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26 January 1974
AND SO A BAD DREAM ENDS
Jethro Tull Part II
It's been around 2½ years since Ian Anderson last spoke to the press. Since then, he's remained silent through a pretty unanimous printed dislike of A Passion Play. He's just made a few replies in a press conference in Montreaux, Switzerland. Duty done, he's flopped comfortably in the restaurant adjacent to the press conference room.
Ian Anderson is leaning way back in his chair and smiling a very broad smile. A glance out of the window reveals Lake Geneva, sitting there secure in its loveliness like a great, lazy blue blancmange, bordered with tennis courts, wispy trees and swans on the near side, and with a full range of snow-capped postcard mountains on the other.
The sun has even made a special appearance to stage-light the Jethro ensemble for their photo session by the lake and the press conference has gone well — an ice-breaker of the first order. I did hear one or two murmurs that one of the ideas of the thing was to get all the Jethros into the act, but that's hard to do because Ian is after all the writer / singer / front man / spokesman / you name it. So the questions go to Ian, and the answers come back very fully and very carefully worded. And the image that Ian IS Jethro Tull surrounded by old friends nodding agreement to the every whim continues, without being proved or disproved.
Ian, though, sees things quite in the reverse way from those who feel that the band has become more and more dominated by one man, and says that in fact Tull is much more of a hand now than it's ever been, and that touring in the last two years has become much more exciting because the personalities have become closer and because the music has been inspired more by collective energy.
At any rate, Ian seems in no way to be a dominant and instructive sort of person. When he's called on to be the spokesman, he'll do the job well, but when that's finished, at moments like this, he's happy to sit back and look out at the world with that confident, slightly sly smile, as if he's just remembered a good joke that wouldn't be so funny if he told you about it. More an observer than a participator. With his new trimmed spade-shaped beard, he looks less like a freaked-out gentleman of the road, and more like The President of Hell's Angels Bank, Swiss Division.
At the moment, Ian's leaning back with a Benson and Hedges, and letting his manager do the talking. The subject is the old and trusty one of band press relations. Terry Ellis has been Jethro's manager since the early days, and seems far more impassioned on the subject than Ian. He goes as far as to call us a bunch of hypocrites, say that we all take ourselves too seriously without realising how important we are, and add that we don't identify enough with the people we're writing for.
The latter is an interesting point — we're all still fans at heart, but how do you NOT change your outlook when instead of saving up and looking forward to buying albums and going to concerts, you're being flooded with review albums and invitations? "I actually believe that the music papers are not there to criticise", says Terry. Well, he's entitled to his opinion, but I think the readers would be falling asleep by page three if everything was restricted to praise and facts.
Ian is a good deal less vehement about the whole situation. He admits having been hurt by the criticism — as which of us wouldn't have been — but adds that the letters he's received about A Passion Play have been almost 100 per cent in favour.
"We've had a lot of letters saying, 'Please Tull don't mind the critics 'cause we're really into your music, and we know exactly what you mean, man.'
"Of course," he adds with a laugh, "they don't, but the effort has been made to write a letter, and that, if you like, is my reward in the final analysis. It's a successful album if people write to you and say that."
What he seems to object to most is that the album, which was recorded as a whole, was also reviewed as a whole, rather than writers going into specifics on a smaller scale. He still sounds surprised when he recalls some of the Press comment, as if it was a bad dream he'd had a few months ago, and had been trying to forget.
"I mean, I hate to sound defensive, but the Passion Play music was really good. The arrangements were good, it was really well laid out stuff, and it's not all off pat. It's the little surprises. The 11/8 isn't bravado. It's because I feel 11/8 when I play, that's why I soloed in it, and that was something new because I'd never improvised in 11/8 before. Great feeling when you do it — it's like getting into top gear that you never knew you had.
"There was a resentment that it wasn't clear, because we've had the re-emergence of simplified musical styles. Most of it is very well-tried and used stock progressions and sequences."
The next two Tull albums based around the 'War Child' film ARE likely to be simpler, but NOT Ian hastens to add because us Sixth Form Press bullies have been throwing stink bombs. The songs have to be constructed in more orthodox lengths because the music is built around the film, you see.
"On the new album, there are some really good top lines, and some really good second and third lines," says Ian, waxing enthusiastic amid the clatter of Swiss coffee cups, "and no chords at all. What one or two people — like roadies and engineers — have said, is that as a result, the music does sound fairly straightforward and simple."
So much so in fact, that there seems a strong chance of a single coming off, or perhaps preceding the album, and it's been a long time since we've had one of those — I think the last 45 by Tull was 'Life's A Long Song', and that was virtually a mini-LP with five tracks anyway.
"Yes, a couple of the things we've done might well be right for a single. Actually, the music sounds fairly simple, but it's probably more intricate. It probably seems simpler, because there'll be repetition. I mean repetition closer together — on Passion Play, there were repetitions of various themes, but in totally different tempos, so that it wasn't so obvious how the repetition occurred. There was a lot of it, but it was growing, which is why playing it on stage was such a joy, because you'd find yourself playing a phrase, and you'd think 'Last time I played this phrase, I was doing that and this time I'm doing this,' and this is the whole other side of it, another side to a coin which has many faces. Every night, it's different. Passion Play was 80 per cent quite structured, and yet it was fresh every night."
Talking about his music still brings Ian to life and transforms him from the wise old guy leaning back in his seat to a far more involved and younger one being careful to get his points across. Ian's made his money, and doesn't need to care any more, but it's very evident that he does, and in a way, the reaction to criticism can be seen as a healthy sign for the future of the band. There's a lot of hope too that working with other people on a film might make Tull a little less insular in their approach.
"Essentially, the story is about a child. It's a sort of 'Alice In Wonderland' adventure that continues after she dies, given the assumption of Heaven and Hell and the power structure between those two alternatives. Especially, it's about the way this girl copes with what she sees and hears and gets involved in. But it also relates to present day life. The group album is more about characters and general ideas, whereas the movie album is more specific."
Did Ian and the band have any previous acting experience?
"Oh," he says with a laugh, "only the odd press conference. I'm not an actor. It's a matter of behaving, according to a plan. But it's more the character associated with the stage performance than myself. Performing in front of a camera is still, performing in front of something, and it's a completely different thing from a recording session, which is me and the group and engineers and that's it. It'll be a performance, it won't be like serious dramatic acting, it'll be stylistic. The heavy dramatic stuff will be left to professionals, in the same way as the music will be done by professional musicians."
The casting has mostly been done, but contracts are yet to be signed, so the names are being withheld for the moment.
Does it have to do with a traditional Anderson punching-bag, society and its effect on children?
"It happens to all of us absolutely, but in a sense, there's a naive approach to life which is much more real than the sort of learned, based-on-experience behaviour that we all adopt."
So finally, Jethro have surfaced, at least for the Press. It could still be a long time before they're actually seen on a stage, as most of this year will probably be taken up with putting the 'War Child' together. But there's a slight feeling of restlessness apparent among Ian and his fellow Tulls, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if they have a few brainstorms and surprise us all again in '74. After about five years of solid touring, a break in the usual routine could be just the right catalyst.
Thanks to Mike Wain for this article.