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14 March 1974
WE NEED YOU!
The flight from stage and critics has come to an end: Jethro Tull will perform live again. Ian Anderson told us why, in an exclusive interview with POP: "A group without an audience is not a group."
"Enough. Finished. Vacation-time," grumbled Ian Anderson last autumn. "Jethro Tull will never perform live again." Ian's wrath was provoked by the British music press, which evidently didn't share the public's enthusiasm for the highly-charted A Passion Play album nor the concerts which followed, blasting the group with heavy criticism.
But Jethro Tull's absence from the stage lasted no more than six months. The first step in reconciling group and press was made in Montreux, where Ian Anderson, John Evan, Martin Barre, Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond and Barriemore Barlowe handed over a £6,500 check to representatives of the local council: the net profit of a benefit concert performed by Jethro Tull in Zürich in 1971. The money was intended for the rebuilding of the Montreux cultural centre (the old Casino burned down in late 1971 during a Frank Zappa concert).
POP had an exclusive conversation with Ian Anderson and pianist John Evan about their most important plan: "We want to get back on stage, we need the audience!"
Last year you announced that you would not be performing live again, citing the adverse criticism of your last LP, A Passion Play, and the concerts which followed. What's your current position?
IA: "Well, even now I don't understand why the English music press had such a negative opinion of the album. Personally, I think A Passion Play is the most commercial record we've ever made. I've said before, but those who reviewed the album a couple of weeks after its release were much more favourable compared to those who had no time to absorb the work and wrote their reviews based only on a quick, cursory listen. A Passion Play is not the kind of record you can hear once and then whistle by heart ..."
And the criticisms of the concerts?
IA: "Fans don't normally jump around and dance and scream at our concerts — they usually sit down and pay attention to the music. However, I saw a lot of journalists milling around at our shows last year, generally chatting away to each other all the way through the show, and then they reported in the press afterwards that the concert was boring! Naturally, we have our off-days after five years on the road; nevertheless, we rehearsed for those shows well in advance, with some new jokes and features worked out, in order to make things a bit special. Even if I say so myself, I think we're the hardest-working band in the music business."
It's been some months, though, since your last public appearance. What have you been doing in the meantime?
IA: "Well, for the past two years I've been working on an idea for a film. It's the story of Heaven and Hell, a representation of their mutual relationship. Apart from the five guys in the band there are two major roles: God and the Devil. The film is structured in a versatile way — it will show everyday events, with explanatory dialogue, and with each character playing more than one role. At certain points in the action a classical ballet sequence will appear. And naturally it will feature a great deal of music. We've finished two albums side-by-side: one of them is the film score, in which the group is backed by a symphony orchestra, and the second is an album of new Jethro Tull songs played only by the group."
Will the soundtrack album be a single, continuous piece of music again?
"No, it consists of different pieces which are intended to underscore specific scenes in the film. The music is instrumental to a large extent, with the vocals partly taking the place of dialogue."
Will film-making replace live shows, then?
JE: "God, I hope not!! These things do nothing for me: whole days in front of the camera or in the studio. I need the live atmosphere and the lights! I can only enjoy the music if I feel the audience is happy. Studio work is too cold and clinical for my liking. I'd prefer to be doing concerts again as soon as possible."
IA: "Actually, we all feel the same way as John. I don't see this film as a substitute for live work. Still, there is an advantage over a live gig — on the big screen, at least everyone can see us at the same size, with the same presence and the same impact. In the large concert venues, however, only a lucky few get to see us at close-range. The people at the back can follow our movements if they have good eyesight, but they're never going to make out the faces. It would be nice if everyone could see us clearly."
But don't you think the communication with your fans would cool off in this case? Experiencing the sheer volume and power of a live band is just as important as seeing faces on a screen.
IA: "Yeah, sure, but once the film is released we'll be back on the stage anyway. The kids will still have the chance to enjoy the experience of a Jethro Tull show."
JE: "But we'll have a holiday first. I've almost forgotten what a holiday is. I want to go home and spend time with my mother! I have this new keyboard there, which I've been experimenting with and trying to get different sounds from. I think it will complement the Jethro Tull sound. I just can't wait to get back on stage again."
There have been rumours lately that Jethro Tull are about to break up. Is there any truth in that story?
IA: "No, we've never considered splitting up. Rumours like this are made up by Sunday newspaper writers because they have nothing better to do that day. I can't imagine we'll split up in the near future, simply because we work so well together — each member complements the other."
Many musicians, usually the lead singer in a group, have made solo albums in the past with other people. Are you also considering the possibilities of a solo project, Ian?
IA: "I haven't felt it necessary so far, because all my musical aspirations are fulfilled within Jethro Tull. A lot of people assume I'm the 'leader' of the band, but everyone has an equal say in what goes on. Everyone is equally responsible in creating a successful finished product, or at least adds a little something."
Translation from the original German: AJ and Jan Voorbij.