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8 May 1976
TULL — NOT A RAY OF LIGHT
Too Old To Rock 'n' Roll: Too Young To Die!
(Chrysalis CHR 1111)
Romanticising the working lad as a cult hero is a popular theme with rock musicians. They have oft flirted with, or observed at close hand, the heroic deeds of Rocker, Mod, Beatnik or Raver at some time in their own youth. And they have experienced the excitement of lust, thrills and adventure as rock stars, not to mention the bitter-sweet pills of success and yea, frustration.
Thus they can sympathise and, in part, identify with these mythical characters of yore. I wouldn't mind betting that Ian Anderson, when he was a lad, far from thundering down the bypass with a broken bottle of brown ale between his teeth, astride a smoking motor cycle of British manufacture, actually stood midst clouds of exhaust at the bus stop, clutching library books and wondering whether there were kippers for tea.
But that doesn't stop him displaying an almost touching faith in the Rocker Ideal on this latest popular gramophone record. The story of Ray Lomas (our hero) is told in song and illustrated by an elaborate strip cartoon on the centrefold of the album, which has all the realism and impact of the strips that appeared in such Fifties comics as Lion and Eagle.
Ray is a rocker whose friends "have gone straight." Alone and bitter, solaced by memories of days when he was called The Big Dipper among female rockers and rode the trunk roads at excessive speeds, he enters a quiz show and wins a washing machine, an act that seems strangely out of character, but gives the hero a chance to taste the high life of London. He gets stood up by a dolly bird, and meets an old beatnik whose reminiscences he finds oddly irritating.
But he, too, falls prey to nostalgia and remembers when he was a leather-jacketed churl of the road. He ventures out on his trusty, rusty machine and, filled with aimless frustration, hurtles into a bend at 120 mph. While recuperating in hospital, a new group sets a trend for leather gear and when he gets out, Ray finds a world full of rockers. For once he is ahead of the trend. Girls flock and pop managers seek him out.
Stardom is just around the corner and Ray has swept under the chequered flag. It's a tidy, amusing story, but the music does not match the narrative, which dictates each twist and turn of the tongue, and is perforce delivered in sing-song, balladeer style. Apart from the tender 'From A Dead Beat To An Old Greaser' and 'The Chequered Flag', there are no outstanding songs to speak of, and, because of Ian's dominating role and the wordy nature of the compositions, the band do not impress any of their musical personality on proceedings.
I long for the beat of Barriemore Barlow to break free, or the guitar of Martin Barre to swoop. Not that Ian hasn't taken considerable care with his lyrics, which have a curious matter-of-fact-ness — either gentle irony or an attempt to capture the plain speaking of the aforementioned rocker. For example, Ray grumbles sourly of the girl who stood him up: "she's a warm fart at Christmas." But on 'The Chequered Flag', which seems to refer to the motor cycle of life, from birth to death, Anderson gets positively poetic.
It must be said that Ian avoids such tempting devices as motorcycle sound effects, or period, Shadows style guitar, and he is determined to fashion a thing of beauty that will appeal to the vast bulk of Tull fans. But I remain singularly unmoved by these plaintive laments, and am drawn to the conclusion one is simply too ear-bashed to care.
Thanks to Mike Wain for this article.