AS THICK AS EVER Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull

No plans to retire anytime
soon:
the singer-flautist temporarily
sheds the Tull moniker and revisits a classic… brick by brick.

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

 

“Hello, Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull here. Listen, I’ve been
on this since 7 AM this morning, which is a long time ago. I’ve had eleven
hours of press and promo today, so if we can crash on with it, it would be
really good. I’ve got two days in Germany with more of the same.”

 

With that not-so-promising preface, Ian Anderson commences
to speak about his surprising sequel to that opus of monumental stature, the
sprawling conceptual set known as Thick as a Brick. Given his reputation
for being as irascible as he is eloquent, not to mention contentious and
outspoken, any conversation with Mr. Anderson is bound to be revealing. Having
steered that indomitable institution known as Jethro Tull for the past 45
years, he now concedes that the divide between the band’s efforts and those
driven under the auspices of Ian Anderson alone have blurred, so much so in
fact that TAAB2, as Anderson’s dubbed
it, is released not by Jethro Tull, the entity which produced the original
album, but Anderson alone.

 

Regardless, the trajectory keeps it consistent. Like its
predecessor, it’s a concept album
that centers on the fictional character of Gerald Bostock, the moniker Anderson
took when he wrote the lyrics to what became Tull’s fifth album, one that was
all the more auspicious because it followed on the heels of their massive
breakthrough Aqualung. Boasting one
seamless suite that spanned both sides of the original album, it eventually
reached number one on the album charts and allowed Tull to ratchet up
further  prog credibility.

 

The new album continues that thread, putting the focus on
the now mature Mr. Bostock and his evolution into adulthood. It begs the
question of not only what happened to the boy poet and how his life evolved, while
commenting in a broader sense on the journey that everyone inevitably takes as
they transition from the idyllic aspirations of youth to find their destiny and
place in the world.

 

Clearly then, there was much to
ask Mr. Anderson as far as the inspiration for this unexpected sequel was
concerned. And in so doing, BLURT found itself engaged in a conversation that
was, as usual, both intriguing and enlightening. That, despite the pressure to
respect certain time constraints…

 

***

 

BLURT: So let’s get
right to it then. In making the sequel to a Jethro Tull album like Thick as a Brick, why is it credited to
Ian Anderson and not Jethro Tull?

IAN ANDERSON: Well, because I’m Ian Anderson and the
original Thick as a Brick was not
written by Martin Barre or anyone else in the band at the time. It was me! They
didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I brought some music into the rehearsal
room every day and they trusted me that I had a game plan. So that was very
much an Ian Anderson project, the same as Roger Waters who rightfully lays
claim to the album The Wall. It’s his,
and I think he has every right to take that outside the context of Pink Floyd
and go on the road and do what he does with it. Obviously Pink Floyd — as they
were at that time — made the album together, but at the same time they
themselves weren’t necessarily together. Bob Ezrin, their producer, said they
were never in the studio at the same time. They didn’t like each other, they
didn’t want to work together, but they had to make an album and he had the
difficult job of trying to get an album together with a bunch of guys who didn’t
want to be in the same place at the same time.

        I know this
because I was talking to Bob Ezrin at that particular time about producing an
album for us. And in fact, I spoke to Roger Waters a short time after that to
get his feeling about Bob Ezrin, and the same subject came about, that he was a
very important man to have around because he brought all these disparate and
disconnected forces together to produce an album that was obviously a landmark
album in the Pink Floyd career, as well as a landmark in the history of rock
music.

        It wasn’t like
that when we made our album. We were all happy in the same room together and
very much motivated and happy to be involved in the arrangements and the
performance. But the other guys really didn’t know what it was about and they probably thought I was having a bit of a
bad moment (chuckles). Still, they
went on with it and everything worked out fine.

 

Being such a longtime
stalwart in the band, did Martin ask you if he might participate in the making
of the new album as well?

Well, Martin wouldn’t do that. Martin and I talked at length last summer about
this year’s activities, and I explained that I had some plans to record
something towards the end of last year and it would be a good time for him to
do some the things we’ve talked about over the years as far as he’s concerned. So
I tried to encourage him to actually take the plunge. Because the thing is,
Martin is 64 years old, soon to be 65 and as I said to him, we’re not young
guys. We can’t just think, “Oh, we’ll get around to doing that project, doing
another tour or getting another album together…”  You just can’t keep putting it off. You’ve
got to accept that if you don’t do
it now, it may be too late. That’s is, I think, quite an overriding consideration
and one I certainly felt about – first and foremost in  going into the studio to make an album which
will cost quite a lot of money to make, because you need real musicians in real
time. You’re going to have to pay per diems, hotels, travel expense — all the
costs of making an album – and then the professional services of mastering and
mixing and artwork. This costs a lot of money. It’s an expensive proposition
and one that was unlikely to ever make any kind of profit.

