THE (ECLECTIC) MINSTREL IN THE GALLERY Ian Anderson

On the difference
between playing with Jethro Tull and going solo, and keeping out the
‘riff-raff’…

 

BY ROBERT FULTON

 

The engine behind Jethro Tull has always been Ian Anderson.
The flute-playing lead man, and only original member of
the-rock-meets-jazz-meets-classical band best known for the 1971 hit
“Aqualung,” is the heart and soul of an outfit that has sold tens-of-millions
of records during the last 40-some years.

 

After completing a Jethro Tull tour this past summer, Anderson has once again
set out on a limited solo jaunt this fall. With a backing band, Anderson performs Jethro
Tull hits, deeper tracks, solo cuts and classical songs.

 

With a few days between the October and November legs of his
tour, Anderson took 15 minutes to speak by phone
from his home in England.

 

***

 

BLURT: What can or what do you do solo that you can’t or
don’t do in Tull?

IAN ANDERSON: When Jethro Tull is on tour, the perception is
of Jethro Tull the rock band. Consequently, it’s more of an electric kind of
performance, more of the louder, more up-tempo songs. But when I do Ian
Anderson shows, it’s really an opportunity to stretch out and examine the depth
and the breadth of Jethro Tull’s catalog, to play some stuff that perhaps
wouldn’t be really so in-keeping with Jethro Tull the rock band. It doesn’t
necessarily make it all acoustic. Some of it is electric music, but just not
mainstream and the ones that more people are familiar with perhaps from radio
play. So it’s just really a chance to broaden and [go] deeper into things and
to also introduce some new music, a couple of solo album tracks and a couple of
pieces derived from the world of classical music.

       All together
it’s more of an eclectic show than I would feel comfortable doing under the
Jethro Tull banner. Because we know in America we have a lot of fans who
are male, into rock music and would perhaps get a little testy at some of the
more esoteric and acoustic moments and start shouting out and being abusive. Doing
Ian Anderson shows is a way of keeping the riff-raff out, really. And you can
quote me on that. For the most part I get really good audiences. Occasionally
you’ll get a couple of drunks who spend the evening shouting things in some
irrelevant and confusing way. But most of the time it’s a really good audience.
I like to think that the audience enjoys the fact that they can hear the music
without interruption from the rowdier members of the audience, which does
happen at Jethro Tull shows.

 

How do you react to that, when that happens?

I try to bite my lip and carry on, unless it gets
particularly annoying, in which case I have to have a word with them, and if it
still persists, then I just skip the song and move on to the next one, which
I’ve had to do a couple of times, and that makes me very sad, but that’s the
way it goes. It has happened, but not very often.

 

Is your fan base different here in the States than it is
elsewhere in the world?

I think probably it’s a little older in the U.S.A.
In other countries in the world we have a lot of younger fans, particularly in
places like Spain and Italy and Turkey
and Russia and India,
and certain places where I think there’s an audience who didn’t get to see
Jethro Tull the first time around because we weren’t able to travel to some of
those places.

       It depends on
the time of year that you play. If you’re playing outdoors in the summer in Europe,
then there’ll be a lot more young people in the audience, people around the age
of 20. Then if you play the same city perhaps in the depths of winter at a nice
cozy concert hall, that’ll bring out the older folks.

 

I understand that your backing band includes a flamenco
guitarist [Florian Opahle].

He played flamenco particularly when he was younger. He’s
been playing since he was a child. Like a lot of guitar players who grew up in
the ’80s, he’s not missed any tricks as far as electric guitar is concerned. He’s
also a very good rock guitar player.

 

Tell me about the solo work. Will you be performing any
new stuff?

There are four or five new songs, a couple that we’ve been
playing for a few months, and then there are a couple of brand new ones that
have been played on this tour. And there are a couple of pieces of Jethro Tull
music which have never been played on stage before, so it’s a first for them,
even though they’re pieces of music from 1972 and 1973. So amongst the Jethro
Tull material there’s some stuff which has either rarely been played or never
played. We try to dig out some things from the bottom drawer that will surprise
even the most ardent and knowledgeable of fans

 

What are a couple of these songs that you’re referring
to?

Well, it’s kind of nice to have them as a surprise for the
audience. I’d rather keep them as a surprise rather than talk about them in
advance.

 

Your current writing: what influences or informs it?
Where do you draw inspiration?

It’s probably the same mixture of inputs as I’ve had all of
my life, really. Some of it’s from reading, some of it’s from observation of
people and places, some of it’s from, I suppose, imagination and ruminating on
airplane flights or long car journeys or whatever it is. It comes from a variety
of sources.

       With my trusty
laptop computer on my knee, I’m able to be working in that kind of way while
I’m on tour and on the road and able to quickly record anything I might want to
record. It’s a constant process, really. In the old days you didn’t leave
without a notebook and pencil. These days I leave behind the notebook and
pencil but I take my iPod and laptop computer

 

Amazing how things have changed.

Well, they’ve changed, but in many ways for the better,
because it gives us much more opportunity to be working on material and working
on all kinds of things as we travel. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to
carry my office around with me in my carry on language.

 

Can we expect another Jethro Tull album any time?

It’s probably very unlikely that it would be Jethro Tull. We
logistically have big problems in as much people don’t live in the same place.
It’s not a priority when playing concerts is more fun.

       I have a bunch
of songs I look forward to recording during the early months of next year. At
some point, we’ll have some new music out, but whether it’s Ian Anderson or
Jethro Tull remains to be seen.

 

What drew you to music?

As an alternative to drawing and painting, which is my first
love. I grew up interested in the visual arts. Music got the upper hand because
it was so much more of an immediate and rewarding way of indulging in something
creative and expressive.

 

 

Ian Anderson performs multiple dates in the eastern United States
Nov. 11 through Nov. 24. Visit www.jethrotull.com  for details.

 

 

More reading: see our
review
of the just-released 2CD/DVD collectors edition of Jethro Tull’s 1969
classic
Stand Up.

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