MWE3 Feature Story
conducted by Robert Silverstein for 
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Play In Time
an interview with

IAN ANDERSON


by Robert Silverstein

I was a bit surprised myself when just before this interview, Ian Anderson told me that he was a bit surprised that a guitar magazine would want to interview a flute player as he described it. Long time Jethro Tull guitarist Martin Barre was interviewed by this writer in 20th Century Guitar several years back after his excellent instrumental Stage Left album. But getting back to Ian’s guitar playing, I countered Ian's guitar comment, recalling that back in 1971, witnessing a Jethro Tull concert at the Fillmore East in NYC, I was just stunned watching as Ian and Martin Barre skillfully entwined their acoustic guitars on a live, note perfect version of the Benefit classic “Sossity.” An excellent musician then, Ian’s acoustic guitar playing just gotten better over the years as was witnessed by early fans on masterworks like Thick As A Brick and Songs From The Wood—two classic ‘70s Tull albums that crafted a groundbreaking mix of acoustic guitar and hard rock electric guitar—a sound that in 1969 became Tull’s trademark sound. Bringing the band's history into focus, 2008 was the 40th anniversary of the first Jethro Tull album This Was—back when the band had rock guitar icon Mick Abrahams in the lineup. Complete with the original mono mix, a new stereo mix, rare BBC tracks and singles cuts, EMI / Capitol’s 40th double CD set is a great way to re-experience This Was. 2008 found Ian out on the road again for a Jethro Tull world tour. Several recent archival DVD's on Eagle Rock were issued in 2007 while a fresh Tull DVD documentary is also planned. Robert Silverstein of MWE3.COM and 20th Century Guitar spoke with Ian Anderson on June 27, 2008, just prior to Tull’s Summer 2008 tour.

{This interview with Ian Anderson first appeared in the September 2008 issue of 20th Century Guitar magazine with the title This Was: 40 Years Of Jethro Tull. Complimenting Ian's interview in the same issue of 20th Century Guitar, publisher Larry Acunto also included his own companion piece 2008 interview with founding Tull guitarist Mick Abrahams as well. Humorous and historic stuff, including Mick remembering Tull's early "Love Story" single, is worth it if you can find a copy! MWE3.com now presents the 2008 Ian Anderson interview in its entirety}


MWE3: Starting with some music history, can you recall Jethro Tull’s first shows in New York at Fillmore East?

IA: I do remember it quite vividly because we arrived for shows in Boston with Don Law, the Boston Tea Party and Bill Graham and Fillmore East and I think we also played one of the jazz festivals on that first outing, one of the Newport Jazz Festival’s series of concerts. And amongst those very early shows, the Fillmore was one of those that stood out because we knew, even before we got to America, of the already quite famous, or even infamous Bill Graham, who could make or break an act if he chose to do it. And he certainly stopped, in their tracks, some of the British bands that he didn’t like. Notably, a band called Family, who came to appear at the Fillmore East and Bill decided they would never work in America again, and they didn’t. So we knew he was an important guy and impressing him and getting his support was important, as indeed there were a few other promoters around different parts of the U.S.A who, again, we knew they were important guys to win over. And happily we were, by and large, able to do that and established a good rapport with promoters in various parts of the country on our first thirteen weeks of playing the U.S.A.

MWE3: The first show I saw at the Fillmore East was Jethro Tull when I was 17 in 1971, a few weeks after Aqualung came out. Too bad those shows hadn't been professionally filmed, because people today would have a wider concept of your significance.

