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2 December 1970
JETHRO TULL: IN IT FOR THE BIRDS
"The name? Well, we hadn't got one and we were asking around and this university-educated agent suggested Jethro Tull. I'd never heard of it before but it sounded rustic and rough, so why not? Anyway we fully expected only to use it for a couple of gigs and then get tired of it. As it happened we started getting popular at the time so we kept it."
Ian Anderson comes from Blackpool, a day-trippers' seaside resort in the north of England distinguished from the rest by its own version of the Eiffel Tower and golden mile of pubs and fish and chip shops. His first exposure to pop came as a shock.
"Three of us went to see a local group play at a youth club. It was at the point where pop music was something naturally associated with young people, so you knew the names of songs and you knew something of the aura surrounding pop stars. But it came as a real shock seeing it first hand. This group, playing in front of a crowd of people playing incredibly loud ... and the birds, fantastic. At the age of 15 or 16 this was a big thing, you know, 'Christ, look at those guys that've got those ace birds' — birds with real nylons on. Sophisticated. And we thought, hey, this is the way out of school and university. So we decided very simply, undramatically, to form a group."
So they formed a group. Anderson on guitar, and schoolmates John Evan on drums and, by a process of elimination, not suitability, Jeffrey Hammond on bass. They were called Blades, and they didn't make it with those sophisticated birds. Unfortunate, that, because the whole point of calling the group Blades was to cash-in on the James Bond bird-pulling cult: Blades being the name of the club which Bond's boss, M, used to frequent.
At this stage Anderson's sartorial trip has begun.
"We were wearing bell-bottoms, incredibly tight, and black shiny coats. Sort of smart in a classy futuristic way. It was the same thing as the music was all about because we were never into becoming blues people, although that was the basis of what we played at the time. Still is, really. I reckon 80 per cent of what we play now is some sort of blues. But because we came from middle-class, presentable families we treated the raw blues stuff in a rather more polished style, which led us into jazz."
Evan fairly quickly abandoned the drums in favour of an organ. Hammond split under pressure from his parents and was replaced by Glenn Cornick, who is still with the band. However, Hammond is still in Jethro's music as the 'Jeffrey' referred to in several Anderson songs. The band expanded to a seven-piece under the banner of the John Evan Blues Band. The were distressed to hear of an obscure group in America called the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, which must have copied their name.
By now Anderson had become a little more adventurous in style.
"I had longish hair and a little beard, having been influenced by the St. Louis Union, who were incredibly poofy mods with long whispy sidies, incredibly effeminate guys.
"We were playing around crummy clubs in the north which were full of guys at the beginning of the Skinhead thing. They wore smart cheap suits and talked with gum in their mouths and all this business (snaps fingers) to Stax sounds and Otis. We tried, hoped, believed that we were trying to influence them towards what we thought was better music. Soul seemed to be the latest kind of prostitution of everything that had gone before. It was very difficult to see anything good in soul. We had a total disdain for this kind of music although we had to play it to get bookings. And that was another thing, the big martyrdom act of having to go on playing songs you hated.
"So anyway we blasted on getting nowhere. I began to yearn for something rougher, to get away from saxes and all that crap, away from the smoothie side of things. What we needed was a guitarist. Chris Wright (who later on formed Chrysalis with Terry Ellis who now manages Jethro) had a word with us on the side and told us we needed someone like this superstar guitarist he had in his new group called Ten Years After."
The John Evan Blues Band followed TYA down to London, got dumped by their then-manager and failed to impress MGM with a demo. Within a week everyone except Anderson and Cornick went home to their jobs. Anderson couldn't, and still can't accept the music of that post-Sgt. Pepper period as valid.
"All that Indian stuff ... everything was a fad, everyone was getting into, 'Wow this is like ballet and this is Art.'
"Art. The one thing I really hated, having studied painting at art school and really came to grips with the essence of what craft is about ... and people were calling that music art. I really didn't want anything to do with it. I sincerely believe in the generalization that there is not very much of what I would call valid artistic creation, you know, anything to do with a higher plane of expression, in any present-day progressive or pop music. In most cases it hasn't even reached the point of being a true craft, which is a stage through which it must go before it can become art.
"Look at people like Miro and Picasso, who have studied formal techniques for many years before developing a stylized approach through which they can revert to a primitive level. Then there is the naive approach like Rousseau adopted, which isn't based on formal training but still goes through the level of being a craft. He doesn't understand other people's things maybe, but he certainly understood his own. Now there isn't much of today's music which has that foundation.
"Most of it is created by people who've only been playing for a few years, like myself. So when you read in some paper that you've been voted up among the Kirks, Herbie Manns and Charles Lloyds, you mustn't let yourselves believe it. I analyze and consider everything I do very seriously. Even if I construct something by accident I still want to know how I arrived at a particular phrase interval and I figure it out harmonically."
Anderson's dedication led to a sticky time for the new band he had formed in London with Mick Abrahams and Clive Bunker on guitar and drums. There's a suitable sob story to go with it:
"We'd boil potatoes one day and for two or three days afterwards you'd heat up a mixture of Irish stew and mashed potatoes that was cold and left over from the day before. Pease pudding ... dip bread in it ... it was vile. I took a part-time job as a vacuum cleaner in a cinema."
