Ian Anderson - Interview Exclusive Print E-mail
Written by Jim Rowland   
Sunday, 26 February 2012 04:30

The word 'legend' if sometimes over used in rock, but if there's one man that is a true legend of British rock, then Ian Anderson fits the bill. He's been treading the boards for well over 40 years now, and has a huge string of classic albums to his name. Having been a huge fan of Ian's work with Jethro Tull for over 25 years now, what better way to start a cold, snowy Monday morning than to pick up the phone a have a chat with the great man himself. We covered quite a lot, including Ian's new 'Thick As A Brick 2' sequel album, the imminent live performances of the original 'Thick As A Brick' album in its entirety, 'progressive rock' vs. 'prog', Ian Anderson vs. Jethro Tull, Spinal Tap and even details of a rather interesting collaboration with The Darkness!


Read on Uber Rockers.




It's the 40th anniversary of 'Thick As A Brick' this year. I've heard you say before that with the previous album 'Aqualung', you were accused of it being a 'concept' album and a 'progressive rock' album, so you thought with this one ('Thick As A Brick') 'I'll really give it to them'!


Well yes, you're paraphrasing, not entirely incorrectly, what I thought at the time. 'Aqualung' was perceived by the critics, rather than the audience, as a concept album. It gave them something to write about. There were two or three songs on there that were connected in some way, but there were a whole bunch of songs on there that had nothing to do with the other songs, so I don't think it's really fair to call it a concept album. But the term "Progressive Rock" I never had any problem with - I was more than happy to be thought of as a progressive rock musician that was fine. It was just later when the word 'prog' had rather dark overtones of bombastic, pompous, arrogant, overblown, selfish music that was the spaghetti noodling of some of our peer groups like Yes, Emerson Lake and Palmer and Genesis who tended to drone on a bit, and at that point we didn't.


We were fairly concise and punchy in the music and it varied from whimsical acoustic, singer/songwriter pieces to more rock oriented electric guitar powered riffs, interspersed with acoustic elements, like the song 'Aqualung' goes from full on to full off in the space of a nano-second. So yes, we were kind of progressive rock and I thought that was kind of an apt title. It's just that when it became the 'proggy' moment, I was a little reluctant following 'Thick As A Brick' and 'A Passion Play', to continue in that mould because of course 'Thick As A Brick' was designed as poking a bit of fun, a bit of a spoof of the concept album genre, and so we created that preposterous idea that the lyrics were created by an eight year old boy. Of course when you start off with that premise, and ask people to buy into it, it's rather like Peter Pan or The Rocky Horror Show - you start off with something a bit improbable but people are usually willing to go along with it, suspend disbelief and buy into the joke and that's ok. The problem came when in a lot of places, they didn't really get the joke so they thought it was deadly serious which reinforced the idea that Jethro Tull was a 'prog' band. I suppose that for a couple of years you had to accept the fact that well that's the way half the world sees us and it's better than being ignored.


IAN_guitarAll those years later, writing a piece of music that is a sequel, albeit with a forty year conceptual gap in the material, it's not really just a follow on, it's really does jump ahead to what is the outcome of life. What many different possible paths and interventions might occur to anyone, including the young Gerald Bostock, and how do they come about and where does it leave you at the end? In a place completely different to where you otherwise might have ended up or is there some fate-like conclusion to life where you and up more or less where you were going to be anyway in some pre-ordained fashion. I don't necessarily believe that but I think it's an entertaining possibility.


