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USA March 1977
'Rock music writes its own history', someone once said, 'in the lyrics and compositions of today.' It is wisdom and understanding that prompted that observation. Consider the rock bands that come and go, almost overnight, and then rejoice in the solid substance of Jethro Tull.
Song: Thick as a Brick edit 1
Ian Anderson: Jethro Tull was one of those groups, really, in the 60s that grew out of a sort of amateur passion for playing music. There were lots of groups like us back then, many of which I'm sure you've heard of, people like Fleetwood Mac and the Nice and so on, John Mayall; people who struggled around the clubs, particularly in the north of England, earning 50 dollars a night collectively between the group; all of whom seemed to, in a precious few years, between perhaps '67 and '69 particularly, you know, grew to some sort of fruition in terms of commercial and national success and, in a couple of cases, international success. And I mean this was, I think a particularly fruitful time because everything was strictly on an amateur level — people did it because they loved doing it, and nobody really thought, I'm sure none of us really thought that success would ultimately be equated with earning relatively large amounts of money and selling millions of records. I mean, back then you were successful if you were making a living.
Song: Locomotive Breath
The members of the group Jethro Tull, some of the members today began in Blackpool in north of England under the name of the John Evan Band. We called ourselves the John Evan Band in deference to John Evan's mother, who was kind enough to pay for the Hammond organ and the van and the drum kit and so on; and although John was relatively quiet and, you know, not particularly in the forefront, we thought it would go down better with her; it'd certainly sit better with her bank manager if we called it the John Evan Band, you see. However, when we went down to London and, to live and work, to try and become professional, most of the members of that John Evan Band left after about a week 'cause they weren't willing to face poverty and starvation.
I, of course, was ... I really enjoy that sort of thing, do it whenever possible. And I stayed down there and found another three people to play with me, and that group in fact fulfilled the remainder of the John Evan Band's contractual obligations to play to a few little clubs, before we really did enter into a two-month period of starvation. Or at least I did, because the other guys, their parents, you see, down south; I had to live in a little one room place, and it was actually quite squalid, you know, but only, I only suffered for two months, you know, it wasn't really bad for years or anything. Two months was all that I suffered. And after a while we started getting some dates around London in blues clubs, you know.
Song: Living in the Past
We first became known on or through any of the media through John Peel's program, and he always made a point of introducing new, undiscovered, relatively undiscovered talent, and likewise some of the clubs, like the famous Marquee Club, you know, was a great jumping off point for the success, not just for us but for the Who and the Rolling Stones and then, a little later than us, Led Zeppelin in England, who started just after us in England.
So that was a very important venue, a very important place from which to begin, and everybody was looking for something different, you know, looking for — when people today talk about the need for something different in music, what they're really looking for is not their own personal music form but something like a new Beatles, something that is of almost mass hysteria proportions. People want an overwhelmingly new style of music which everyone can adopt and everyone can like, which is really quite the opposite to how things were back then, certainly in England, I mean, people wanting to, you know, find something special for themselves.
Song: Cat's Squirrel
It became a bit of a joke week to week, because the only way, to begin with, we weren't particularly good, the only way we got return bookings in clubs was to change our name every week so that the promoter, the owner of the club would not know we were the same disastrous bunch as had been in the week before. So it perhaps is merely coincidence that the first time a promoter got on the telephone to the agent and said "oh, can I have that group on that I had last week, they were really good," it just happened that we were called 'Jethro Tull' that particular week. Quite often we would go to play a club and the name would be up there on the poster and we didn't even know who it was, we'd never heard of it, we assumed it must be us this week.
Jethro Tull is a historical character, and I don't need to bore you with the, you know, the identity of the real Jethro Tull, but I will anyway, here it goes. He was an 18th century English agriculturist who invented the seed drill, and also prepared a quite lengthy and quite accurate economic treatise on the possibility of improving farming methods, as indeed he did. But he was also an accomplished amateur musician, and made his first seed drill from the foot pedals of his local church organ when he was the church organist.
