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NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS
11 July 1970
HAS JETHRO'S PATH BEEN SELF-DESTRUCTIVE?
If as predicted they tour here in October, it will be a YEAR since their last gig in Britain
Jethro Tull are in the strange position of not knowing how their current popularity stands. In person attendance figures and record sales are the usual pointers but in Jethro's case the former is invalid and the latter wide open to argument.
If they take the earliest possible option to play here, and hints dropped suggest that they will, a whole year will have passed since the band played British concerts of any description. With rock allegiances as fickle as always and new idols arriving all the time, a year is a very long time. Then there's the record side and, although the group admits that their last album didn't do as well as the No.1 seller Stand Up, the conclusions to be drawn from that are debatable. And since they've stopped issuing singles, further evidence on that count stops there.
In my opinion, Jethro Tull have come close to doing themselves irrevocable damage by pursuing a policy that has neglected appearances in Britain for so long and I put it to organist and pianist John Evan that sales for Benefit, which I thought their best album to date, backed up this view.
"I'm not going to pretend," John broke in "that we're not disappointed about the album but all I can say is that when the next one is released we will be playing here. I'll tell you whether you're right then."
I spoke to John at the Chrysalis offices on Thursday last week, the day before Jethro were due to return to the States to complete the second half of a lengthy summer tour. They'd been back in England three weeks, during which Ian Anderson had gone down with mysterious muscular pains in his chest, causing doubts as to whether they'd make the trip.
"Are we going tomorrow?" JT manager Terry Ellis was being asked by Glenn Cornick, who'd returned worse for wear from a drinks session with the infamous Stan Webb/ John 'Bonzo' Bonham team. "Well, get your underwear," replied Ellis, setting a peculiar new code of certainty. "It's as definite as 'Get your underwear'."
The general Chrysalis scene was one of easy-going chaos. When told that Ian was ill, I'd replied that I would like to speak to Martin Barre but the nearest thing I could find to a Tull at Chrysalis when I arrived was Glenn's San Franciscan wife Judy. Nevertheless, a pleasant half-hour was spent chatting to the charming Judy before all hell broke loose at the door with shouting, cursing voices recognisable as those of Messrs Cornick, Webb and Bonham plus Chrysalis publicist Bill Harry.
When after 20 minutes the commotion died away, a harrassed Bill Harry burst into the room complaining that the Webb-Bonham syndrome had been beating him up on the floor, had taken his belongings and torn a door off its hinges.
In Terry Ellis's office, where a distant-looking John Evan was sat behind a desk, the scene was a little more controlled, although I was told that Martin Barre had gone wandering off somewhere not knowing about our interview, but saying he didn't want to do any more anyway, while John Evan volunteered that he'd had enough of interviews as well.
"I keep letting out secrets," bemoaned John "and then getting told that I shouldn't have."
In Martin's absence, John was pressed into service and we moved to the office recently deposed of its door to find that it had only one seat as well.
"You have it," said John benevolently. "I'd rather walk about anyway and vent my feelings."
His feelings, it transpired, were largely against press misinterpretation and
"headline picking ... when you have a guy who puts down one word every ten minutes and goes back and writes his own story around it."
END OF ERA
Leading on from that, John said he felt that Benefit represented the end of an era for Jethro Tull.
"It was a culmination of ideas and influences from way back that round off that stage of Ian Anderson, writing, playing and arranging, and the group's playing too. Now we want to go off in a new direction. I don't think any of us realised how different the next album will be until we put some of the tracks down."
They've actually cut three tracks, although before Ian went sick they had hoped for five or six.
"One is a spontaneous track ['Just Trying To Be'] that took just 20 minutes to record and was done in one take. It's just Ian and I, with me playing celeste. There's another called 'My God!' which is the only one we do on stage not recorded yet."
"To me it's the best thing we do on stage," offered Glenn, summoning coherence.
"It's got a surprising middle," continued John, breaking to ask Terry Ellis: "Can I tell him about 'My God' or is it another secret?"
"It's a secret."
Returning to his earlier theme, and still pacing the room, John went on:
"Musically the arrangements will be more complex and so will the songs. There'll be a much deeper kind of feeling. Really I suppose it's just down to more light and shade, making it much more interesting to hear."
John feels that this interest is lacking in a lot of modern music and says that
"so many groups tend to start and finish their act on the same emotional pitch, and often at the same volume. We are trying to go in the opposite direction, with more light and shade and colour tones. We're looking to other directions in music to draw influences from. I've been getting sheet music of classical composers to get ideas, not for songs I am writing but to try to give a different angle to Ian's."
John is in fact trying to write material for JT and has a joint effort with Martin Barre nearing completion. As Martin's been trying to write the same song for two years, that's quite an achievement.
Of their absence from England, John says that they needed a chance to get away — from the chase after chart singles as well as the country.
"Now we have reached the stage where we want to go out and perform. We've gone full circle in a way and it's now the music that counts."
The criticisms that Jethro Tull are only in it for the money obviously sting. I didn't raise the subject, but John said:
"I read in a lot of papers that I said I only joined Jethro for the money. At the beginnings of the Underground groups, their big thing was, 'Let's not bother about the money. Let's get away from this gold lamé and haircuts scene. Let's look like freaks wearing cheap clothing like people in the streets and let's act like people in the streets and forget the money.'"
"Well, I can think of one group who would not do a festival in the States unless they got 125,000 dollars. I mean, let's not pretend the money isn't important."
John's point is that the money is important in varying degrees to all groups, Underground or otherwise, and that he objects when Jethro Tull are singled out for the barbs.
"It all seems to be a pretence to me," he says. "There are so many groups refusing to play except for astronomical figures but Ian and Jethro Tull, if we say anything in the press, get singled out."
Still on that subject, John says he is worried by groups demanding too high fees for gigs.
"This winter there are going to be a lot of concert tours and I am sure that the prices of tickets for some of them will be double what they were, say, two years ago. I am a bit worried that the whole thing will backfire on the groups because people will refuse to pay. It is just possible that the next six months will be a sorting out period among the bigger groups."
John wouldn't be drawn when I asked if that meant they would be keeping concert prices down but did say: "We are not interested in pricing ourselves out." He did give an assurance though that Jethro Tull will be playing in Britain "quite a lot" during the next six months. The earliest date they could play here, after fulfilling existing tours, is October, which is also when the next album is scheduled. And back on the "new direction", John adds:
"It will be a little less Ian and backing musicians because, by now, Martin Barre is really getting going, aided by the fact that I've joined. Martin's back to dropping things and walking into doors again which means that he's in good form.
"I've been thrust into the limelight as the big new thing but the big new thing is not so much me joining as the fact that it gives the others, notably Martin, much more scope to contribute. I am more a release valve for pressures."
Thanks to Matthew Korn for this article.