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NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS
30 October 1971
ANDERSON'S DILEMMA: HOW TO EXPLAIN A NATURAL HIGH
"I really can't win when it comes to interviews,"
Ian Anderson muses with resignation as we walk along New York's 8th Avenue just after midnight, returning to Jethro's hotel from a meal following the band's sell out concert at Madison Square Gardens.
Anderson's dilemma, which has just been brought freshly into focus by an interview with a New York Underground magazine conducted over the restaurant table, is a problem that has dogged him since the inception of Jethro TuII.
In the scrutiny and analysis of his bizarre stage characteristics that every writer fresh to Jethro feels bound to indulge in, how does Ian explain that the 'high' he displays on stage is a genuine and natural 'high' and not one artificially induced by drugs?
"When they find out that I'm not completely stoned either on or off stage," Anderson reflects, "then they presume the whole thing must be a complete fraud. They immediately assume the whole act is a lie, a big show business take on. It's not ... it's not that at all, but how do I explain why I am like I am on stage when I'm obviously a different person off. You see, I just can't win."
Jethro's American tour was five days old when I met up with the band in New York for the Madison Square Gardens concert, the following day — when I was flying home — being one of the band's two days off in a 31-day U.S. stint.
You will appreciate that that involves a tremendous and strenuous amount of gigging and, with 29 different cities involved in those 29 working days, travelling every day: a continuous round of car to airport to plane to car to hotel to rehearsal to hotel to gig and finally to bed. The kind of schedule it is difficult to conceive any group taking willingly upon their heads.
Yet it is Jethro's own choice that it be that way; not just because it obviously means the tour is over quicker and the return home hastened but, as bassist Jeffrey Hammond explains to me as we sit across the restaurant table from Ian and his interviewer, because it keeps the band's performances continually sharp edged.
"On occasions when we have had two or three days off in a place," Hammond maintains, "by the time we come round to the next gig we have got rusty. A tight routine is this way we prefer to work."
It means then, that a good percentage of their time in America is spent travelling, and to maintain this gig-a-day schedule the group has found it necessary this time in the States to charter its own aircraft. This way the whole entourage — a sizeable one encompassing group, manager, roadies, tour manager, sound engineer, equipment and their own PA system — goes as one, eliminating the always prevalent fear when relying on scheduled airlines that either group or gear won't make the gig.
Not that either Jeffrey or drummer Barrie Barlow — Jeffrey's on his third U.S. tour, Barlow's on only his second — had been too happy trusting their fortune to the long-off-the-drawing-board turbo prop that had been chartered for them.
Anderson on the other hand — when with Jeffrey Hammond we return to his hotel room to conduct an early morning NME interview that finishes just four hours before I have to leave to catch my flight home — is of the opinion that worrying about flying is a valueless preoccupation.
"There's no point in it. You've got to do it. That's all."
I wondered whether exposure over a period to that kind of life on the road required some sort of mental turn off tap that allowed a group to withstand the pressures. Hammond thought that perhaps it did require some sort of 'mental blockage' but Ian didn't:
"I remember when I first came over here I really hated it. I couldn't get used to the idea of being away from home for a long time. Now, before you leave England, you know you are letting yourself in for a long period of working every night and you just learn to accept it ... and when you've accepted it, it becomes a waste of time to worry about it."
ON THE ROAD
I mentioned Clive Bunker's quote about the heavy travelling —
"It's got to the stage where you do six months in America, then fly to Japan and go back to America with just enough time to collect a change of underpants..."
— and asked Ian whether that seemed a legitimate comment.
"Well I have more ways of being active on the road than Clive had," he replied, sitting on a bed strewn with plastic dart-firing guns that he'd ambushed me with in the corridor.
"If Clive was here now I could tell you exactly what he'd been doing. He'd be stretched out on this bed watching TV right up until it finished. That's all Clive did. He didn't read, he didn't do anything else. He did try writing some lyrics that he wanted me to put music to, but I couldn't because they were his words, not mine. I couldn't sing them for that reason. I wanted him to write the music.
"So with me, because I always have things that need attention, it is obviously different than it was for Clive. I cannot get bored on the road because there is stacks of work to do, from thinking about album cover designs to writing lyrics."
Both he and Hammond feel that while, on one level, America might be an ugly, uncomfortable and unattractive country in which to have to spend long periods of one's year, it becomes a fascinating source of study when viewed from a different standpoint. The kind of standpoint that Andy Warhol used to elevate a Campbell's Soup Tin to art.
