MWE3 Feature Story
conducted by Robert Silverstein for 
mwe3.com and 20th Century Guitar 

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Continued From Home Page


Enter, Stage Left...
an interview with Jethro Tull guitarist Martin Barre
written by Robert Silverstein

So much of what makes rock legends Jethro Tull so great can be heard on Stage Left, the new solo album from long time Tull guitarist, Martin Lancelot Barre. Another highlight in a career that has seen him literally define the art of rock guitar, Stage Left is filled with Martin’s quintessential Jethro Tull guitar sound. Featuring one vocal track amid an album of all instrumental rock fusion gems, the 14 track 2003 CD release is Martin’s finest moment yet as a solo artist. Interestingly, Jethro Tull founder Ian Anderson has also just released his 2003 solo CD making '03 a vintage year for long time Tull fans. Clearly Stage Left is everything the Tull loyalist could want. Braced by a barrage of instrumental rock guitar sounds that are clearly Tull-inspired, Barre’s soaring electric guitar passages, baroque rock arrangements and bluesy rock style lead guitar, techniques that defined the art of Jethro Tull for nearly 35 years, rise to the occasion on Stage Left. Calling from his home in Devon, England, Martin sounded quite enlivened by the raised prospects that Stage Left will draw some well-deserved critical acclaim and acceptance by music fans worldwide. The following 20th interview with Martin Barre took place Wednesday July 23, 2003.

{editor - After seeing Jethro Tull play a memorable Summer 2008 concert on August 9, 2008 at Jones Beach on Long Island—where they shared the bill on a beautiful New York night with rock guitar favorite Peter Frampton—I then had the good fortune to meet with Tull’s guitar icon Martin Barre and snap a few pics just after the show. Going home, I later scanned my archives for this interview I conducted with Martin following the release of his 2003 Stage Left album. MWE3.COM is now happy to present the full length, unedited original interview that first appeared in the September 2003 issue of 20th Century Guitar magazine. Celebrating 40 years of Jethro Tull musical history in 2008 with the promise of more to come, Martin Barre remains a true icon of rock guitar history.}


MWE3: Martin!

MB: Hi how are you?

MWE3: How are you doing?

MB: Excellent.

MWE3: Great, great...I’m glad you called. You’re right on time also.

MB: Oh good (laughter).

MWE3: There’s a bad storm in New York. If a lightening bolt hits my telephone, call me back.

MB: Oh, right...(laughter) It’s not so great, the weather here, so I know how you feel.

MWE3: Yeah? Are you in England now?

MB: Yeah, I’m at home in Devon. And we’re leaving this weekend to fly back over to the States and we’ve got a month tour there.

MWE3: Oh, cool...

MB: Yeah...

MWE3: I know Anne Leighton is a great publicist, you must be happy working with her.

MB: Yeah, we go back a few years. I’m pleased to talk to you. Well, you send me your magazine, very kindly so. I’m very familiar with it.

MWE3: Oh the mag sends you the issues.

MB: Yeah, it does. I’m really pleased about that.

MWE3: Yes well I like writing nice things about Tull.

MB: With the reissues, it’s nice to see you review it. It’s nice. It’s a good mag.

MWE3: Actually I saw Tull for the first time at the Fillmore East right after Aqualung came out in the spring of ‘71.

MB: Yeah, right...I remember those days.

MWE3: I wrote an article for 20th Century Guitar on the year 1969 and comparing it to 1999 and the artists that were coming back with new stuff 30 years later. 1969 was like a paradigm shift kind of year.

MB: It was a pivotal year, wasn’t it? It was sort of an English invasion to me. A lot of great bands were getting to tour at that time. It was really exciting.

MWE3: I can remember the day I bought Stand Up!

MB: It’s the same with me. I remember those years a lot clearer than sort of ten or twenty years ago where things tended to be very routine. In those days, nothing was routine. It was, everyday anything could happen. (laughter)

MWE3: In addition to 20th Century Guitar I also publish a music web site called mwe3.com Have you seen that?

MB: No, I’m not a great computer user to be honest. I’ve only started getting into computers. I’ve got my own web site. I suppose it’s a selfish way of getting into it. I’m sort of slowly...I just feel with computers I want to get involved in the areas that I’m interested in so I’m sure to come across your web site in my exploration of guitars and music which will be obviously the reason for getting involved with it.

MWE3: Yes I interviewed Mike Oldfield for 20th Century Guitar and I put the full interview up on mwe3.com I feel if it wasn’t for pioneering progressive bands like Jethro Tull we might not’ve had people like Mike Oldfield.

