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18 June 1977
NEW WAVE FROM AN OLD HAND
Ian Anderson, armed with ten years of Tull history, tackles today's trends and Pete Makowski
Oii!!!!! Even if you think Jethro Tull are just a bunch of arthritic clapped-out old timers, cop a read of this: you might even find it interesting.
The fact is that I wanted to interview Ian Anderson before realizing that I also liked Tull's music. Whatever you think of Tull's music it would be difficult to deny that Anderson projects a unique aura, a glossy poster of the man hangs somewhere in the 'closet fantasy' compartment of our brains. SO WHY SHOULD I CARE? (A. Reader, Somewhere)
Well, what makes Anderson more of an enigma / unique in his breed, izzat his 'image' totally ignores the uniform concept of a SUPERSTAR. His stage stance a la flamingo foot, he conjures up visions of a 17th-century poacher / rapscallion. Sweaty browed 'n' beady eyed, saliva drools down his chops as he feverishly licks his lips with manic / jubilant glee. Yet his lithe torso is in extreme contrast to the 'local park flasher' persona. Physically agile and visually interesting, but he sure ain't no Peter Frampton. The All-time Anti-hero's hero?
O.K. SO HOW ABOUT DA WOIKS? DEPT.
Well akshully this interview has been delayed over a period of a month (basically my fault) and location changed regularly, keeping pace with the band's touring schedule. So finally we made it in Paris [31 May]. O.K. There we sat in the 'tuning' room, hidden in the depths of the concert hall, which was only a part of a vast complex of Metropolis-like proportions.
Yeah, there we were: Anderson looked worn, his murky fawn-coloured hair was scattered about skeletal, colourless features in improvised curls. He was perched on a chair opposite, dressed in regulation type khaki gear, his features were contorting, battling between a mocking sneer and deep thought. I instantly flashed on images of a scrawny laird ready to embark on a hunt.
'Course I was wary, but I had the advantage of never having read an interview with the man, and hoping that for once my naivety / lack of knowledge would come to some use: a lack of preconceptions can bear fruit. His realistic attitude makes him seem more approachable than your regular Kodak-koated teen dream / rock hero shrouded in a cloak of security. Anderson's country pie approach is no facade, but what becomes immediately obvious on contact is that he's a sharp dude, razorblade repartee honed by the years.
Chainsmoking John Player Specials, my dad would probably describe him as a "charming, highly approachable chap" and he'd probably be right. Anderson envelopes himself lightly in what some people refer to as MYSTIQUE and some call SELF PRESERVATION. Suss it out for yourself. This is wot happened, this is:
THE IAN ANDERSON INTERVIEW OR LIVING IN THE PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE
To be quite honest I don't know how to start an interview with you.
"Why with me in particular?"
Well the previous interviews I've seen [so much for "never having read an interview with the man" — AJ] usually concentrate on the 'social comments' you make, which are usually splattered boldly across the cover of Melody Maker. You seem to be more opinionated about current aspects (i.e. taxes) than a lot of other major artistes.
"Well, perhaps that's because so few people seem willing to offer opinions and seem, y'know, more concerned with self-seeking publicity. Be that as it may, I'm opinionated only because I'd rather have an opinion about something, even if it's wrong, than just drifting through life, in and out of tuning rooms."
Although you have strong views about life, etc, in general it doesn't seem to have rubbed off on your music.
"Well, I would suggest that that's probably a good thing, in as much that if you are single-minded or narrow-minded enough to have beliefs and opinions and then manifest them in terms of music and nothing else at all, it is likely to be a narrow sort of existence. I'm interested in writing songs about everything, whatever it might be; I'm interested in a lot of things outside of music, but I don't feel obligated to write about them. I think it's healthy for me, let alone anybody else, to have a variety of interests. If I mix both it would probably confuse people ... say if I started singing about blood sports."
Musically the band is almost unlimited but Tull's general outlook seems to be welded by one concept which revolves around you.
"I think that every album has a certain feel to it and obviously, depending where the emphasis lies, music or lyrics have to have some cohesive style, mood, emotional wholeness. That's what newspaper jargon often misconstrues as 'a concept'. I don't think that Jethro Tull has made a 'concept' album from square one. I suppose the nearest one would be Too Old To Rock 'n' Roll which I guess stemmed from something which was a concept. I probably made it too difficult for people to think of the songs as individual pieces."