So therein lies the conceptual nature of 'Thick As A Brick 2' and the rationale for doing something where I guess I'm working with the same tonal colours, the same sound palate of Hammond organs and electric guitars and flutes and acoustic guitars and the odd glockenspiel or... harpsichord comes to mind, as I did back in 1972 but musically and lyrically it moves on into rather darker territory and I don't really feel that I'm recreating a moment. It feels like a forty year gap in terms of essentially what it's about, but musically there are nods and winks to previous things. There are lyrical references to elements on the 'Aqualung' album and musical references, albeit quite loose, to little elements on 'Thick As A Brick 1', but for the most part it ploughs new furrows. To me, at any rate, it's excusable as a direction for me to take later in life, to come back and make a concept album in a vaguely progressive rock genre. That is a big jump and a big leap of faith and it may or may not succeed. The likelihood is that it will partially succeed. Some people will think wow this is really great - it sounds like the Jethro Tull we know and love, and there will be people who will be incredibly bored and unmoved by it all. My gut feeling is that it's probably going to be 50/50. I had fun doing it and so did the other musicians, and we're going to have fun playing it live on stage, and I'm looking forward to the next eighteen months of taking this out to the world and hopefully meeting with only a moderate degree of rejection!!


It's interesting to hear you associate the word 'joke' with the original 'Thick As A Brick'. I know people who regard that album as their all time favourite album.


Well there are a bunch of wackos out there who say that 'A Passion Play' is their all time favourite album. But they should of course remain in the establishment for the criminally insane in which they probably already reside!




That moves me on to my next question, which you've partly already answered, which is that for me, 'Thick As A Brick' and 'A Passion Play' are probably the only two Tull albums that you could really label in the classic progressive rock style. Does it annoy you that some people still label Jethro Tull as a progressive rock band?


Yes, but that's not all people. At some point in the 80's we won a Grammy for the best hard rock/metal band in what was then a new category for the heavy metal artists that were then emerging, and it was awarded to Jethro Tull in its first year as a category. It exists as a category at the Grammys even to this day. But if you're being awarded some peer group recognition, you tend to accept it out of good grace, because it would be churlish to turn something down, whether it's a Grammy or an honorary degree or an MBE, it's a bit rude to say no so you accept those things graciously. But being regarded as a folk rock band or a hard rock band or a heavy metal band or an acoustic band or a classical influenced band or a blues band or a jazz rock band, there's a whole list of appendages that have been attached to the name of Jethro Tull over the years, and they're all in part correct. It's just very difficult to find one single overriding term which applies as well as the term progressive rock in the sense that it was used back in the late sixties and early seventies. "Progressive Rock" I was very happy with back in 1969 when we released the 'Stand Up' album. It seemed to me to quite aptly describe the mixture of rather eclectic music that was driven by a strong back beat, and a rhythmic sense that was played with electric instruments and for the most part that is progressive rock. When you're looking to sources outside to the envelope of what was then very limited blues based and I guess rock'n'roll as it emerged from the USA in the fifties, then progressive rock seemed like a pretty appropriate title, I rather liked being a progressive rock musician. I still do today if that's the term applied, but 'prog' or the adjective 'proggy' can make the teeth grind a little in the night, when you wake from a bad dream of prog excess!


IA_reeds_medAnd you've mentioned the two guilty parties there, especially ELP!


The thing is that 'The ELPs' as I called them actually had much more of a sense of humour about them than you might have imagined from their music. They were quite good at recognising the absurdity of what they did. In the same way as perhaps bands like Iron Maiden have that self awareness to know that it's all a bit over the top. It's those that take themselves terribly seriously that deserve a sound caning, and I think early Roxy Music was an example of that. They seemed to be on the one hand this rather absurd kind of art school band of what went on to be termed 'glam rock', but as a fan of them, I remember I bought their first album and thought they were pretty good, it was only when they came to join us in the USA that I realised that they were really deadly serious about their look and their manner on stage, and the audiences hated them because of it. They were just trying too hard and they took themselves too seriously and the Americans are quite unforgiving about that, and did give them a sound caning and sent them packing.