MB: Ah, he might disagree (laughter) but who knows...

MWE3: What’s your assessment overall of the internet and how has it affected your music.

MB: Well on a personal level, it hasn’t at all. I’ve avoided computer technology because I’m a very sort of hands on person. What I do on a day to day basis is pick up a guitar, write music and play. All the periphery of recording techniques, technology I try and keep as simple as possible because I want to get my ideas down as quickly as possible. I’m sort of impatient with getting into new systems but obviously the new album I’ve done was done on Soundscapes, but I just figure the guys that specialize in recording on that system are a hundred times quicker than I would ever be so I think the compromise is that I use the systems but I want somebody else to operate it for me. I think that’s a sort of talent in itself. And you have to acknowledge the studio engineer—who used to have all the mystique of running a big desk and a 24 track, two inch machine—that was guardedly secret in it’s day. Of course nowadays, it’s easy...there’s nothing to it. And most people realize that. But I think now, we’re going through the process of where engineers are now going in to the computer side of it, through necessity, and there’s obviously a lot to learn. And probably five years down the line, it’ll be simplified and everybody’ll be using it as a natural course. But, the internet...For information, it’s great. It’s now very important but I think it can only increase. There is a down side to it. You get the rubbish, you get the pop-ups and you get the frustrations of computers crashing but I think it can only grow. It can only become more and more important.

MWE3: I was so happy to hear this album and I was amazed at how Tull-inspired the new Stage Left album sounds.

MB: Yeah, you know it’s part and parcel of me. I don’t think my music reflects the music of Jethro Tull from my viewpoint but then I’m really pleased that people say, ‘wow, there’s so much of Jethro Tull in there.’ Well, I think that’s great because that means there’s a lot of me in Jethro Tull and I want there to be. I don’t want ‘me’ to be sort of a replaceable item. Obviously, the sound of Jethro Tull is the flute and Ian’s song writing is very, very important but I’m fiercely proud and possessive of my part in Jethro Tull and it’s important to me that it’s recognizable as a tangible thing.

MWE3: As a big proponent of instrumental guitar-based music I can readily say that Stage Left is one of the best albums I’ve heard in recent memory.

MB: I’m very pleased that you think so. When I recorded it, it was such a pleasure to do...It’s the third album I’ve done as a solo project. The thing about it was that everything fell into place. I wrote the music over about six weeks and I had lots and lots of ideas. But, they all seemed to work and it all fell into place so readily. That, in itself made it such a pleasurable process. Mainly it was me and engineer, Mark Tucker, who’s done all my albums, working together. But, it was fun...he had fun and I had fun and there wasn’t a day where we had a problem or difficulty or sat in the control room thinking, ‘this isn’t working, what are we going to do about it?’ It all worked and it was just...everything clicked and because of it, I hope and think it comes out in the music. That it’s very fresh because we didn’t have to work hard at getting it right. I really enjoyed it but then, that can be a danger I think because within Jethro Tull music we did albums where we locked ourselves away for six months. Under Wraps was like that. It was great fun but at the end of it...it was so self-contained, because we had no outside contact...people didn’t like it. We loved it (laughter) but nobody else did, because we sort of insulated ourselves from opinion and it was a mistake. It’s always a worry. You can sort of pat yourself on the back and think you’re really pleased with it, have a big grin on your face, but it’s not always that meaningful, but you feel that way. At the end of it, you’re really open to whatever the reception’s going to be from people such as yourself.

MWE3: Is Stage Left coming out in England as well?

MB: It’s out in England on August 5th and I believe the release date in America is August 10th.

MWE3: Who’s putting it out in England?

MB: It’s a label called R And M. They were sort of people who worked for Chrysalis and EMI and they released Jethro Tull albums down the line. As soon as I mastered the album, I sent it to them and again, they loved it and they said, ‘right, we want to release it’ and I thought, ‘wow!’ (laughter). And then I sent it to Fuel 2000 in the States for the same reason, I have a relationship with them through Jethro Tull, and as a sort of politeness, they were the first to get the album. They said, ‘yeah, we want it’ and I just thought, ‘this is fantastic’, because it was hard placing the first two albums. It all really worked out so well for me and I’m hoping that in Europe...I’ve got some interest for the rest of Europe and some very strong labels are interested as well.

MWE3: That’s again the beauty of the internet. You can hook up with people everywhere around the planet.

MB: It is, it’s great...information at your fingertips, immediately.

