By Jeb Wright
For over 42 years members of Jethro Tull have come and gone like a revolving door. Only bandleader Ian Anderson has been with the band for every album. After Tull’s debut, This Was, Anderson made the first of many sackings in his band, guitarist Mick Abrahams had to go. The pair were butting heads over the direction Jethro Tull should pursue, with Abrahams pushing for a more guitar oriented blues approach. Anderson had other visions and, in the end, he remained.
Martin Barre was recruited to replace Abrahams as the band went into the studio to work on their second album, Stand Up, which sowed the seeds of what would become the classic mix of flute and guitar that became the Jethro Tull sound. Barre fit in well and began to contribute more on Tull’s third release, Benefit, as the band began to experience commercial success around the globe.
It was the next album, however, Aqualung, that broke the band huge and enabled them to be one of the most successful and unique, bands in the rock genre. Songs like “Aqualung,” “Cross Eyed Mary,” “Locomotive Breath” and “Hymm 43” rocked harder than Tull had ever rocked. The team of Anderson/Barre matured. Over the years, band members were cast aside, seemingly at Anderson’s whim, only Barre would remain.
Now, over four decades later, the classic Aqualung album has turned 40 years old. To celebrate that fact, EMI has released a two-disc version of the album with a bonus disc of other recordings made at the same time, as well as a deluxe version for the hardcore Tull fan, which includes a the CDS, a vinyl version of the album and a book.
Martin met with Classic Rock Revisited to discuss the making of the album. He revealed the difficulty the band had recording the album and the creative process behind the songs. During the interview, however, Barre shocked us by revealing that there are no plans for anymore Jethro Tull albums or tours at this time. When asked if the band was no more Barre could only say, “I don’t know.”
While the future of Jethro Tull with both Ian Anderson and Martin Barre in the band is up in the air, Barre is not staying at home and watching morning talk shows. He has assembled a band to tour Europe and play his solo music. He is also working on a worldwide tour with another band he is putting together that will play only Jethro Tull music. Barre promises that many of the songs performed will be tunes that have not been performed by Tull in many, many years. Ian Anderson has announced he will also do a solo tour performing the classic Thick as a Brick in its entirety.
While the future of Tull may be up in the air, the past is firmly cemented in solid bedrock. Read on to learn about the classic Aqualung and learn where the guitarist is headed in 2012.
Jeb: It’s hard to believe Aqualung is 40 years old. You’re used to anniversaries but the number 40 really jumps out at you.
Martin: These numbers come up and they’re like birthdays. When you have your 40th birthday it’s like, ‘WHOA!” Then 50 is a big one and 60 is a big one but after that is 65, which is huge. I would imagine that after that you just go to 66 and then 67, as each one gets bigger the older you get; each day becomes an anniversary as you’re just happy to be alive.
The thrill of the album’s anniversary dulls a bit because after this year will be the 40th anniversary of Thick as a Brick, and the following year, Passion Play. I’m very proud but I have trouble getting too excited.
Jeb: When the big 10’s come up, like 40 years, it does give the fans a chance to look back and remember why that album was so special to them.
Martin: The packages are very nicely put together and they’re great for the fans. Jethro Tull has never patted ourselves on the back, ever. We’ve never gone down to the pub and said, “It’s been forty years; pour me a glass of champagne.”
It’s a shame because we’re living in an age where everything is expendable. We don’t have a record company anymore. EMI deal with the back catalog but I’ve never talked to them. It is all very removed from the days when you would go to the record company in New York, or LA, and you would go to the office and know everybody. You would leave the building with armfuls of everybody else’s records. It was very personalized then but now, most of the record companies I deal with have gone bankrupt. They just don’t exist anymore. If they do, then they don’t have any money. There is not a lot of celebrating anymore. For me, the celebrating I do is when I walk into the studio, pick up my guitar and play something and think, “Yeah, that’s nice.”