        Making a
record in this day and age is sort of a leap of faith that you’re going to sell
enough copies to cover the cost of making it. Especially if you’re making a
traditional album using live musicians in the studio. It’s an expensive
proposition. So it’s not something I really felt I wanted to offload in terms
of financial responsibility on anybody else. It had to be my risk and therefore
I’m going to put my name in the front of the package because in the last ten
years, I’ve found it increasingly easier for me as a performer to go out as Ian
Anderson of Jethro Tull and put it in some context, because I think that it
might discourage some people from coming to the concert who might otherwise
think it’s Deep Purple with a flute.

 

There seems to be a
narrow divide between what is Ian Anderson and what is Jethro Tull these days.
But when the fans go to the shows don’t they still want to hear “Aqualung” and
“Locomotive Breath.”?

This coming Friday when I’m playing with a symphony
orchestra in Potsdam near Berlin, we’ll do “Aqualung” and “Locomotive Breath ”
and they’ll be some songs from the new album too. The point is that there’s not
any difficulty that I have with playing that old catalogue material. I love
doing it and I’ve always enjoyed doing it. It has to do with there being a
perception that Jethro Tull circa
1970, 71 was more a rock band, and we discovered in America we had to be. We opened for
the MC5 in Seattle in 1969 and Led Zeppelin in 1969 and ’70 and some other
years. We had to go on and hold our own against some of the biggest and loudest
bands Planet Earth has ever known, and consequently we gained some public perception that we were a rock band and not so much as an
acoustic, almost a folkie acoustic band that I thought we were. Even on the Aqualung album there was quite a bit of
acoustic music where it gets quite laid back and very simply orchestrated.
That’s what some people remember, but most people remember the loud guitar
riffs and the snarling bits of “Aqualung” and “Locomotive Breath” – the parts
that the beer-drinking buddies love to sing along too on their way home after a
football game.

        The point is,
that as far as an Ian Anderson concert now, I’d rather that the beer-drinking
buddies on their way home continue on their journey and simply go home. Please
don’t stop by my concert because frankly, my audience doesn’t want their
evening messed up by ten guys who are screaming and whistling and hooting and
hollering. That doesn’t happen at Ian Anderson concerts, even in America. I
remember one concert where there were a few people in the audience who were
ruining the concert for the audience, but it mostly doesn’t happen. However, on
Jethro Tull tours in North America, that’s
going to be the occurrence most nights. There will be someone out in the audience
who is usually drunk and just whistling and shouting in a quiet moment. They
like to whistle and shout just to make themselves heard. And I know from the
letters I get from the audience, it’s not a universal cultural thing. The real
fans don’t like it either. They write to me and say it’s my fault and say
things like, “I’m never going to a Jethro Tull concert again because the idiot
sitting next to me was shouting and screaming all night!” Well, it’s not my fault. So there you go. Most of
the time these days, I use my own name rather than the Jethro Tull name.

 

So is there an actual
divide?

What most people ask me in interviews is — what’s the
difference between an Ian Anderson concert and a Jethro Tull concert? Well,
from where I’m standing, there’s none, because I’m just playing my songs. I’m
doing what I do every night. Nothing fundamentally changes for me whether it’s
a Jethro Tull show or an Ian Anderson show or even an orchestral show. My part
of the musical equation remains pretty much the same. The thing that changes is
what it says on the can, what it says on the packing. It doesn’t really affect
me in the way I perform or the way I play.

 

Word is, you were
very reticent about revisiting Thick as a
Brick
, but now that you have, how do you feel about the way it came out?
Are you happy with the result?
It’s a sequel in that’s 40 years old and therefore it’s not constrained by
any moments of nostalgia. It’s not a sequel in the sense of what happened next
in 1973. It’s a sequel in the sense of using the character of Gerald Bostock to
take us into the year 2012 and explore the ways our lives have changed over the
years, where we find ourselves in a culture and technology that is markedly  different than it was 40 years ago. As an
observer and a musician and a lyricist, that’s what I’m interested in talking
about on this record, and why I can pay the odd little homage, the odd little
nod and wink to the elements that were around on the Aqualung and the Thick as a
Brick
albums.

        I’m going to do
a little bit of a reference, but I don’t want to overdo it because it has to be
music that stands on its own… music that interests me and excites me to play
today. So yes, I feel good about it, but my general assumption
is that it’s unlikely to set the world on fire in the sense of it appealing to
all the Jethro Tull fans of the past. Either they’re not going to hear about it
or they’re not going to be very motivated to buy a Jethro Tull album in the new
millennium. As for those people who never liked Jethro Tull or that era of
progressive rock… well, they’re not going to like this either. So save your
money, don’t come to the show, don’t buy the album. I’m not under any allusion
that this is going to be a Billboard-topping,
chart-climbing album or that I’m going to be awarded the Grammy for best one
-legged flute player in 2013.