MWE3: What’s it like working with Fuel 2000. They’re doing some great things. And the internet has leveled the playing field.

MB: That’s right. I think you have to match the company, the record label, with the band. And it’s no good going to say, EMI or some big label and getting a deal and thinking you’re going to be a major player within that label. We felt, we wanted a label that was at the same level as Jethro Tull. We wanted a smaller label with acts like us. We’d rather be a main act on a middle-ish label, rather than being on a major label and being one of the minor acts and obviously the attention you would get from the team working at the label would be sort of down the ladder a bit. It’s really important...sort of mix and match. Fuel 2000 have been very good to Jethro Tull. They put lots of work in and I think we match that. We’ve always worked really hard. Promotion, touring, everything Jethro Tull does, we do one hundred percent and I think that it’s generally acknowledged in the business that if you’re with Jethro Tull, they’re not going to mess you up. (laughter) They’re going to play all their gigs, they’re going to give it a hundred percent. And we just hope that comes through, that we never let up at all. That we put a hundred percent effort into absolutely everything we do. Obviously, that includes solo projects as well. There’s no sort of throwaway element of doing a solo disc, a solo CD...getting a bunch of mates and having a bit of a jam and saying, ‘oh!, we’ll release that’ (laughter), sell a few for a bit of a laugh. They are serious projects.

MWE3: I recently interviewed Mike Oldfield. Warners in the U.S. passed on him for years during the ‘90s even though he was getting good press in Europe.

MB: That’s the kiss of death, isn’t it? Well, we’ve all been through it. We’ve all been through situations where the label has let the act down in one way or another. It happened to me with the solo albums, one in particular, and it’s happened with Jethro Tull and it’s a hard lesson. You spend three, four months, intense writing and playing in the studio to produce and album and the worst thing that can happen to you is for it to be shelved. It’s terribly heartbreaking.

MWE3: I don’t want to say anything about that. After all, EMI still has to finish their Tull remasters!

MB: I’m not talking about EMI necessarily. I’m just talking about...it’s happened to us over our career. I’m not saying who did it. I’m not mentioning names. But, it happens to everybody. It affects music right across the board. Everybody has little blips in their career and it’s not always within their control.

MWE3: Will Fuel 2000 be bringing you over for some solo gigs?

MB: Yeah, well I’m talking to them now about doing it. Whatever happens, I shall come over to promote it. It’ll either be playing at music stores with a backing CD or I have a band that I can bring over. I’m going to tour in Europe, in England, and hopefully I can work out the economics to come over to the States as well.

MWE3: After playing Stage Left clearly these instrumentals would sound right at home at a Jethro Tull concert.

MB: Yeah, well I play at least one instrumental of mine at a Jethro Tull concert every night and I chop and change them so one night it’ll be a bluesy one, another night an acoustic one. But I toured with the first two albums so I’ve got lots of material between the three of them now. It’d be good. It was a successful tour with the first two albums so I know it could only be better.

MWE3: Has Ian Anderson heard your new album? Have you gotten any feedback?

MB: He’s very, very supportive. Ian helped me along the way with suggestions and putting a word into the right ear, I mean he’s been really good about it and I’m pleased to say that he’s put his whole weight behind it and he’s said some very nice things about it as well.

MWE3: It’s amazing that Ian has also just released a new solo album on Fuel 2000. Is this a coordinated Tull attack or something?

MB: No...no it’s coincidental but I think the coincidence is that we had a bit of a breathing space between tours so...we finished last September and then we worked on the road till this April so there’s a big window of opportunity to do a solo album. I mean, I’d already decided I was going to do it six months before that. Ian’s like me, he’s always writing. Where you get a week off, you go into the studio and you get your guitar out (laughter) and you start writing music. So it’s a continual process. I don’t think either of us suddenly find ourselves with a few months or so...(saying) ‘right! what shall I do now? Oh! we’ll do a solo album!’ (laughter) I’m sure now I'll be writing other bits of music. And as we speak, the whole thing will start again. And then I’ll have every intention of doing more solo projects.

MWE3: Isn’t Fuel 2000 planning a new Jethro Tull Christmas CD for next month?

MB: Yeah, that’s right. That’s recorded and going to be released this October.

MWE3: Wow.

MB: So there’s a lot of stuff out there.

MWE3: I don’t know why I’ve always associated Tull’s music with that time of the year. I know there’s a remake of the “Ring Out, Solstice Bells”.

MB: Yeah... wanted to re-record all the Tull classics and then there’s some Christmas carols that arranged and then there’s some new material. One off my album and I think three tracks off Ian’s solo album

MWE3: One off the new album?