And how about the new album, Songs From The Wood?
"Even the title of the album was quite openly saying, Look, here's a bunch of songs, and the only thing they have in common is that most of them were written on a train from High Wycombe to Marylebone. If that's a concept, then it's a concept album again. Most of the songs on 'Wood' were written for once when I was living in England as opposed to a hotel room."
SONGS FROM THE FORMICA?
Your lyrics don't seem to reflect your rock 'n' roll existence, life on the road.
"Well, most people travel, if only on a tube from A to B, or perhaps they're lucky enough to go on holiday to Ibiza or wherever. When you're on a plane your mind isn't on ... well maybe it is on free booze or the person sitting next to you, but in my case I just sit there and daydream. Likewise in hotel rooms, I'm not considering the wallpaper or the texture of the room or the waiter's skin. What I'm trying to say is that the restricted atmosphere of a hotel room, whatever, offers you a womb-like protection where you can actually let your mind wander. Certainly I don't think my songs would ever reflect ... uh ... the so-called and often written about 'frustrations' of life on the road which I don't find particularly frustrating, I never have. It's a little bit boring, because of the routine. But it's up to you to make of it what you can."
(At this point a roadperson enters to announce it's time for a soundcheck)
MOVE ON ALONE
The current line-up of Tull is John 'Ol' Brittledick' Glascock (bass), Martin Barre (guitars), Barry Evans [sic] (drums), John Evans (keyboards) and David Palmer (keyboards). Anderson remains the dominant factor and is sometimes quite detached from the band, which is magnified by the fact that he has his own soundcheck. When I asked him about this, his reply was:
"We all do individual soundchecks and then the band do a collective one. There's little point for me to stand there screaming."
There's no doubt that the quality of his output relies on the strength of his line-up, which at the moment is at maximum power (no shit), but I recently read an article / bitch stating that Mr Anderson was imposing restrictions on the members. Response?
"It's very unfair that people lay the criticism of the musical merit of any records at my door, because it's down to the guys what they play. I mean if they're playing wrong notes, or something which is really not very tasteful, or I know they can do better, then I'll step in and try to help. But most of what they do is their own contribution. It's not a question of my not allowing them to do something, it's very far from that. I think they know they have a role to play, but with each different song / album the role will change, a little bit. They take it as it comes."
Tull's Big Break was concurrent with a host of other units who have since risen to equal stature. But Tull haven't evolved / devolved like other groups have evolved / devolved. You seem to be insular yet you observe changes around you, from a similar standpoint to, say, The Who.
"I think probably the Pink Floyd and Jethro Tull have more in common, in terms of the career aspect. In both cases there was an original flash of identity. The Floyd being that sort of ... I don't know what it was called then ... hippy kind of light shows, all that sort of thing. remarkably, they managed to become a part of a movement and still produce some startlingly original material. But then obviously after that first success, they struggled for a bit after — wotsisname — Syd Barrett left, and it took a while for them to come back and assert their continuing presence on both business and public."
If I recall correctly you were one of the first people to see through and question the validity of the 'Underground' movement.
"It was always a bit of a joke because at that time our relationship with the 'Underground' thing was really quite tenuous. We were ostensibly a blues group, gradually replacing the well-worn blues songs that everyone was playing with songs of our own, for better or worse. I never felt a part of that 'Underground' thing, although we were at the first open air Hyde Park event. That was Floyd, Tull and Roy Harper. Quite an odd combination of people to appear together. A blues group, the arch folky 'England's answer to Bob Dylan on ice' — he'll love that when he reads it — and the Floyd were suddenly out there with no light show. Quite an odd thing.
"I don't think I saw through it: there was nothing to see through. Except for the business elements of promotion that lurk behind the scenes of what the public see — just like punk rock now. Those who are in the best position to observe it and deal with it and not let it become unmanageable are the musicians themselves. They have to be aware to what extent they're being exploited, and perhaps inadvertently exploit other people in pushing a kind of business movement. It's not being overly cynical on my part. people should be made aware that a free concert isn't free, someone's paying for it, if only the record company putting up the costs, the local council cleaning up the place, sending out people with aerosol cans to eliminate the smell of hippies decomposing. It's never free, music isn't free: it costs blood, sweat and money."
I sometimes think that once you label something, Underground, Punk, or whatever, it becomes classified into a mould that quick money merchants can exploit and then the whole thing becomes contrived.