I am proud of the albums and the history and it does mean a lot, however, it is what I’m doing today and what I’m going to do tomorrow that is really important for me.
Jeb: Jethro Tull is one band that has never worried about sales, style, what is in vogue or anything else; Tull makes the music the most important thing. You have a fan base that will accept whatever Tull does, not that they always like it, but they give it a fair listen.
Martin: They are amazing and we’ve made them put up with some weird stuff over the years. They patiently sat through it. I guess because of them, we have license to change directions, which is great. If you don’t do that, you get so bogged down in a style that it gets hard to survive. Luckily, Ian and I both love writing music. I am writing music now. Sometimes, in the back of your mind you wonder, “Have I lost it?” I then play and play and play until I go, “Yeah, I did it; I’ve still got it.” I just love that. While I like it, that is still not what matters most, as you’ve got to get a few thousand other people to like it as well. Jethro Tull’s fans have given us the opportunity to do a lot of stuff. They allow us to do solo projects and to play with other people. We are able to take the music to a lot of places that fans of other bands may not have allowed them to take it; it’s great.
Jeb: Ian Anderson and Martin Barre have been the two members of Tull since the second album when you joined. To my ear, Aqualung has more and more of your guitar. The electric songs “Cross Eyed Mary,” “Aqualung” and “Hymm 43” really seem to show you getting more involved with the songs than the two albums you were previously on, Benefit and Stand Up.”
Martin: On Stand Up, I was terrified because I had just joined the band. It really showed a change in direction for the band and when it was accepted and became a successful album, we gained a lot of confidence. We extended that confidence into the making of Benefit, in which we were a lot more at ease. Ian was still writing the songs on guitar at the time.
When Aqualung came out, Ian would show me what he had written and then we would play it. His flute playing was very much in proportion with the guitar. Obviously, I’m biased but when you jump forward 40 years things have changed.
Jethro Tull did their last show for quite a while in July. I have started playing my solo material again and I’ve got a few projects I am working on. The amazing thing is that I’ve started playing half of my material and half of this French guy’s material; I have so much to do in this project. I love arranging music and playing with great musicians. I like saying, ‘Try this” and they say, “Try that?” I tell them to just try it and they go, “Wow.” To me, when it works out then that is the greatest thing about writing and arranging music; it is the icing on the cake. I have been having a lot of fun.
I suddenly realized how little guitar I was playing in Jethro Tull and how little I had to do. I was taking a bit of a backseat, which is never a good thing. I was not having to work very hard, and I like to work hard.
Jeb: On Aqualung, were you sharing ideas with Ian or was he very much the conductor?
Martin: He was driving but I was in the front seat of the same car. We all had ideas and everybody listened to each other’s thoughts on the songs. Everybody had input into the making of the album. It hasn’t always been that way, but in the early days it was that way. We tried to find ways to play the music and to interrupt what Jethro Tull was, not one person could do that. We tried to make Jethro Tull take a specific direction. Ian had a lot to do with it but we all had important roles to play. Over the years, that got diluted and certain concepts took over. Keyboards became too important, or electronic drums became too important. Over the years, the computer has become too important. These things diluted the Jethro Tull sound, which is really made up of flute and guitar songs. It disappeared because we got bogged down by looking at a bloody computer screen. I hate it but you have to do it.
I refuse to record like that. I play live in the studio. I can’t deal with people saying, “I can fix that.” You sit there for twenty minutes while he looks at a computer screen. In that time, you could have done it again and instead you’re watching a screen. That is not making music, as the essential thing, when you do a performance on an instrument, are the imperfections. All of the grunts and farts are lost. If you lose those elements then you sterilize the music.
Jeb: I have to ask you, because this is Aqualung’s 40th, about playing those big opening notes to the title track.
Martin: Ian wrote that riff and I wrote the guitar solo. In those days, the riff was often the main part of the song like “Aqualung” or “Cross Eyed Mary.” Ian wrote those riffs and they would be the basis of the song. It made it very much Jethro Tull and the songs and guitar riff were very important to the sound.
