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27 March 1971
THE SOUNDS TALK-IN: IAN ANDERSON
Every year the group's been together, there's been a personnel change. Each year has seen someone new in the group. Are you happy with the group at the moment?
"Well even if I wasn't I wouldn't say yes. I wouldn't say no anyway. One's never happy with anything, or at least I'm never happy with anything, I hate to feel complacent because I know when I feel complacent, it doesn't feel very good. I always like to find things wrong with any situation because it's a way of trying to make them better. But at the same time it wouldn't be true to say that I was dissatisfied with the personnel in the band; this album is better played and is a better piece of music as far as I'm concerned, as far as everybody in the band is concerned, than any of the other things we've done.
"Certainly at the moment there are no plans for changing or getting new people or sacking anybody in the band at the moment. At the moment it is quite stable. We have a good line-up in as much as we have a lot of different instruments and a lot of different kinds of music that we can play. I've always personally been very worried about getting limited as we were in the beginning by having a very set musical instrumentation. We featured all the time — electric guitar, drums, bass, voice and flute — and that was about it, except that I played a bit of mandolin on one number.
"You could only go so far that way without achieving a musical style which would affect you with limitations, so we had to add rather than change at that point and we got John Evans to play piano. And having got that far we realised we could go a little deeper in different musical directions, try different sorts of songs, different effects, different depths of involvement with different songs and that's really how this album has turned out in as much as it covers a lot of different styles that we like to think we're capable of anyway. It goes from me singing and playing acoustic guitar right through to playing with all the band, double-tracked, and playing heavy riffs, sort of rock and rolly type things, which is to me more satisfying than making a whole album in one limited style. If I wanted to do that I'd do it on my own anyway, I wouldn't mess around with a group.
"I enjoy doing what we're doing, I'd rather play the broad and different kinds of structures that we do because to me it's the only way of going on without eventually becoming bored. And boredom is something that I think a lot of groups suffer from but never admit. It's probably something that the public never sees or feels from the music because it's always disguised. I know a lot of groups are bored with what they play, they're bored with the music, and I don't want to be bored because if I ever was and I went on stage the whole thing would be a string of lies from start to finish. If I was part of a group that was playing music that they didn't enjoy that would be very wrong, to take money for doing that. I do have principles and that's one of them."
Do you ever feel that there's something that you'd like to do that you can't do within Jethro as it stands?
"There's nothing that I can't do within the group as it stands really, because I have a whole lot of songs that I've written which are just voice and guitar ones, just things that I play when I'm on my own, sitting down and taking it easy. Some of them are love songs, some of them are, you know, cynical songs, some of them are quite aggressive songs, but they're all very much in the solo performance type of vein. And I can do those — there are three of those sort of songs on this album — and they fit into the context of the album, to my mind, very well.
"But at the same time I would be lost without raving it up, which is a thing that everybody else does a little bit better than I can, probably, by virtue of the fact that they play pretty heavy instruments. Really everything I want to do I can do except that I have a lot of other songs which maybe I'll never ever record and nobody will ever hear them, but I can always play them to myself; that's really what they're for. Maybe someday I'll get around to recording them. Some of the songs would probably be hit singles because they're really so simple and so catchy, you know. Jennie walks around singing them when she hears me playing them and I think well ... people don't often walk around humming lines of the songs that we play as a group. But that's because songs tend to become a bit more tense, there's a lot more tension in songs when they're split between five people, there's a tremendous tension that's very hard to achieve with one person, it can be a very constructive thing in itself, you know, as a live performance.
"The essence of a live performance is the tension on stage to me — I have to create tension if it isn't there already. If an audience is there looking, you know, quietly stoned, or just sort of lazy, then I get mad and build up tension in that way. If we play at a gig where the audience is raving and there are policemen thumping, that kind of scene, there's tension there again which is a spur to what we do."
There's a vogue of late of solo performers — people like James Taylor. Do you think that's because people are getting tired of so much heavy rock stuff?