 

But for those people
who were fans, and remain fans, Thick as
a Brick
was a monumental album. So inevitably it would seem there is going
to be some comparison.
My gut feeling is that the people who liked the original album will quite
like this one. But I didn’t go into this with any real sense of spinning the
roulette wheel and to spectacularly fail and then lose my shirt, or on the other
hand, to spectacularly win and walk out and go to the newest Mercedes showroom.
It wasn’t a matter of winning or losing. It was more a matter of me making a
record that I felt excited about and felt proud about, and I’ll be perfectly
happy if I can sell out a show at the Beacon Theater in New York or wherever I happen to be playing.
If I can get 3,000 people walking away thinking they had a good night out, that
will allow me to pat myself on the back. I don’t need anyone else to do it. It
would be a good feeling.

 

But you were
initially reluctant to do it, were you not?

Yes, because in years gone by there was a question about “going back to it.” It
doesn’t feel like I’m “going back to it.” It merely feels like I’m taking
something from 40 years on and saying what would this be like today? I don’t
really have that sense of revisiting in the temporal sense of going back to the musical mood of 1973. Even for the
audience, I’m not trying to create a notion of nostalgia here at all.

 

It would seem you’d
have to alter the original Thick as a
Brick
album cover which pictured the front page of a newspaper. After all,
nobody reads the newspaper any more.

Well, it has been changed. It’s still the parochial village newspaper, but of
course it’s online now. I researched the positioning that that kind of
community-serving periodical has in this day and age. It didn’t look too
professional, but it was polished enough at the edges to make it look like it
wasn’t too entirely sort of homemade. So I feel I did a pretty good job with
it. But again, as with the original album, it took me longer to make the cover
than it did to do the actual record.

 

How is Gerald Bostock
doing these days?

In November of last year, I was trying to get hold of the
little guy who actually posed for the picture on the original front cover with
his fictional family because I rather liked the idea of getting an up-to-date
photo of him to use on the cover of the new album. Unfortunately, I was unable
to locate him. The closest I got was to somebody who claimed to be an
acquaintance of his, and who said he would pass on my email address to the
person who had been the child model, who had come from the modeling agency. I
never heard anything back, and it was only last week that I got an email back
from the guy who had been the nine-year old child at the time, and sadly, it’s
too late. However we are going to meet up in London. Interestingly, he became a musician.
He joined a punk band, and now he’s in a group that makes ambient and trance
music. He had actually been very ill, which is why he didn’t respond to my
solicitations last year. He’s in remission from his illness at the moment, so
I’d be very pleased with any attention paid to him or his alter-ego. I didn’t
choose music as one of the manifestations of Gerald’s later life. I chose
different paths that young Gerald might have fallen into and music was not one
of them.

 

Have you thought
about introducing him at one of your London
concerts?

I think it would be lost on the audience unless there was quite a lot of
explanation as to who this guy was. And as I said to you, he’s been very ill,
so I don’t think we want to go into those sorts of areas. I’d rather meet him
for lunch or something. Strangely, he didn’t remember anything about the photo
session. All he knew was that a few years later, his older brother had a copy
of Thick as a Brick and he spotted
himself on that. He said, “That’s me on the cover of that record,” and he
subsequently went on to get a copy for himself and he became something of a
Jethro Tull fan. But at the time, he was just a young boy, and his parents
brought him in for a photo session and pocketed the money. So that’s the way
things are if you’re a young lad on the books of the model agency and you make
a few bob doing soap commercials or selling chocolate bars or something. It’s
not a great career to base your future on.

 

Well Ian, you’ve shed
a lot of light on the concert, so thank you. We’ll let you get on with your
day.

It’s drawing to a close. I just have to do a bit of packing and rehearse
some music. I leave here at 6:30 AM to travel to Germany tomorrow, and I have 36
hours of press and promo and then an orchestral rehearsal the day after. But it’s
good to keep busy. At my age, a lot of people aren’t busy any more. I’m
grateful to be thoroughly engrossed in doing something that for the most part
is a lot of fun. I’m eternally grateful that I still have my job at the age a
lot of people are forced to retire. Forced to retire, as in there’s no option. I have a job that means I don’t actually have
to retire if I don’t want to.

 

If your recent performances are any indication, you seem to be at the
peak of your prowess. Please don’t retire any time soon.

Well, thank you. We’ll
see how many months or even years that I can squeeze out. Or… decades!

 

 

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