“WHAT A GREAT view!” My eyes ranged appreciatively over the wooded valley with its cottages nestling near the village pub.
“Do you like it? It’s mine,” said Ian Anderson, allowing himself a chuckle. The power behind the throne of Jethro Tull has a kingdom most would envy. Some 600 acres of rolling farm land are witness to the success and prestige of a band whose career spans some 16 years. Anderson has towered above all versions of this famous group exercising a quiet authority that commands respect.
It comes as no surprise to learn that one of Ian’s favourite pastimes is shooting and that he is an expert on guns. He’s not interested in the cowboy image of a trigger-happy lunatic, mind. For him the appeal lies in the cold hard discipline of the marksman.
Along with Frank Zappa, Paul McCartney and very few rockers, Ian Anderson has that quality of exuding intelligence, while putting people at ease. He’s funny, just a trifle tetchy, takes a delight in gossip, and has an active mind that wants to probe and rapidly share with others his interests and discoveries. Within minutes of arriving at Ian’s secret studio, a hop and a skip away from his rambling, red brick country house, he was blinding me with the science of rock’s new technology. Linn drum machines were explained, mixing desks revealed and new recording ideas unveiled.
Down on the farm with Ian were component parts of the latter day Jethro Tull. Peter-John Vettese, a wild young Scot with a penchant for driving backwards and dancing in fountains, who helped Ian make his first solo LP Walk Into Light and is now a fully-fledged Tull man, as well as the stalwarts Martin Barre on guitar and Dave Pegg on bass. All they need now is a drummer. Say Dave and Pete. “He must have vast amounts of technique, be very loud, good looking and have own transport.”
It would seem an easy enough job for Tull to call up the finest drummers in rock. Just get on the blower to Simon Phillips and all problems are solved. But Tull’s music is a special case. They have a history of music going back to the days of Aqualung and Thick As A Brick. And there are the milestones of the last ten years, like ‘Songs From The Wood’, ‘Heavy Horses’, and ‘Storm Watch’.
Now Ian is interested in bringing the band’s sound into the ’80s. On his solo LP the emphasis is on keyboards rather than guitars and flutes, so any new drummer brought into the Tull ranks must be both up to date and sympathetic to past achievements.
For Ian it’s no problem, however. Ever since he started the band way back in 1968, he has been busy exploring, expanding and changing. The wildly eccentric vision of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, hopping around on one leg while blowing his flute, is one of rock’s most famous images. But it has always concealed a complex, intense man. The crazed character who lurches around the stage, twirling his flute with a dexterity on a par with that displayed by Roger Daltrey in his microphone spinning feats, comes into existence only seconds after Ian Anderson hits the stage. From then on he throws himself into the part – a manic, medieval character…
He’s had a motley crew of musicians with him over the years, from Mick Abrahams, the guitarist who quit to form Blodwyn Pig, to the most recent superstar to grace the band’s ranks, keyboard and violin man Eddie Jobson. But Ian is the figure the public recognize as the personification of Jethro Tull, a man who can still pack ’em in.
As we sat in the pub he mused over a range of Tull Topics including the fact the band had wanted to play in the Falkland Islands, not long after the war. They had been asked to visit Argentina just after their American tour.
“We were on a sort of unofficial peace mission But it meant staying for five days in a hotel in Buenos Aires. So I sent a rider saying we wanted an armed guard and I wanted a permit to carry a sub-machine gun. I didn’t want to rely on those guys to look after me.
“But with all the conditions laid on by us, they decided it wasn’t such a good idea, so we didn’t go. There was a lot of bad feeling towards the British, though probably not from the young kids who would have come to the show. We were more worried about the reaction of the police. I also wanted to play a gig in the village hall in Port Stanley for the troops. If we had played both places it would have been seen to be non-political. But there was no way we could do it.”
The last time I saw Tull was at Wembley last year. Ian thought it had been: “A terribly hard hall to play. I went to see David Bowie at Wembley and was dismayed at the sound. I’ve never heard such a bad sound in my life. Every night there was a post mortem on the Bowie tour, though I imagine we sounded pretty awful as well. I’m sure people who like us don’t want to see us at Wembley. We only did it because we couldn’t get the Odeon.”