"One thing I find difficult to come to grips with regarding my own viewpoint at the moment is whether or not I was a 'punk' musician. I use the term very loosely. I mean if I was eighteen or nineteen years old starting a group up, singing aggressive, naive but hard-hitting, socially significant material, would I actually perceive the giant business machine that's behind it now?
"I'm sure I'm upsetting Ray Coleman, y'know, editor of the Melody Maker, because he's an ardent believer in the particular vocation of a newspaper, their right and obligation to support some new movement, but I feel a little bit sceptical because from my somewhat removed, sitting on a fence attitude, looking at it, I do tend to be cynical and say it's so contrived. There's X thousand pounds being spent on advertising, labelling, promoting what essentially is nothing new because the musical worth of it all is very derivative rock and roll and most of it American rock and roll.
"Maybe it was as bad as that when I was a part of that 'Underground' thing; maybe the money was being spent then. I suspect that it was, not as much, but certainly there was a definite feeling you were a part of something being pushed by a record company. The only saving grace being that the record companies were so young, everybody felt a part of it. Now I find it difficult to see whether or not there is a new kind of business movement or whether it's a high-powered record company, journalist, management company, newspapers — whatever — pushing a so-called new phenomenon. I fail to see that it's new. Seems to be second-hand rock and roll."
You find that things like 'punk' occur in cycles, when there's a lapse of creativity, and usually a few good bands come out of it, but unfortunately it seems they're being overshadowed by the nerds who have jumped on the proverbial bandwagon.
"Absolutely, though they find themselves somewhat stifled by the fact that they become part of a promotional campaign to represent them only as a part of a sort of pseude trend, musically."
A lot of kids who are into the raw energy unleashed by the music probably feel intimidated by the almost stringent fashion rules laid down to become 'one of the clan'.
"Which is a bit sad. You mentioned earlier about when there's a lapse of creativity there comes along an attempt to manufacture a new movement, but the punk thing isn't parallel to back then because following hard on the heels of the Beatles there was the Stones and the best of their early work. Very quickly after that there was Hendrix and The Cream and after that there was the so-called 'new wave' British groups, Jethro Tull, Yes and Genesis in sort of chronological order.
"Once a year out came a new powerful group that went to America to become internationally acceptable and the rest of it. Ever since the days of the Beatles there's been a continuing flow of creativity musically on different levels up until ... I dunno, I'd hate to suggest that nobody's any good today, but it doesn't seem that the music has continued to be innovative and original. Lots of new groups have come along and been good musicians, but nothing as different as the music of Hendrix was different in its day.
"Rock music seems to have gone as far as it can go, I mean it couldn't go any further without leaving its audience behind. I dunno, it's rather sad that it's gone back to its roots rather than continuing on perhaps a more simple level but still be original. But it just doesn't happen that way, it's gone back to the rock 'n' roll riffs where people parade an endless variety of Keith Moon drum breaks and 'scorching guitar chords'. They may do them very well, but they have been done before as well as could ever be done, which negates doing them again, in my mind. Perhaps it's me getting old."
Could the ardent press backing for the 'noo wave' be related to journalistic cynicism?
"The laudible thing about music journalism as opposed to other forms of journalism is that they want to be a part of creating something new, they want to make a contribution, they want to discover something new.
"In the early days of Jethro Tull, Nick Logan, who's now the editor of the NME, was then like a junior cub reporter when he first came to interview us, and we took him on the road and he wrote his little articles, obviously a likeable chap. One way or another he rose up through the music paper industry to a position where he has a fair amount of editorial control, although one does doubt it from time to time — sorry Nick, but it's true.
"But it's still great that there are people like Nick Logan wanting to be a part of making it in the whole music business thing. I think what the journalists are doing today with the punk rock thing has the same emotional quality, they want to make something new, even if it means inventing it basically and ignoring the fact that most of the so-called punk music is really second or third generation rock and roll, which is a bit pitiful."
FADE 'IT'S BREAKING ME UP', CUE 'SKATING AWAY (ON THE THIN ICE OF A NEW DAY)'
"I heard the Sex Pistols song on the radio the other day and what little I could make out of the lyrics, at least I heard some aggressive, nasty sounding English voices and I thought 'That's refreshing,' at least they're not listening to that mind-boggling Top 40 pseudo-American Epsom that you hear all the time on British radio. I'll give the Sex Pistols a listen, if they're singing in their own natural street voices. Just for that alone I would listen to them.
