The group has also played a few summer festivals in the States and John's observation on them is a curt 'Bloody awful'. He adds that he would be happy if they never did another festival again and argues:
"The fact that you get so many people watching you at the same time, and the fact that you make more money than concerts, is far outweighed by the disadvantages — the hassles and so forth. What happens over there is that a few people think of Woodstock and think 'Wow, if we can get a quarter million kids we can make a stack of money.' They rent a field, put up a stage and think that's it."
"But there are so many other things to think about, not least of which is the sound balance for groups."
Jethro return home on June 9 and, after a week's holiday, go into the studio for two weeks to record material for the next album, expected around October. There is also the possibility of one or more concerts in Britain during June. John, seeing it all for the first time, is not as eager as the rest to get home. No, he says, he can't remember any particular highspots of the tour apart from Long Beach and surfing in Hawaii.
"It's all going so fast I cannot remember what I was doing last week."
Many thanks to Glenn Cornick for this article