I once did a solo tour, and I used a guitar player, whose name I’m not going to mention, and when he played “My God” he would bend one of the notes sharp in the riff and I about died because that riff didn’t need interpreting because it is what it is. It is really simple and it worked. Why did it work? Because it was simple and that is the hard thing when playing live. You record it and it is something that is simple and works but you’ve got to hold on to that when you recreate it. I’ve got to make sure that when I play, I play it correctly. When somebody else plays these riffs, to me, it just doesn’t sound the same. It could be a virtuoso but it won’t sound the same. I have worked with some fantastic musicians but they all share the same inability to play simple. Jimi Hendrix could play one note and you would know immediately who it was.
Jeb: The solo on “Aqualung,” did you do that in parts or did you wing it?
Martin: I winged it. I remember a long time ago meeting somebody in the dressing room and they were playing all of the solos from “Nothing is Easy.” Over the years, I had changed it a bit, as you do. Hearing him play it I realized that it didn’t need changing. The way it was on the record was fine. It was not great and it was not Steve Vai or Joe Satriani, but it was the way that it ought to be.
Jeb: You talked about simplicity and that brings me to “Hymm 43” and the part where you scratch the pick on the strings while your fret hand mutes the strings. You also do that on “Locomotive Breath.” You didn’t invent that technique but like all things Tull you placed it in the song perfectly.
Martin: Just last week I was playing “Locomotive Breath” and the other guitar player improvised and he played the riff differently and I was thinking, “No, that’s not it.” I was onstage so I couldn’t tell him how it should be. He was doing it the way he heard it but it was not the way that it was supposed to be.
Jethro Tull was a very isolated band; we didn’t mix with other bands. We didn’t copy things because we didn’t listen to their music. Some of the ideas were fresh because there were really no influences at all.
Jeb: Ian has said that the studio was difficult to work in because it was a converted church. You were the first band to record in that studio.
Martin: The gear kept breaking down and we would have to sit there for hours while they fixed it, which was very frustrating. It was a very hard and stressful album to make. We didn’t just plug in and the magic happened; it was very hard work. It was very difficult to get all of the backing tracks done. It ended up being a very important album. Another Jethro Tull album, Under Wraps, fell into place very quickly but it is probably the least important album we ever made. There is no telling what’s going to happen.
I remember reading about when the Beatles made Abbey Road. They were arguing all the time and they had many problems recording the album. It has great songs on it and was a wonderful album but it was very hard for them to make.
Jeb: Led Zeppelin came in to the same studio to record IV while Tull was recording Aqualung. Have you ever thought back that on the same spot on the earth two incredible albums that changed rock music forever were being recorded at the same time?
Martin: The atmosphere in that studio was terrible. It was an old church; it was not some amazing studio in LA or New York. We were isolated in the studio from Led Zeppelin. We only even ran into them once, and that was in the kitchen. We had absolutely no connection with them and I don’t even know if they had an easy time making their album or not. The atmosphere we were under was not good. We never went, “Let’s go over and see what Led Zeppelin are doing” because we were all working very hard trying to get our album recorded. It was really hard work.
Jeb: When the album was done did you have any thoughts that this album would become as huge as it did?
Martin: Not at all. I think it was really a snowball that was rolling down a hill in those days. We would go out and tour, then do Madison Square Garden and get presented with a Gold disc and then keep on touring. It was endless. We never got over the top in our behavior because we were working so hard. We never entered the ‘rock star’ world. We never had time to sit back and say, “That was great.” We were expected to continue being great and make another great album. We never sat on our laurels, ever.
Jeb: Tell me about the solo dates you are going to be doing and if there are plans for any solo releases.
