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By Andy Argyrakis
Promo Photos By Martyn Goddard
mastermind turns in a band classic and solo sequel at summer show
"One on One"
July 10, 2013
Since the late 1960s through today, Jethro Tull's endured as one of the most celebrated and influential classically-inspired progressive rock acts of all time, turning in well over 30 albums and selling more than 60 million copies along the way. And while members and tastes have changed, singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Ian Anderson has always been at the band's epicenter, not to mention stepping out on several occasions to explore solo terrain. These days, he's bridging both worlds with an international tour performing the group's seminal "Thick As A Brick" concept album, paired with his own "Thick As A Brick 2" sequel, backed by a full band sure to be overflowing with experimental sounds. Concert Livewire recently caught up with Anderson on a phone call from the UK for a preview of his Chicago area show (Monday, July 22 at Ravinia in Highland Park), plus reflections on Jethro Tull's storied past.
Livewire: Are you adding any elements to the first installment of "Thick Is A Brick" in concert that weren't on the original album?
Ian Anderson: The concert tour that we do is a replication of "Thick As A Brick" as it was recorded in 1972, and then after a 15 minute intermission, we come back and play all of "TAAB 2" as it was recorded in 2011 as close as we can note for note. Obviously there are other elements in the show in terms of performers and video stuff and it's kind of a theatrical rock show.
Livewire: Why were you initially reluctant to record the "Thick As A Brick 2"?
Anderson: Because the expectation on the part of people making those friendly suggestions- be they record companies, fans or media people- was I'm sure to have more of the same and it's not like you're doing "Rocky 1, 2, 3 and 4." "Thick As A Brick" was a particular surreal premise of a then eight-year-old boy writing some precocious poetry, which was then set to music. You can only do that once, so in order to revisit some elements of that, it wasn't until the end of 2010/beginning of 2011 when something clicked into place and it seemed an interesting proposition to examine what might have become of that young boy 40 years later.
Livewire: Give us the story behind the sequel in a nutshell.
Anderson: "Whatever Happened To Gerald Bostock?" is the subject of "TAAB 2" and how much he's grown up into a middle aged man. But rather than simply have one, I thought it would be interesting to write down a few scenarios. I wrote down about 15 but whittled it down to five- six if you include the non-musical possibility that he might have become a politician. In doing this, it's a sequel, but it's a forty years later sequel. I suppose it becomes a metaphor for the lives of everybody growing up, the things that might occur and the things that they might move towards, whether that's a result of mysterious fate or some conscious decision making. We all have to face those little points, those little forks in the road. Whether we know or not, we sometimes make changes in direction which are quite irrevocable. So I'm not going back to 1972. I'm staying firmly feet planted in at least 2011 when I wrote it.
Livewire: Why did you release it under your own name rather than with Jethro Tull?
Anderson: Because I find that if I do concerts, I think it's rather like being The Rolling Stones playing in Hyde Parkor Glastonbury. It says "The Rolling Stones," so you know that when you go to that concert, you're going to get 20 of most famous Rolling Stones songs played back to back and it's substantially a nostalgia trip. But I'm not the Rolling Stones or a pop group who have a few hits and that's it. I'm a bit more of a restless soul and someone who continues to create new music, and so I find that after all these years if I simply say "Jethro Tull," than the expectation is going to be for that generic repertoire in the live performance. I really wanted to do these tours to make sure that people understood that this was not a "best of" tour. That's the prime reason for that and you can toss in I suppose the fact that after 44 years of a band called Jethro Tull, there have been 28 different members and quite clearly there was no possibility of going back to make this sequel using the same guys who played on "Thick As A Brick" in 1972 for some fairly obvious reasons. Three of them no longer play music and gave up music a long time ago, so there goes the question if they could possibly be pressed into service. You can't wind the clock back once you quit playing 30 or 40 years ago. It's too late to start again.
Livewire: Will there be any time on the new tour for other Jethro Tull and solo tracks or just the two "Thick As A Brick" albums?
Anderson: We usually toss in an encore piece from the generic repertoire, but you can imagine there's essentially two one hour sets, plus an encore with an intermission between those two sets, so it's a pretty long evening as it is. Bring a cushion to sit on and some sandwiches because you're going to be there for awhile.
Livewire: You've never been one for nostalgia, but still seem to give casual fans at least a few of the big hits every show. How do you strike the right balance between what you might want to play and your most common requests?
Anderson: If you were to do a survey and ask a thousand fans what were their 20 most favorite songs were, you would end up with the impossible task of possibly being presented with 200 songs. There clearly would be some common ground, like "Aqualung," "Locomotive Breath" and "Cross Eyed Mary," then maybe "Thick As A Brick" would appear in a sense of some excerpt of that lengthy piece of music, but you could really find a wide and quite impossibly varied choice. I just have to use a little bit of my own sense of what is important and clearly I'm going to pick songs that I enjoy performing live rather than picking something I fell out of love with a long time ago. If you ask me to play "Teacher," I'm probably not going to be able to do it because I really don't like that song. It's not the music so much as I don't like the melody and I certainly don't like the lyrics. I have difficultly with a few other songs that were quite popular, like "Bungle In The Jungle," but other songs like "Aqualung" and "Locomotive Breath," those are not only important songs, but they are songs really about something.