MB: One of mine...”Winter Snowscapes” on it.

MWE3: Oh! Okay, “Winter Snowscapes” is also on the Christmas album.

MB: That’s right, yeah.

MWE3: Wow,...excellent.

MB: It’s like a bonus track.

MWE3: Not a hidden track...it’s listed?

MB: It’s listed but it’s a sort of bonus one, yeah.

MWE3: Oh, it’s a Tull version of “Winter Snowscape”?

MB: Well, it’s the same piece of music but with flute on it.

MWE3: Oh, okay.

MB: So it’s slightly different.

MWE3: Tull should consider doing a Hanukah song. (laughter) It would be perfect for the flute and guitar!

MB: Well...who knows? We’re broad minded, ya know?

MWE3: I thought it would be cool to hear Tull doing an instrumental of the theme from Exodus. (laughter)

MB: (gives a good hearty laugh) Well, see I play flute and that’s one of the first things I learned on flute so I’m ready!

MWE3: Yeah I just reviewed a new surf guitar album of Jewish folk songs called Meshugga Beach.

MB: Yeah, right...sounds good.

MWE3: So you recorded the Stage Left album at your home studio?

MB: Yep.

MWE3: I read you have three recording studios but you said you’re not really into all the technology cause you find it a little distracting.

MB: Well...yeah I wouldn’t say I’m not. I’m into it, but the three studios...one’s a mixing studio and it’s sort of resident by a couple of guys that use that studio just to do remixes. And there’s a sort of self-contained thing going on there. And then I have a studio that’s mine, that’s analog, and I’ve done everything I do in my studio, and then the main studio is a working professional studio. Obviously, that’s where I take my work eventually to put drums on and whatever needs dubbing and to master everything. And that’s always hard disk. I mean, I am into it, but as I said before...it’s like me playing keyboards. I can play basic keyboards, it’s better somebody does it that knows what they’re doing! (laughter) I think it’s knowing your limitations. At some point in time when I’ve got sort of months and months of nothing to do, then maybe I’ll start getting into something like Soundscapes just to sort of see how it works and fiddle about with it. But at the moment my priority is writing and playing.

MWE3: With so much modern technology did you take advantage of that during the making of Stage Left?

MB: Well I did. And it’s a very difficult judgment to know where you draw the line where it’s so easy to say ‘let’s just copy that bit of guitar (laughter) over to the next five verses’. Only the musician can make a judgment on what’s fair and what’s...I don’t like to use it in a way that I would call cheating. I like to play everything live. I’ve used it in a sensible way and I’ve tried to keep it where it’s ninety nine percent live guitar playing and occasionally use the computer. If there’s a finger noise on a string the computer can take that out and I think ‘well that’s great, that’s fine’. But at the end of it, it’s gotta be somebody playing an instrument. And I don’t like to cheat.

MWE3: Did you use a lot of overdubbing on the album?

MB: No, not too much, because I don’t like to get into the area where everything gets so busy. And I love to have a lot of space around the guitar parts and I like a lot of harmonizing. I love the second guitar parts to fill the harmony parts or a counter melody. Another thing I used a lot was bazouki and mandolin, sort of doubling lines with them for a textural thing because I didn’t use synthesizers or keyboards. They’re very demanding sonically and of course they’re in the same frequencies that guitar operates (in) so I wanted to have a very complete sonic picture just with guitars and stringed instruments that I was playing. So, there’s a lot of textures in there but it was important that there was a main guitar. Lots of textural things. I do love lots of acoustics. I quite like the sound of acoustics with mandolins and bazoukis doubling and harmonizing lines...it’s a sort of lovely, fat, stringy sound. I really enjoy doing that.

MWE3: Could you mention some of the guitars you used on the new album?

