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26 September 1970
IAN ANDERSON: TULLING IT LIKE IT IS
"They say I don't stand on one leg as much as I used to."
Ian Anderson stretched out on a sofa and gazed quizzically at the ceiling.
The flute player with Jethro Tull is an entertainer. He is also a man who hurts under attack. Calm, almost urbane, he sees nowt wrong with a little humour on stage.
Yet in the great, thriving industry of rock and roll, there is little room for jesting — at least as far as many informed commentators are concerned. For them, life is grim and earnest, and rock is but a peg on which to hang a philosophy of 'revolution' as it is known in the Americas, or 'growing-up' as it is called in Britain.
Somehow the irreverence of Tull and their apparent lack of involvement with the stern business of young American protest (pronounced prottest) has invoked criticism.
Strange, yet — at home there are still those who only remember Jethro Tull from a few appearances on Top of the Pops with their hit singles. "Mad geezer, hops about in a dressing gown, plays the flute. Daft I calls it." Thusly speak the uninformed.
The band have been largely absent from Britain this year, while they have been busy touring the States. Their stint at the Isle of Wight festival was the first time they had been seen at home in what has seemed an age. Now they are set to redress the balance with their current British tour.
It was their IOW gig that brought home just what an intensely musical and entertaining band of musicians are Ian, guitarist Martin Barre, bassist Glenn Cormack [sic], drummer Clive Bunker and pianist John Evan. Far from becoming stale or stereotyped they seem to be expanding; progressing and maturing. And there is obviously a lot more music yet to come, especially with the addition of classically-inclined John Evan, whose piano solos were a highlight of the Festival.
The band have recently gone into hiding for a holiday and a quick bout of pre-tour rehearsals. But Ian was at home on Monday, to chat at length about the future of Tull, and his attitudes to music, business and fun. He lives with his wife Jenny in a tumbledown Dutch Barn, wight miles from human habitation, somewhere in Shropshire. At least, I think that's where the coachman took me. I was blindfold at the time.
Jenny is a quiet girl, who valiantly disagrees with Ian that the Beatles should come back and perform 'She Loves You' in Cardin jackets, and prefers to listen to 'Hot Rats' when doing the housework. She provided coffee and Swiss roll during the interview and complained of feeling "like a secretary".
"I apologise for being dirty," he remarked, cautiously, proffering a cigarette. "I've been rehearsing all day."
The hair, beard and eyebrows give Ian a faintly sardonic expression, yet he is not in the least devious. He talks in long, flowing sentences, which he excuses as "rambling". But he constructs his conversation rather like some of his more melodic flute passages.
"People have the idea of us being extremely affluent, yet we have been trying to save some money since we started. The last American tour was the first one that made a profit."
Are they millionaires?
"Wow. If you analyse our income it gets distributed into all kinds of expenses, income tax and management percentages. So £10,000 for an appearance in the States is not excessive. We charge fair prices," he maintained.
"We're almost excited about doing this tour of England. It's a year since we played here, apart from the Isle of Wight. It'll be great touring. Some of the Town Halls have really great crumby dressing rooms, which seem so relaxing after playing in America where there is so much anxiety and neurosis. You can't really enjoy yourself there because it is all so tense. When I said the Isle of Wight was like the Marquee, that was not a joke. I was so pleased to find such an easy-going crowd.
"We had been worried when we saw the news on the telly. We thought it would be all local white panther extremists screaming and bonkers."
Does Ian feel audiences are becoming the 'Rebels' and groups were becoming the Establishment?
"In America it does seem to be getting like that. Somebody accused me of becoming a typical Mid-West American full of crew-cut national pride. I can see why they say that, I suppose because what I say on stage doesn't involve political or social issues of our time, that makes me some kind of old-fashioned comedian. But I think that comes as a relief to the audience. One thing I'd love to do is a tour with Frankie Howerd. For 90 per cent of the people who come to see us it's a relief we can make them forget all the political hassles, and police who go to festivals just busting people as fast as they can. At one place we saw the police just grabbing kids — any kids — who did not appear to have committed any offence, and they were just smashing them over the head.
"They were just taking it out on whoever was nearest. If I can, I go on and try to make the audience forget their anxiety and problems. New York you can forget. That's gone too far.
"If you are a first generation hippie, you will have probably got over it all by now, but if the open air pop festival is your first gig in blanket and warpaint, of course you will take it all seriously. It takes guts to sit out there for days on end. I couldn't do it — no matter who was playing. I really wouldn't be that interested. In ten years time they will look back and laugh at what they used to be like. And I shall look back and laugh at myself leaping about on stage. But I know why I do it now — for the fun and for a living. It's still a damn sight better than doing anything else!"
