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NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS
31 January 1970
JETHRO TULL TAKE SOME TIME FOR SELF ANALYSIS
What most distinguishes the new pop era from the old is the constant striving to improve the music even when the presence of substantial success might make it seem to some like an unnecessary and frivolous luxury. Jethro Tull — who in a year have gone from popular club and college band to the kind of group whose latest single can leap 14 places into the NME Top Thirty at the first attempt — aren't sitting back on their hairy laurels and counting the pounds.
Since their return from the States just before Christmas the group has been reassessing and rejuvenating its approach to music and the format of its act — the first product of which is the different-sounding Jethro of 'The Witch's Promise' and 'Teacher'. During the flight from Texas to Chicago towards the end of their tour in America, Jethro's lead guitarist Martin Barre explained their outlook.
"We have gone through a year of doing things in a certain format and now is the time to look at our mistakes and the reasons for our success. Ian has been doing his theatricals and being funny. We've stuck to playing obvious numbers the kids will know, and hoped that people will get good entertainment and good music."
The group had hit a bad patch during the past three days — put right on the last gig but one — and Martin pointed out:
"We've just had the one falling off period on this tour, but it is time to look back on what we've been doing.
"Maybe the kids want loud exciting music with drum and guitar solos but we have to do something we can enjoy every night. Once we get that it will convey itself to an audience anyway. We've all gone through a lot of changes as far as techniques go — from watching other bands and learning from mistakes. Now we have to find a way to use them."
One of their problems, Martin points out, is the loudness of their music — "which makes it difficult to control numbers." His personal problem is that having to maintain a high level of sound hampers his ability to play intricate guitar.
"Fleetwood Mac (who'd supported Jethro on the previous four gigs) manage to achieve both; they have very good control. We have a tendency to get slack on that. But it gets to a point where it is so loud you lose control of what you are playing. It becomes just a noise. Yet you have to play certain things loudly to fill out a large area of sound."
The answer, says Martin, could be for Ian to play another instrument — piano or guitar — to contribute to the sound and give all of them a chance to use more intricate techniques.
"It is physically impossible for Ian to keep on playing flute as much as he has done. It is a sincere part of Ian but he wants to get more into being a group. His problems are heavier than ours. I remember when I played flute: at the end of a number my head would be swimming. Often I'd actually fall over. It would be good for him to pick up guitar or piano, or play flute melodically and softly."
In view of the bad gigs and the fact that it was the end of a tiring tour I thought Martin was being a little over-pessimistic. So I caught up with him at Chrysalis' London offices last week to find out how the rethink was progressing. I found him and Mick Abrahams, Blodwyn Pig leader and Martin's predecessor as Tull guitarist, in reception together. Both had been 'meeting the press' on behalf of their respective outfits and were exchanging anecdotes while they waited for their next call to print. The scene reminded me of a dentist's waiting room.
"On the tube coming up this morning I wrote down a few things I could say,"
said Martin, who despite his self-consciousness is shaping up well as second-team Jethro spokesman. He produced a scrap of paper on which were several scribbled words, but whipped it away before I could read them.
"The new album [Benefit] is more loose and relaxed,"
he announced happily when we adjourned to a nearby restaurant.
"There are more tracks we are really pleased with. The first LP was very tense. I think you can tell the new one is different. Ian's going to play guitar now. He and I play together on 'Teacher'. We're going to have a month of rehearsing, then we'll probably use most of the new material on stage.
"I'm afraid," he said earnestly, "that people see us as a kind of joke band. They come along to see Ian because he is a bit freaky and funny and jumps about on stage. All of us are going to make it clear in the coming year that the music is the important thing. Our aim is to find what we're best at and take it to extremes. Led Zeppelin (whose concert he'd seen a few days earlier) have taken their music to extremes and it is great. It is their music — rock and roll and heavy — and it belongs to them alone.
"Same with Joe Cocker; his band is very relaxed, very funky and different. Blood, Sweat and Tears again have got their own music. We are finding ours. Maybe people think that Ian's got it all sewn up being entertaining and visual, but that is not enough. We all have to be a part of what Ian does. On stage we need to be people rather than musicians standing there.
"We have no personalities on stage and we should have. You don't have to be flamboyant or say hilarious things. It is sufficient to be nice and pleasant and talk to the audience. Like Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young do. They are so informal to their audience it is great. It just brings the music closer. The other thing is that Ian can do more of what we do. You cannot fit into a band rhythmically with a flute. It's like having an electric guitar that plays only solos.
"It has worked in the studios, where we are playing much better. Before, we'd do the backing and Ian would put his flute and vocals on later. With him now playing on backing tracks it makes the group much more together. You see, we want people to judge us not by reading interviews and seeing us on TV but by coming to see us on stage."