"Aqualung" is about the issue of homelessness and how we are embarrassed and uncomfortable in the idea of that social issue. "Locomotive Breath" touches upon the issues of, I suppose, economic and population growth running out of control. That wasn't exactly a common topic of songwriting back in 1971, but that's what lies behind it. Issues of sustainable population occupy my mind to a certain extent today, along with other issues that are extremely difficult issues, ones where there are no black and white simple solutions like immigration. Politicians hate these, most songwriters don't want to go there, but for me, it's rather important to discuss the things that are difficult about which we have a lot of ambivalent feelings towards. We're torn one way, then the other, and I think there's those sorts of issues, different as they may be, that I want to write about. Religion obviously features in there as well. Whenever I look back at my repertoire as a songwriter and performer, I'm going to try and a few things which are probably difficult topics, but I don't want to make the whole evening weighty, doom laden and intellectually a challenge. I want to also make it fairly upbeat and whimsical.
Livewire: As those songs were on the radio and the group became so notable throughout the '70s, how did that make you feel? Were you comfortable with that or did you prefer it when it was more underground and not as popular per say?
Anderson: Well I don't think we were ever popular in the same sense of the real pop artists, notably British ones of that era like Elton John and Rod Stewart. I think we've always been a little bit left field in terms of not necessarily being in the mainstream of pop and rock, but quite clearly, certain radio-friendly tracks gathered a degree of awareness of the band, particularly in the period of '71 maybe to the latter part of the '70s when we were getting fairly strong levels of radio play, particularly in the USA. But I think the result of that was our manager, in my view somewhat unwisely, started to encourage us to play in much larger venues, so from '72 onward, we were playing in arenas and even football stadiums in '75-'76, places like Shea Stadium and Tampa Stadium. They were places that were seating 50,000 people, and at that point it was becoming too much like an event and not like a concert anymore. I don't personally say playing Shea was one of the highlights of my life. It's way down there in terms of feeling somewhat uncomfortable and embarrassed about doing something like that, whereas I can remember lots of other outdoor events in perhaps smaller places, like Roman amphitheatres in different parts of the world or Red Rocks in Denver for example, because they're in some way rather more like a concert, even if they are outdoors or on a scale that is more than just playing in the typical theatre.
The places I'm more comfortable performing are 2,000 seat theatres, and looking back, we should've stayed within that orbit and just been a little more selective where we played than the summer amphitheatres, a few which I'm playing this year. Some are a little more concert-like than others, particularly those who play as a summer home to the symphony orchestras. Ravinia and Wolf Trap near Washingtonare a couple of examples of those that are more concert-like as venues. But generally speaking, put me in a theatre indoors in a theatrical proscenium stage setting and I feel more at home.
Livewire: What's your opinion of the progressive rock revival that's occurred throughout the past decade or so?
Anderson: It's tempting to think that it's somehow popped up again and raised its head after a long period of absence. But I don't quite think that's true because if you look at the more successful prog rock bands, if we call them that, in the last ten years you would be naming, for example, Dream Theater, but Dream Theater have been around for really quite a long time. An English comparison would be Porcupine Tree, who if my memory serves me, started right back at the end of the 1980s. Bands that kind of kept the flag flying through the early '80s in the post punk period were, for instance in the UK, a band called Marillion, who kicked off in 1982 and we put them on a festival show that we organized in the north of England.
I think you'll find there's a bit of a continuous, albeit somewhat subculture [nature] of progressive rock that continued through the '80s into the '90s and then started to achieve a level of commercial success with bands like Porcupine Tree and Dream Theater, which perhaps surprised a lot of people. But we are just looking at the next generation when we think about that. We're looking at people who grew up in the late '80s/early '90s and wanted something a bit more meaty, something with a bit more substance or musical depth, and fan interest was rewarded by let's say Dream Theater.
If we're talking about progressive music as we know it right now in the new millennium, then I think we're talking about something different. I hate all these titles, but we have this kind of progressive folk group of bands, particularly in Americaand some in the UK, that have taken traditional elements of folk music and put it in a much more contemporary setting because of it's musical nature. It's no longer simple folk. It's more progressive, a little bit more evolved and musically deep. And then there are those slightly wacky bands like Sigur Ros from Iceland, who play something I guess you'd have to call progressive rock music in a broad sense as it's rather abstract. I think in a contemporary sense, we have progressive metal, progressive folk, and the more abstract kind of music of bands like Sigur Ros. It's broadened out into music which tends to be exploring ground that certainly would not be called mainstream rock music and certainly not pop music either, but there have always been that relatively small percentage of music fans who want something with a bit more bite to it and a bit more of a challenge.
Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson appears at Ravinia in Highland Park, IL on Monday. July 22. For additional details, visit www.ravinia.org and www.iananderson.com.