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The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world
IAN ANDERSON JETHRO TULL INTERVIEW JUNE 2014

HARD ROCK INTERVIEWS 2014 - IAN ANDERSON solo artist and JETHRO TULL, JUNE 2014

IAN ANDERSON TALKS TO THE ROCKPIT

We catch up with the always interesting IAN ANDERSON to talk about his latest release 'HOMO ERRATICUS' as well as 'THICK AS A BRICK 2' and some very special shows for Australia in December... and yes, we also tackle the big one: 'The Meaning of Life'...

I rarely get nervous when interviewing, but sometimes just the name of the interviewee is enough to have you shifting wondering how you could possibly ask them something they haven’t heard a thousand times before. After 300 interviews, most of which have been entirely enjoyable, this one just stuck out as something special.


Ever since I was a kid and came across my friend’s big sister’s copy of Aqualung and listened to the music Jethro Tull created I’ve been hooked, so to finally get the opportunity to speak to Ian Anderson prior to the announcement of this year’s Australian Tour was a chance too good to miss, though as I said I was nervous having read about Mr Anderson’s no-nonsense attitude and perceived ‘distance’. I’m immediately put on my guard waiting for the call from the conferencing company; I look at my watch, and its ten minutes overdue. All kind of thoughts run through the brain, like “My God, perhaps he’s actually looked at our website and decided against it!”

Thankfully it’s at that point the call comes and after a few further seconds we’re connected. I venture a quick “Hi, Ian, thanks for talking to us, how are you this morning?” to be met with an Ian Anderson, obviously slightly frustrated with the delays, rather to the point response “Very well, no time for pleasantries, so let’s crack on!”


It’s a remark that immediately has me sitting up straight in my seat, and rather oddly wishing I was more formally attired, and yet at the same time it strangely puts me at ease; it feels strangely like I’ll be sitting an exam for the next 15 minutes…


We of course love the new album ‘Homo Erraticus’, and we know that at the moment Ian is playing it in its entirety along with Jethro Tull’s ‘Greatest Hits’, but what show will we get down-under after missing out on the ‘Thick as a Brick 2’ tour? Will we perhaps get something a little extra special?


Ian: “I am indeed playing the entire new album, and the best of Jethro Tull, which is the second half of the show at the moment. But, when we come to Australia and New Zealand we have a slightly more complex task because we didn’t visit in 2012/2013 when we were doing the “Thick as a Brick” production tour. We’re actually  going to be making an amalgam of everything, so we’ll begin with a chunk, almost all of “Thick as a Brick” the original, a couple of tracks from “Thick as a Brick 2”, and the second half of the show is the best of Jethro Tull, including 2 or 3 tracks from “Homo Erraticus”. All of it accompanied by video and a fairly technical production, so it’s a special tour for Australia and New Zealand, with more of the emphasis on “Thick as a Brick” since that was our very first trip to those parts back in 1972, we arrived off the plane and played “Thick as a Brick”! That was our introduction to Australia, and Australia’s introduction to Jethro Tull. It seems fitting to slip that back into the show just for the end of this year”.

I ask Ian about him using Gerald Bostock again on ‘Homo Erraticus’ just as he did on ‘Thick as a Brick 2’ and of course on the original ‘Thick as a Brick’. Is it a story that he found ‘hard to put down’ after the warm critical reception for ‘Thick as a Brick 2’?


Ian pauses for a second “Oh, I can put it down, but it’s just that it’s a writer’s tool, it’s a device isn’t it, and it’s a nom de plume. So, Bostock is a character who can say things that aren’t necessarily my views or my beliefs, just as when I perform then I’m entering in to a character. People have this naive assumption that with popular rock music that if you say I/me/we that you’re talking, about actually your own heart on sleeve, emotions and views, why should it be the case? It doesn’t apply in opera or in proper music; it doesn’t apply in the world of theatre, drama or literature. Authors do not speak with their own voices, their characters can often express sentiments and views which are entirely opposed to the author or creators own views, and that I believe should be the same in rock music, I should build in characters that are not me, it would be awfully boring if I were to just talk about me because I haven’t got very much to talk about!! I am an observer, a conduit for other people’s extravagances in terms of belief, and ethic and view and experience. I draw upon those and try and build characters around them, partly from observation, partly from research sometimes. That’s what I do; I’m a proper writer, not just a pretty boy with a flute!”

Mark: That’s a wonderful answer! Some of the song titles on “Homo Erraticus” had my reaching back to my schoolboy Latin!


Ian: Not many people today will admit to having schoolboy Latin! Well done!


