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27 March 1971

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Keith Altham talks to Ian Anderson about Tull's new LP

'Aqualung' in undoubtedly Jethro Tull's most significant album to date and although comparisons are often odious to the artist concerned, the highest compliment I feel able to offer is that in significance it rates with Townshend's 'Tommy'.

The mind behind this latest electronic alert is, of course, Ian Anderson who in his infinite wisdom presents his character 'Aqualung' as humanity's most common denominator "snot running down his nose, drying in the hot sun — poor old sod" — like some super-dirty old man within whom there is as much God as anyone else!


On the side of the album for which he reserves his most pointed attacks upon orthodox religions, the Pope comes in for a few kicks in the divine rear as do all those other gods which you "wind up on Sunday" or use only their names as a final refuge in death. The glory, glory seekers are not going to find much comfort in the gospel according to Tull.

And if all this sounds a bit too heavy, be not dismayed for there is the secret ingedient which adds lightness and brightness in the Tull repertoire — humour both black and white.

There is some clever use of the Mellotron on 'Cross Eyed Mary', some refined guitar from Anderson on 'Cheap Day Return', and deft bursts of electrical inspiration from new recruit Jeffrey Hammond ('A Song for Jeffrey') — remember him? — the inevitable but tasteful warblings on flute from Ian, but more of a revelation is his acoustic guitar work.

And so it was, brethren, that I came to just by ("Tell them I live in Shropshire — it reduces the risk from burglary") where the gold album from 'Benefit' has not yet made the toilet wall, but lays in the hall awaiting to be hung therein.

Up the stairs there is a many shelved room with two tasteful antique round tables on castors (for all you like inventories), and innumerable books amongst which are the complete works of Oscar Wilde and The Bible of the World.

There is an organised lack of conformity about everything — a comfortable house which reflects a disregard for order but a finer expression of the owner's character, that which makes a house a home.

Into chat and one still gets after so many interviews a disquieting but pleasant surprise from the geniality of a man whose stage image is that of a 'freak'. There is no hypocrisy attached to this because he has never attempted to disguise the fact in interviews that in private he is essentially a very straight person. Why not?

Does Ian regard his new album as an outright attack on religion?

"I don't regard it as an out and out attack," said Ian. "Basically it is a reflection of my feelings towards the concept of God, largely as a result of having been brought up relatively free of religious pressures and the fact that I have always felt it to be morally wrong for children to be brought up in today's social climate with God as a social crutch.


"It should be, for my children if I have any, a purely spiritual thing and I do not agree with a lot of the material trappings associated with certain orthodox religions.

"When I was at school there was a very distinct pressure put on children to acknowledge God in a certain way. I've always felt this to be totally irrelevant to the educational system and that it should be the parents' job and not the schools.

"There is a risk of offending some people, I suppose, but I can't really believe that the majority of young Roman Catholics today really believe that all is well and good with the Pope.

"I can't even believe that the Pope himself can believe he is fairly and squarely on the right track anymore. Without getting into the doctrine specifically, I believe Catholicism is outdated in so many ways.

"It's not just Catholicism or the Pope I am having a go at, but fundamental anomalies in orthodox religions in the light of today's social climate.

"What I really believe is that it is up to the individual to find his own God in his own time, in his own way, and I believe this feeling is broadly speaking that of the next generation of young people and those contemporary with myself.

"God is now a personified concept and no longer just the property of the Church.

"One had to be a bit of a boot licker in the past to be on the right side of God, but now this is no longer the case and the individual is beginning to recognise that he exists even in the most lowly state of man — that God is in everyone, including you and me as one of the songs firmly states. That is the kind of God that I am in favour of."

At first it might seem that 'Aqualung' is a basically irrelevant name for the character in the album but if you dig deep enough it is possible to ascertain that he suffers from bronchitis and wheezes like a deep sea diver!

It is on side one that Ian portrays 'Aqualung' as the dirty old man peering through the school railings and it may be no little coincidence that the tramp-like figure referred [to] is in some ways complemented by Ian's own stage role.


"In fact, I am basically a religious person — I believe in the God concept for the individual and most of the songs on the album is pro-God.

"There are really no anti-God songs on the album. There is one song titled 'My God' which we have been playing on stage for some time, which is really a blues for God. It's really a lament for God that he has to try and be so many different things to different people!

"'Hymn 43' on the album is really a blues for Jesus. In sympathy with the fact that one is sorry for Jesus that so many wrong 'doings' have been perpetrated in his name."

It seemed to me that the morality of the album was less likely to be questioned than the 'sacrilegious' attempt to make money out of such an important subject — God at 33 and one third revs per minute?

"Quite," said Ian. "I feel exactly the same way — I'm full of doubt as to whether I should ever lift a plectrum or write a song about anything other than love songs and hairy rock and roll, but somewhere along the line you have to make that decision whether to write about something you really believe in — in the hope that maybe just one or two people will be affected by it.

"I am very much aware that I am using a position which I have achieved for totally selfish reasons, and I am very much afraid of it. I shouldn't be but I am. I don't really think that what I am saying is quite so controversial as it might seem. I'm sure that a lot of people who buy our albums share my beliefs anyway."

Contrary to some sections of society today Ian believes that his generation are going through a spiritual revival in terms of religious fervour and are finding a very strong belief within their own consciousness.

"Previously it has been largely the results of certain brainwashing techniques used by the Church to convince people of a particular deity, but this is a spiritual awakening of the individual.

"I've tried to be very careful not to employ those kind of brainwashing techniques on this album — I do not want to impose my ideas on other people. I want them to find their own. I'm simply saying here that these are a few of my ideas and why."

It might seem an anachronism to some people that an artist with such serious intent and obvious sincerity should involve himself in publicity campaigns like the recent photographic fantasy in which Julie Ege presented them with their gold record for 'Benefit'. Other critics have inferred that Ian's clowning on stage has at times got in the way of their music.


"We felt that by getting Julie Ege to present us with our gold record we were reducing it to a more light-hearted level and not getting into that dreadful number with posed shots of a lot of men in suits and ties from marketing and promotion departments we have never seen.

"Neither does that mean we despise getting a gold record, we were merely trying to knock the pomposity out of the situation.

"The stage thing is really feel. I could no more go on just a reflection of how I stage every night and clown any more than I could go on every night and be serious. [Typesetting errors as per original article. Should be: "The stage thing is really just a reflection of how I feel. I could no more go on stage every night and clown any more than I could go on every night and be serious." AJ] It might be some critics see me on a night when I'm in a particularly good mood and I clown more than might be necessary, but it's just because I'm enjoying myself which helps me enjoy my music."

You pays your money and you takes your choice, but for me Jethro Tull is the people's choice — more power to his kneecaps!