Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull)

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Interview with Ian Anderson

by

Marcel Hartenberg

Being ever the courteous man I expected him to be, the phone rang 9:30 sharp and as I answered the call, there was the unmistakable voice of Ian Anderson asking me whether he was phoning to a landline. As I answered “Yes, most certainly” a “Good” was muttered and we ventured into the interview.

Marcel:Thanks for taking the time to talk to us at DPRP. First of all, congratulations on the new album. You have succeeded in creating yet another fine gem of flute oriented and may I say, progressive rock?

Ian: I have no problem with the record being called progressive rock because that’s what I do. Sometimes it might lean more into jazzy stuff, bluesy stuff. It is rock what it is generically speaking, comma, progressive. But ‘progrock’ was an unfortunate term from the Seventies that applied to the self-indulgent sounds of bands like Yes, Genesis, Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Gentle Giant that was a bit showing off too much and it led to a term many of us might not be too happy with. We like the term ‘progressive rock’, we just don’t like to be called ‘prog’.

Marcel: So that’s the point. On the website it was mentioned Jethro Tull in all but name. The record sounds very much like Tull. What makes you decide to record an album as either Ian Anderson or Jethro Tull?

Ian: Well, it’s all going to sound the way it does, because I’m the guy that writes the music. I have a vast repertoire of music as Jethro Tull and a number of albums as a solo artist. I don’t really stop to think that’s solo album or that’s a band album. This is a band album and all the musicians on this album have played in Jethro Tull. They have played on tours or on records. You know, you figure it out. It’s just that after all these years I feel I don’t want to be responsible for identity theft. I should go to prison for stealing the name of an 18th century agriculturalist. I’ve been unfortunately doing that for a long time so I feel probably it’s just time to stop playing under that identity. I would have said the same thing many years ago. I think if you had asked me the question 40 years ago, that would have been the one thing I regretted so far. I didn’t pick the name, it was our agent back in February 1968. I didn’t know we were named after a dead guy until two weeks later. But then it was a bit late because we just had a concert arranged at the Marquee club and interest from journalists was raised. So we couldn’t really change the name for years. There are people that hang on to names, but not me. It’s me, my music, whether it’s Jethro Tull or under my own name. You’ll find that there are many common links between this album and Jethro Tull albums. Of course, there are. So you’re quite right to say it sounds like Jethro Tull. Of course it does. Would be weird if it didn’t.

Marcel: I have read about your date with fate as you had committed yourself to start writing on the 1st of January 2013 on the new album. That is a very resolute choice. How did the actual writing go about?

Ian: Well, sitting in a room, nine o’clock, no ideas and by lunchtime I had the first ideas of the instrumental introduction and in the afternoon I fiddled around with the chords and the verse of the song that in my head that I wanted to call ‘The Doggerland’, an area of land that joined what became the British isles to your part of the world. About 8.000 years ago, after the last Ice Age, the sea levels rose and the ice melted, you could walk across to go and see the Tower of London, the British museum, the O2 arena and you didn’t have to fly Easyjet.

 

Marcel: Apart from the fact that there, most likely, was no Tower of London back then.

Ian: Thanks for pointing that out. But that is how people moved, the homo sapiens. They just walked, migrated, went from one place to another. All stemming forth from one African tribe. This is an album about the migration of our species and about the migration of culture, art and ideas. So it says a lot, we are all from somewhere else. Reminding me, that we can’t just wave the flag of nationalistic pride as these flags are all just flags of convenience. Migration, as we all know from last international panel on climate change is all going to exacerbate the impact by climate change. As you can see when you read the lyrics to this album I didn’t have to wait for them to tell me that. Kind of obvious there. But the world at large and most probably journalists need to hear this from the most educated scientists in the world to tell them that.

802644886015-500pxMarcel: The album’s main thread is British history and beyond. How were you inspired to take on the album like this thematically?

