There is little doubt that the motivation behind the ongoing existence of Jethro Tull is generated by the perspiration of one man in particular, singer and flautist Ian Anderson. As leader of the classic rock band he appears to work incessantly, generating the energy and creativity needed to keep the show on the road.
With a catalogue of albums that stretches back to the ‘60s, the continued fan interest in Jethro Tull’s ever-changing line-up is testament to Anderson’s ongoing hard work and the lasting appeal of their early recordings.
The singer caught up with us from a park bench near his home to talk about the band and the release of Around The World Live. A collection of four DVDs and a hardcover book, the release contains the most footage you will ever see of Jethro Tull in concert.
“When I talk about going to work and putting in a day in the office, putting this package together is what I do,” says Anderson, explaining his approach to the release’s collation.
“This is indeed a series of concerts and there is no choice in the matter because this is all there is. The sum total of anything of acceptable quality that exists in the world of recorded concerts of almost our earliest days – but most of it comes post-70s.”“We didn’t have recordings because television wasn’t interested. The only way full concerts got recorded back then were if you commissioned them yourselves.”
Anderson elaborates on the lack of very early concert footage: “We did not have recordings … because television was not interested. The only way full concerts got recorded back then were if you commissioned them yourselves. There are some snippets from the BBC and various places, but there were not many complete shows.”
Nonetheless, the included footage still manages to highlight the constantly evolving nature of the Jethro Tull line-up.
“Three DVDs of a lot of shows and a lot of material and band members,” says Anderson warmly. “I cannot recall how many of them are on this collection but there were about 28 band members so you will probably find about 20 different people within the videos.”
Repeating the notion that the travels and performances of Jethro Tull are all work for him, Anderson also reassures that he’s not making light of being an internationally recognised musician. For him, the life he has lived is genuinely one of joyful employment. Almost to the point of sounding like an office clerk when talking about the Around The World Live release.
“It was about three years in the making since I was first approached by a company trying to find everything they could in regards to a compilation,” explains Anderson. “They got a long way down the road with actually sourcing the raw material, with my help in some cases, and by using You Tube and other means.
“It really is a time consuming administrative nightmare with a project like this. You have to talk to so many people and their lawyers and do deals based on the reality that you are not really going to sell a large number of copies compared to days of old. It is something really for the fans, a specialist project, and the expectations of sales have to govern how you put it together.”
The heady day of album sales for Jethro Tull were during the Aqualung and Thick As A Brick records in the early 70s. Even the unlikely upset of Metallica for the first Heavy Metal Performance Grammy in 1988 was astonishing for a group led by a flautist. The peaks of the outfit’s career are now truly in the past.
Despite this, Jethro Tull has amassed a stalwart group of fans around the world, with followers from Iceland to Australia. In fact, Anderson has just returned from Iceland, where the band are frequent musical tourists.“My life is very full of the pragmatic matters of organising concert tours, recording sessions and songwriting. I do not have time to get bored.”
Shows in the past few years have seen Jethro Tull celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Aqualung, the band’s best selling release, while the most recent tour revisits the two Thick As A Brick records. Given that Anderson was once quoted as saying his greatest fear was boredom in old age, how does he feel about that in this time of revisiting past glories?
“My life is very full of the pragmatic matters of organising concert tours, recording sessions and songwriting,” he affirms. “I do not have time to get bored.
“I think my attitude to most of the things I have done … is that you only get one chance in life and it is better to crack on. As you get older you can spend your days fishing or playing golf or watching football. Or you can do what I do, which is think of the goals you still want to achieve and turn the wick up and burn a little brighter.”
He holds a belief that the internet has played a wonderful part in keeping himself and many other people occupied and mentally stimulated as they approach their twilight years. As he calls it, speaking to Mr. Google or Mr. Wiki allows his generation to stay up to date on what is happening in the world.
“Provided that you have a guarded mentality about not believing everything you might read, I think there is a fabulous opportunity for people to keep active mentally and intellectually as you get older,” he muses.
“I think that now that we have that … we can take advantage of it to live profitable, productive and worthwhile active lives during our older age. It is up to take advantage of it and I do.
“I am always on the websites of British Airways and certain hotel chains booking flights and hotels and rooms because … who needs a travel agent?”, Anderson laughs.
Jethro Tull’s website offers a virtual interview so Anderson does not have to repeat himself over and over to music journalists. He has managed this and his other concerns, salmon farming for example, like the archetypal Scotsman he says he is. Rock & roll excess is not for him, but he has positively enjoyed his journey as a rock star.
“When I refer to a day in the office, you have to remember that I work in a really nice office,” he says wryly. “If you are involved in the world of arts and entertainment then a day in the office is not only something you mostly enjoy, but however big the challenge or disappointments are, overall you have a very privileged position.
“Everybody wants to be a rock star. They may not necessarily want to be a flute player, but most people can readily identify with rock gods and sexy front lead singers. It is a romantic kind of thing. It is very easy to attach a lot of privilege to it.”
With that in mind, does Anderson have any regrets?
“There are disappointments which can be artistic where you have a feeling of self-loathing when you leave the stage because you played a few wrong notes,” he replies. “We all fall short of our expectations as technicians and performers, and you hope you overcome them with a sense of an overall artistic feeling of having shared and communicated something in a way that you can’t really do on your own.
“You do need a sexual partner when you step out on stage and the audience is it and you have to make love to them and let them make love to you. It’s quite an intense sharing of a mutual experience.”
The unexpected imagery of that reply illustrates both Anderson’s clear love of life, the ‘work’ that he does, and the very warm sense of humour that buoys him along at the age of 65, in the 46th year of his band’s existence.
“Overall I think the feeling is, ‘what a lucky guy I have to have done this and even more so to still be doing it’. Although I cannot count on a few more years to do this, as long as the machinery is working and as along as the challenge is there to try some difficult things in music it is a very, very rewarding way of life.”
Jethro Tull Around The World is out now through Shock. Check out our review here.