"The Campbell's Soup Tin is America," says Anderson, "and on that basis, Broadway is America, Time Square is America. If you put yourself in that frame of mind, then it can be interesting and it becomes impossible to be bored by it."
Yet there are almost inevitable pitfalls of such a life, one being the danger of illness. I mentioned last week how Ian Anderson was suffering from a throat infection before the Madison gig; fortunately, though he croaked a bit tunelessly on the final 'Wind Up', his voice had survived the concert.
"I have been ill on every tour," he shrugs. "I mean, there is nothing basically wrong with me; I am fairly fit. It is just that it is very arduous being on the road and anything that goes wrong with you becomes magnified because you cannot rest up and take time to recover. Then it becomes a major catastrophe. An ordinary cold can build up to destroy you on stage. The very slightest throat infection, for me as a singer, can turn into laryngitis. If an ordinary guy twists his ankle on the tube he can take the day off to recover. But when 10,000 people have paid for tickets then you have got to go on and take that chance.
"We are basically a live band, that is what people know us for more than the albums, so the touring becomes a part of your life. When you are on tour you are not exactly enjoying it. I mean, you should be enjoying the playing, but you're not going round thinking "Hey this tour thing is fantastic." You're more likely to be thinking "Hey only two weeks and we'll be home." But the thing is, once you get home and have had a rest, you start getting restless and thinking 'Oh yeah, just two weeks and we can get back on the road again.'"
I ask Anderson if he thinks their success in America, which has now reached edifying peaks, has been achieved at the expense of England.
"Over here there are a lot of people who want to see the group," he replies. "While here there might be a quarter of a million who want to see the band, in England in the same period there would probably be 20,000. It comes down to wanting to play to the people who want to see us most. Obviously America has priority because there are more people here who want to see the group.
"In England we were popular a couple of years ago and the success there was quicker than in America. We were a success there in 18 months and here it took three years. Also in terms of lasting power, I think we have a better chance here. And then again, while we may play four shows in London in a year we also only play four shows in New York in a year. But in those four shows here we play to so many more people. Then there is Europe and places like Australia too. Aqualung has been No. 3 in the Australian charts."
Jeffrey: "There's also the Argentine."
Ian: "'Song For Jeffrey' has been No. 1 in Argentine and No. 1 in Persia and we haven't done the slightest thing to make the band popular in either of those countries. We've never had the time yet. I suppose people in Persia must think 'Oh those buggers Tull, we've bought their records and they never come here.'"
But Anderson does go on to reveal that there is a British tour in the pipeline for early next year and, if the Jethro leader has his way, it could something of a revolutionary one.
What Anderson would like to see happen is a Jethro tour that, instead of working the accepted 10-12 dates concert circuit taking in the premier venues, a much longer and wider reaching tour that would embrace some of the towns that rarely get a taste of big name rock.
Pointing out that any money they can make in England just about covers expenses anyway, Ian maintains that if his idea bears fruition he would
"really enjoy playing in little town halls in mining towns and places like that. We might not sell out, but it would be enjoyable to do."
After being played Anderson's cassette recording of the one completed side of the next Jethro album, which even with my senses dulled through the late hour came through with a whole range of exciting elements new to the band, I taxed Ian on his quote I reported last week that the group was now good enough to take chances musically. Could he be more explicit about what he meant?
"Just trying to make the music more artistically valid; having it conceived with care and put together with the knowledge that you are doing something that is going to stand up to examination as something valid. So that you don't have solos just to show off; you don't arrange loud sections just to be exciting. Of course you try to be exciting but at the same time try to make it adventurous."
"But I also meant taking chances in terms of popularity. There could come a time when my tastes could change from what the public wants. So it also means staying true to what you yourself really want to do without taking into consideration the economic rewards and even, rather cruelly, without taking into consideration what other people want to hear. Because Jethro never have done that. I have always sat down and written what I wanted to write; what satisfied me, not other people. It is just luck that other people seem to like it."
Anderson also clarifies his statement about the ability of the band today.
"The instrumental ability of the hand as a unit is a lot higher than it has been in the past. We are all capable of playing music that Jethro Tull couldn't have played two years ago. Not because the musicians individually are any better,but because as a group now we play better together.
"What we are doing on the new album is a lot more pleasing than anything we've ever done before. It is more valid from a lot of viewpoints. A lot of that is because we are a lot more together as people. That is why Jeffrey is in the group. Not because he was a great guitarist because he couldn't play a note. The reason he has become a good guitarist is because we get along as people."