"People laugh at me because I go on about people singing in American accents or wearing blue denims, but it's such an up front thing, it's so difficult to see how conditioned actually people are to wearing denims. People laugh at me because I say that blue denims are boring, they don't say anything about your personality. They think I'm some kind of crank, but I can't help but see that everybody just drags on these mindless shades and shapes when they have all the colours in the Universe to dress up in. Clothes are like music; they're a memo of who you are or how you feel that particular day. If there's variety, then for heaven's sake use it! Don't dress up in the communistic lowest common denominator of clothes.
"It's also really worth the effort to sing in your own voice because it's the voice you use on the streets when you shout, it's that voice you use and you should damn well sing with it in a rock / punk / blues group, whatever, instead of copying the Americans. I'm tired of copying the Americans; I grew up with the musical heritage of copying the Americans, and I'm fed up with copying them.
"I've actually made it, been successful, made money, sold a lot of records, by NOT copying the Americans, by going there and doing something that they see as peculiarly quaint and English ... they probably laugh at me. I mean I'm not even English, I'm Scottish, but anything for a laugh.
"If they pay their money to see me because they think I'm quaint, then great, but I'm making them happy on my level and the same thing applies to playing in Britain, I refuse to go on and try to pretend that there's something glamorous about the West Coast of America by doing an English tour wearing buckskins and cowboy boots.
"I remember Ten Years After coming back from doing an American tour, all wearing leather clothes, cowboy hats and all this sort of business (laughter, snickering). English people don't want to see that! They don't want to be reminded of the fact that Joe Popstar has been off to America and been seduced into a pair of leather trousers because it's a fashion over there. It's like coming back from Spain with a sombrero and going to work the next morning." (snickorama)
So maybe this could explain a part of the success of the new wave, where they perpetuate a self-created identity that everyone can emulate and call their own.
"I would have thought the current crop of New Wave acts are very much anti stage clothes and showbusiness in their approach, which is very good. Probably the last group that went out and bought a super-powered P.A. system and clothes specially made and was £100,000 in debt before playing their first gig was Queen. I'm only guessing when I say that figure, but I would assume so because they weren't there and suddenly they were as far as I was aware. They were suddenly a very professional group with good equipment and a show.
"It would seem the trend today is not to have super-flash equipment, to make do with dirty old amps and to make do with whatever clothes you have on, although obviously a little more care is taken; the carefully placed tears on the T-shirt, it's still nonetheless an attempt to defy the attitude of mind where you HAVE to be specially dressed and specially prepared to go on stage.
"And it works if you're working on that level of playing clubs, but as soon as you're sitting in 1st Class and being picked up in limos to do a gig to a few thousand people then it seems to be a little two-faced, a little bit hypocritical to pretend to suffer in your T-shirts and 1½ size baseball boots. There's a point where you have to go along with the lifestyle you've created for yourself and you have to start to move with it. I mean, I have clean underwear every day, instead of only once a week!"
But what if the bands maintain their aggression?
"I think the aggressiveness is probably overstated. It's all very well for a Sex Pistol to be aggressive for 45 minute sets; supposing you become very popular and a lot of people want to come and see you, you're Johnny Rotten and you jump on stage at Madison Square Gardens and try to be aggressive for two hours, non-stop ... you would water down your physical aggression, or you're got to be in better shape than I am. It can't be non-stop nastiness all the time, because life isn't like that. I mean, goodness me, even Johnny Rotten loves his mum! I'm sure great moments of naive tenderness sweep over Johnny Rotten as he plucks a Kleenex from the box and mops a shedded tear; even Johnny Rottens have moments of tenderness and they ought to sing about these too."
EPILOGUE — ALIVE AND WELL AND LIVING IN ...
A lucid, shrewd character, eh? And we're only skimming the surface. Next year Tull will be celebrating their tenth anniversary, but it won't be nostalgia / necrophilia, more A NEW DAY YESTERDAY. Anyway, I'll let the man close the proceedings with three quotes. Pick one or pick 'em all.
"I would never have been a pop star if it had not been for Cliff Richard.
"Someone described our set as 'lavatory humour', which delighted me, because that's exactly what it is, schoolboy lavatory humour, and when you outgrow that then it's time to draw your pension.
"I mean, I could have been an estate agent ... maybe there's still time."