Ian: Well, that was day 2. I liked the idea of the footsteps across the Doggerland, the adventures of the first people to come into my country, but they, prior to that, had come to inhabit Northwest Europe and they probably originated, after the African adventure, maybe 5000 years, they might have been in the Iran region, somewhere near the Eufrate and Tigris. They probably gave rise to the spread of homo sapiens across Northwest Europe and ultimately into the America’s across the Bering Strait Landbridge. But when we look at the more recent part of prehistory then you guys (the Dutch) and us guys are very close cousins. Separated only by water that didn’t use to be there. So we share more than just a genetic bond. Yesterday I had an interview with somebody from the Tjech Republic and we are all from the same stock in terms of our interests, culture, what have you. And that even ties to people we think we differ from the most, yet music and culture do bind us all together. We share many of the same interests with all kinds of people around the world. That is why we get to play all around the world and share pleasures from that. Our music gets appreciated from Iceland to China. We have used our culture and art to be a whole different, spiritual, cultural kind of migration rather than going in with tanks and guns and men with big boots.

Marcel: So that is what you refer to in ‘Enter The Uninvited’.

Ian-Anderson---Alex-Pavlou-_3389edit2Ian: Yes, we in the British Isles have been the recipients of many invasions over the years. We know about that. We have had the benefits and negatives but mostly benefits from the Romans. There were the Anglosaxons, the Norwegians, the Danish Vikings. Everybody came here and they came here, not necessarily friendly faced to get what they could and to stamp on the heads of the people who were here if they had to. More recently, we have had the French and the Spanish and even more recent the Germans and if things had gone differently back in 1942 maybe we would all be speaking German by now. Maybe if Mr. Yeltsin and Mr. Gorbachev didn’t come along, we would all be speaking Russian right now.

Marcel: Let’s hope the situation in Ukraine is not going to be a sign of what might lay ahead.

Ian: That is always going to be a concern, but the people in the West and the America’s have been quite naive as they haven’t been talking to the Russians considering the way people in the Ukraine started expressing their feelings long ago. We did expect a lot from president Obama, as to this matter as well, yet I don’t think the Ukrainian matter was handled very well; we were caught asleep. On the other hand, president Putin doesn’t seem to be a fool. He knows well what he is doing; tying East-Ukraine to Russia, knowing full well that Europe probably doesn’t need another country joining the ranks while we’re busy caring about our own economies.

Marcel: The last few songs in the revelations part express thoughts about what might be coming in the near future. There is social and environmental concern in you lyrics. In what way, apart from writing and singing about those issues, would you want to be dealing with them? Would politics ever endear you?

Ian: Well, I don’t think I would be a very good politician as I would be more inclined to say what is on my mind. I don’t think I’d be a great politician. At the age of 66, I can’t be a captain of a Boeing 747, I can’t enroll in the flight training at NASA, certainly won’t be able to win Wimbledon or be allowed to drive in a Formula One car, so I think, politics, probably like with all these things, I have left it a bit too late. Perhaps, if I had decided to do it in my 30’s, maybe. But when I was in my late 30’s there might have been a moment, yet it was not something I ever felt that I could do. I didn’t have the political sophistication. My personal politics are kind of a bit left of centre. I would describe myself as a pragmatic socialist. I think we should look after our people, those who cannot take care of their own, on the other hand I think you have to work for a living when you can. It’s not a matter of holding your hand out. Then again, when you look at wholly socialist countries, you may find it doesn’t necessarily imply equality for all, so I’m a bit wary of that. I believe in the essence of socialism but there have to be rules and you have to be willing to work for a living.

Marcel: ‘A Change of  Horses’   was   a very well received  track on  TAAB  2. It  was  originally   written as  an instrumental  to perform   with   Anoushka   Shankar in India. Another tune was also performed  called ‘Tea With  The Princess’  which  later became   a feature / highlight  of   Tulls setlist. Has any part of this tune  been utilised in  the new  album?