Would Ian ever like to expand on his flair for comedy outside of the group?
"No — I couldn't. I used to pretend that I didn't have any patter. But you always know there is a line that got a laugh last night and might again tonight.
"But now I DON'T have any patter, I mean, I really don't anymore. Some nights are abysmal, you wouldn't believe. I go on being really nasty and make Roger Chapman look like Cliff Richard. I don't say funny, friendly or even intelligent things at all, and people say "I used to know him when he was a really nice guy." What happens now, is when I see something funny happening on stage or in the audience, I have a verbal explosion."
Don't serious music lovers find this behaviour slightly ... shocking?
"It shouldn't appear that I'm not serious about the music. I don't smoke anything except Benson & Hedges — I don't take any drugs at all. I don't bend my mind. But if I get into a funny mood, I act stupid, I'm accustomed enough to being on stage, and I still try to get real communication. I take the music much more seriously than people might think. I'm not a virtuoso, but I can play a little and be able to go on stage feeling lousy and come off feeling great.
"It's more important to me to go and play at the Plymouth Town Hall than it is to play at the Filmore East. The big gigs tend to dull your mind because of the size and the hassles, and because it means a 'plane trip and when you get there the equipment has gone wrong, and you try and pretend you ARE in Plymouth Town Hall to play to the audience."
Ian studied a piece of chocolate cake and seemed to be investigating its manufacture.
"A few people have said that we don't have any style," he said slowly and contemplatively. "They say Jethro Tull is just a flute player who stands on one leg or a guitarist who left a long time ago and used to play 'Cat Squirrel' [sic]. There is no style as such. I have felt from the beginning that it is too early to plan on playing one style. We just play pieces that don't have much relationship to each other.
"There are obviously a lot of influences, from contemporary rock groups of our time and other sources.
"If I feel excited about something Led Zeppelin play, that will come out in our music, and it's no use saying it doesn't. Or I might be moved by the tranquility of Brahms and I move into that direction. It's like being at the centre of a moveable magnetic field. That's part of the excitement. You don't know how your tastes will change. You might wake up one morning and think the song written last night was a load of crap, and feel like playing some rhythm and blues.
"When we started, none of us knew what we were playing — it was an intuitive thing. We learned our technique as we went along, and started to get a more academic approach. Now we maintain a balance between the academic and intuitive approach. We're not pretending it's art. The more and more influences at work the better. I don't think it's time for people of my age to start sifting too much and become abstract too early. Bring together all the antiquated music forms we play and in the next decade there will be one vast jumble of influences. And who knows — the Keith Emersons of today may be the Tchaikovskys of tomorrow.
"They are not YET. people argue there is a lot of artistic merit in rock music, but I doubt it. I don't know 100 per cent what I'm doing. We live in a state of delusion anyway. I have my delusions of grandeur, then think I should be down a coal mine."
Ian explained the childhood influences that saved him from going down the metaphorical pits.
"To look at it objectively — no I'm rambling again. When I was leaving school I used to study all the careers books to see what to do on growing up. I decided to take the easy way out and not grow up."
He names the Beatles and Stones as two fairly predictable influences.
"I liked all the futuristic and ethereal quality of the music of Sgt. Pepper, Traffic and Tomorrow. In my innocence, I didn't know it all had something to do with drugs."
Ian had been a semi-pro guitar strummer of little note, and played Merseybeat tunes with friends up until the formation of Tull.
He described his first contact with the flute and professionalism.
"I was pretty arty back then, and used to wear black oil-skin macs and high heel boots. I even made my own flare-bottom trousers. You can buy them now. I played around for a few years and for a long time didn't do anything.
"When Tull started I used to hang around in the background, then thought it was time to do something more constructive. I got into singing and also playing the flute which made me feel embarrassed, so I made a joke of it. I feel reasonably conversant with the flute now ... and some people say I don't stand on one leg so much.
"When I got my first flute, it was either that or a practice cello, and the flute seemed more transportable. I couldn't even take the flute to pieces at first, but was sure it would only take about ten minutes to learn to play. By the third day I could play 'Green Onions'."
Ian is entirely self-taught on flute. If he is criticised for sounding like Roland Kirk at times — then that can't be bad.
"I used to envy the virile, masculine and sensual properties of the guitar players and tried to play flute with the same direct and vigorous style. But now, probably because I am more relaxed, I can play in a more delicate way.
"As for my dancing, some of it is choreography. My brother is a ballet dancer. People ask me how I stand on one leg. The music keeps me up."