But surely Ian had touring off to a fine art by now?
“Reasonably so, yes. We do it as cheaply as we can. We still make money on the road and there aren’t many bands who ever did. Certainly, there can’t be many now. Dave Bowie made an awful lot of money on the road, but that’s an event. We just make modest profits, regularly.”
Most of next year will be taken up with a world tour which sees the band coming to Europe in the Autumn – to promote a new album. Although there is an enormous amount of Tull activity, when you mention their name to people they often gasp: “Are they still going?” Despite this, however, they have a vast, planet wide following, something that makes the need to get a new drummer all the more urgent. Said Ian: “If anybody has any bright ideas, do write to Chris Welch at Kerrang.’, sending him your tape and he will judge your competence and credentials, passing on to us the best of the bunch. We worked with a good drummer last year, Paul Burgess, and he was very solid and steady. What we are looking for is somebody a bit more aggressive and fiery, and with a creative input. We want to avoid the type who’s able to throw it around but can’t count as far as four. There is one drummer in the world called Terry Bozzio who is just terrific but, unfortunately for us, he is doing very well with his band Missing Persons, and is not available for hire. He’s the kind of guy we need.”
Ian divides his time between music and the businesses he wisely invested in during the boom years of rock. Unlike so many of his contemporaries who drank away their inheritance, Anderson put his money into schemes such as the salmon farm in Inverness, opened by Quo fan Prince Charles. One of his ambitions is to build an underground futuristic house, or else live in a 13th century Scottish castle.
“Farming is part of my livelihood these days, and my wife Shona runs that side of things. Sometimes life gets schizophrenic when I’m torn between different worlds, but it’s therapeutic not to get caught up in one kind of world. No way would I like to spend my days sitting on a tractor, but then I would not like, at this point in my life, to be a musician and nothing else. I like music to be something that is fun. I don’t want to feel I need music to make a living. Hence the farms have got to be profitable and self-supporting. I won’t be doing music forever – just nearly forever!”
Has Jethro Tull lasted longer than he thought it would?
“Oh yeah. I remember in 1970 coming back from an American tour and saying: ‘That’s it, I’m definitely giving up. I’m now going to be something else. A record producer or something. I enjoy playing concerts but I don’t enjoy the pressures of touring, the traveling and the hotels’. I’m adjusted to hotels now, though, and enjoy the drinks, the bar and all that. But traveling, unfortunately, has got a lot worse. I’m a very bad flier now, I didn’t used to mind but, with the passing of the years, and with a few engines dropping off, you feel you’ve used up your nine lives.”
How did Ian look back over the history of Tull? Did he think much about the early days of ‘Stand Up’ and the hit singles, ‘Living In The Past’ and ‘Witches Promise’?
“I don’t keep any memorabilia at all. I have nothing from those days. I have never kept any of the records or photos. That is my entire record collection right there (he pointed to a tiny row of LPs dwarfed by vast masses of books on guns and country life). I don’t buy records and I don’t have any Jethro Tull albums, except a lot of test pressings.
So he felt no nostalgia for the past?
“I’m afraid not, no. Nostalgia is absolutely limited to stories told in bars in darkest Dusseldorf. Martin has been with us longest, so he probably has a few ‘Do you remember when?’ stories, although Dave Pegg has been with us since 1978. It’s six years which I think of as quite short, though for the average band it’s about two life cycles.”
So what lures Ian back to the rock business, year after year?
“It’s the old thing of walking out on a stage and seeing an audience who’ve turned out to come to the show. It means a lot to them and you owe them a lot, too.
“For ten years we haven’t had a manager so we’ve had to do things ourselves. Jethro Tull is the archetypal underground group we’ve been underground really since 1972. In Britain, we had one Number One album in 1969 and after that we were considered old hat. Aqualung sold five million worldwide but only scraped into the Top Twenty. All of our albums since have scraped into the charts, but that’s about it.”
Tull enjoyed early success In Britain but from then on seemed to be always in the shadows, without much publicity or promotion.
