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1 September 1973
YOU'VE GOT THE WHOLE DARN THING ALL WRONG
Jethro Tull v. The Press — SOUNDS' Rob Mackie for the defence
So Jethro Tull have decided to give up performing, for the time being at least, and have evidently decided too to lump the full blame for their retirement on the world's press. The band's manager, Terry Ellis, said in last week's statement that the group considered A Passion Play to be the best thing they had yet done, and added that "the abuse heaped upon the show by the critics has been bitterly disappointing to the group," who have therefore found it "increasingly difficult to go on stage without worrying whether the audience are enjoying what they are playing."
Anderson's comment on the situation was short, brief and concise: he said nothing.
Jethro's large contingent of remaining supporters, driven ever more fanatical by their opposition to the press in their unanimous rejection of the latest Anderson work (and to old Jethro fans who feel rather as if they had had a flute rammed up the arse by their erstwhile heroes' treatment in the last couple of years) will no doubt pick up pens and write letters with a directness that Anderson's writing seems to have lost. "Thanks to you so-called experts," they will cry, "Britain has just lost its most brilliant group. Hope you're satisfied."
Sadly, the whole thing threatens to make the band, the press and the fans that much further apart. The rift has been growing since Anderson and his fellow Tulls stopped talking to the press round about mid-1971, shortly after the release of the highly-acclaimed and vastly successful Aqualung.
How does it feel to be one of the fellow conspirators, hiding a bloodied dagger behind a dirty toga on the Ides of March?
In the first place, do Jethro Tull have the right to ignore the press stoically for two years, then turn round and blame them as the cause of the band being forced off the road? At a time when the band are taking unprecedented sums of money playing to vast audiences who want to see the band?
The press is there as one of the means for a group to communicate with their public. Most bands have acclaim at some points, a few slams at others. They sensibly learn not to take things too much to heart, particularly if the public still listens and still wants to know. In the second, wouldn't Anderson prefer a lengthy put-down to being ignored? Is there such a thing as bad publicity? More relevantly, if you ignore a waiter and never give him a tip, have you the right to expect permanent service with a smile?
Maybe he thinks it's a press revenge that has brought a near 100 per cent slagging off for A Passion Play here and in the States. I can only say that I don't think it's true, but on the other hand, there is a certain difference in going to see a baffling and disappointing show put on by someone you know who has taken a little time to try and explain it beforehand. Personalities and human contact make a difference in any sphere of activities — would the football writers jump quite so gleefully on Alf Ramsay's blunt quotes and his team's performances if he didn't treat journalists as unnecessary pests?
O.K., if the group doesn't want to talk to press men, that's their affair. Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley and Carole King don't go around shouting their mouths off to people with tape recorders and notebooks either. But then, you don't hear any of them blaming the press for cancelling concert tours or whatever, do you? If the group are going to take their press notices so seriously, why aren't they worthy of discussion? Their attitude suggests arrogance which has turned to petulance now that they're no longer the press' darlings. Sure, the press can be a nuisance, and nobody wants to have to explain their every move when they are busy doing other things. Sometimes, the music speaks for itself, but this time, it evidently doesn't — I know a few people who like A Passion Play, but no one who pretends to understand the intent behind it.
It isn't that Anderson is poor at putting his points across in conversation — in earlier days, he always proved thoughtful and interesting. The only reason I can find for the decision is an apparent desire to mystify.
"I don't think music should be easy to listen to," he was quoted as saying in 1971.
"I think music of all kinds should require an effort for everyone involved."
Don't tell me you thought music was about bopping, dancing or having fun? Seems it's a serious business now. That's just what seems to have gone wrong with Jethro. It's just about five years ago since they made their first really big impact at the Sunbury Festival in the summer of '68.
After a beginner's album of considerable promise, they emerged as a devastatingly original, inventive band, funny and serious and outrageous. And it was beautifully encapsulated on Stand Up, which came out in 1969. With Cocker's 'With A Little Help From My Friends', the Beatles' 'Abbey Road', the Stones' 'Let It Bleed', Mayall's 'The Turning Point', Beck's 'Cosa Nostra Beck-Ola' and Fairport's 'Liege and Lief', it was a fine year for albums by British bands, but I'm not at all sure I wouldn't give the Tull album pride of place. They were that good, and unique to boot.
Benefit followed, refining and hardening the music, and then the band sensibly chose to try a concept album with Aqualung, taking two related subjects on either side of the record, and doing them justice with a tight, concise dramatic treatment. Where do you go from there? Tull seem to have chosen the path of Hollywood in its declining years — bigger and bigger epic productions, whose meaning has become less and less clear, maybe less important.
The band provides a neat, total contrast with Slade. Now if ever a band deserved to poke two fingers at the press when they became successful it was Slade, who made it very much in spite of the writers. Instead of which, they remain available whenever it's humanly possible, taking the ups and downs as a matter of course. Jethro Tull had a good deal of help from the press in the earlier days and it was richly deserved. But right now, when Slade get criticised for sticking rigidly to the straight and narrow, and Tull are knocked for wandering into strange incomprehensible byways, who's that sulking in the corner with a hurt expression and tightly pursed lips?
Is there no way to stop the train slowing down, or has Charlie stolen the handle? To Ian (and anyone else who cares), I'd just like to say: "You got the whole darn thing all wrong."