IA: Well, those shows you’re referring to were a couple years later in 1971. But, sure we were playing the Fillmore East, I think we must have played there I would have thought four, five or six times. And of course it didn’t last too long as a venue but it was a very important part of the development of live rock music entertainment in the U.S.A. Fillmore West of course, in a very different way. It had a totally different atmosphere. A totally different clientele as well. But in it’s own way was an important part of the West Coast music scene. It was all good stuff. You’re quite right. Nothing was really recorded or filmed. The options really didn’t exist back then to do those things very easily. And so there’s very little live footage of early Jethro Tull. And such, as there is, is mostly included in DVD’s which are either already out or about to come out in the next few months, in the case of one documentary DVD of Jethro Tull’s history. So, yeah it would have been nice to have had some...There is actually one of Bill Graham’s dates, I believe it was...it might actually even have been Tanglewood, which is normally reserved for classical music. But I think we did actually play there with The Who in the early ‘70s. And that would have been around the time that we were just unveiling the Aqualung album, ‘cause I know we played “My God” on that tour. That is recorded somewhere. There is some, I believe in black and white, there is some footage of that concert. But who owns it and where it is, I couldn’t tell you.

MWE3: Tell me more about the upcoming Tull documentary?

IA: Well, there’s a new one coming out which I believe is due to be in the next few weeks available at least in some countries like the U.K. and Germany. I think it’s aimed for more in the summer months in the U.S.A. simply ‘cause we’re going to be there. And I can’t tell you much about it other than some many months ago, I and other band members, ex-band members and various other people did interviews for a production company putting this together. And I still have not seen a finished copy, so its something that I can’t really give you a first hand impression of. I’ve seen a rough cut of some of it but I haven’t seen a completed product. But it is scheduled for release sometime in a few weeks from now I believe. There are rumors that its already has been released but I don’t think in fact you can actually buy a copy yet. I think some press and promo copies were due to go out but they had a fault and were recalled. So I should think it’s in this next or two that the firsts will be winging their way to people in the media. It’s, as I’ve said, it’s a bit of a...it’s for train spotters and stamp collectors. A bit of an anal kind of thing being into all this detail about bands and early members and how this gave way to that and somebody got chucked out of the band. And somebody else had an unfortunate gardening accident or whatever it might have been. It’s all a bit...it’s not for everybody. I’m sure it’ll interest some of the more dedicated and obsessed fans. I can’t honestly say I found it particularly engaging to watch and listen to the rough cut that I saw. Just like a bunch of old guys wincing about the past really. It didn’t strike me as being particularly interesting. But then, it’s all stuff that I know of and have heard before. Talking to the other guys in the band...I mean they’re people that I regularly see or even play with. And so it’s not, it wasn’t for me particularly interesting. But then, wait. I’m much to close to it, perhaps to see how other people would find it. But, it’s what it is.

MWE3: How’s Martin Barre these days?

IA: Well, I hope he’s doing okay because he’s got to present himself at the airport on Sunday and fly to Italy for the next bit of touring. But he’s been in pretty good shape since he had some surgery at the end of last year. He had to have a couple of months when he couldn’t play guitar but he’s been fine since he started again. And I believe he’s actually doing some solo dates towards the end of this year in the U.K. and beginning to think about recording some solo tracks towards the end of the year. So, he’s in good shape and he’s playing on all the Jethro Tull shows this year.

MWE3: I loved Martin’s last album Stage Left. I heard in honor the 40th anniversary Tull are going to be playing a lot from the first three albums on this tour.

IA: Well we’ve certainly been, thus far, concentrating on the music from the first or four albums. There’s been a greater emphasis on, particularly the first two albums. But as we progress through the year, I’m sure that’ll kind of lighten up a little bit and broaden out to include things from later decades. The 40th anniversary year, I think we are sort of focusing on what that early period of Jethro Tull was about. For people who saw Jethro Tull in 1969, 1970, then there will be a lot of the music that we played on those tours, the first tours of North America, that are likely to be in the set list when we play this August. It’s definitely about recognizing that very early period of Jethro Tull’s work. And we throw in a few things that are from later years, but we’re sticking pretty much with music which is more, although there are obviously acoustic elements, it tends to be more upbeat and more of it is the rock oriented Jethro Tull. The more sort of jazz and blues and sort of rock oriented side of the work. But that’s now. By the end of the year I shall be playing music for sitar with Anoushka Shankar for seven shows in Asia. So I kind of have to rethink (laughter) my musical policy by the time I get towards the end of the year and start thinking about music for flute and sitar. And she’s a lot better looking than Martin Barre.

