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NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS
4 September 1971
JETHRO — JOBS FOR THE BOYS?
Ian Anderson is in his manager's office coping sagaciously with the day's stream of journalists. The rest of the band - Martin Barre having completed his couple of interviews - are sprawled around the Chrysalis interviewing room feasting on drink and sandwiches.
"They get pushed in here to talk to us before they're allowed in with Ian," observes John Evan acidly.
Jeffrey sits mute in his sober check suit, looking like an English cousin of Tiny Tim. Barrie Barlow, the new drummer, shadow boxes through the journalistic assault course behind a mask of take it or leave it. Led by Evan, they're all being a bit boisterous, reluctant one presumes to say all over again to the luckless journalist at the end of the afternoon's session the same things they've already said several times before, which leaves me to pick out the sense among a barrage of frivolous flack.
Barlow, after some coercion, tells how before Jethro he was a semi-pro musician, married with two kids, gigging round the North of England. Foxtrots, waltzes, a bit of cabaret backing comedians at night, an engineer (of the tool-making variety) by day. He, with John Evan, Glenn Cornick and Ian Anderson were among the seven Blackpool musicians who came down to London and evolved into the first Jethro Tull. Barlow and Evan were among the five who returned home after a couple of weeks.
"The music had changed from jazz blues to a lot of 12-bar crap and I couldn't stand it," the drummer recalls. "It had been only the music that kept me going. There was no money, and when there was both no money and no music I went back."
"The thing with the four of us," says Evan, "Barrie and Jeffrey and Ian and I, we all started playing together when we were 15. We all had the same influences and evolved the same music."
He breaks off to address the room at large:
"There was the Graham Bond album Sounds Of '65 ... that had a great influence. Meanwhile, we were playing 'Mr Pitiful' and 'In The Midnight Hour'."
Barrie: "No we weren't. We just played those numbers to fill the gap between 'Work Song' and 'Let The Good Times Roll'."
Meanwhile, down the corridor in his manager's office, Ian Anderson holds court with cool composure. Here, I might be the first instead of the last on a tiring day. My main line of questioning revolves around Anderson's prominent role in Jethro Tull, and the fact that, on the face of it, it would seem that the other three founder members of the band left when their own musical identities became strong enough to challenge Ian's.
"The changes in personnel," I open, treading cautiously around what might be a sore point. "Do they indicate personality or musical clashes ... ?"
"Yeah I know what you mean," broke in Anderson as if in receipt of telepathy.
"To sum it all up, I am the only one left of the original Jethro Tull. And one of the things I know must be in people's minds is the fact that perhaps the people who've left have been squeezed out so that I could have me old mates in the band, rather than fence around.
"The point about the people who have joined is that they have been chosen mainly for their availability when people left. When Mick Abrahams left, which wasn't a compatible leaving, he and I had just grown apart. He was a blues man and I ... I didn't know what I was but I wanted to find out.
"When Mick left we needed somebody fast. I didn't know anybody so we held auditions. Martin was the best of the bunch so we trained him. (Anderson laughed:) In short, he had to learn very quickly and become better than he was at the time."
"John came next. It was Jeffrey in fact, who'd seen us a couple of times, who said he thought the band was incomplete. It tended to be all guitar and a flute, a formula, and limiting to what I could write, because we didn't have enough instruments or tone colours at our disposal. So John did sessions for us and then joined. That worked for a while. We all felt better as a group.
"It was some time after that, that Glenn grew apart from the rest of us. He was getting into much more riffy things. He really liked Mountain and those sort of aggressive riff-type bands and I've tried to write songs in that vein, really heavy guitar, bass and drum things, but I can't sing that way. I preferred to have a broader scope musically, and Glenn began to grow apart socially too. He spent a lot of his time in the company of other musicians.
"Again there was no animosity, the split was inevitable, although it could have been smoother than it was. We had a tour coming up and needed a bass player in a hurry and there were only two people ... one that Martin knew but didn't know how to get hold of him, and the only bass player I'd played with apart from Glenn was Jeffrey in the old days. We all knew Jeffrey socially. He had just finished college. He practised and got it together and came into the band because of his availability at the time.
