Four Centuries of Jethro Tull: On Tour with Ian Anderson 2010

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By Raymond Britt --  Ian Anderson, the founder and creative force behind the classic-rock band Jethro Tull, has returned the North America for the second time in 2010. After a highly-praised summer tour with Jethro Tull, Anderson is returning to intimate theater venues across North America through November.

Anderson’s solo tour coincides with the recent re-release of the classic Tull album, Stand Up. Originally released in 1969, the record reached the top of the UK charts within one week.

"It was essentially the beginning of Jethro Tull’s US career, Anderson told me recently. "It gave us confidence that the music that we were then playing live on stage during our shows was already successful in the UK and in Europe and when it was released in the US it hopefully would mimic that European success. And indeed it did quite well for us." [Also see The Complete Ian Anderson 2010 Solo Tour Interview]

The 3-disc re-release also includes the band's complete, legendary, live performance at Carnegie Hall, recorded on November 4, 1970. It’s perhaps not a coincidence that the Carnegie Hall performance occurred exactly 40 years before this year’s solo tour. Maybe Anderson decided America is the right place to celebrate the anniversary of those four decades of classics and rock.  Or maybe he’s just being kind. Or, maybe it’s because there are far more significant anniversaries to be recognized. Like what?

Four Centuries of Jethro Tull

Jethro Tull, the band, was founded in 1968, and Jethro Tull, the agriculturist, he whose name was chosen as said band's moniker, was born in 1674. But, if not for a sort of sideways family loyalty reaching nearly four centuries back in time, you might never have heard of Jethro Tull at all. You see, the Jethro Tull you’ve never heard of was born 395 years ago.

Jethro Tull I.  You see, the first Jethro Tull was born on or around the year 1615, and as historian Norman Hidden has done in his article “Jethro Tull I, II and III,” we’ll call him Jethro Tull I. Jethro I was not the brightest bulb in the bunch, an average chap whose skills as a purported businessman and land-owner were fairly abysmal. And he failed to sire a son worthy to carry the family name forward.

Jethro Tull IIBut it was Jethro Tull I’s brother John, either being tremendously loyal or perhaps somewhat confused, who named his son Jethro Tull sometime during the 1640s. And this nephew of JTI, whom we will call Jethro Tull II, married Dorothy Buckbridge in 1672.

This couple’s lot in life consisted largely of back-breaking work trying to keep all the Tull family acreage from dissolving into debtors’ hands. But they did take a break to welcome a son into the world. And you know his name.

Jethro Tull III.  On March 30, 1674, in Baselton, Berkshire, Jethro Tull III, the rightful namesake of his father, was born. Thus, at this time in England, there were, wandering out and about, three Jethro Tulls.

Without this Tull trio traipsing through the Berkshires in the late 1600s, it’s highly unlikely that some 300 years hence the brilliant young flautist Ian Anderson would have christened his 4-piece rock combo with the name: Jethro Tull.

Jacques Cousteau? What if? In the theoretical absence of this Tull genealogy, would Ian have perhaps named the band “Jacques Cousteau” instead?

If so, it would have set the stage for intriguingly brilliant cross-brand marketing possibilities between Aqualung, the song, and Aqualung, the scuba diving apparatus that was invented by Cousteau. Imagine . . . but that’s another story.

Jethro Tull, the Person, the Reluctant Farmer, and the Innovator

Those who know the difference between Jethro Tull, the band, and Jethro Tull, the person, know the latter was an agriculturalist, a farmer, who invented the modern seed drill. But, given the choice, Tull the person would have rather been a lawyer.

He did, in fact, pursue a law degree at Oxford University, but the combination of his ill health and circumstances related to the dwindling Tull fortunes conspired to force Tull III into management of the family farm, known as Prosperous, in 1699.

Tull did not take easily to life on the farm. He was frustrated by what he viewed as both inefficient farming procedures and an untrustworthy pack of farmhands. Still, with intense pressure to deliver robust crops, he set his mind on finding a better way to plant and cultivate a significant and profitable harvest while reducing dependence on human labor.

Necessity led to inspiration, which led to Jethro Tull’s seed drill. Or, as he wrote in his 1731 book, The Horse Hoeing Husbandry (we’ll call it HHH), “The seed drill was inspired by a need to reduce labor requirements and the mechanics of a church organ.” Church organ, you say? I’ll get to that, soon.

Ian Anderson, the Person, the Artist and the Tour Guide

As a methodical innovator, and, as it turns out, a bit of a musician, Jethro Tull, the seed drill inventor had more than a few things in common with Ian Anderson, the founder of the band Jethro Tull, whom, in his 63rd year, is delighting audiences across the continent on his 2010 North American solo tour.

On this tour, audiences will be treated to Anderson’s inimitable blend of acoustic, electric, and occasionally orchestral rock music. Further, Anderson promises the show will contain a mix of new material, classic Tull fan favorites, new arrangements, and the occasional surprise tossed in here and there.

“We’re looking at playing a mixture of classic Jethro Tull songs, Ian told us, previewing the set list. "Some of the more famous pieces – like Aqualung and Locomotive Breath, though perhaps done in a way different than the original recording. We try some different arrangements of those.”