MB: Yeah! On stage I use a Fender Strat. I just use one guitar. It’s a fat Strat with the humbuckers, and that sort of gets every sound I need. I quite like it as a working instrument. But then for recording, the PRS (guitar) was a bit fatter with a really overdriven sound. In the studio you can be a bit more picky about getting absolutely the sound you want to. I have about three different Fender Strats with different pickups on them I use. One with the humbucker, the fat Strat. And I use one with EMG’s on and then I have a regular Strat with Fender Noiseless pickups. And they all sound a tiny bit different and you have the luxury of using anything you want in the studio. (I use) the PRS guitar for really big fat guitar sounds because I think when you’re recording you do notice the difference. They are big, they sound really big and meaty. You play back a track through a tiny, little hi-fi system, it does sound big even at very low volume and I think that’s why I use the PRS. But then, I twiddle around with an old Mustang that I used for chords and then I have a Manson with a wang bar on it for different bits. I’ve got a lot of guitars. I use a 1961 335, and I used that as well. I quite like the sound of that. In general, I don’t mess with guitars. I just use a guitar (laughter) and just play the thing! I started recording the master guitars and everyday I sort of take over two or three guitars from my studio in the big studio. I have the luxury of being able to experiment with different instruments and a lot of different acoustic guitars. I’ve got a Taylor, I’ve got a Manson, I’ve got a Santa Cruz, I’ve got a Martin classical, I’ve got a Manson mandolin, a bouzouki. I mean, I love guitars! (laughter) We all do. Normally, I’ll just record with maybe a Manson acoustic and a Fender Strat and that would do me. If I did the session, that’s all I’d take let’s say because my guitar collection is a hundred yards from the studio. It was sort of a constant procession from one building to...with handfuls of guitars. (laughter) It was great fun. And then amp-wise, I just used a Soldana and a Matchless Lightening for clean sounds. An old Matchless, but ninety percent of the time I just used the Soldana Decatone for everything. And I have to acknowledge my strings...GHS strings on everything. I use the Boomers, so they’re ten’s for forty six on electric and eleven to something like fifty two on acoustics. I use quite light gauge.

MWE3: I’m a big fan of your first two solo albums, A Trick Of Memory and The Meeting. Is there any way to compare your first two solo albums with 2003’s Stage Left?

MB: I think the difference is, is that I did all the master guitars first because with the first two albums I gave a lot of space for vocals, for brass, for strings, for pianos. I think I wanted to make it a group album. But then at the end of it there probably wasn’t enough guitar there and so for this one I thought, everything I want musically I can produce on guitars myself. So that was my priority, to get all the guitars mastered and then I just sort of sat back in the control room and put drums and bass and a tiny bit of keyboards on top of it. But this album has a lot more space and that, I think is really important to have that so that everything that’s there speaks really clearly.

MWE3: Are your first two solo albums still in print?

MB: Maybe through Amazon.com, yeah. I think so but I have a feeling the first one’s deleted. The second one you can still get on Amazon but I’m hoping to rectify that.

MWE3: That’s the one that came out on Imago right?

MB: That’s right, yeah. Well, I’ve got the rights to that so I’m hoping at some point in the near future that I get these first two rereleased, but actually, I’ve got to work on that.

MWE3: I used to live around the corner from Imago downtown in Manhattan. Terry Ellis owned that.

MB: That’s right, yeah.

MWE3: He was a pretty important figure during the early Tull years.

MB: That’s right, he was yeah. Well that’s why he took on the album. Imago were good for me in the States but then in England I had nothing at all. And in Europe it was a license deal but they didn’t do any work on it so The Meeting didn’t really have availability other than in the States. And then A Trick Of Memory was the other way around. Because it was a German label, it was better represented in Europe and not at all in the States so it was always a compromise, but I’m hoping I’ve got everything covered (laughter) this time...a good shot at it.

MWE3: There’s some really cool stories behind some of the songs like “Spanish Tears”. I wanted to ask you about some of the other Stage Left songs. The song “Stage Fright” is great and you play some flute on that track and it sounds quite Tull-inspired.

MB: (laughter) I’ve played flute as long as I’ve played guitar which is sort of forty years and I don’t often get to play flute, for obvious reasons (laughter) and I just like to...it’s the thing for me. I like to have some flute. I mean I could play a lot more but then people would draw comparisons and well I have to say, in all honesty, I couldn’t touch Ian with a branch pole with my flute playing. I hardly ever pick the thing up. But I’ve always really liked playing the flute, from before I met Ian so I quite like to at least have one representation of it on each album.

MWE3: I also really love the Stage Left song “Winter Snowscape” and you mentioned there’s another version on the coming Tull Christmas CD.

MB: That’s right. I wrote the main melody in one go and I demo’d it, sort of very rough, on a cassette. And when Ian first mentioned doing a Christmas album, I took two acoustic demos along to Ian’s studio and I said, ‘look if we’re doing a Christmas album, what about considering these two?’ And one he didn’t like ‘cause it was very bluesy, but “Winter Snowscape’, he said, ‘that’s great, that’s perfect.’ And funnily enough when I wrote it, we had working titles and I called it “The Snowman” just because when you write something you have some sort of image or some sort of feeling about the piece of music and it always felt Christmas-y to me so it fitted straight into place. The other section of the music I wrote later and then I sent the whole track over to Ian and he added flute to the existing guitars on it.