MWE3: Is that upcoming thing with Anoushka Shankar for an upcoming project or some gigs you’re playing?

IA: Well, it’s a few concerts we’re doing in India and Dubai and Singapore as Jethro Tull. But Anoushka Shankar is our other act. And she’ll be opening the show, playing some classical Indian music and then we’ll play some stuff and then we’ll get together for a third set where we combine to play some of her more recent pieces from her most recent album that I suggested we might do with her and something else of ours that we can find a role of sitar for. And then I’m writing a suite of music which may or may not be the basis of an extended piece that we’ll play together using a couple of her musicians and us. So, but it is, as you can imagine writing for an instrument like the sitar is not like writing for another guitar player. I mean it has its assets and it has its limitations as an instrument. So you have to think in quite a different way in terms of what you can do in terms of harmonic movement within the piece of music because of course you’re dealing with...thirty seven strings. And thirteen of them are resonating essentially to a chromatic scale. So you’ve got to be careful about what you’re doing. Generally speaking, sitars are tuned according to the raga and according to the key that they’re in but you do find both the major third and the minor third in the sympathetic strings. And so you’ve got to be careful ‘cause you can get some pretty nasty things happening when you fire up the major third and everybody else is playing the minor chordal setting for it. It’s an instrument you’ve got to be pretty careful with to find a way to work along side it. It’s very rarely been done. I mean it has been done a little bit by other people. I’m trying to find elements, motifs which are Celtic in origin and so I’m hoping Anoushka will, rather than her usual C sharp will tune to D for playing stuff with us. And she has recorded some things in a D tonality before and so I picked a couple of those to suggest that we play those pieces with her. We will be attempting to find common ground within what we call “The Irish Key”, the key of D major, but of course related keys like E minor and G major are going to be...we can slip in and out of those too.

MWE3: Besides playing with some of the greatest guitarists in rock history, I always considered you to be quite a masterful guitar player, on your famous Martin acoustic. I can remember at that 1971 Fillmore East show, you and Martin playing a beautiful duet on “Sossity, You’re Woman” sitting down side by side each on acoustic. What Martin guitars are you using on the current tours?

IA: I only bring one guitar with me. I’m not one of those people who likes to bring lots and lots of stuff unnecessarily. I travel very light. I travel with one piece of hand luggage and a laptop computer. And I have a guitar case which also contains a spare flute, my radio gear, various spare pieces of this, that and whatever. Spare batteries, strings and things all cramped into a guitar case that is legal size and legal weight to travel on airlines. And I carry another case which has got some other electronics, the rest of the radio gear, some leads, microphones, a few other backup bits and pieces which go in a sort of heavy duty polyethylene case that is designed for transporting electronic equipment. Again, its legal size and weight for the airlines and that’s it. So I just carry two pieces of professional check in equipment and some carry on luggage and that’s it, wherever I’m going in the world. Whether I’m going for three weeks or three hours, I travel the same, take the same stuff with me. My guitar, in order to fit into the guitar case with the other bits and pieces that I need to carry, is a three quarter size, based on an 18th century parlor guitar. It’s a slightly shorter scale neck and a much smaller body. So, it’s not quite as tiny as some people would describe, a so-called travel guitar but it’s certainly smaller than even the smallest bodied, not the smallest body, other than the size five Martins. It’s smaller than the 36, a size two and a half. It’s smaller than that. And I have quite a few guitars made by Martin, going back as early as about 1835, which is the oldest one I have. The staffer had it made in New York, probably around ‘35 or ‘36. Certainly one of his very earliest guitars. And then I have a bunch of stuff from the mid to late 1800’s which are parlor guitars. Again, they’re size one’s, two’s, two and a half’s, and then I have a few from the 20th century (laughter) - single 0-42’s, single 0-45’s, that sort of thing. These are guitars, they’re lovely things to have, lovely things to occasionally pick up and play or just look at but I wouldn’t ever take them out on the road because they’re way too delicate and not really suitable for playing in live concerts. And there’s no way under the sun would I let one of those things go into the hole of an airplane when I see what happens to the luggage that we do check in. In the way that it is savaged by airline loaders, baggage loaders around the world. I mean they just toss things around. They really don’t give a shit. So I would never take anything that... In fact I just had a copy made of my stage guitar because chances are mine is going to get trashed or lost or stolen. And so I now have a faithful replica of it that I had made, which at least is sitting faithfully locked up in my house should anything happen to the one that I normally play on stage. I always laugh...it’s just Spinal Tap, seeing these rock bands where they have these racks of guitars and the guitar player has sort of about ten guitars on stage. (laughter) What does he need all those for? It’s like someone who really needs...ummm. Someone who’s deeply insecure in life, (laughter) has to go around with more than one guitar. Carrying one of the damn things is bad enough. (laughter)

