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19 January 1974
HEAVEN, HELL AND JETHRO TULL
Rob Mackie reports as Jethro break their silence in Montreaux
It's a Press conference with a difference.
It is a Very Big Deal even as Press conferences go. A good many journalists in Europe have been building up a store of questions to ask Jethro Tull for quite some time; and a good many rock photographers would have to struggle to find a more valuable subject to get in the viewfinder. Montreaux and Jethro Tull — for it is their press conference — make an irresistible combination, and there's a general air of slightly nervous expectation, as if people are half-expecting Ian and Co. to make their appearance strolling upon the lake.
There is a reason, other than the view, why the event is in Montreux. In 1971, Tull did a benefit concert in Zurich. The concert was a 13,000 sellout, and raised 50,000 francs — around £6,500. Today the cheque is being presented to Montreux's Mayor elect, to provide a special room, equipped with facilities for all kinds of music, within Montreux's youth centre.
There's a further tie-in between the group and the city, for it was here that A Passion Play was evolved, during six months of rehearsals in an old brick factory. It seems that the group remained incognito without much difficulty — and indeed, sitting in a discotheque later in the day with Ian Anderson and John Evan, there's no glint of recognition, even when the D.J. plays records by 'Jaytro Terl'. The band feels pretty much at home here, although Martin Barre admits that it's all a little too pretty, and after a while you begin to wish for some good old English grime again.
The event even makes a short snippet on the TV news that night. The band is asked in French for their idea of what culture is. Ian looks slightly taken aback, but gives a sensible answer in English. John Evan joyously upstages him by emerging from the midst of the Tulls, looking uncharacteristically splendid in his Rod Stewart striped suit. Leaning confidentially towards the camera, removing his Meerschaum from his mouth, and with only the slightest trace of Blackpool in his cultured tones, he pronounces meaningfully, "Le culture, c'est la vie". It looked pretty funny in the middle of a news broadcast.
After the TV guys and photographers have had their go, and after the official cheque-handing over ceremony ("From the group to you and the young people of Montreux. Don't spend it all at once"), it's down to the press conference proper: a pleasant surprise for those of us who had been getting used to the idea that the Tull entourage wouldn't be terribly downhearted if they never saw any of us lot again. Ian's last round of press interviews occurred about 2½ years ago.
The conference was remarkably orderly and worthwhile, and provided an opportunity at last to hear Ian's views on the controversies surrounding A Passion Play and its reception by the Press, as well as the band's future plans. Apart from being slightly baffled by one or two of the questions from the non-British section of the gathering — Was his role in the band the same as Pete Townshend's in The Who? Was his new look specially for the film? — Ian is expansive, lucid, relaxed and in very good humour.
Since we're here (Jethro's manager explains), we thought it would be a good idea to help clear up some confusion surrounding the group since they stopped doing concerts, including that some people thought that they'd maybe split up. So we thought this would be a good opportunity to demonstrate certainly that they haven't.
Some extracts from the gang bang:
Apart from the film, what are your main projects? Will you be doing concerts?
We are at this moment making two albums, one being the soundtrack. As far as concerts go. the press statement we released a while ago indicated that we had retired from concerts for an indefinite period of lime, which suggests that we have no definite commitments, but I'm sure that we will be once we're finished with the other projects. We've planned for at least two years to look out for a movie story, where we could use some way of getting into the subtleties that get lost playing in great big halls. You must remember that you gentleman of the press tend sometimes anyway to have places quite close to the stage, but to most of the kids, we look this big, in the distance on a stage. We want to show the world what Martin really looks like, and what better way to do it than in a movie. The only alternative is television and I'm sure you're all aware of the difficulty of remaining in control of what happens in terms of those TV shows.
Who's directing the film, and who did the script?
The script will be prepared from a story ... what we call our synopsis which I wrote. We have not yet settled on a director. We're still negotiating. It's mainly an artistic negotiation. There are so many directors who are highly praised and well thought of, but I'm not a movie-going person, and we'll have to think very carefully about the right person for the film.