Mark: You can tell I’m of a certain age then!! I must admit to googling a couple of them! “Tripudium Ad Bellum” I’ve always loved the word ‘tripudium’.


Ian: That’s right. Tripudium is actually a very ancient, usually religious dance, but what intrigued me is that it’s basically, it’s actually a precursor of line dancing, you know, flamboyant country and western kind of stuff! It is essentially a slow, stately march, it’s almost like a stamping kind of march, and it’s taking three steps forward and one back, and I kind of like taking that as a metaphor for war. It never goes as planned, we all know that, but it’s also the idea of this rather marching form of dance, I quite like the idea of soldiers marching to war, but not as resolutely as their generals might hope for.


Mark: I also like the image of wandering to the stars; I thought it was a nice image that seemed to sum up the album nicely.


Ian: Well, the album as a whole is about one very simple idea, which is migration, not immigration; I’m not talking about border controls, and whether we want any more “Pommies” in your particular country, let alone Chinese or any other, a lot of folk get particularly twitchy these days about immigration, particularly here in Europe. It’s not about immigration, it’s about migration, the reality of it is we are a wandering species, we are still in essence the “hunter/gatherer” that we were eight thousand years ago, at the end of the last ice age. We go where the woolly mammoth is plentiful! From December the woolly mammoth is plentiful for me in Australia and New Zealand! That’s where I’m coming to search for it, hopefully kill it and take it home to feed my wife and children back here in the UK! People still travel, they go where things look better, whether it’s moving to another country as economic refugees, migrants, whether it’s working in the oil industry, or going somewhere for a six month tour of duty, because you get paid a lot of money and a tax break, we’re still hunter/gatherers. This is about migration not only of people, but the aesthetic migration of culture, arts and entertainment, of practical issues, the migration of engineering, of inventions, of trade and commerce. It’s the story of all of us since the beginning of civilisation, that we are a restless tribe, us homo sapiens, our not too distant cousins, the Neanderthals, were also hunter/gatherers, who went where they had to go in order to survive. We can see with a little bit of wisdom from the IPCC (International panel for climate change) just a few weeks ago, made the pronouncement, which you will find already carefully written in to my album, from over a year ago, but climate change will undoubtedly increase the pace of migration, as things become ever more difficult for people in certain countries of the world, to produce enough food, to have sustainable commerce industry, farming. I’m sure political borders will change, and pressures will be on an enormous number of individuals, especially those who live, subjected to corrupt elements, and the lack of equality to women, which is the main ingredient behind fertility rates being so high in countries where women don’t get an even break. In North Western Europe, for example, where women generally get educated, the opportunity to get educated, the opportunity to get careers, the fertility rate is just over 1.5, here in the UK, it’s just short of 2, and in France it’s just over 2, but we are host nation to a huge number of people who have come from other countries and backgrounds, where large families are part of their tradition and culture. But, again, in association with all of that is the tradition of keeping women in their place, as baby makers and washer uppers, it’s not controversial, just the facts of life! In the vain hope that people will think about it, and talk about it, and try to understand why we have to continue to live in a world where migration will continue or even increase for our great grandchildren, who will be faced with some enormous moral dilemmas, in how many beds they can spare for the visitors!

Mark: I think so; it’s one of those wonderful albums that makes you think so much. I read an interview with you recently, where you said you don’t tend to socialise with other musicians, in case they disappoint you.


Ian: Yes, they’re good at that, I think there’s a lot of musicians that I’ve met, that I thought I didn’t like, and of course when I come to meet them they turn out to be really quite nice people! But then there are those that you kind of have high hopes for, and they tend to turn out to be not the sort of people you want to spend time with. This, effectively, applies to politicians, there are some nice politicians, and some that I didn’t think that I would like, but were not as bad as they were painted. So, first impressions are very often wrong, and with musicians, I prefer to work with them rather than socialise, I have to say. But, by and large, my interests outside of music are largely not theirs. Just this morning I got up at 5.30am, to start work on preparing a contribution to one of the arch bad guys of the world of pop and rock music, Mr Hugh Cornwell, of The Stranglers. So, I’ve just finished off the flute for a track that he is recording today and tomorrow, and so he will be getting my contribution, winging its way later today by uploading it to a server and it will be inserted in to his recording later today or tomorrow! Assuming he likes it, of course when I play on other people’s records I have one simple edict, which is I don’t except money for it, and if you don’t like it, press the delete button, no harm done!


Mark: That’s the way of the world these days; modern recording technology just makes things so much easier.