Anderson claims he found nothing worthwhile on the floor, but he may have: a yellow plastic lampshade which he started to wear around. Significantly, perhaps, bookings started to pick up. He'd also started to play flute in a couple of numbers.
There's a wide variety of quotes on record explaining why he took up the flute. He wanted something to do with his hands. It is the easiest instrument to carry around. The latest version is that when he sold a guitar to a shop, the dealer wouldn't give him cash, only an exchange. So he chose a microphone, and the only things that would make up the right price were a cello and a flute, and like the man said, a flute is easier to carry around.
Then there's the supposed conflict between the members of the group which Anderson generates on stage. The snide remarks are usually aimed at Martin Barre — "Fat and bulbous Martin Barre." The joke was finally fulfilled when Anderson's ambition was realized:
"I managed to get one pop paper, the New Musical Express, to call him Fatty Martin Barre quite seriously. The thing is he's not even fat."
Jethro Tull, as the band had now been christened, joined the treadmill filled with hopeful British groups flogging their way around the club circuit.
"Surprisingly, at a lot of those places we just didn't go down well. But just through having played at so many of them, not once but around four times at each one, we got to be seen by lots of people."
In those days, the Marquee in London's Soho district used to be the showcase for new acts. Anderson remembers the night when Jethro graduated from support billing to equal top with two others.
"I was so scared. I didn't normally move around the stage like I do now, but I did some sort of act because I was so nervous. I used to hide myself inside a great big coat and carry a battered old Woolworth's carrier bag which contained harmonicas and sandwiches and a hot water bottle with a cold drink in it and an alarm clock which always went off in the middle of a quiet song, things like that.
"I suppose it was quite funny but actually I needed those things as props. I couldn't have gone out and said, 'Hey, I'm a singer or a flautist.' I had to go on with the carrier bag so I could trip over it. Anyway, people used to laugh and got used to it, began to expect it. My manager, Terry Ellis, made me very conscious of being an 'entertainer' and I got so upset that for weeks I cut it out and went out on stage in just a T-shirt and jeans, no props, no funnies, just straight introductions. But I soon got over that phase.
The pay-off for the grind around the clubs came in the summer of 1968 at the National Jazz and Blues Festival at Kempton Park Racehorse outside London. It seemed as if all the kids who'd seen Jethro serving its apprenticeship on the circuit were there that night. It was cold and Anderson put on his tatty old coat, came out with creaking punchlines, zoomed around like King Speed and made a few thousand more fans."
The first album was being cut at this time. It turned out badly engineered but gutsy. It was called This Way [sic] and established Jethro as a chartbuster and confirmed their position as one of the top three or four live attractions in Britain. An American tour was set but Abrahams didn't want to go, says Anderson.
"When Mick was sacked, or left, we had four days to rehearse with a new guitarist. We held an audition and about 50 musicians turned up. None of them was right. Everyone was learning Clapton licks as fast as they could and we didn't want that."
One of the candidates was Martin Barre. He didn't get the job then. He was another on the "don't call us, we'll call you" list. A set on the 'Rolling Stones Rock 'n' Roll Circus' TV show had to be done so they borrowed a guitarist from Black Sabbath and he and the rest of the band mimed while Anderson played live.
Jethro's second album, a bigger seller by a long way, was thought up, mostly by Anderson, during the first U.S. tour. Martin Launcelot Barre had been worked into the group during a furious set of pre-tour rehearsals. This time the album was recorded in a sophisticated studio. Stand Up was the result, a bigger seller on both sides of the Atlantic.
In February this year Anderson came down with an ulcer during the group's third U.S. tour. Anderson says about the exit of Abrahams:
"There's no mistaking it, it was like half of the band leaving. It was all down to me to do something special, like writing good songs and produce the album."
For the next tour the band was augmented by John Evan on piano and organ. Anderson played piano on a couple of tracks on Benefit, the third album, then asked Evan to do the rest of the sessions. It left Anderson with more freedom to play guitar and to cut down on the dominance of the flute. Says Anderson:
"I was looking toward the next two years or more of playing as a group when I asked John to join. With another instrument we could have a more flexible chordal approach. Everything had begun to rely too much on solid guitar block chords."
There was another reason for wanting to widen Jethro's scope.
"Led Zeppelin had come along by that time," says Anderson, "and we were on a very similar thing. I didn't want to go that way because I knew Zeppelin were going to be very big and I saw in Zeppelin certain things that I didn't want to happen to us. I didn't want to be a super-group and I didn't want us to go all out playing as heavy as possible. But we were in danger of becoming just that, both in the public's eyes and in our own feelings. You see, it's a total commitment to be that kind of group.
"I think that Zeppelin wouldn't have been so big if we had gone in the same direction, trying to get a big crowd reaction with everything we played. We could have gone out for that, working at it consciously because you pick up lots of tricks ... ways of getting an audience raving. Musical tricks, lighting, there are lots of ways of doing it. It's fairly easy. But once you get into that position it's so difficult to get out.
"This is something I've felt from the beginning, that the band would change throughout. And quite conceivably change away from public taste and we'd fall out of popularity and it'd be all over. I've always felt like that and I really wouldn't compromise my share of Jethro Tull's music to the extent of playing something that I didn't want to play. That, to my mind, makes us far more underground, in spirit at least, than a lot of other groups. There's been very little compromise in this band."