Martin: The idea is to do a compilation of acoustic versions of Tull songs. I would like to do some of the very melodic, acoustic songs from Tull that rarely get noticed. I am writing new music with my solo band and it will be part of it as well. I would like to include a compilation from my first solo album and include some tracks that got buried when they were first released. I am working on a book and I would love to make an album and give it away as a freebie with it.
I have lots of music and a lot of good ideas and I am going to have the time to do something with them. Jethro Tull is on ice for the foreseeable future, as Ian is doing a solo tour. I am trying to plan my life and project forward for the next couple of years. I am doing a solo tour in Europe and England where I will play a compilation of my music. Next up, I have a project that I want to bring everywhere. This will be a band setting but I can’t yet mention names of who will be in the band. We will be playing purely Jethro Tull material.
Jeb: Will these be different versions of Tull songs?
Martin: No, it is going to be pure Tull. I want to get back to the simplicity of the early songs that we haven’t done for a long time. There will be no keyboards. It will be straightforward and we will be playing tracks that have not been played for many, many years.
Jeb: This sounds exciting. May I recommend you play “To Cry You a Song”?
Martin: Don’t worry, because that song will be played.
Jeb: Did you discuss this tour with Ian? Is he okay with you doing this?
Martin: We’re very separate in what we are doing at this time. There is really no need to discuss it because I know what I want to do and I’m going to do it; that’s the end of it. I’m not going to change it because of what anybody says. I just know what I need to do and I’m very determined, and very focused, to make what I want to do happen.
Jeb: I thought the next Jethro Tull tour would see the band playing Thick as a Brick in its entirety.
Martin: Ian will be doing that; it will not be me.
Jeb: Tull really is taking some time off. I guess that has been a long time coming.
Martin: It has been a long time. It has happened and I’ve had to adapt. It might be a disappointment to some. You’ve just got to turn that disappointment around and make it something positive. Since that is not going to happen, then I will make this happen and I will make this more important.
Jeb: Are saying Jethro Tull is over or just taking a break?
Martin: I don’t know. The music of Tull is my life. I have not only the right to play it but also the will and passion to play it—a passion play, if you will. It is very natural for me to do what I’m going to do.
There is no question that I know my part in the history of Jethro Tull and that means something to me. It is very, very important to me. It might not be to everybody, as there are those who don’t even know who I am when I’m onstage, but to me, it is a huge place in my life. I have 42 and a half years invested in the music of Jethro Tull and I can’t simply turn that off. I don’t want to quit. I don’t care what anybody else thinks of me, right now, this is me, this is my heritage and this is what I want to do and I’m going to do it.
Jeb: Don’t feel too badly Martin, a lot of people think Jethro Tull is the guy onstage.
Martin: They really do. The image for Jethro Tull really is the guy on one leg. The silhouette is the image and it is a very good image. It has never been a problem in my mind because that image is vital to promoting the band.
Jeb: Anyone that is worth their salt as a Jethro Tull fan knows who Martin Barre is and you’re very important to the fans view of the music.
Martin: The thing that is going to happen is that there are going to be two tribute bands on the road; Ian’s solo band and mine. We will not be playing the same music. I don’t think it will be a problem because Ian wants to sing less and play more. I want to go back to the roots and recreate the atmosphere of the early to mid 1970’s and that style of live band. Tull was an exciting live band back then with lots of energy. There was a lot of technique and power and that is what I want to do. Ian and I are not going after the same thing.
Jeb: Last one: I guess I will have to wait for the day to see you and Ian do a flute battle on stage because you will not be in the same band.
Martin: I’ve started to play the flute again. I don’t play enough to be a good flute player but I did play the flute even before I met Ian.
My band that will do the Tull music includes an incredible flute player. He’s an absolute virtuoso in the Irish style of flute playing. I think people will really enjoy it. As far as the music of Jethro Tull goes, I can play that. I think I will be able to get away with it. It’s not a token gesture and it’s relevant because I have played flute on stage and I’ve played flute on albums. It is not a cheesy thing of someone doing something they shouldn’t be doing. I know that it will work.
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