MWE3: What kind of strings do you use on your stage guitar?

IA: These days I use D’Addario strings. I use a coated string ‘cause I get pretty wet on stage and since the advent of coated guitar strings, they really are a huge boon. I used to have to change my strings, literally every day when I used, in the early days, in the ‘70s I used to use silk and steel strings on a single 0 Martin New Yorker guitar. Yeah, in those days, I mean I would literally change strings, every, every day, every show. But with coated strings I, sometimes I get through five or six days, or five or six concerts with the same set of strings which is brilliant. But once in a while you just find, because of the incredible humidity and the change of the temperature, the amount of dirt and dust sometimes playing out doors in different places, the strings for a couple of days, they’re really losing it. But generally speaking, I find the coated strings great. And D’Addario are a good brand and they also make strings for other instruments that I play like the mandolins and the various gauges of things I use on bouzoukis and stuff. So there’s a lot of stuff to choose from.

MWE3: I was reading in the liner notes of the 40th anniversary set on EMI / Capitol of This Was that you had an electric guitar before you started on flute. Do you still play electric guitar either in the studio?

IA: On a lot of records, particularly early on I used to play guitar quite frequently. I did play electric guitar on a few things in the latter part of the ‘80s too. But generally speaking, it’s just not an instrument I particularly like. I still have a few of them knocking around somewhere. They’re not things I ever take out of the case anymore. They’re just not instruments I’ve ever particularly warmed too. As a child I listened to acoustic music. I listened to jazz and blues and as a teenager I began playing acoustic music. I did play electric guitar for a little while when I was in my late teens and then when Eric Clapton came along, and I heard him on an album by John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers featuring Eric Clapton, that’s when I realized that he was a much better guitar player then I was ever going to be and I should look around for something else other than electric guitar. Which I did. And I picked up the flute and started playing that at the beginning of 1968 when Jethro Tull began. And I continued to use acoustic guitar for writing songs through ‘68, ‘69 and it wasn’t really until 1969 I started playing again when I also started playing mandolin in 1969 and got more into acoustic guitar playing through ‘69, ‘70 and by ‘71 on the Aqualung album I was playing guitar quite a lot on stage. Acoustic guitar. And it’s always been a part of my live performance. It depends on the set list. Sometimes I only play guitar a couple of times in the night and then other times when I playing it in ten songs or something. It just depends on the set list.

MWE3: The 40th anniversary edition of This Was on EMI has a new stereo mix of the album and there’s a never heard mono mix, which I’ve never heard, that was done for the original release.