"I've heard that said as a kind of prediction before in the last few months but I don't really think it's so. You only have to look around at the groups who are currently really big like Black Sabbath and Deep Purple and Grand Funk Railroad, to realise very quickly that the heavy music has its very ardent followers. People maybe dig James Taylor as well, but there's an incredible desire on the part of the public for the heavy and very unsubtle forms of music. Well, Deep Purple are not unsubtle in any way, they're very good musicians, they're a very good group, but Black Sabbath I would say are unsubtle. I don't use that in a derogatory sense but they have a very blunt and personal instrument of death and torture at their hands when they play, and that is what is appealing to a lot of people. And if it entertains them then that's all well and good because some of what we do is like that and some of what we do might be ... well, it's not James Taylor by any means, 'cos I think he's a bit soft myself. In fact it's funny because I haven't heard anything out of America that I haven't felt was soft since Bob Dylan.
"I've never heard a solo performer out of America that just doesn't make me think 'Oh it's like watching Val Doonican or something.' That's really how they get to me, I don't think Americans have it as part of their make-up to be like that whereas there are a lot of very unknown solo performers in England who have incredible guts, incredible sort of ... not personality, but incredible being. They're such real people and they command such a tension when you see them. I don't think any of the American people that I've heard anyway have that, although I stand willing to be proved wrong. James Taylor is an obvious thing. I find very spineless, but it's soothing. I've got two James Taylor albums that I play a lot, but I use it to soothe me, I use it as muzak rather than music. I don't listen to it when I want to listen, I use it like I use central heating or a refrigerator. Somehow there's something not so good about that although I like it for what it has to offer me."
There's a lot of contrast in what Jethro is doing now. There are some very quiet, acoustic things, and there's also the very heavy rock things. Do you deliberately aim to get this contrast?
"Yes in some ways it's deliberate, I'm quite aware of doing it, but it's really just fulfilling the desire that I talked about not to be pigeonholed into a style. In a lot of ways we'd be a much bigger group than we are, a lot more popular as a group, if we had a very identifiable style. What we do have though, or what I have to be nearer the truth, is an image of a one-legged flute player. That's okay as far as it goes, I don't believe that people really take that seriously, so it doesn't worry me, but I think we all need to play different sorts of music. I mean Clive and Martin are both big fans of Mountain, a very heavy American group, but whereas they like to listen to it and like watching Mountain, they wouldn't like to be like that because they aren't those sort of guys. They need to play different sorts of music. We all have our favourites but it doesn't mean that we're influenced by one particular artist or one musician any more than as someone to listen to and enjoy. It doesn't reflect very much in our playing really. I mean Clive obviously likes people like Ginger Baker, but he doesn't play like that all the time. He enjoys just sitting down and playing on a high-hat or playing bongos, he gets as big a kick out of that as he does with a double drum kit and raving it up. That is smashing when it's like that."
How did your reputation as the one-legged flute player, the jester of rock, come about? Was it there right from the beginning?
"Not really, because when we first started playing at the Marquee I had taken on an image of sorts, I suppose, because we were very poor and had, well I did, very poor and shoddy clothes. I didn't have another job, I was professional when we started and was living on very little money. I used to go on stage in a grotty old overcoat and I carried my instruments on in a paper carrier bag, you know, flute, harmonica and odd bits and pieces, whistles and things. I probably appeared as a bit of a down-and-out figure, people used to think I was quite old as well, funnily enough, so I got a sort of image then, which as soon as I was aware of I promptly discarded, because it was very frightening to be thought of as being a character that I didn't want. I became a very straight bloke for a period of a few months when I just went on stage in absolutely ordinary clothes, that you can buy in Take Six and went on and played like that because I wanted to be, you know, insignificant. I didn't want to be somebody that people looked at and thought was a weirdo or something.
"I was quite content to be a professional musician and earn a living wage, but after a while it became ... when Mick left the band, I suppose, I felt very much that the attention was on me ... Mick was very much a part of the old Jethro Tull in its first year, just as much as I was. When he left it was like a considerable shift of focus, they only had me to listen to and announce numbers, talk to and look at, because Mick's replacement, Martin, was a much quieter easy-going guy who didn't push himself forward at all and really doesn't want to do that sort of thing. He just wants to play and stand at the back.
