The BIG Über Rock Interview: Martin Barre Print
Written by DJ Astrocreep   
Sunday, 12 November 2017 04:30

It is not every day that you get the chance to interview someone who not only has been working as a professional musician for longer than you yourself have been on the planet, but even less so when it's someone who has been a major influence on subsequent generations of musicians. But, that was just the experience I had the other week, when the UR bosses offered me the opportunity to sit down for an in-depth chat with the legendary guitarist, Martin Barre.


Martin Barre 1


I started by asking if, having worked with Jethro Tull for so many years, it had been much of a disappointment in 2011 when Ian Anderson decided to retire the name?


It was, I would say, it was a surprise, more than a disappointment, because I had no idea that it was coming, or what would happen afterwards and it was very abrupt. I had six weeks’ notice to reorganise my life. But in a positive way, I think when you're there in a situation like that, you really have to think quickly and you work really hard to make sure that you've got a continuation of your career. It was good, because it's done me a fantastic amount of good musically, but it was crazy in as much as I had not concept at all that it was going to happen.


Do you think there's any chance of a possible reunion on the cards?


No. I think if anything would have happened, it would have been next year, because it's the 50th anniversary of Tull, and I've heard absolutely nothing. Plus, now, I've invested so much time in my band. We've played quite a lot in the UK, we've been over to the United States five times; we're doing fantastically well over there, and I would never throw that away. I would never even stall the process of trying to make it on my own by going back to another project. It won't happen, and I think it's better that it doesn't, because what I do with Jethro Tull music is very strong and very different from what Ian (Anderson)'s doing. We co-exist quite happily, and we're both very happy, I'm sure.


You got an award a few years ago for one of the best solos ever with 'Aqualung'. Are there any of your own that you think are comparable, or maybe better, in your opinion?


Absolutely. I love writing music and because I'm now tailoring it to my own playing it's a lot more focused. I would certainly say the stronger stuff I do is my own writing and I don't make it particularly guitar heavy, I just try and write good songs, giving the whole band a lot to do musically. In general, I'm playing a huge amount more guitar than I ever did with Tull since the ‘70s, since it was a very guitar heavy band and the flute was a colouring, rather than a central point. It changed, which is fine, because I'm happy playing a small role in a band, or a large role, I'm equally happy in both situations. Certainly for me now, I feel my guitar playing has improved a huge amount, especially over the last three or four years, because I've just played so much more, I can tell in my own style. In general, I'm a much better player now.


Now, you've had almost 20 guest appearances and over 50 albums worth of credits as a session musician, are there any other artists you'd still like to work with?


Martin Barre Studio 2


Yeah, I plan to do that. In the next year I'm gonna do a new solo album, which I'm halfway through, then I'm going to do a big project with Jethro Tull music. I'm gonna have some really great guests play on it. They won't necessarily all be famous people, but they'll all be people who are very important to my life as a musician, so there will be a lot of contrast on the album. I'm going to do very different things with Jethro Tull music to celebrate the 50 years! I've played with a lot of people, and essentially I never turn down work, because I just love the challenge of playing with other musicians. I've played flute on a heavy metal album over a German heavy metal singer and I've got a project coming up with one of the guys who plays with David Sanborn. I love to do everything I possibly can and if I feel a little bit uncomfortable, the more exciting I find it, and the mroe something different comes out of it.


Do you have a name for your new album yet?


No, I don't. I've got a few ideas, but that'll be a bit down the line.


You said that you still do a lot of touring: is there a massive difference for you personally now, compared to your time touring with Jethro Tull?


Well there is, because I control it. We've just been away for nine weeks. We'd never do that long with Jethro Tull. I'm able to plan the tours. I'm very good at the logistics of touring, as I've done it for so long, so yeah, we have fun. We drive to everything. We avoid the bullshit of flying and all that trauma. The band get on really well. If we get time off, we get an Air BnB and we share a house and enjoy each other’s company. It's really nice. We get on great, not just musically, but personally. I enjoy touring a lot more now.


As you've been touring for almost 50 years now, is there a particular gig or concert that stands out in your mind as THE gig of your life?


I think the gig of my life will never happen, because they get better and better. I think if I ever felt that, I'd just feel that if I can't improve on it, why would I carry on, though of course I would. The last show that we did in America was pretty amazing, with a fantastic audience and it was just a great feeling and an exciting night. In many ways, each gig is the most important gig of my life and if you play somewhere to a small audience, they get the same show that we give if we play a festival to ten thousand people.


Are there any particular tracks that, in your head, always have to be part of your set?


Martin Barre studio


No, because, for example, we did two two-hour shows in Detroit on consecutive nights and we didn't play any music that was the same, which is really hard to do. I like the feeling that we can construct a set and tailor it to the venue and how we feel. I don't want to play the same set every night, as people come and see a lot of shows. I think that when they do that, they deserve to have something a bit different each night.


A little bit about your actual guitars and such now. I hear that your first guitar was a Gibson ES330 Sunburst. Do you still have it?


No, because it used to feed back a lot, [because] it was semi acoustic. In those days - this was in '68 - you could never afford to have more than one guitar. So, I traded it in for a Les Paul, which worked a lot better, as people started turning their guitars up and used sustain, so it needed a different sort of instrument. I've used Gibsons for about 20 years, then I used Hamers and various other ones, but now I use PRS. I know all the people at the factory, we have a great relationship with them and they build me guitars. Others I just buy off the shelf. The whole band play PRSs by choice, rather than by arrangement, so they're great instruments, they're reliable. I use Soldano amps every night, so I know I'm going to get the sound that I'm happy with, there's no mistakes with variables. Every night's a done deal, so I know when I plug in, what I'm going to get.


Is it a specific model that you use, or is it custom-built for yourself?


[I’ve used] P22s for about four years now, I'm pretty happy with those. They've got nice, mellow sides to them, they're very fat, very smooth sound and they just suit me! I just like them (*laughs*).


I remember a mention of your dream guitar - a cherry red Gibson ES335: did you ever get yourself one?


I did indeed! I was 70 last year, so I bought myself one as a birthday present. By coincidence, it was a guitar that I'd owned 25 years before, which I'd sold - I can't remember why I sold it. I was looking for one, for my birthday, then found it on the internet and I thought, 'You know, that's meant to be!', so I bought it… and it's an amazing guitar. But, I don't take it on the road.


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