1967-68 | 1969 | 1970 | 1971 | 1972 | 1973 | 1974 | 1975 | 1976 | 1977 | 1978 | 1979 | 1980-81 | 1982-84 | 1987-89 | 1990-94 | 1995-98 | 1999-2001 | Home
12 July 1969
COULD HIT AFFECT JETHRO TULL'S 'UNDERGROUND' STATUS
There was a time when Jethro Tull were considered so underground that you could not see them, but times have changed and now the group lurk dangerously near the top of the charts with their highly commercial recording of 'Living In The Past'. 'Dangerously' because in the strange stark land of hippiedom and the 'Restless Set' it is considered that popular opinion is never the criterion of good taste and a hit single is likened unto a wart upon your ethnic image!
Up until their hit single Jethro Tull have confined themselves within the bounds of good taste by making appearances in the album charts — where the likes of Des O'Connor fear to tread although it might be as well to remember that 'South Pacific' and 'The Sound of Music' are this country's biggest album sellers — and an almost accidental appearance in the lower regions of the singles charts with 'Song For Jeffrey', but will Tullites stand for a Top tenner?
"I have to be very careful not to say the wrong things to the right people,"
said Ian mysteriously when I saw him shortly before he disappeared with all hands into darkest America.
"Up until the hit single the right people have been those with the long hair, sandals, and an art book under their arm. They are the people who are understandably likely to be a little upset on seeing us in the charts. It happened to Peter Green when they found him in the charts and thought he had gone commercial and deserted the fold.
"Well of course he had gone commercial and we've gone commercial but there has always been that aspect in the music we play. We've always been aware that we could make commercial records but I don't see it as a bad thing. You can make a good commercial record and one which does not compromise the musical integrity of the group — if you have any — which I believe we do."
Ian is far from excusing himself for the birth of his bastard hit by the token which some groups adopt of maintaining that the number was recorded from an album and simply lifted released as a single by the record company. Not so 'Living In The Past', which Ian recalls was a cold and deliberate attack upon the best sellers.
"It was decided we would make a bid for chart fame or whatever," said Ian. "So I sat down in a hotel bedroom in America and wrote an A-side which I thought would make the Top Ten with the right exposure and everything has worked out to plan."
The remarkable thing about Ian — the thing which is a constant source of amazement and delight to his critics and raconteurs alike — is his objectiveness and business-like demeanour. He appears like some berserk hedge on stage with eyes popping in all directions, but the on-stage freak show is an entirely different thing from his attitude off set. Listen to his general assessment of the American 'Underground' scene.
"The British group scene is a great deal more healthy than America where almost any group earning £20 a night can make a lamentable album and is lapped up by the critics and public alike as being the new underground thing. For the most part they are repetitive, boring, and have been done years ago by people who did it better.
"Unfortunately it is beginning to happen here too where 'underground' labels are bursting forth with totally unknown and unexperienced groups who play for £10 a night in blues clubs and they are making reasonably good albums by last year's standards — but not by this year's standards. It's no good when groups like Family and the Nice who have been around longer are doing things so much better. The spill-over from these groups are saturating the American market with a lot of inferior products but eventually they are going to lose out."
Ian makes the point that his group make a very definitive point over the separate jobs of 'live appearances', 'albums' and 'singles'.
"They are all very separate means of getting over to the public," said Ian. "And they don't overlap apart from numbers which you can play live on stage and also put on an album and even then you have to change sounds and do separate arrangements for recording purposes."
"A gig is not simply aural but is allied to a very visual presentation, at least for us. I write numbers which are strictly for presentation on stage but might be translated into a recording style later, and also things specifically for an album. Singles are another completely different concept."
But is the commercial success of their hit single changing the approach of the group now?
"No, because we are still working on songs that we put together many months ago and other from ideas we had long ago and now they've gelled into a song. As we become better known we get more freedom and not less. People are prepared to accept us on a wider range of music."
If Ian ever catered for the 'Restless Set' it would appear to have been more by accident than design, and the wider the appeal of his music becomes the happier are he and his group who are made up of the Setless Rest!
Many thanks to Glenn Cornick for this article