"I suppose it was born initially out of a kind of embarrassment and feeling of insecurity. I had to be something, and a side of me which must have existed before began to develop which was more extrovert and more showy or show-offy even. I felt more at home that way, you know, there is something of the showbiz in everyone who goes on stage, however serious they are. If they're Bob Dylan, if they're Donovan or if they're Manitas De Plata, that guitar player, they all have something of the showbiz spirit in them. They have to, they're on stage in front of people and you have to be a little bit larger than life for your own survival. You've got to make yourself believe that you're a little bit bigger than you really are. And you develop all sorts of ways to do it.
"My particular ways were, I suppose, partly clothing and partly looning about a bit, and above all trying to be natural and un-natural at the same time. I was trying to talk to people like you talk to one person but when a guy does that on stage he's suddenly a showbiz character.
"I mean if we're talking now, if one of us was on a stage doing it, you'd think Wow, he's really cool isn't he, you know, and if you can do that on stage, be natural and talk to people about very ordinary and personal things perhaps, you immediately assume a much larger than life size to them because you're over-real. You're more real than they are and I suppose it gets to be a part of you, a part of the way you play your music, the way you tell your jokes if you're a comedian, or how you make films if you're an actor. Whatever it is you have to be a little bit larger than life to feel natural on stage."
There seems to have been a change of image. There's less clowning on your half and the music seems to come across much stronger now.
"That's probably fair. I mean, I don't clown about, I don't clown about in terms of looning about and being silly, I don't do that as much unless I happen to feel in that kind of mood. Most of the time I enjoy playing and when I enjoy it I'm in a more manageable mood, I suppose. I don't do anything outrageous but at the same time consistently manage to be in good humour to the people who are out there and that's the best thing when it's like that. More than the extremes of surliness and annoyance one night and absolute buffoonery the next night, you know, it can be a bit too extreme. If you say that it seems a bit more, that I'm not clowning about as much, it's because I just feel a bit more relaxed probably because I feel more sure that the music's up to scratch most of the time."
You don't think that your clowning could have an adverse effect on the music?
"Yeah it could, it could have a terrible effect. If people come along expecting things to be very serious but I refuse to let it be serious for me or any of the group or anybody in the audience. I really don't believe that anything at all is lacking in some humour, you know, be it cynical humour, be it buffoonery or clever humour. There is a funny side to everything. All the songs on this album have an element of humour to them however slight or however obvious, there's always that side to the songs which I like to capitalise on. I would rather that I got people to be completely in a state of mind where they didn't expect it to be serious and then shock them into being serious by the content of a song being something serious rather than be serious right from the beginning.
"I think it's best to make them serious because of the music not because of the way you behave as a person, so I generally go on stage being quite friendly and chatty. If there is anything serious it's the song, it's not me clowning about. I wouldn't have thought that it does get in the way that much really. A lot of the clowning about when it runs to excess is because the audience don't know that an amplifier just broke down or that Clive's got to tune up his drums in a hurry, you know, and somebody's got to talk or loon about for five minutes so that it doesn't go dead. There's a certain sort of showbiz again, if you like, there's an instinctive desire to cover up for somebody else's inadequacy when something goes wrong. You get out there and take the attention."
Are you happy with that image?
"I don't want to be a tin god for anyone, I probably can't be, I probably haven't got it in me to be a Grand Funk Railroad bloke, you know. I wouldn't want to overdo the imagery any more than it exists at present. I mean it has been a bit overdone in the past because I was doing what came naturally as it seemed at the time, I was just having a laugh. I wouldn't want it to go back to how it was a year or two ago when we first went to America. Everybody thought we were really weird, everybody thought that I was a big drug freak, everybody thought I was on speed, or if it wasn't methedrin it was heroin. They thought I was really far gone and, well, that a bit unreal, and I don't want to be that sort of a bloke to anyone.