MWE3: Also the Stage Left track “Nelly Returns” is another Tull-inspired track.

MB: Yeah. The two tracks that were written quite a while ago, “Nelly” and “Murphy’s Law”, have been stage instrumentals. I think “Nelly” was written actually about five years ago. I never recorded it. It was written for a stage instrumental and so that was sort of brought back to life for the album and “Murphy’s Law” is the same. It was written about three years ago as a stage instrumental so it was quite important for me to get those down onto record and those are the only two tracks that I didn’t write at the time of doing the album.

MWE3: And another cool acoustic moment on Stage Left is “I Raise My Glass To You”.

MB: Yeah...well I was going to do it as a sort of hidden track. But anyway, I didn’t (laughter). I wrote it and I just thought I quite like the idea of having something that’s really short, kind of sweet, a little sort of ending to the album. It was going to be the last track but it isn’t. My brain’s left my body! I quite like bits of music, sort of thirty seconds or a minute...it says what it says and then it’s over.

MWE3: The final song on Stage Left, “Don’t Say A Word” is a great song. It’s also the album’s only vocal.

MB: I’m sort of a bit self-conscious of instrumental albums. You mentioned that you love guitar instrumental albums. Obviously, I’ve listened to lots of them. I’m always conscious of trying to keep the listeners interested. That’s why I’ve never done a blues album or a folk album, or a rock and roll album. All my solo albums have been quite diverse in styles. It’s the way I am when I listen to music and certainly when I write. I just can’t sort of get into one groove and stay there. If I write a piece of folk-y music one day, the next day I’ll wake up and it’ll be a blues. I suppose I have a very short attention span and I always presume that the listener also...I don’t want them to get fed up going in one direction so I quite like going here, there and everywhere. Because the other two albums have had vocal tracks on them I sort of felt a bit of an obligation to have one on this one. I’m not very comfortable with writing lyrics so I put it off to the very last moment (laughter) and I had a friend do the vocals on it ‘cause I didn’t know anybody else. I hadn’t anybody in mind to come and do the vocals and I didn’t really didn’t want to get anybody really well known. So this guy is a local friend of mine and he came and sort of sung his heart out, God bless him.

MWE3: Is is hard to come up with song titles for instrumental music?

MB: No, I didn’t find it difficult. I never want it to be a throwaway thing where I’ll call this one, blah, blah...whatever. I put a lot of thought into it. I suppose it’s easy to be a bit of a smart-ass, come up with things that are a bit wacky. I mean, I hope it means something to me, it has a connection for some reason. Whether it’s something the music reminds me of or it’s just sort of a train of thought I had at the time. Obviously, (laughter) it won’t mean the same to the listener. It’s difficult...I suppose if you’re a classical writer, you’ve got it easy...you just say it’s Concerto No. 53 in A Minor...(laughter) I think of classical music...if you’ve got a “Eroica” or “Enigma Variations” and “Italian Symphony”...I really like that because I think, in your mind, you have your own connection. You have your own way of connecting the title with the piece of music. It might be totally different from the way the composer was connecting (laughter) the two things but I think it’s a bit impersonal to just have a number and a key. So I like the idea of titling pieces of music.

MWE3: I love the title of the first song on Stage Left. “Count The Chickens”. (laughter)

MB: Ah, right. I tell everybody there’s a reason why it’s called that, but nobody’s figured it out. So I might run a competition and see who the first one is...There is a reason it’s called that. It has something to do with the music. It made me laugh when I thought of it because it’s something within the actual musical notes. I’m sure somebody will figure it out.

MWE3: Speaking of titles and album titles, I was always amazed by the titles of the Jethro Tull albums. For instance, can you recall how the band came up with the title for the Benefit album?

MB: I’ve got to really stretch my mind to remember why, but I think possibly because the music was for the benefit of the listener. I think, (laughter) but I can’t remember that far back.

MWE3: Sorry bout that...

MB: Oh, don’t worry, I like being tested. But you’re right. We put lots of thought into the titles, the presentation of the album, the covers. I think, traditionally, we will always put lots of work...you remember Thick As A Brick? There’s probably as much work in the cover as there was in the music. It’s the icing on the cake to me. I really enjoyed putting the cover together. You probably don’t (yet) have a cover for Stage Left.

MWE3: I just have the advance record company CD.