“It’s partly out of choice, I suppose,” says Ian. “It was nice to have an audience without constantly promoting yourself in an obvious manner. It’s hard to go into the local supermarket shopping when you’re a star. It’s nice to be known… but not TOO well known!
“It’s moving for us when we play and sell out a concert without any publicity, though. Particularly, when we know that a lot of current Top Twenty jobs would have a hard job selling out the same venue. We can do it without advertising, very quickly. We have that hard core following of fans. We can do one show at the NEC in Birmingham while Genesis can do five. Poor old Tull can only manage one show at the NEC, but 8000 people in Birmingham on a wet night isn’t bad.
“Everybody gets their shot at fame and greatness, but to maintain it on a regular basis is the province of only a select few. I don’t have any favourite Tull albums – only songs.”
How did Ian feel about the early birth pangs of the group when it used to undergo regular changes in personnel?
“Well, it was never that HAPPY a band in the early days because, as we gained success here and then in America, we were subjected to a lot of pressure. We had to learn to cope with success and being sought after by the press. Obviously, some people can’t cope with it all and go completely crazy. I don’t look on it as being a very enjoyable time. Certain gigs were fun to remember but, overall, I wouldn’t say I enjoyed much about our early years because of the constant work and never having any holidays.
“I was homeless until 1975. I just lived in hotels. By then I was 30 and at that age most people have got a couple of kids, a mortgage on a house and a car. I hadn’t even been skiing there were just loads of things I hadn’t done which others take for granted.
“I’m not a workaholic, but I’ve tended to put money into tangible things. Basically, I like to think I’ve given people jobs.”
There have never been Tull reunions. Was this something that appealed to him?
“Not in an organized sense no. But we bump into people occasionally. John Evans (keyboard player between 1971-79) surfaces from time to time, and so does Eddie Jobson. We do actually communicate even if past incarnations of the band didn’t lead to lasting personal friendships. Any animosity that might have existed in the past, I don’t think exists now.”
Ian met Jack Bruce recently and asked him if Cream was going to reform.
“His answer was the same mine would be about getting together with ex-members of Jethro Tull – it’s water under the bridge Whatever problems there were in the past with personal relationships could be pushed aside but, after a couple of months on the road, the same old thing would start to happen again. So I don’t think it’s a good idea to go back.
“It’s interesting to see Yes have reformed and The Animals too, although that was anything but happy! Alan Price and Eric Burden having set-tos in the dressing room… They had a big fight at the Albert Hall apparently and Eric Burden went missing just before their American tour. . .” Ian shook his head in amusement.
Ian made his solo album last September before starting work with the band on the new Tull LP.
“I haven’t played my solo album since we made it. I’ve sort of forgotten it. I can’t really remember what it’s about.”
I reminded Ian that the lyrics were straightforward and not fanciful, and that it represented a move into the world of microchip powered keyboards.
“The whole point of the solo album was to do new things I hadn’t done before. Particularly, I wanted to learn about recording again. I’d not been keeping abreast of what’s going on. These days a high standard is expected and delivered. So I sold my studios, Maison Rouge in London, and set up at home. I’ve got all my gear here. I wanted to do an album that wasn’t all electric guitars and flutes, and different from what people expect me to do. So it’s based on keyboard technology with Peter playing most of the keyboards. Peter came into Tull through an ad in a trade paper. He joined in late 1981.”
The new Tull LP will be released next April and the band also hope to do a charity show for the World Wildlife Fund to raise money for them to buy a mainframe computer. Ian’s special interest is ‘acid rain’ which the Fund are researching, and the facts will be stored on the computer. Was he looking forward to performing live again?
“Yeah, until I did a live TV spot recently I hadn’t been out in front of an audience for a year. It’s funny, I remember when I first started playing music my father said if I cut my hair he’d buy me a wig I could wear on stage, as It was obligatory to have long hair at the time. I have my hair short now, except in the front where it won’t grow anymore! I’m joining the ranks of Phil Collins and Gary Numan.”
© Chris Welch, Kerrang!, December 1983