"I don't give a damn really about the mothers and the fathers thinking that's what I am, that doesn't matter, but I do care if some kid thinks I'm a real weirdo and likes me because of that. I don't want to be that. I don't want to be an image, I don't want to be muzak for the minds of, you know, adolescent tin god worshippers, but that's happily not too great a danger because the rest of the guys are totally not like that anyway and they take up much more of the stage than I do.
"I don't believe that people see me all the time and that they really think of me as being he leader of the group. I've said enough times that I'm just the guy who writes the song, I just do my bit, they do just as much as me. I don't want my image to get in the way of the music and if people say it does then I always listen to that, it affects me and maybe I cool it, a bit consciously, but I don't want to cool it to the extent that I'm being unnaturally withdrawn because that's not being natural any more. That is a bad thing from other points of view."
How do you feel about the "rock is a culture" way of looking at the music?
"No, rock's muzak, rock's muzak."
"Yeah muzak. People don't go to listen to concerts because it's culture, they don't go there to be moved by art, they go there to be entertained and they go there to be in the social company of other of their contemporaries, other people of their own age. They go there to be a bit nearer to that mystical dream of being a musician, the sort of wandering minstrel, here today, gone tomorrow sort of figure which still exists and in a lot of ways a lot of musicians are like. All musicians are like that if they travel a lot, there is something of that in them. I don't think it's culture. If the kids go there because they think it's culture well then I'll eat everyone's hat because that's unbelievable. From the point of view of some musicians they might see what they do as being culture of a sort. In other words an art form of social worth, but I think a lot of the time they're fooling themselves. I'd be happy if people listened to us because they're entertained by it, you know, because primarily that's what I seek from music.
"I tend to be a bit more analytical probably than do most people who buy records in the record shops because music and the constructing of music is what I spend a lot of my time doing so instinctively I'm a bit more analytical, I judge it in the way that you might judge art or something of real aesthetic value but in the final analysis, I'm moved by exactly the same things that would move the people who buy the records. I'm moved by a good beat and something that sort of raves or something that's sort of soothing, something which is lyrically very poignant and moving, but it doesn't have to be art. It can be very well-polished entertainment.
"I find it difficult to decide what's art in music and what is just entertainment but I'd rather stay clear of making a mistake by saying I don't believe it's art, I'd rather say it's entertainment because I think if you're listening to music and it just happens by somebody's almighty judgment that it is art then it isn't doing you any harm. But if you listen to it believing that it's art then it is doing you harm. So I play safe by saying that I consider it to be muzak of a sort, as I say a balm for the mind, and it's as good for my mind as it is for anybody else's."
Some people also see rock as a medium of social change. How do you view that?
"I think it reflects social change but it doesn't very often instigate it. I mean the attempts to instigate social change through rock music, I mean actually premeditated attempts like the MC5, have been just sort of laughed at. I think it very often happens that rock music does reflect things that have happened before and maybe reflect a social climate that is happening already or is imminent.
"There are always these trends, these sort of force-fed trends. The latest one which is, you know, hits pretty close to what I've just done on that album, in writing anyway, is God rock. I mean, Christ, who ever invented that, who ever coined that, that's not what it's all about. I mean I don't know what God Rock is but I've heard there's a spiritual group in America who sort of go along and sing their home-spun songs full of hallelujahs and Jesus saves, and they sing it as a sort of rock music then. They've got long hair and they wear tight trousers and they fool about just like everybody else but that's got damn-all to do with God, at least my God anyway, and if I'm singing about God on some of this album then it's a god that you really don't have to sing about unless you want to tell other people not to get mixed up with the other things that are going on.
"If anything this is Anti-God rock as near as I can make out, it's really something which is very much pro the concept of God and very much against the material and the social benefits to be derived from being a religious man. It doesn't acknowledge anything to do with the material trappings of religion, you know, the dress of religion, the churches of religion, the money and the gold of the Vatican. That I can see no earthly use for in this day and age. We don't need religion as a social crutch, in fact we don't need it as a crutch at all. We don't have to pray to God for our salvation, we have to acknowledge God and we have to be good and righteous people but we don't need to ask him for anything. God is a personalised concept that everybody can have if they look for it within themselves and within other people, you know. But you'll find it in me and I'll find it in you much more easily than both of us are going to find it in the Pope.
