Saturday, June 23, 2012

40 Year Itch: The Bloody J-Word


Living in the Past, released June 23 1972, is an odds and sods two disc collection of album tracks, singles, B sides, outtakes and cuts from "Life Is a Long Song" EP that reveals the band in its finest, most prolific form. It may be one of the great arguments , like Kinks Kronikles, for collections less based on the hits than on giving an overall picture of a band at its peak.

With its blues based rock, the band was at first proclaimed by the British Press as "the new Cream". Tull also explored progressive rock, jazz and  folk. The driving force has always been Ian Anderson who has spent most of his life dressed like a character out of Dickens, hating having people call him "Jethro", and running the group like a "dictatorial pharaoh" I think Rolling Stone put it.

Over the years Anderson has been asked the same questions over and over again and so with the help of his website I offer you this very non-exclusive interview the Faginesque Pharaoh himself

Are you, like the song, "Living in the Past"? 

 I am not one for nostalgia or reminiscences and prefer to live in the present and the future. However, some of our audience obviously like the nostalgia bit, and the older material which we play is, for them perhaps, a trip down memory lane. For us, it's not about playing a song which could be thirty years old. It's about playing something 24 hours old, since that's when we probably last played it on stage. Our style of music is, I hope, a little bit timeless and not rooted in a particular music fashion.

In 1973, Jethro Tull disbanded following the bad reviews of "A Passion Play". Why?

 No, we didn't! Our then manager decided to respond to a bad review in the influential pop newspaper Melody Maker by cutting a deal with the editor for a front page "scoop" involving the band's supposed decision to quit. We knew nothing about it until we read it in the paper ourselves, and we were furious. It made us look petulant and silly. Which we probably were, but we didn't need the wrong kind of publicity. Tull have never disbanded, even for a moment. No come-back tours for us, thank you very much. We haven't yet been away!

Pop and Rock music have changed a great deal over the 30 years. How do you view these changes? And do you listen to the new music like Techno and Rap?

 Well, the really big changes were back in the early years of the mid-to-late sixties and the early seventies. The introduction of musical influences from many diverse world cultures and historical periods provided for a rapidly evolving and richly creative musical environment. Folk, Classical, Blues, Jazz and Asian motifs and forms broadened the scope of American-derived pop and rock. Tull were a part of that evolution. Since the mid-seventies, the development has been more technological rather than musical. Sampling, synthesis, sequencing and the personal home computer revolution have brought music making to the masses at an affordable price. But the music goes round in circles. Same old simple rhythms, melodies, harmonies and verse/chorus/bridge song structures. Nothing really changes: nothing is really new. But each new generation of young musicians rediscovers the wheel, The Beatles, sunglasses and stretch limousines. As long as they and their fans think it is new, why disappoint them? Give the kids a pot of paint and they will repaint their house. Same old bricks underneath. Techno and Rap? Just nursery rhymes with attitude. Nice idea but going round in very small circles.

Don't you hate having to play the same songs, like Aqualung or Locomotive Breath, every night after so many years?

 If they were not decent songs, then I certainly would, but I am lucky to have a good collection of material which I still enjoy playing. There are over 250 songs to choose from, in fact. Anyway, much of Tull's music contains elements of improvisation, so the songs are never the same two nights running. There is always some scope for variation and interpretation in each performance. A Tull concert wouldn't be the same without some of Locomotive Breath. Well, for me at any rate.

What is the worst thing you are willing to make public about yourself?

That I have never tried drugs. I am deeply ashamed of this, but I promise to try better in the next life to be one of the lads. I can manage the beer and curry, honest.

 If you could go back in your life and change one thing, what would it be? 

 The 'Jethro' in Jethro Tull. Norman, Julien, Damon - anything but that bloody J-word.

If you could choose the words for your epitaph, what would they be?

"Thank you and goodnight". Or perhaps, "Any chance of a wake-up call?" I think that probably covers it.

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