Will there be a lot of actors apart from yourselves?
Apart from us, there will be two main actors, who will play the parts of God and The Devil. It's an allegorical-based fantasy of a possible Heaven and Hell situation.
Why do you think the English press was so aggressive towards your record?
I've really no idea. There are a lot of reasons for people writing what they write. Hopefully, it's based simply on taste and nothing else: I don't know, you would have to ask people. The thing that annoyed me really was that people dismissed it when it was obviously a record you had to listen to many times. It took a long time to write and a long time to make, and it was a very fine performance to us, on stage, at its best. It just seems sad that somebody should dismiss it in one sentence by saying "this is clearly bad music", as one English critic wrote, because it seems a little unreasonable.
I think every group comes in for its share of knocking, which you just have to put up with. Sometimes it's warranted. If we actually made a bad album, I would welcome people saying "This is terrible, pull your socks up. get your finger out and make a good album." But the last album was the best music and probably the most commercial album, except that we have to account for different taste. It was not an album that was easy to get into first time around.
Will the next album be an extended piece of music?
No. Both the group album and the soundtrack album deal with situations relevant to a film, and it would be unreasonable in a film to make it l½ hours of continuous music. The film is a musical in the almost Hollywood sense of the word. It's almost corny. The music and the lyrics of the music take the place of dialogue. As well as featuring music, it also features classical ballet sequences, acting, and people. Characters.
How do the soundtrack and non-soundtrack albums relate to each other?
The group album is a particular way of seeing and discussing the feelings that are in the movie in terms of group playing and conventional song lengths. They are both called 'War Child'. The soundtrack album is largely orchestral, mostly vocal with all the members of the group as soloists within the orchestra framework. It's still very much a 'group album', but involving other people.
Do you also think these records will need a lot of plays to be understood?
Some of the pieces on them will, yes. But I think by virtue of the fact that they're shorter pieces of music, they will seem easier, because you can be selective about what you play. The music isn't any simpler to my mind, but it might seem simpler because of repetition of verses and choruses and things.
Do you think music should ideally take time to understand?
I think it ought to require the same effort from the listener as the person who plays it. That is a very broad statement, since it allows for people who play funky music, and just stand there and get on, to listen in the same sort of way, reciprocate on the same sort of level. If the music's on a more structured level, and the lyrics have more depth, then that obviously is harder to listen to in a superficial way.
Doesn't it require a little explanation beforehand as well?
In some cases it's probably very good to explain it beforehand. I rather like the idea of offering people the alternatives to see, to read into things what they will. It's all very easy to truck out a resume of what the music is and what it means, but since people listen in so many different ways and so many different environments and such different states of consciousness or whatever, they will, whatever you say, make their own interpretation of the music. I'd rather say "Right, we've done our bit, there you are," and from there on in, it's a matter of taste how much you're prepared to give.
Will you play the soundtrack on stage?
I don't think we'll play the soundtrack, we will play the associated material from the group album on stage, and possibly group versions of some of the songs. It won't be a completely new thing, we'll also play, as we always have done, half new material and half old favourites, although they're mostly our old favourites, not necessarily the audiences.
Did you consider the press criticism as actual hostility?
There were a couple of occasions where it did appear as if it were a little bit hostile. I didn't read it very thoroughly, and I think in the press statement, we were referring simply to the English papers. What annoyed me was the lack of ... well, people seemed to object to the fact that they actually had to sit down and listen more than once, and qualify the statements of their criticism. They seemed unwilling to do that to a large extent, they would rather dismiss it in a simple 'subject, verb, object' sentence, which I do find unfair.
It certainly doesn't reward me in any way for months of work. I think it's not a very constructive way of criticism. Criticism ought to be first of all to the artist. Unfortunately, the way things are constructed, criticism tends to be aimed at the audience rather than the artist, and unfortunately seems to have an effect on what a possible audience might believe, might buy, and might come and see, because they have no other source.
Next week: a chat with Ian
Thanks to Mike Wain for this article.