Ian: Well, it just means I don’t have to be in a recording studio, because I don’t enjoy the recording studio atmosphere. Hugh’s a nice guy and I’ve met him a couple of times in the past, but then he asked me to play on this track and I thought it’s good for both of us, if I don’t really show up. I show up only in the virtual way of sending a flute track which he can use or not use, if he uses it I’ll be delighted, if he doesn’t then it’s not a problem, I completely understand. It will be technically accurate, it will sound ok, and it may just not fit with the idea of what he’s looking for, that’s why I never accept money because I can’t bear to get paid for something, and someone didn’t really enjoy the experience! Which I’m afraid would be the reality for me should I ever feel compelled to take a prostitute!! It would be an absolute failure on the part of both of us!!

Mark: Apart from the technology that you just mentioned there, has your approach to writing changed over the years, or stayed the same?


Ian: Well, it kind of consolidates; it consolidates in the sense of you become better at that, I don’t like to call it an art, but at whatever it is, you become more consummate in your ability to take flimsy ideas, and give then some more concrete resonance, through the use of the language. Your ability tends to get greater, and in my case I think it does, I feel that, with a sense of objectivity, having recently, and having not quite finished it yet, editing the entire Ian Anderson song book. It is over 300 songs worth of material, and when I go back to some of the very early stuff, little elements made me cringe, not as much as I thought they might, but they still make me cringe a bit, however they were part of the evolution, finding a slightly self-conscious way towards building that lyric writing ability. Where I think I failed more often was on the musical front, the music always seemed easier to me, but looking back on it sometimes the lyrics were actually better than the music, and I’m afraid as the record producer, I have to take the wrap for that. I didn’t get that part of the job right, always. But, when you’re working with other musicians, you’ve got to try and use them in a way that they feel good about and not try and force them to play outside their comfort zone, which usually doesn’t result in a good piece of end product.


Mark: You seem to appear as someone who’s incredibly comfortable in their own skin, and you appear not to be over-concerned about what others think of your work, do you think that attitude has changed over the years?


Ian: I care a great deal, but I’m not going to let it rob me of a night’s sleep! Of course, I care what people think, I am delighted at people who have some high regard for what I’ve done, and that makes me feel good. It embarrasses me, humiliates me and fills me with self-revulsion if I read that I’m a creep, and musically inept or arrogant or whatever. These things are very hurtful, and they do get said, but I’m not going to let them ruin my sleep, let alone, my life. In a sense while I care about it a lot, I know how to switch it off, and it’s not going to affect what I do next, whether I’m getting pats on the head and told I’m a clever boy, it’s not going to make me write more of the same. It’s not a Pavlovian response to audience approval, I’m more inclined to think, well that went well, let me try something completely different!


Mark: So many questions and so little time! Can I ask you the big one? What is the meaning of life?


Ian: That’s a big one, yeah! I’m fairly convinced in terms of possibility and even probability, that something else is out there, whether you call it God, or some divine spirit, I feel in terms of surreal belief that is beyond reality, but none the less there is something very much at the heart of humanity that seems to suggest the mere probability that there is something beyond human experience. So, whilst I am a huge supporter of Christianity, and religion, more or less in general, I am not a practising Christian, but I support Christianity, I support the idea of good, moral teachings, which fundamentally, most religions do project, in spite of the evil interpretations of some folks, in regard pretty much too all religions. So, the meaning of life for me is the probability of something beyond, whether or not we ever get to understand that meaning really is, or whether it remains elusively beyond our grasp is not for me the crucial issue. The crucial issue is we never stop wondering and never stop aspiring, ‘Meliora sequamur’ – let us follow better things!
Mark: Fantastic! Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us, it’s been an absolute pleasure, and it’ll be wonderful to see you in Australia.


Ian: It was a pleasure, thank you, bye.

And with that it was over, certainly one of the most interesting interviews I’ve done so far, and one where so many questions went unasked. I look down at my notes and see that I’ve managed just to knock the tip of an iceberg I suspect has rather more beneath the surface than most.
Ian Anderson is on tour in Australia in December:

 

 

SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE, SYDNEY THURSDAY DECEMBER 11
QPAC CONCERT HALL, BRISBANE SATURDAY DECEMBER 13
PALAIS THEATRE, MELBOURNE MONDAY DECEMBER 15


TICKETS ON SALE 10AM MONDAY JUNE 23
My Live Nation pre-sale: begins midday Wednesday June 18
Ticket Agent pre-sale: begins midday Friday June 20

For complete tour and ticket information, visit www.jethrotull.com & www.livenation.com.au

 

 

 

Ian Anderson spoke to Mark Diggins May 2014

 

 

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