So there are those examples where I think taking yourself too seriously is a bad idea. I'd like to think that when it comes to mocking the Ian Anderson persona or the Jethro Tull group personality, I'm in there first, long before anybody else gets to it! In fact I was just putting up on You Tube late last night a video of Ian Anderson interviews Ian Anderson which you will find as 'thickasabricktwo' on YouTube and the links will be up on our website. But of course I'm being vaguely humorous in the way I react to my own questions and my answers, but it underlines this serious stuff, but when it comes to making a joke of age, I'm gonna be there first, or when it comes to making jokes about pompous prog rock, I'm gonna be there first, I'm gonna leave all you guys standing! I live that life and I know of some of the absurdities! Long before God created Spinal Tap on the seventh day, there were another six days of Black Sabbath and Jethro Tull and Yes, and a whole bunch of bands that you could be very wickedly humorous about because of the over the top behaviour and stories and all the rest of it. So there's a legend of British rock music and British rock musicians who are in some ways encapsulated in 'This Is Spinal Tap', and a very accurate and witty parody it is too. We're pretty good at getting there early on in the tear it to shreds stakes, we Brits, we do have that ability to laugh at ourselves. Our American counterparts weren't so good at doing that.


Did you think 'Stonehenge' was Jethro Tull?


No, 'Stonehenge' was definitely Black Sabbath and the getting lost in the stage fog was an Ian Gillan moment. Smoking the Peterson pipes and the name Derek Smalls, the character of Harry Shearer - they were Jethro Tull moments. Derek Small being a character you will find on the 'Thick As A Brick' album cover and the 'Passion Play' album cover, and the Peterson pipes were to the best of my knowledge only smoked by three members of Jethro Tull! All of which I pointed out to Harry Shearer when I interviewed him on a live show some years ago, to his acute embarrassment, he'd forgotten where he got it from!




Moving on to the gigs that you're doing - you've chosen to bill it as Ian Anderson as opposed to Jethro Tull. What was your thinking behind that?


In the last ten years it's moved from being mostly Jethro Tull shows to being mostly Ian Anderson shows. When I go out with the Ian Anderson name to the forefront, it tends to keep some of the riff raff at home! By riff raff, I'm gently having a dig at those almost always male, rather stereotypical drunken hard rock fans who whistle and hoot and shout in all the quiet places and who annoy the rest of the audience, and me too! They tend not to show up when it says Ian Anderson on the ticket.


Is that more in America, or does it happen in this country?


It doesn't happen much in this country, it's mostly other countries, America being one of them. In countries like Italy and Spain, just billing a show as Jethro Tull, I have to expect it's going to be hard to play some of the more acoustic elements of the show, whether they occur in the middle of loud rock songs or whether they're old acoustic pieces. I think I have a little more freedom when I do it as Jethro Tull, but from where I stand on stage and from the perspective of what I do, I'm absolutely not conscious of there being a difference between the two. For me it's just another day at the office, I'm just doing what I do and hopefully enjoying what I do without any fear of interruption. But if I go and play at the Glasgow Empire or Newcastle City Hall or any of those notoriously reactive kind of venues that historically are quite pungent with the odour of "get off"!! These are places that take no hostages, but I go out and play those shows quite happily as Ian Anderson and/or Jethro Tull, it doesn't make much difference. The people are well behaved and they're attuned to the music, they know when to applaud, when to shout and when to be quiet. It's instinctive more in British audiences to show a bit of respect in that regard. Where the culture is different is outdoors in the summer if it's a festival show. It's about drinking and noise and celebrating almost as if it was a football match, so you have to accept there are those different circumstances and different cultures in different countries too, so you've got to be on your guard a little bit.




Are you going to be using the same musicians, for example is Martin Barre going to be playing with you?


Martin is doing other stuff this year. We had a long talk last summer in the USA about a number of things he wanted to do this year, and I wanted to do that were on a different level. Martin has a pretty full schedule this year playing with other musicians. I believe he has two new band line ups of his own, doing amongst other things, some of the early Jethro Tull repertoire, so we have our separate paths for the moment which is good for both of us before we get too old to do these things, but my musicians that play with me on this album and tour, well three of the four of them have played with me for ten years now.


