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Jethro Tull leader doesn't mind living in the past with latest projects

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

Posted: Friday, April 16, 2021

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There's a new Jethro Tull album in the works, but with 53 years of music behind him founder and frontman Ian Anderson doesn't mind a little bit of living in the past.

Most of Anderson's Tull-related projects this year come from the band's lengthy history. A just-released boxed set reissue of 1980's "A" (titled "A (A La Mode") is bookended by a celebration of the "Aqualung" album's 50th anniversary during March and, in June, the publication of "Silent Singing: The Complete Lyrics of Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull."

Looking back has not always been the preferred pursuit for Anderson, a multi-instrumentalist best known for his flute playing -- sometimes perched on one leg. But these days he not-so-grudgingly embraces these opportunities for retrospection.

"It's a mixture," the Scottish-born Anderson, 73, says via Zoom from his home in Britain, showing off scratch marks on his arm from a recently acquired kitten. "Sometimes it's a reacquaintance of something I surprising remember really quite well. On other occasions, I'm dumbfounded by the way I can remember almost nothing about them.

"But, you know, in the harsh reality of the modern age and the rapidly dwindling sales of physical product, anything they can do to make a small profit...is very important. And the fans are the ones who benefit. They get the work -- the bonus tracks, the unreleased things -- which they never would have gotten 20 or 30 years ago. So everyone's a winner."

The expanded "A (A La Mode)" is certainly a case in point. Like previous packages, this -- again remixed by British progressive rock artist and fan Steven Wilson -- features outtakes and alternative versions, as well as a full 1980 concert from the Los Angeles Sports Arena. For Anderson, however, "there's always been a little awkwardness" about the album, which started life as a solo album during what was intended to be a band break after more than a decade's of intense touring and recording.

"It was basically a time off to find other things," Anderson recalls. "Everybody in the band had things they wanted to do, things they were quite looking forward to finding the time to do." He had enlisted Eddie Jobson, violinist-keyboardist with the band U.K., which had opened for Tull, who in turn brought in drummer Mark Craney. They added then-current Tull bassist Dave Pegg, who had not yet recorded with the band, and the title "A" was chosen to reflect Anderson's surname.

The overall approach of the album was sleek and contemporary, dominated by Jobson's synthesizers "to get away from the sound of Jethro Tull." But when Anderson decided that "some guitar would sound great on this," the choice was Tull's Martin Barre. "Martin showed up to play on a track, and somehow he didn't go away," Anderson says. "We finished up making the album with guitar featuring equally along with other things." At that point, the record company pushed for it to come out under the band name.

"They twisted my arm behind my back to release it as a Jethro Tull album rather than a solo album, and I unwisely went along with it," he says. Using the group's moniker made it "an easier sell," Anderson acknowledges. But it led to a major shift in the Tull lineup as mainstay members John Evan, David Palmer and Barriemore Barlow quit in its wake -- one of the major shakeups in the life of a group that's seen more than three dozen members pass through its ranks.

"It was the end of the band of the late 70s," Anderson notes. "The split was never intended to be, and it was my assumption...that we would get back together and go out on the road again. But that never happened. And of course Jethro Tull went on, and still does to this day."

Anderson and current company are biding their time right now, waiting to return to the road. A European tour is on the books starting May 12, with dates on the docket into late November and a pair of Anderson solo Christmas shows during December in England. More shows, including a hoped-for return to North America, are being slotted in 2022.

"Every week we wind up booting a few more concerts into 2022," Anderson says. "Everybody, including the audience and me and my crew, should feel relatively safe...I, for one, will not venture out of my dressing room without wearing a facemask, except for the time I'm on playing the flute. Otherwise I'll be carrying on as I've been doing for the past year, which is masking up and feverishly spraying everybody and everything around me with the appropriate sanitizer."

Meanwhile, work continues on the next Tull album, titled "The Zealot Genie" and the group's first studio set since 1999, continues. No release date has been determined yet, and Anderson is looking forward to the next dip into the Tull till with the "Silent Singing" book.

"It's something I had in mind to do at some point, and the pandemic year of 2020 was obviously an opportunity," notes Anderson, who's added anecdotal memories and photographs to the song lyrics. "It's a bit like having a Twitter account and then thinking, 'Oh my God, what was I thinking when I wrote that?!' with some of (the lyrics). There are some things, especially from the early days, that aren't very good or very creative.

"Fortunately the experience turned out to be a lot less harmful to my psyche than I thought it was going to be when I began. I wouldn't say there were songs I used to hate and now I'm, 'Oh, they were really good.' I just think they weren't so bad giving the context of the time, the way of writing. And there are many things I still quite like, so on the whole it was rewarding to do."

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