IA: That’s right. ‘68 and ’69 you know, we all did mono versions of our mixes for singles and albums simply because a whole lot of people back then didn’t have stereo players. And the problem was that if you had a mono player and you played the stereo, it sounded pretty crap. And it was actually better for people who only had mono equipment to have a mono mix and that’s why we did it. But by ‘70, ‘71 more and more people were getting stereo players and clearly at that point, although radio was still in mono, we were able to start listening with headphones and so stereo mixes became much more...the important thing I guess, from about ‘69, ‘70 onward. But back in ‘68, the mono mix was probably the one that we paid more attention to. Stereo, it was a bit rupture. (laughter) We sort of just did it but most people were going to hear it in mono, so we paid more attention to the mono mix when we did that first one. And the mono mix is indeed the original mono mix and the stereo mix is a remix not just a remaster. There’s a bunch of radio sessions from BBC in the summer of ‘68 which were also recorded in mono because it was just AM radio to you, media wave to us. It’s kind of an interesting collection of music that is, as it says, a collector’s edition. It’s nice to have done that and interesting. I personally would never have thought about putting out the mono mix. I was quite impressed with EMI when they said, ‘Oh, we’ve got a mono mix here, why don’t we release that as well!’ (laughter) When I heard it, I thought it was really good! It’s actually a very solid, kind of focused mix. Kind of fun to hear.

MWE3: George Harrison said mono was the best way to listen to Sgt. Pepper.

IA: Well, he may well be right in a sense because Sgt. Pepper, rather like our first album suffers technically from having been recorded on 4 tracks. And therefore there were elements of the mix. Once you tried to find stereo, you put things into stereo. You unfortunately drag the bass guitar with the high hat or the tambourine or something else that happened to be jumped on the same track. So the stereo mix of Sgt. Pepper, it’s actually quite hard really to find a good way to hear some of these things because they do sound a little odd. Instruments keep popping up in places where they don’t really feel very comfortable in the mix. That’s indeed part of the problem with recording on so few tracks. By the time we had eight tracks in ‘69 and sixteen tracks in 1970 and onwards then, you could be far more careful with a stereo mix to make things sound kind of more natural but just broaden out the image fields without any unfortunate consequences. But back with four track recording, stereo mixes were invariably not really always that satisfying. Certainly the case with our first album there are places where there are odd instruments or even vocals in unfortunate places in the stereo spectrum. You really wouldn’t choose to put them there but you (laughter) had to because you were forced to commit yourself to jump tracks together in order to free up another track for another overdub. So things were a little different back then.

MWE3: Can you say something about the Jack In The Green DVD that just came out on Eagle Rock? There’s a great version of “With You There To Help Me.”

IA: Well yeah, the Jack In The Green album is basically from German television’s collected remnants of various performances over the years that were in the vaults and go back as far as ‘71 or 1970 maybe, through to somewhere in the ‘90s. And the bulk of it sits in the kind of ‘80s period of the various things that are on there. But it’s all recorded absolutely live to, probably off the front of the house mixing console. And its remarkable how good the mix is and how good the picture is. I was really surprised when I saw that. Not only how good it was in terms of performance and playing, but it was also from an audio and visual point of view, it was actually really good. I was quite proud in a way that we did have all this stuff still lying around there and the TV company hadn’t just wiped the tapes. It was good to see. So, I’m pretty pleased with that. And it’s all done in Germany. It isn’t really obvious when you watch it. It could have been anywhere ‘cause some of those German tours, we were probably playing in Detroit the week before. (laughter) So it would have been pretty much similar performances. These just happened to be the ones that were captured for TV. ‘Cause we usually give local TV a couple of songs during the set. We didn’t record a whole show but they had like a couple songs here, a couple of songs there from various concerts in Germany and they’re pretty good.

Thanks to Ian Anderson @ www.J-Tull.com - Eagle Rock @ www.EagleRockEnt.com - EMI Records and Anne Leighton


 













 
 
 
 
 

 

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