By Raymond Britt
Ian Anderson, the founder and creative force behind the classic-rock band Jethro Tull, is taking his show on the road once again. We had the good fortune to speak with Ian about five specific topics before the tour began: Stand Up, Bouree, the Solo Tour, Saving the Planet and Aqualung.
Anderson’s solo tour coincides with the recent re-release of the classic Tull album, Stand Up. Originally released in the UK on August 1, 1969, the record reached the top of the UK record chart within one week, and remains Tull’s only chart-topping disk.
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. Here’s what Ian had to say about Stand Up:
"The original Stand Up album was the album that was -- on our second tour, I think, in the summer of 1969 -- released and went to the top of the charts. I was sitting in Loews Midtown Manhattan Hotel having breakfast and Joe Cocker came in and said “Congratulations, your album has just gone to number one in the UK.”
"And we thought ‘wow, that’s great’ because we were, at that point, just starting off in the US, and not terribly well-known.
"It was essentially the beginning of Jethro Tull’s US career. 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, inasmuch as that album was contemporaneous with those early tours of that year, 1969.
"And it wasn’t, of course, our first album, which was released in 1968, but Stand Up would generate a wider interest in many different countries. At that time we were obviously playing the Stand Up music. Some music that was recorded around that time for singles, usually back in the UK while we were away on tour.
"And we also recorded a show that we did, in 1970, at Carnegie Hall for a New York drug prevention charity. The live recording of that, part of which went out later on the Living in the Past album a couple of years later; again that was the music from the Stand Up album we were playing at Carnegie Hall as a result.
"It was bundled together at the suggestion of EMI. I have also been involved with the remastering and the liner notes and that sort of stuff. As a collector’s edition it puts together a big bundle of music for people who perhaps have some of the component parts of it but not all of it on the same CD, if anyone buys CDs any more . . . do they?"
Ian has written new liner notes to accompany the Stand Up Re-release. One of the interesting notes is about the band’s creative approach to spicing up the sound. We asked Ian to elaborate:
"You know back then in a recording studios people were always inventing new things, you know, things you could do, things perhaps you weren’t supposed to do.
"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, 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 new and different.
"By the traditions of professional recording techniques that we were young musicians – we tried different stuff, and as long as we didn’t break anything, we got away with it."
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. And yes, Mr. Anderson will be performing Bouree in October’s concert.
We asked Ian what led him to decide to include a Bach piece on a rock album:
"It was a piece I had heard just after I started to play the flute. 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 floorboards.
"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. So it became the notable flute instrumental, I supposed, from those years, and one which I still play today pretty much at every concert."
The Solo Tour
On this tour audiences can expect to 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.
Here’s what Ian had to say about the songs we’re likely to hear:
"We’re playing a mixture of classic Jethro Tull songs – 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 which 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, which is really just chordal arpeggios all the way through. So I wrote a melody that I hope alludes in some way to the kind of Bach style of that era.
"You know we’re all a bit loose about it because as we go into rehearsal, as there’s usually a bit of redundancy inevitable two or three pieces. So we go into it with a little extra material so that we can switch things from night to night or we can remove things that didn’t go well in rehearsal. I guess I know 50 percent of the set list I know will be in there but the other fifty percent depend on how we feel.
"I guess there will be two or three pieces in there that get, either get the chop, or at least they’re not performed every night sequentially on the tour, and at least we can have some musical alternatives. So we don’t have to play the same songs every night sometimes nice to refresh yourself with a song you haven’t played for a couple of nights."
Anderson’s band on this tour includes Jethro Tull’s six-string bass player David Goodier, Scott Hammond 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. Knowing Ian has often welcomed additional musicians to the stage, we inquired as to whether that might happen on this tour:
"At this point, there are no planned guests traveling and touring with us, other than me and the band guys. You know, I’m used to playing with various guests, as I did in Armenia last week. But on this tour it’s the other band guys who get their moment to shine with some stuff.
"I don’t have a fiddler this time as I have in the past. Last year we were working with Meena Bhashin, the violist. And I have a bunch of concerts coming up later this year, which will have a string quartet, a few string quartets, actually, in different parts of the world.
"And it’s possible that someone that I know will show up on the day and say ‘well, can I come play with you . . ?‘ . . . maybe they can, maybe they can’t . . ."
