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September 1999

FARMING TODAY

The modern whirl according to Tull

JETHRO TULL
J-Tull Dot Com
Papillon

The 1980s weren't great for Jethro Tull: even the faithful wobbled at the modernist leap of 1984's Under Wraps, with its lyrical outworkings of Ian Anderson's interest in spy fiction, let alone the shockingly non-organic nature of the music. The story since could be interpreted as an increasingly successful journey to recapture and remodel that 'classic' Tull sound of the 60s and 70s.

Early 90s releases, not terribly memorable in themselves, relearned the carpentry, while 1995's Roots To Branches finally began to hit nails on heads. This one, the first new stuff in four years, will delight even more of those in search of something redolent of Stand Up, Warchild, Minstrel In The Gallery, even Passion Play — all of which are recalled here with the kind of Hammond-swirling, angular-riffing, mischievous melodies, portative pipe organs and singularly unlikely yet insistent little instrumental motifs that cry Tull from the turrets and which, frankly, you're not going to get anywhere else.

Lyrically, Anderson updates his espionage fad to the world of modern office life, executive travel, weather phenomena, mangos, and the lifestyle of cats. So, business as usual then. But he also reveals, amid the traditional cleverness and opacity of his wordage, lyrical reflections of a more personal nature. 'Wicked Windows', implicitly an observation on the need to wear spectacles at a certain stage in life (and Ian now favours, on that score, a Joycean look completed with Panama hat and goatee), steers perilously close to epitaph. 'The Dog-Ear Years' sees him catching a grip: "For God's sake keep moving," he tells, well, himself — albeit to a particularly sprightly tune.

The rest of the Jethros, with the honourable exception of axeman Martin Barre — who turns in his catchiest and simplest riff in ages on 'Far Alaska' — are pretty anonymous these days, but Anderson's endlessly fascinating, unique musical personality is absolutely to the fore, as captivating as ever. And apparently the website's not bad.

COLIN HARPER ENJOYS A SWIFT HALF WITH IAN ANDERSON

Thirty years ago Jethro Tull were second only to The Beatles in the Melody Maker's annual poll — and you're still shifting nearly a million records a year: do you think the industry gives you enough respect?

I think people are less likely to admit to having a fondness for Jethro Tull than they are to owning a pair of Next underpants — even though they might have a couple of our records tucked away somewhere. Privately, there is a certain amount of quiet hat-tipping in our direction. But that's OK.

Did you think you'd be making music in '99?

My first goal was simply to make 'a record' — and it was fantastic to do that. When we did Stand Up I thought, Hey, we're on our second album — there could be a third ... That's about as far as I saw it going. By the time we got to 1975 / 76 there was a definite feeling of, Hmm, if we don't do anything too horribly wrong here I could be flying this jumbo jet 'til BA retire me at 55 or whatever it is. So, three and a bit years to go!

Is it difficult to keep coming up with ideas?

It's always difficult coming up with good ideas. I was thinking about this the other day, when we were rehearsing 'Jeffrey Goes To Leicester Square' — which I think we only ever played once, in Plymouth in 1969. I wrote the material for Stand Up around then and was really struggling for ideas. If you get one, firstly, it's a relief and secondly, if it's a good one then you're jumping up and down, believe me. That excitement was there then and it's still there now. Mind you, it would be difficult for me to write 'Jeffrey Goes To Leicester Square' now. It would seem a bit silly.

COLIN HARPER


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Thanks to Simon Lindholm for this article