Concert Preview: Classic Rocker Ian Anderson Is Celebrating Jethro Tull At 50
WALLINGFORD — A healthy portion of Ian Anderson’s massive and diverse catalog of music taps situations, references, melodies, and characters that could be centuries old. But at half a century, Anderson’s contributions as the Grammy-winning front man of the classic rock band Jethro Tull have created a legacy of their own.
Anderson is showcasing a cross section of material from those 50 years of Jethro Tull in a global tour that arrives at the Toyota Oakdale Theatre on Wednesday, September 12.
While he and his current lineup of band mates — bassist David Goodier, drummer Scott Hammond, keyboardist John O’Hara, and guitarist Florian Ophale — could not get out of any concert hall without delivering Jethro Tull staples like “Thick As A Brick,” “Aqualung,” and “Locomotive Breath,” Anderson is also digging deep and coming up with a few lesser known gems.
Based on observations from earlier in the tour, hard core fans should be thrilled to hear renditions of “Heavy Horses,” “Songs From the Wood,” “My Sunday Feeling,” and “Some Day The Sun Won’t Shine For You,” among the dozen and a half tunes on Tull's two set bill.
Looking back to the band’s beginnings, Anderson uses an online bio to reflect on how Jethro Tull arrived at its memorable name.
“Back in February, 1968, we had many different names which usually changed every week,” Anderson recalled. “Since we were so bad that we had to pretend to be some new band in order to get re-booked in the clubs where we aspired to find fame and fortune. Our agent, who had studied history at college, came up with the name Jethro Tull (an eighteenth century English agricultural pioneer who invented the seed drill). That was the band name during the week in which London’s famous Marquee Club offered us the Thursday night residency. So it stuck.”
Although one of Jethro Tull’s more popular tunes is entitled “Living In The Past,” Anderson states that he and the band are still very much living in the moment.
“I am not one for nostalgia or reminiscences and prefer to live in the present and the future,” he said. “However, some of our audience obviously like the nostalgia bit, and the older material which we play is, for them perhaps, a trip down memory lane.
“For us,” Anderson continued, “it’s not about playing a song which could be thirty years old. It’s about playing something 24 hours old, since that’s when we probably last played it on stage. Our style of music is, I hope, a little bit timeless and not rooted in a particular music fashion.”
In a recent interview with The Newtown Bee while preparing for the US leg of the “Ian Anderson Presents: An Evening w/ Jethro Tull 50th Anniversary Tour,” the no-nonsense singer, songwriter, multi instrumentalist settled into the conversation reflecting on how the tour was going so far.
“You have to accept that there are going to be varying responses and varied understanding of the historical side of the band depending on where you’re playing,” Anderson said. “If I’m in Los Angeles, New York, or Philadelphia, because the band has been touring the states since 1969, a lot of the references I make and the video stuff will make reasonable sense.
"I’m really there to celebrate the repertoire of Jethro Tull and the 36 band members who have been part of that story. And then a few months into next year, done and dusty — we’ll have done the 50th Anniversary thing and I can get on to the rest of my life. As much as it’s fun to do this and wallow in nostalgia for awhile, it’s tricky, primarily because nostalgia for me is not the moving force when it comes to performing a song that you last [played] not 49 years ago, but just last evening. So the currency in which I deal is very much of the present day.”
What’s In A Name?
Changing gears, Anderson went on to discuss how he approaches creating and naming albums.
Referencing the track “Minstrel in the Gallery,” which became the title of Jethro Tull’s eighth studio album back in 1975, Anderson explained how the process of creating songs sometimes determined whether an album project would have thematic continuity or perhaps remain just a collection of individual numbers that were ready to record when it was time to head back into the studio.
“It’s always very difficult to decide which it is because the [songs] are not discreet little episodes in the gathering together of material and conceiving an album,” he said. “They get sort of interlinked by our day by day work. It’s probable in the case of [the album] Minstrel In The Gallery that it came along much the same as Too Old To Rock and Roll, Too Young To Die, or Aqualung. It’s in the title or the opening line of a song, and you sort of think as you’re getting there that maybe this is the way in which you wrap it up in a nice parcel to put under the Christmas tree.