“Then there’s a bunch of stuff that I call the deep catalog, those that are among the more obscure Jethro Tull songs that maybe aren’t usually played on radio, and are there for the more knowledgeable fans.”

“And then some stuff, a few new songs, four new songs I’m playing, including a couple of Bach pieces I’ll be playing . . . of course, our guitar player will be playing one of them . . . it’s a solo piece, the shred-metal version of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue. The other piece I will play with our keyboard player which is the Bach’s Prelude in C Major for which I’ve written a flute melody to go over the original Bach piano piece.”

So, with a set list that spans musical styles from Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor to classic-rock’s legendary song Aqualung, one thing’s for sure: if you’ve been a Jethro Tull and Ian Anderson fan for any part of the last 40 or so years, it’s a show you’ll  be glad you attended.

Anderson’s band on this tour includes Jethro Tull’s six-string bass player David Goodier, Scott Hammond (no relation to Jeffrey, or so we think) on electric and acoustic drums, German rock and flamenco guitarist Florian Opahle, and classical musician John O'Hara, Anderson’s occasional orchestral director who also plays keyboards and accordion with Jethro Tull.

Classic Works: Standing Up to the Test of Time

As noted above, Anderson’s solo tour coincides with the recent re-release of Jethro Tull’s chart-topping album Stand Up.

The Stand Up re-release comes in the form of a 3-disc set. The first disk contains remasters of the complete original album, plus additional tracks recorded around the same time, including the radio-friendly 5/4 time classic Living in the Past. The additional two disks – a CD and a surround sound 5.1 audio DVD – feature Tull’s legendary 1970 concert at Carnegie Hall, and the set includes a new set of liner notes by Anderson.

Jethro Tull, the writer, knows something about re-releases himself.

“It is said that mine is the first book of Agriculture that has happened to be pirated,” wrote Tull in his second edition of HHH, published in 1733.  It seems that Tull felt rushed into the 1731 release in “response to pretenders and imposters providing the confusion of misinformation and misrepresentation” about the drill and relevant techniques. He sought to use the 1733 re-release to set the record straight, but he still considered it “an unfinished work” at the time of his death in 1741.

Inspiration; In Other Words, It's Just a Bit Louder

Stand Up is perhaps best known by the band’s instantly recognizable, genre-busting jazz/blues interpretation of Bach’s Bouree. Led by Anderson’s inspired flute arrangement, Tull’s Bouree has, over the course of forty-some years, become the gold standard of flute/rock instrumentals.

“It was a piece I had heard just after I started to play the flute,” Ian tells the story. “I heard it in the context of classical guitar as it such there was a student living in a room underneath mine in north London learning to play classical guitar. And he kept playing this piece over and over and over again, so I kept hearing it coming up through the floor boards."

"When Martin Barre joined the band I mentioned to him, I guess in the early months of 1969 uh, there this little tune . . . I played it for him, and he said, that’s a piece by Bach – I learned to play that song on classical guitar. He knew what it was, we identified it, we made an arrangement of it using kind of swing syncopating jazzy feel, you know, sort of cocktail lounge jazz version of Bouree.  And it became the notable flute instrumental, I supposed, from those years, and one which I still play today pretty much at every concert.”

One might wonder: without this bit of inspired “cocktail lounge jazz,” as Anderson puts it, would the 1969 Tull have become one of classic rock’s legendary icons four decades later? “It certainly helps to have a good tune that no one else has ever done,” says Ian. And yes, Mr. Anderson will be performing Bouree in October’s concert.

Dismantling Instruments

“When I was young my diversion was music,” wrote Jethro Tull in 1731, though he quickly added that, to paraphrase, he was quite bad at it. But he did pay attention to the instruments, to the gear, as it were. So much so, that by “altering [the soundboard of an organ] just a little and some parts of two other instruments as foreign to the field as the organ . . . I composed my machine,” the seed drill, in 1701.

Ian's story is similar, in spirit. "On the stand album it was just a bit of wacky improvisation really, standing on top of a speaker and swinging the mike around mimicking I suppose the effects of a Leslie cabinet. You know the rotating speaker cabinet, you know, spinning around in the cabinet and keeping the microphone still . . . we just kept the speaker still and moved around the mike. It was a bit of fun, and it was an amusing sound, and it had its effects and it was a way of doing something different. As long as we didn't break anything, we got away with it."

Compare the two examples of inspiration and it’s not to much to say that Tull’s ability to imagine the possibilities of dismantling a perfectly good instrument or two in the name of agricultural breakthrough is more than just a bit similar to Anderson’s ability to imagine the possibilities of dismantling a perfectly good piece of Bach in the name of classic rock.

Rocks on the Road

And both inventions paved the way, so to speak, to rock stardom for both. Although Tull’s stardom resulted, in part, by the way the seed drill removed rocks from the planting area. But the point is the same; you get it, I’m sure.

Either way, starting with Jethro Tull in 1615, all the way 395 years later on stages across the continent, it rocked, it rocks, and it will continue to rock. But don’t take my word for it; see Ian Anderson in concert in 2010, and you’ll understand . . . you’ll be inspired.

Just one more thing: don’t get any ideas about tearing the instruments apart to invent something. Leave that up to the experts: Jethro Tull and Ian Anderson.