I introduced the flute into the group back then in order to try and give the music were playing some identity, different to that that all the other groups were playing. It could well have been anything, but the truth of the matter is that when I gave up playing electric guitar, I traded in my electric guitar for the two things in the shop that I, that caught my eye which were a microphone, since I was also singing, and a flute, which just happened to represent the remaining amount of credit that I had, you see, after getting rid of this guitar. And it was something small and portable, I mean, you know, it seemed like a nice thing to try and learn to play. But I wasn't at all serious about it, it was two or three months before I really got this flute out of its case and attempted to learn to play something on it, with the idea of using it in the songs that we played on stage.
I think one thing that set Jethro Tull apart from some of the other groups of that time was the fact that we did write quite a lot of our own material, even from the word go, and when it came to putting together a first album, which in fact was called This Was (with an uncanny eye to the future, realizing it would be obsolete within the year), we were not short of material when it came to recording that album because we had, you know, plenty of songs that we'd written which we'd actually been playing live in the clubs and we even had a ready audience for that material because most of the kids all over England, albeit only 2 or 3 hundred of them at a time, you know, did know a lot of that material.
Song: My Sunday Feeling
I think anybody when they're writing, you know, when they begin to write, tends to draw mostly on personal experience and probably the kind of personal experiences that everybody has and are easy for an audience for that music to listen to. But clearly, after a year or so, you've gone through the basic sorts of subject material, I mean you've done the love songs and the 'I'm leaving home' or 'I'm coming back again' sort of songs, or 'Monday morning going to work blues' sort of songs, or ... when you've done all that you have to start looking a little bit, a little bit deeper, and I think the nice thing about writing is to be able to write on more than one level at once, you know, to write songs that have an apparently simple and direct meaning but, but, you know, have another layer of meaning underneath that that people may or may not gravitate to if they wish.
Song: The Whistler
I think ultimately, probably Passion Play is for me, musically and in terms of energy and excitement, is the best album. I don't say that because — it's a popular misconception, I believe, that the album was unsuccessful, it, you know, it's still a gold album, and still an awful lot of people bought it and liked it, and it did in fact get quite a lot of good reviews. But, obviously, after the two or three records before it which had been clearly more unanimously praised, it did appear to be given a mixed reception. But I do quite genuinely find that to be the most satisfying, you know, in the sort of complete musical and lyrical sense.
Song: A Passion Play edit 8
I sometimes profit from bad reviews, I mean, I learn things about myself that I didn't know, I learn pitfalls that I didn't realize existed. I profit from bad reviews, I'm, you know, the first person in the world to admit it. But a constructive bad review is one thing, and a totally negative, hatchet job review is another thing; and the power of the journalist is such that he does actually cost you an awful lot of fans, potential record sales, whatever else, potential concert attendances, because in this age of extremely avid competition on the parts of hundreds of thousands of musicians, you know, for the public affection, the concert goers and record buyers today have to make an incredible choice, you know, they have to make a choice from a huge diversity of musical availability, and in order to make that choice easier, they will very often pay heed to what they read in the papers.
I suffer from this myself — if I read in a paper that someone's record is no good, I will tend not to buy it, you know, I'm just as bad as everybody else. I'm quite willing to believe all of that, you see, because it makes my job of having to choose what I should listen to that much easier. But luckily, you see, old Ludders (that's Beethoven) hasn't had too many bad reviews in the last few years, so I'm quite safe listening to him.
Ian, just for the fun of it, why don't you picture yourself on a desert island somewhere, with a few Jethro Tull albums with you and a good stereo system. Which songs would you play?