"And why just mention the Pope, it's the same in any religion. It's the same in the Church of England, it's the same in the Jewish religion. Religions have been very often more socially necessary, they have been in the past, than as a real spiritual reflection of man's need for goodness. People cling to God, you don't have to cling to God, you just have to say hello every morning when you wake up. That's a damn sight better than going to church every Sunday and saying mumble, mumble. And it's so much better than sending your children to church every Sunday to go mumble-mumble when they haven't got a clue to what it's all about.
"I was in a synagogue the other week and I saw these children talking in Hebrew which they didn't understand, they were paroting, and you know they weren't thinking about God. And I wasn't thinking about God when I went to church when I was little, you know. That's hypocrisy, that's immoral, and if that immorality is to be found in the churches then there is something wrong with the churches and there's something wrong with people who allow themselves to be brainwashed into accepting that and worst of all bringing up their children ... by some, you know, divine mad right of birth they become whatever it is, Jews or Christians or whatever. How insane can you be, because there's no longer the social necessity for Jews to cling together, there might be in Israel and there might be a necessity for rich businessmen here to give money to Israel, but there isn't the necessity in England, in London, for Jews to be the way a lot of them are. A lot of young people are going against this completely with all religions, with all faiths, with all creeds of every sort. This kind of discrimination — it's as bad as apartheid, it's exactly the same sort of thing, it exists in the same way and for the same reasons, you know, and I condemn it, I hope everybody else will too."
Group's lives are generally fairly short. Three, four, five, maybe six years, if you're really good or lucky. Do you ever think in terms of what you'll be doing in two, three or four years' time?
"I didn't use to. When I first started all I wanted to do was to be a musician and earn a living wage and play music. It was preferable at the time to going back to college or being a teacher ... I suppose I would have been a teacher by the time I'd gone through college ... but I didn't, I stopped long before that and I'm not in any way qualified to do any of those things, although I could have gone back up, until recently when I got a little bit too old and they changed the entrance qualifications for different academic courses. I no longer possess the qualifications to go back to college, they've changed now, but it's all to the good, there are too many art teachers anyway.
"I used to think it would be good to be a producer or an arranger, somehow involved in making music without going on a stage. That was the general feeling, I thought I can't go on stage for ever. I'll have to do something, but the longer I've gone on at it the more I've felt that it should be possible to go on going on stage, you know, as long as you can walk and talk and think, hopefully sing and play something, then you should be able to impart to people something of value to them."
But you couldn't be a 50-year-old one-legged flute player?
"No but I might make it up to the age of 40. But you're right, when I'm 50 I'll have to start doing it a different way. I might start doing it a different way next year, or it might be when I'm 50, I don't know how long things will go on before the inevitability of change.
"The change could happen at any time but I think I'd like to go on, you know, getting through to people. I mean it's something where you start getting a pride in seeing people smile. That sounds incredibly soft but that's really what it's all about. I think that's what it is all about when you see people smile. Not laugh and not fall off their chairs and not jump up and idiot dance, but when you see people smile you think — I'm glad I came tonight. I'm glad I did that. I won't make a lot of money, I'm going to pay my taxes actually, I'm not going to fiddle it, because I think fundamentally there's a perfectly good reason for doing it. I can pay a lot of taxes, I can put a lot of money into schools, take it out of America and bring it here, build up our economy, because America is where we make most of the cash.
"I'm sufficiently sort of big-headed enough to think that I would rather have all the money and not pay the tax and then in 20 years' time say I've got so many hundreds of thousand pounds from record royalties and things, which I can give to you, and I can give to you, and to you, because I think you can do the best with it; but maybe that's not right, maybe I couldn't decide, maybe the government can decide better than me; that's what they're there for, so let them decide how to spend it. It's irksome, obviously, that they spend it on armaments, on the machines of war, but if half of it goes towards doing some social good then that's not too bad."