Saving the Planet
Ian’s passion for the preservation of threatened species of wild cats is well-known. When we raised the topic, Ian voiced an over-arching concerns – about threats to the planet and impacts on the human population. Here’s what Ian had to say on the matter:
"Well, my position on the wild cats is they are a particular example of threatened wild life that um and of course people have their favorites. Some people want to save the whales; some people want to save giant pandas; some people want to save the spider mite. I my case it’s cats . . .
"But you know it’s symptomatic of a bigger degree of threat to the ecology and the enormous variety of wildlife on the planet, our little planet. I guess as I get older my interest is in fundamentally saving the species that I am really close to . . . of all . . . which is homo sapiens.
"I really do fear for my descendents a few generations down the line. If we can’t settle the problems of protecting some endangered species, cutting down rain forests and plundering our limited resources, you know, there is, very very soon, there can be no doubt . . . we don’t have any hope when people can’t take the big view and look ahead a couple generations.
"Unfortunately so far neither politicians nor the general public are willing to look beyond their immediate lifetimes or perhaps those of their children. I suppose our politicians are always coming about them with incredible inertia, a willingness to deal with only the things that they can see stretching four or eight years ahead according to their electoral chances.
"You know we have to look forward to a time . . . we know that in 2050 there can be no doubt -- short of in itself a worldwide disaster -- there will be nine billion people on planet earth. We can’t even feed six billion . . .
"And we’re facing the peril of climate change, which is going to knock the stuffing out of a lot of grain-producing areas around the world and our ability to produce food for the six billion, let alone the nine billion we’re going to have in 40 year’s time.
"So we are really really up against some big decisions that are going to have to be taken and my greatest concern as I grow older is protecting the us among all the other species, though we are likely to lose thousands of species of animals and plants over the next few decades.
"And as a result our insatiable quest for limited resources -- can we get any more? -- taking out of our planetary availability. We can’t take any more of it up whether it’s oil, whether it’s coal, whether it’s gas.
"Or whether it’s fighting for the remote possibility that we are able to produce mass quantities of hydrogen power transport needs, sun power, wind power to provide a lower cost way to provide what we consume.
"At the moment they’re not even producing a dent compared to the increased use of energy use across the board. And that’s just us not just North Americans or us Brits, what about the Chinese, what about the Indians, what about the Africans . . .
"There are so many people just waiting to get their refrigerator, their spin dryer, their motor cars their mobile phone their air conditioning, they just want a little piece of the action, they want to catch up to us guys and we’re the guys who have done all the damage.
"I’m concerned about cats . . . that’s because I like them . . . I’m also concerned about people . . . I like those too."
Changing the topic from the future of humankind back to legendary rock was quite a reversal, but it was worth it, to ask Ian a final question: how did he select the five simple notes that make up the immortal guitar riff on Aqualung:
"I suppose because of an awareness that we lived in an age of rock riffs back then and there had been, I guess through artists like Jimi Hendrix and Cream and later Deep Purple, these bands that came up with these epic, very simple groupings of notes that were rather dramatic riffs.
"And I was reminded, when I started to hear that kind of music, that in fact it had already been done before in the world of classical music and particularly of course Beethoven who managed with just two notes. Rather, I mean four notes but only two, separate, different ones . . . ba ba ba bum ba ba ba bum [Ian sings Beethoven’s Fifth riff].
"I just sat down and tried to come up with something that no one else had played at that time. It was that kind of a functional introduction to a piece of music, just as Beethoven did in his Fifth Symphony or of course in the Toccata and Fugue.
"You know you have those big sort of dramatic statements right at the front of a piece of music and those are quite memorable. When you get one that’s a good one and no one else has done it before . . . well, you know you’re onto a good thing then.
"And so ba ba ba bu ba bum [Ian sings Aqualung riff] was just one of those very memorable yet simple and dramatic motifs. And then I made the most of it."
There really was nothing more to be said. Or so it seemed; he had one last note to impart:
"One note of deep sadness . . . I’m not the guy who wrote bum bum bum bum bum ba da dabum [Ian sings Smoke on the Water riff]. That was Ritchie Blackmore dammit!"
And with that, we thanked him for the words, the music and the inspiration.
Jethro Tull and Ian Anderson: Four Centuries of Tull
Ian Anderson: Chicago 2010 Concert Review
Martin Barre: Rocks on the Run