MB: That’s a shame because the cover is a flight case, which is where Stage Left obviously comes from where I’ve been... I’ve stood on stage left for thirty five years.

TCG: To the left of Ian...

MB: That’s right. The cover is actually a flight case, ‘cause the flight cases have my name and ‘stage left’ written on them. And also, hopefully, if it all comes together we’ll have the texture of the flight case as well so you’ll actually feel like you’re opening the flight case to get the CD. I took a lot of pleasure in thinking about the cover as well. All these things are fun to do. Once you’ve done the music, it’s nice to sit back and do things that are a bit diverse...titles of bits of music, sort of liner notes and the way you want the cover to look. I think those are the easy parts of it.

MWE3: I was reading when you were young, after you bought your first guitar, your father gave you some album by Wes Montgomery and Barney Kessell. Did those jazz albums kind of inspire you to want to play guitar?

MB: I don’t even know if I still have them...I wonder if I do. I listened to them and they didn’t inspire my in the way that I think you want me to say in as much as I learned how to play then. I have to be honest...I never really liked jazz that much. In fact, I think I liked jazz flute because I used to buy Frank Wess and Roland Kirk, as everybody did.

MWE3: Frank Wes..?

MB: Wess, is it? I think he played flute for Count Basie or Duke Ellington. It’s just a name that I remember. I might be wrong. But I think I was more influenced by jazz flute playing than I was by jazz guitar playing. Mostly, the reason is, when I started learning, there was no rock guitar. I mean, so little rock guitar other than Scotty Moore, The Ventures, The Shadows...

MWE3: The Shadows...That was really pre-Beatles England.

MB: It was.

MWE3: So Hank Marvin must have been an early influence in a way.

MB: He was...but by default. That’s what everybody played. If you were in a group and you were doing gigs, that’s the music you played (laughter) in order to work and it’s changed over the years. As soon as the blues started coming over in drips and drabs, you had Freddy King and B.B. King and Buddy Guy....It was such an impact because there were all these guitar players that only had access to these sort of very basic, uninteresting forms of guitar playing. I’m not sort of saying that The Shadows and The Ventures (laughter) weren’t good players but, it wasn’t enough and I think people were hungry for inspiration and finally the blues and R&B and soul, you know James Brown, I mean it was all, had such a huge impact on English musicians because they hadn’t heard it before. So from that point, guitar playing just took off in England and that’s why, when I turned professional, I played saxophone. I couldn’t get a gig as a guitar player because nobody wanted a guitar player. They only wanted brass sections because they were playing Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding. So I played tenor sax for a couple of years. And then when the blues started coming in big in England, and there was John Mayall, Clapton was playing and Hendrix started playing...guitar was just, wow! (laughter) It was back to guitar. Back with a vengeance.

MWE3: With regards to The Shadows, I feel instrumental rock music never really gained the respect in the U.S. that it did in England.

MB: But then that in itself is by default. It’s only because that’s all we had. It wasn’t cause we liked it (laughter) in particular. I’m not saying, I’m not a Cliff Richard fan, but whatever was out in the music stores...I bought it, if it had guitar on it, I learned it. There was so little choice, I just bought everything I could. And again, going back to listening to jazz, there wasn’t much else to listen to, but at least it was guitar playing, and (I was thinking) yeah, I want to play guitar, but I don’t want to be like Barney Kessel (laughter). I couldn’t be like Barney Kessel in four hundred years and I really loved what he played and I loved Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell, Tal Farlow, I mean (laughter) there’s so many other...They’re great players but I didn’t want to play that music. I wanted something else and I didn’t know what it was until R&B and soul, blues hit England. And then I thought, ‘yep (laughter) that’s me, this is what I want to be like.’

MWE3: In Europe, in the mid ‘70s instrumental music sort of became a common language of sorts.

MB: Yeah...I suppose, but there again in the mid ‘60s when I started through to the late ‘60s and the early ‘70s music in Europe, there was only English and American music. There was no European music because it didn’t exist. There were no German bands, Italian bands...

MWE3: Yeah, I guess at that time, yeah...

MB: It was all Western music. Nobody was interested in anything else. It wasn’t that, but I think...instrumental music wasn’t big in England. People played like Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry. That was the music that was big in England. And it was more vocal-based. But I mean for a very, very short period it was instrumental...The Shadows. For guitar players, that’s all there was. The bands, the groups that were going out gigging, it was the rock and roll music that they had to go out and play.

MWE3: It was an innocent time I guess.