I'd probably start off with, I'd like to be, you know, woken up gently in a nice happy mood with 'Jack in the Green' which, only coincidentally, happens to be a track from the new album, but it's one that, where I played, I only wrote the song in the afternoon and leapt into the studio in the evening. It's the last song on the album, I mean the last one to be recorded, and we were short of, you know, two minutes of music, so I wrote something in the afternoon, went in and played all of the instruments and came home with a track that night, you know, so it was very, you know, very spontaneous, and because it didn't involve anybody else other than me and the engineer, it was, I don't know, it was for me, it's a sort of little gem, and I have a soft spot for mother nature, and, so that's really what that song is about.
Song: Jack in the Green
My other songs for our fictitious but increasingly attractive prospect of desert island seclusion are — well, would it be terribly nasty if we played ... if we played the 'Songs from the Wood' track itself?
Song: Songs from the Wood
Our next desert island disc, under the shade of the leafy palm, I shall produce a track from the, the Stand Up album. It's called ... uh, I can sing it to you (ha, ha) ... you know, I really can't remember what the hell the title was! Have you got an album there a minute, 'cause I really want to hear this song again. 'Look into the Sun', that's what it's called, 'Look into the Sun'. You see, I knew there was a reason we should be playing this under the shade of our leafy palm!
Song: Look into the Sun
Let's play the 'poet and the painter' section from Thick as a Brick.
Song: Thick as a Brick edit
We do write, or I write, and a lot of the arranging is done on the road in hotels. I mean, there's not much else to do, I mean, unless you're sort of one of these super-virile English rock musicians with a, who wears a coke-bottle with a leather strap around it for underwear. Then maybe you can stay up all night, with all the delightful young ladies of town, imbibing furiously all the kinds of alcoholic and mind-bending liquids and solids that you can get your hands on. But if you're a, you know, nice, quiet, sort of approaching 30, you know, mature, lower-middle class ex-art student like myself, then you tend to stay up at night, merely looking out the window and writing songs, that's what I do. Play a bit of cards from time to time, but, you know, that's when I do most of the work. And then in England, when I go home, I, you know, polish off as it were the bits of arrangement, here and there, and we rehearse things. But certainly about 80% of the music is written outside the UK, always has been. On the road.
Song: Bungle in the Jungle
I think that the prime mover in what any musician/painter/writer does is that he's seeking to know himself through what he does. It's quite a selfish way of living a life, I suppose, and the only saving grace is that through this rather blurred mirror of one's own personality and intellect that one creates, other people have the chance of looking also into that mirror and seeing a little bit of themselves in there, so it's perhaps beneficial all around, but, you know, the initial act is quite a selfish one, of seeking to know yourself. It's a by-product merely that it is of some use or has some meaning for, you know, the rest of the world, potentially. I think that's why we all do it. I will probably have to cut off my ear or something, you know, or do the things that artists do before I'm ever really an artist, but, you know, at the moment that's how I do see it, I certainly, you know, first of all, I'm doing it for me, I want to find out who I am. You know, other people listen to the songs, listen to the lyrics, and derive some meaning from it that is for them self-illuminating, hopefully.
Song: Nothing is Easy
I think the future is always exciting because you don't really know what you want to do but you think you do, and you get a rude awakening when you try. I certainly don't have any plans to do anything outrageously different than what I'm doing, but I do have a continuing, you know, quite passionate ambition to improve as a musician and particularly to, you know, further substantiate my claim that, you know, the folk memory of one's musical heritage is the main influence that one has, if you allow it to come through.
You know, I am not moved or influenced very much by most contemporary rock music. Not any longer, I mean a few years ago I certainly was, but not any longer, I'm, you know, far more interested in a sense of my own culture's musical history, I mean the music of Europe, and particularly England, and I don't really want to be borrowing the 'black man's music' anymore. I think I have far too much respect for it anyway now, to actually steal anymore of, you know, any of their riffs. So really, I mean, I think I'm looking to music, particularly, you know, particularly ... without making it sound academically historical, I mean, it's always going to remain in a rock context, loosely. But, you know, avoid using the cliches, avoid using, stealing other people's own music from another culture, you know, I think, I think there's not enough being made of the European sorts of music.