"With Clive ...," continued Anderson, "We felt on the American tour before last that Clive wasn't happy with the songs. Sometimes he would be stuck for ideas on some of the songs I'd written, others he would be more into playing, although socially we've always got on alright. The day after we discussed things with Clive and he left, I started doing these sessions — the ones the single ['Life Is A Long Song'] came from — and John, who had been in Blackpool, arrived with Barrie. So we just said "Okay, sit in and have a go" and we took it from there.
"The whole thing boils down to people who are available. I mean, I've only played with three drummers in my life, Clive, Barrie and Rick Dharma, who's with Mick Abrahams now, and only two bass players, Glenn and Jeffrey. And I don't know any other musicians. The only guitarists who I've worked with who've been any good have been Mick and Martin. The only other way to get people is to hold auditions. We did that once and would never do it again because it is a waste of time. It gets to be a drag and embarrassing for all concerned.
"I mean, I never thought of asking Barrie anyway. I hadn't even seen him for two and a half years. The whole thing has been rather a fluke, although it does seem rather strange, too much of a coincidence."
Accepting Ian's explanation, there is still linking the three Jethro departures a clash of musical ideas. Is it impossible for anyone with strong musical ideas to live with him?
"Yeah, it probably is. Not maybe for me to live with them, because somebody with very definite musical ideas might join the band and get on alright with me, but I'm sure I wouldn't get on with him. Because the point is that I have been in the band for three and a half years, and I have been the front man for three and a half years. I don't like it necessarily all the time but, having assumed that responsibility at first when Mick left, that is my job now, to write and assume the role of pointing the band in different directions."
Then when the new members of the band grow in stature and begin to want to express themselves musically, you may find yourself clashing again?
"Right, but if we clash we should be mature enough not to let it affect the band. There is plenty of scope, even if I don't want to make a solo album, for, let's say, John to do so. Any other members could express themselves that way if they wanted to."
Being very uncharitable about it then, one could suggest that you are gathering around you replacements who can be used as pawns to further your own end ...
"Yeah, that's like John Mayall if you like. But let's face it ... I mean jokingly to Martin, Terry (Ellis) and I have always said: "We picked you out of the gutter Martin and put you on the road to stardom." It's a standing joke, but there's a serious side to it as well. I mean, God knows what Jeffrey would be doing if he hadn't got into the band. All those guys who played with Mayall ... Clapton, if you like, used Mayall as a pawn. He used Mayall to build his name. He got the sack but he got a band. Keef Hartley got a band, Mick Taylor got a band."
I had in mind you using them as pawns.
"Yeah, sure, but it works the other way as well. Oh, sure, I'm writing the music but I'm only getting ... when people join this band, this is the way we work it, they come on a wage for a year. I won't tell you how much but it's a good wage. Because they don't want to accept the responsibility for the group's expenses, at the same time they want to earn money and we want to mutually decide whether we get on alright. So far everybody has stayed on in the band under those terms. After a year they come in on an equal split with me.
"I'm the only one left and it could also be argued that I'm the one that the audience comes to see ... so I'm told by journalists, that you're the front man, you write the music, it's your group and all the rest of it. Well, I don't care. I only get the same money as everybody else. At the moment we split three ways and two are on wages. Jeffrey comes under a split at Christmas, Barrie nine/ten months from now. They've done alright ... John Mayall only ever paid wages.
"If I write the songs then that's my right. I'm the senior member of the group, the senior partner if you like. I dominate things and have that much more responsibility, although when it comes to playing on stage there are five of us there and I am the one who's on stage the least. I know I leap around and might appear to be all action and going potty, but I am not actually making any more than one fifth of a musical contribution. In fact it is less.
"I feel, well let me have that responsibility. If the songs aren't good enough I soon find out. I don't exactly dictate how things should be. I just try to write things hard enough for them to play now. If I write things that are demanding, then they get a kick out of being able to play them."
Thanks to Gerrit De Geus for this article.