MB: It was...it’s the opposite of the way it is today. Thousands of guitar players desperately trying to find something to listen to, to learn from. But now, there’s too much to learn from. You can go out and learn to play like Joe Satriani and buy all his videos and the books and, but then, and it’s great, what a great player but then they’re not being influenced by the simple music forms like the blues, with so many players that I came across. And they’re not very good rhythm players, they don’t have good time. They haven’t got good feel. And they haven’t learned to do it. They haven’t learned to play a twelve bar blues, to have really great placements of notes. They just want to go straight to the top of the tree. And that’s...a shame.

MWE3: Did George Harrison have an impact on your playing?

MB: Well, he did because everybody, me included, we learned all the Beatles songs. When you did gigs, you played to the crowd and the crowd wanted Beatles songs. Everybody learned his guitar parts. (laughter) I think he had...he has and had a lot of respect as a guitar player because he was very much like the guitar players are in Oasis, Matchbox 20 or Counting Crows. They are a team player and they are playing rhythm parts, not just solos and in your face riffs. It’s also very supportive. And that side of guitar playing is vital. You can’t always be playing flat-out solos and riffs all your life. You’ve got to learn to play a supportive part in a band and he was one of those innovators of playing a part. It was a part in a piece of bigger music. And as I said earlier, I think people have to learn how to do that.

MWE3: Yes I’ve been asking some of the greatest players about George.

MB: He was a very important part of the English music scene. He was an important guitar player and still is.

MWE3: On a Beatles related note, you just missed out playing alongside Lennon and the Stones at the Rock And Roll Circus show. You joined Tull right after they did that.

MB: Yeah...it wasn’t a great occasion, I must say. I missed out on that yet then I played with McCartney for a week in the studio so I got to do it eventually.

MWE3: When did you get to play with McCartney?

MB: It was during work on Flowers In The Dirt, is it? Yeah, so I did some playing with him then and then I think a couple things that we did were released in Japan, but I’m afraid, not anywhere else.

MWE3: Oh, it came out in Japan?

MB: Yeah, I thought it had and I don’t have any information. Somebody sent me a cassette of a b-side of a single that was released in Japan and it’s got me on it.

MWE3: Oh, wow.

MB: But I’ve got no idea what’s it’s called. I haven’t actually seen the finished product. If anybody ever finds out about that, I’d love to know (laughter).

MWE3: I’ll have to dig around for that.

MB: But it was my dream, you know? He was my hero. The Beatles were our heroes and then sort of thirty years down the line, I’m playing with the guy! You’re in awe of it all, it’s just like...it’s almost too much to contemplate.

MWE3: I was reading about how the English might not have been ready yet when Tull went from the blues of the first album This Was to the gothic rock sound of Stand Up and you’ve spoken of one special gig at Manchester University in 1969 as a turning point in the band’s history.

MB: It was and it was terrifying and I think it was for Ian as well, because he decided he didn’t want to be another blues musician amongst hundreds of them, another blues band. He wanted to write music, write songs and perform them. That’s what he wanted to do and people didn’t like it because Jethro Tull was a blues band and Mick Abrahams was a blues guitar player and they loved it. They loved Mick and they loved the music and suddenly here was Jethro Tull with another guy playing guitar (laughter) and it wasn’t the blues anymore. (It was like) What’s happened, where’s it going? (laughter) And they didn’t like it. Whatever...but they made the adjustment, they thought, ‘it’s good stuff. It’s not the blues, but hey, we like it anyway!’

MWE3: Okay can you mention any future plans?

MB: Future plans for me, I really want to get on the road with a band, with my band. I’ve done it once, about four years ago in Germany and I’m really keen to start playing live and playing my own stuff. Jethro Tull will continue, I hope (laughter). I’m sure it will into the next few years. But I really want to sort of get my foot in the door of playing in the States and playing in Europe with my own music. So that’s my wish. More solo albums and lots more guitar playing.

MWE3: Will there be any more DVD’s coming?

MB: I don’t think so because we just have problems with the older material and maybe they’ll be resolved. It’d be really nice to get all the really old historical footage out onto DVD. We have problems, and I won’t go into it but, with original members...anyway we just have personal problems and it’s a real shame because I think it’d be really, really good to get that stuff out.

MWE3: Well sooner or later...

MB: Yeah...sooner or later it will happen, but not at the moment (laughter).


Thanks to Martin Barre @ www.MartinBarre.com, Anne Leighton - Capitol / EMI and Fuel 2000 - www.Fuel2000.com















 
 
 
 
 

 

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