All the guys have done Jethro Tull shows as well as my solo shows. Three of us on stage have been members of the band billed as Jethro Tull for most of the past ten years. We all feel a great connectivity to the name Jethro Tull. With 'Thick As A Brick One', the guys that played on that album don't play music any more, except for Martin and me, three of the guys just stopped a long time ago, and two of them have no way physically to go back to playing music. Somehow doing a sequel, in a way that you can't reform that original band as it was, again it was a reason I didn't feel comfortable calling it Jethro Tull. John Evans and Jeffrey Hammond were two integral people in not only the recording of the album, but in that brief period of touring they were key members, and I guess I had to step aside from that era a little bit in the way that I present this. You can call it what you want, in the way I've presented this album, I've deliberately left it a little vague, a little open to interpretation. Critics, reviewers and public alike all have fun with that idea, they like to banter and enter into chat room gossip - God bless them!


Tull_BOIf you could name one Jethro Tull album that is your favourite, what would that be?


It would be 'the Very Best Of Jethro Tull' because I'm a believer in compilation albums. Compilation albums are a way to get into music, so I'm a keen buyer of albums where someone else goes through the throes of coming up with a representative cross section of music that is a good introduction to an artist. Plus, being a Scotsman with a fairly tightly closed sporran, I'm a bit mean when it comes to spending money and compilation albums are a very cost effective way of getting into an artist. I may later today log onto iTunes and purchase the best of Iron Maiden, because I was watching my pal Bruce Dickinson on television this morning on a programme about him flying his jet aeroplanes


(and right at the end of the interview, Ian drops this little bombshell, or should that be cannonball..)


Here's one for you - when the new album from the Darkness appears, you may find Ian Anderson on a track called 'Cannonball', look out for it, unless of course it was so awful they decide to leave it out in the mix! They're a good band, when they asked me to play I thought I'd better check them out to see if they're in good fettle, and they definitely are. They're a band that is quite uniquely British!


I'd like to thank Ian for taking the time to chat to me on behalf of Uber Rock. Thanks also to Sharon Chevin for organising the whole thing. And one last thing to the guys at URHQ - at no point during this interview was I standing on one leg!

And those upcoming tour dates in full are:


14th Perth,  Concert Hall - 01738 621 031 - £22.50/£25.50/£28.50
15th Glasgow, Theatre Royal - 0844 871 7627 - £25.50/£28.50
17th Newcastle, City Hall - 0191 261 2606 - £25.50/£28.50

18th Liverpool, Philharmonic - 0151 709 3789 - £25.50/£28.50
19th Sheffield, City Hall - 0114 2 789 789 - £25.50/£28.50
20th Blackburn, St George's Hall - 0844 847 1664 - £26.50
21st Harrogate, Royal Hall - 0845 130 8840 - £25.50/£28.50
22nd Manchester, Opera House - 0844 847 2484 - £25.50/£28.50
24th Derby, Assembly Rooms - 01332 255 800 - £25.50/£28.50
25th Ipswich, Regent Theatre - 01473 433100 - £25.50/£28.50
27th London, Hammersmith Apollo - 0843 221 0100 - £25/£28.50/£32.50
28th Bristol, Colston Hall - 0117 922 3686 - £25.50/£28.50
29th High Wycombe, The Swan Theatre - 01494 512 000 - £26.50/£29.50
30th Birmingham, Symphony Hall - 0121 780 3333 - £26.50/£29.50


2nd Oxford, Apollo - 0844 847 1588 - £25.50/£28.50
3rd Reading, Hexagon - 0118 960 6060 - £25.50/£28.50
4th Guildford, G Live - 0844 7701 797 - £28.50/£31.50
5th Cardiff, St David's Hall - 029 2087 8444 - £25.50/£28.50
6th Southampton, Guildhall - 023 8063 2601 - £25.50/£28.50

Doors open at 7.30pm except for Southampton - 7pm. 
Tickets are on sale from http://www.gigantic.com and are subject to a booking fee.