Ian: no, no, that was from quite some time ago, I think about four or five years ago. It’s sort of has come to pass now. I don’t want to go back to songs from some time ago that I didn’t record at the time even though they got played in concert. Somehow I just put it behind me. They just didn’t make the recording then and it’s not where my interest lie now. If they were lyrically and musically interesting enough, then I would. But this hasn’t. Now I’m preparing for a tour and I have got the 1st of January 2015, 9:00 o’clock coming up to see if I can repeat the experiment.

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Marcel: That is actually in the books?

Ian: Well, it’s in my mental book. And it’s easy to remember and everybody else is waking up with a headache. I’m certainly not waking up with a headache but with the sense of filling up a space in my head with something new. I’m always in bed on New Year’s Eve by 22:30 and wide awake at 6:00 o’clock in the morning, ready to go.

Marcel: No watching the fireworks for you then?

Ian: I don’t like noise and people shouting in the streets and gatherings of sorts. I remember being sent to a party at the age of 4 or 5 and the feeling of abandon when my parents left with children running all around. Yet I remember hiding from that. It was not for me and put me off forever. When I was about 17, I had about the same experience. Very uncomfortable. Since then you won’t find me going to places where there are crowds of people. I don’t go to concerts, to parties, I hate gatherings of large groups of people. I like spending with one or two people, three or four. So, being on stage for me is being in front of a large group of people who are usually attentive and listening. I go to the cinema occasionally but I’m not one for noise. It goes back to my childhood. I’m not made that way.

Marcel: I understand. And can relate to that. Like you said you are about to head out on a tour of the new album. Are there  any plans   to play   any part of ‘A  Passion Play’ or the ‘Chateau  Disaster’  music?

Ian: We will play part of ‘A Passion Play’ but not any of the ‘Chateau Disaster’ music as it is not known enough for the countries where we don’t get too play that much or either, the music may not be as suited for festivals. It is ok to have some songs in the setlist that many people don’t know, but really, you have got to keep it more mainstream. But we’ll see how we’ll get along as both ‘A Passion Play’ and the Disaster tapes are being reworked so later on it might as well be done. There are interesting pieces of music in there but currently it’s not in the setlist that we’re rehearsing today.

Marcel: Are there any plans to release a live DVD of ‘TAAB2’?

Ian: Yes, that is due in September. The recording was actually in Iceland in 2012. We finished mixing that one last week.

Marcel: Something to look forward to for September then. Could you state when the remastered ‘A Passion Play’ is going to be released and will it  contain any studio outtakes?

Ian: There are no out-takes. It was recorded sequentially like ‘Thick As A Brick’. It’s just learning a bit, press the red button and play, press the red button. Learn the next bit, press the red button, play, press the red button. That is the way we tried to do it as much as we could. I as a producer always made sure to economically make use of the tape; wipe out the shit and tape over it. Otherwise it would be way too costly.

Marcel: Your shows are renowned  for   your stage patter  and jokes . Has the stage patter   and jokes  used all been created  by the band or has  a script  / joke  writer ever been used  as part of the pre – tour preparation?

Ian: Not in terms of what we say in between songs. You might come back to something you said and find that it works. That is what we do find when done live. So it’s all a matter of improvisation and finding what works. Having a professional writer spell it out for me, would have me forgetting whatever he produced in the first place.

Marcel: One last question: what can you say about the tour dates in Europe?

Ian: we have played a lot in Europe in recent years. So we have very few shows in Europe now coming up. Mostly outdoor dates they will be and in September we’ll have two US tours after which we’ll go to Australia and New-Zealand. The bulk of other European dates will take place in 2015.

Marcel: So the Dutch fans would have to go to Germany to see you live this year?

Ian: That probably is the case, but patience is a virtue. Just hang on to 2015 when we come to visit you.

Marcel: I would like to thank you much for this conversation and wish you all the luck on your tour and the album.

Ian: Thank you very much. It was very nice talking to you.