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NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS
7 November 1970
EASIER TO DISLIKE THAN TO LIKE
Part two of IAN ANDERSON, Music and the Man
Admitting that you don't know your subject may seem a strange way to open a profile article. But I must admit straight off that I don't know, or to be more specific don't understand, Ian Anderson. I know a good deal of what goes on on the surface, but any deeper than that is an area Anderson appears to reserve exclusively for a very small and long-standing circle of friends.
Because of this, and the fact that he rarely cares about being rude to people, he is an easy person to dislike. But, even if repulsion is the result, it is difficult not to be fascinated by the bewildering complexity of one of the ablest minds to devote itself to rock music. A year ago I spent eleven days on the road with Jethro Tull in America and watched Ian at work under a variety of testing conditions, time and opportunity enough to allow insight into most personalities. But not his. Although richly informative as to how the Anderson mind acts, the tour revealed little or nothing as to how it works.
He is an enigmatic character, a 23-year-old rich in contradictions. The wild stage extrovert who on tour shuts himself off behind locked doors. The performer who will talk to and entertain with alarming confidence upwards to 18,000 people yet offstage will feign illness rather than get involved in arguments, who doesn't go to parties or clubs, who doesn't mix with other musicians and who has no time for either drugs or alcohol.
During the American trip I was repeatedly baffled by the changes in his personality, how he could one minute be exuberantly engaged in a game of dressing room football, the next squatting on an instrument case in a black mood of hostility.
A few days before Tull left for their current American tour we talked at the Andersons' new London home, a two-storey modern house which Ian and Jennie have crammed full of old, and often bizarre, curios and furnishings. He countered my question as to whether he thought he was difficult to understand with:
"I am difficult to be absolutely sure of and probably a difficult person to like because I don't mind offending people. If someone comes up and says 'Do you want some hash?' or 'Do you want to come along to a party?' for example, it doesn't matter how you tell them that you are not interested: it will be a big blow to them. I offend people like that at the rate of one a day."
Most of this arises from people who see Ian Anderson on stage and fix preconceived ideas of what he should be like off stage. To journalists he realises he cannot communicate through and kids who come backstage to talk to the band, to give two examples, he finds it difficult to explain that he is not what they expect. And he refuses to live a lie.
"It does happen that people come backstage with the idea that I should be very friendly and open to them and a nice guy and they go away thinking I am not friendly and am a nasty guy, because unless I put on an act I have no way of getting through to them. I would rather hurt people in that way than offend them in a much more serious way by pretending that we have some area of communication between us when we haven't. A lot of people think I am just a crud and I have to live with it."
This refusal to live a lie raises one of the most obvious sides of the Anderson character, his unpretentiousness and honesty. On the latter, he maintains:
"In some ways this is a very mentally maiming life. You have to keep looking at yourself to see how honest you are, but in other ways it does tend to get easier rather than harder."
He is his own and the band's greatest critic, to a point where he will bend over backwards to avoid the impression of pretension. Mainly by choice, his is an isolated life; his friends can be counted on one hand. These tend to be acquaintances of a very long standing. Apart from Jennie, who was working at Chrysalis' London office when they met, they include John Evan, the Jethro organist and pianist, and the famous Jeffrey, who Ian grew up with. Both were in his first group.
Ian tells me the story of that group in his own inimitable style, part truth, part colourful exaggeration. He'd had an interest in pop before — seeing that kind of life as an escape route if he failed his exams — but he didn't get going until the sixth form when he and Jeffrey went to a youth club and were amazed to see the local beat group surrounded by girls.
"There they were, all these fantastic birds, long hair, made up, false eyelashes and things, crowding round this group of scabby, spotty teenagers called Johnny Breeze and the Atlantics."
"LITTLE GIRLS CAME TO SEE US"
Ian and Jeffrey, their minds boggling at this glimpse into a world of glamour, set off home to hatch their plans.
"Jeffrey had never had a girlfriend in his life," remembers Ian, "and saw this as his introduction to some kind of feminine attachment. He bought a bass guitar, a really pathetic £12 thing with an amp that came wrapped in a cardboard box. I had had a guitar since I was about 11. We started off as this three-piece Johnny Kidd type group playing in front rooms. Little girls came to see us."
Ian's ambitions after he left art college were split between the music business, not necessarily performing but possibly working in a manager's or an agent's office, and journalism. He approached the Blackpool Evening Herald to no avail. His recollections at the time were of wanting a job with some kind of freedom —
"to be one's own boss to a certain extent, to be able to meet people."
Instead he stuck with the group which had, by then, lost Jeffrey to the art world and at seven-strong had become the John Evan Band, with Ian as singer and second-rate guitarist. Feeling the need to play another instrument, he bought the flute a few months before the band came down to London, selling the guitar to a local music shop. Refused cash for it, he settled for a flute and a microphone in exchange. So the John Evan Band descended on London.
"It was winter and very cold and dismal in Blackpool," remembers Ian, "and the way things were at home the only thing I had to look forward to was sitting in the bedroom listening to the radio. And as things got more dismal and colder I decided it was time I moved off, feeling that some kind of move might at least bring some change of spirit."
Apart from Ian and Glenn Cornick, the band lasted two weeks before they went home. Regrouping with Mick Abrahams and Clive Bunker, the newly named Jethro Tull got themselves signed with Chrysalis bosses Terry Ellis and Chris Wright who, for a time, were under the impression they still had a seven-piece band on their hands. Glenn Cornick remembers how they used to turn up for gigs and make excuses about the three-man brass section getting delayed in accidents.
Right from the beginnings, when the band was playing unoriginal material, Ian's personality came through the music. At the start it was the floor-length woollen overcoat, a parting present from his father when he left Blackpool, and his antics with the flute. Strangely, he reasons away the 'props' as a justification for him being on stage, and says he regarded his singing as "not enough".
FOUND IT FRIGHTENING
When friends then began to point out that his character on stage was becoming a valuable commodity, and suggesting he should play more into the role, Anderson says he found it quite frightening and dropped any kind of extrovertism for some time.
"After that stage it crept back," he says, "and when it did it had nothing to do with confidence. It had begun to be a personal expression of the music, something that amplified the music to me and I hope to the audience as well. It was a visual extension of the music ... as are the clothes I wore, and still do, the swirling coats and that. I express myself through these clothes. It is like a miner putting on overalls because it is the right gear for the job."
The phrase 'right gear for the job' is worth pondering on. One may wonder when Ian Anderson takes off the 'right gear for the job' and, if it is a front, what lies behind it. Is it a facade to a shrewd young man who has recognised and used his assets to the utmost, or the window on a rare and brilliant mind?
Jeffrey, when I gave him a lift home after the interview, agreed with me that Ian had changed little or nothing since Jethro Tull began but, on the other hand, registered surprise when I said that I still didn't understand him.