“But to say that the title precedes everything else — or it’s maybe appended at the end once you look through the song list and you’re thinking which one sounds like a good album title — it varies from album to album. Certainly there have been albums I didn’t have a title for until I’d written all the songs, and then there have been times when I’ve come up with an album title and then fulfilled that in the song writing process — whether there’s a title track or not.
“It’s not a production line,” Anderson added. “There’s no modus operandi in putting it together. It’s more of an organic process, and I think that’s the beauty of working in this medium of music. You get to be creative, and there’s no hard-and-fast rule about how you reach the conclusion — every album, every song, every version of the band with different musicians, they all have their own life. That’s part of the fun.”
One of the most “modern” hits Jethro Tull is performing this tour is a tribute to another American archetype, the struggling subjects of the 1987 hit “Farm On The Freeway.”
“If you’re talking about it in painterly terms, you’d call it social realism,” Anderson explained. "It’s about something that matters to a group of people in contemporary society.
"Even today, the farmers of America are facing increased challenges as we are over here in a post-Brexit world. It’s not going to be business as usual. So perhaps it’s the job of a songwriter, or a journalist like yourself, John, to draw attention to certain issues — to get people to think about them and perhaps to make some difference.
“This is one of the songs from the [Grammy winning] Crest of A Knave era that resonated in America. I didn’t call it 'Farm On The Motorway,' I didn’t set it in England, I set it very much in the USA. The language of the song and the way it’s sung has more to do with contemporary Americana.
“As someone who has been involved with farming as well as aquaculture, it reflects what I’ve seen as I’m driving through rural parts of the USA. My eyes are open driving through the countryside — looking at what crops are growing and the machinery that helps them achieve their aims and other necessities of the modern age as they try to find the efficiencies required to feed an ever-expanding planet.”
Reflecting In Blue
Turning to the earliest days of Jethro Tull, Anderson reflected on how he influenced the shift away from being just another one of a huge collection of British acts emulating the Blues from across the pond.
“In the summer of 1968, when we finished our first album — which I titled This Was Jethro Tull very knowingly on the assumption that the opportunistic material we used to get noticed might not represent the future of the band — that gave way to some songwriting I began to present to the other guys,” Anderson said. “But it was clear that Mick Abraham, a very competent and energetic blues guitarist, wasn’t relating to it. It’s not a fault; he just didn’t have an interest in it.
“But Glenn [Cornick] and Clive [Bunker] were willing to try different things beyond their experience, if not their technical ability. They were excited to deal with new songs and new ideas. So that material I started writing in the summer of 1968 became the Stand Up album, which I regard in many ways as the first Jethro Tull album because it’s almost all original material.
“There are elements of blues musically and lyrically that still occur, even in my recent songwriting. But I came to the collusion that I was not black, and I didn’t know anything about the experience of black American folk musicians — it was something I couldn’t claim to have an authenticity about, especially before Jethro Tull when I saw concerts promoted by a couple of German guys who brought over a host of black American musicians who were household names.”
Anderson said those popular American blues artists were not only invited onto the stages of Europe’s finest concert halls, but were treated by audiences with a reverence that he thought may have been “unnerving, but undoubtedly something they must have enjoyed.”
“That opened our eyes to the music and to the fact that I could imitate and respect it, but I could never be one of those musicians. You know that it’s not you. It’s not your background or your culture. I can trace my genes to the cradle of the Tigris and Euphrates, but the one thing for sure that I know is I don’t have any right to be going out and plagiarizing and imitating something that is not my music.
“I say that in the full knowledge that I do still play a couple of songs that you would say are blues songs. But I do it not with a sense that I’m trying to pretend I am of that background — I’m performing the pale imitation...the middle class white boy is doing his thing but in a respectful, even perhaps a reverential way... which kind of makes it okay. For the moment, I’m doing it because it’s part of how Jethro Tull began.”
For tickets and more information on the September 12 Jethro Tull concert, visit oakdale.com.