By ProgBlog, Feb 26 2018 09:12PM
A new, one-off live Old Grey Whistle Test appeared on our TVs at the end of last week and though largely unremarkable from a prog point of view, one of the sofa guests was Ian Anderson. The Jethro Tull front man had also recently appeared on BBC Four’s Hits, Hype & Hustle series of films, offering some insightful recollections on the music business, and now he’s appearing on the front cover of the current Prog magazine (Prog 85), with a fairly large proportion of the publication talking about Tull’s 50th anniversary and the 40th anniversary edition of Heavy Horses, due out in a few days’ time.
The vast bulk of the article below was published in June 2014 but it’s been updated and edited to reflect the ProgBlog experience during the intervening (almost) four years:
For someone who was into prog in 1972, my appreciation of the music of Jethro Tull came fairly late, even though my father used to whistle Living in the Past, which had been covered in 1971 by Canadian trumpeter Maynard Ferguson. From someone who would not infrequently refer to prog as ‘racket’, this was something of a revelation. He’d also whistle Light My Fire after José Feliciano's cover version won a Grammy in 1969.
Tull were originally a blues band but the proto-prog of Stand Up (1969) hinted at the direction they were about to embark upon. I think that this album, more than any other of the Tull canon, was responsible for influencing Italian prog bands. Though it represents the first of their albums that I like, the period between 1969 and 1982 is littered with hits and misses. Bill Burford was the first of my friends to buy any Tull albums, and he bought into them in a fairly big way. I appreciated the more lofty concepts, tongue-in-cheek or otherwise: Thick as a Brick (1972), A Passion Play (1973), Minstrel in the Gallery (1975) and from there got into the prog-folk trio of albums beginning with Songs from the Wood (1977). The first Tull album I bought was Heavy Horses, shortly after it came out in 1978. I’d actually gone into local store Blackshaw’s and bought a copy of King Crimson’s Earthbound but, finding the raw and bluesy 1972 version of Crimson just a little too raw and bluesy, I took it back and swapped it for the Tull; as a mooching teenager I wrote naff poetry and, along with the rocking title track and No Lullaby, I kind of liked the sentiment of Rover.
I’m not particularly a fan of Aqualung (1971) which may have been the first of their albums I heard, played at my friend Bill’s house. He also owned the compilation Living in the Past (1972) but I found most of the music uninspiring. I wasn’t the only one of my coterie to lack an appreciation of the full Tull catalogue and according to the music industry, I was partly responsible for killing music as I recorded tapes for my brother Tony to listen to while he was away at university. The following is an extract from a letter he wrote to me in September 1979:
There now follows a critique of “Thick as a Brick” which is based on numerous listenings and the rigid thought process of a closed mind. Show it to Bill as well. I don’t expect either of you to agree, as will become obvious!
In my opinion Tull have not progressed very far beyond this album with their later works (“Vocal recitals from the lignified angiosperm” and “Equine mammals of large mass” being the ones I have heard.) However, I shall not pursue that argument here, but may be induced to do so at a later date.
The vocals are a very important feature of this album and I suspect that they are present on about half the playing time. Unfortunately, I find them rather irritating. “Feeheeheeheeheeheeheels” or a similar variant ending many of the lines is not very imaginative and indeed becomes tedious quite rapidly. Mr Anderson’s aquistic [sic] guitar is undeniably jinky-jink, although his lack of inspiration here is redeemed to a certain extent by some excellent flute. The other musicians in the band are not really given many opportunities to demonstrate great virtuosity, because it is not that sort of an album. They are obviously competent, however. The drummer does get a solo – but then I’m not very enthusiastic about drum solos and anyway Bill would deny me the right to comment on his technique.
I feel that the strength of the composition throughout the album can be questioned. Much of the album consists of a few basic melodies, which are developed to a limited extent but not enough to maintain my interest. Other passages rely on rhythmic, almost mono-aural / monotonous (one sound!) thumps.
Both sides are a little disjointed, the second side possibly more than the first e.g. the progression on the second side through free-form jazziness, a quasi-choral passage, and classical guitar, direction eventually being established with a repetitive guitar riff and organ and vocal accompaniment. This leads on to the best part of the album – undiluted technorock, including a few unexpected bars of orchestral style – and played on strings – just before the end.
** (2 stars) Mike the Mod, NME
Mike says he doesn’t know whether or not to recommend his readers to “No Pussyfooting” instead. After all, it is much cheaper
I have to admit that Tony had a valid point about the ‘jinky–jink’ guitar, something we looked on with derision, and the "Feeheeheeheeheeheeheels” but, noting his use of the term ‘technorock’, a word we used to describe keyboard-led music before we actually heard the term ‘prog’, I think the use of organ makes the album. Tony also didn’t have the advantage of sitting with the St Cleve Chronicle in front of him, something that makes the album a genuine immersive experience. The subsequent A Passion Play was quite difficult going but worth the effort. Perhaps my favourite Tull album is the relatively unsung Minstrel in the Gallery. The title track has all the hallmark qualities of a prog anthem and the Ian Anderson-dominated acoustic tracks feel somewhat more mature than previous material, possibly because of its reflective nature; on a recent play of the album I was reminded of how good David Palmer was at string arrangements. Baker Street Muse is an almost side-long epic with its four subsections, and harkens back to both Thick as a Brick and A Passion Play territory. Spoken sections at the beginning and end of the album show that the band has not lost its sense of humour.
The folk-laden sounds of Songs from the Wood, Heavy Horses and Stormwatch include a more divergent keyboard set-up, as David Palmer joins the band as a second keyboard player but it’s the bouncy, up-front bass of John Glascock that is most different from preceding Tull (I don’t think he was really allowed to shine on Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll.) The pre-Christian references and ecological concerns of Songs from the Wood give way to political matters on Stormwatch (North Sea Oil, Dark Ages) and these in turn give way to more mundane matters such as 4WD on A (1980) as the band moved further away from prog along with prevailing musical tastes. Originally intended as an Ian Anderson solo album, hence the title, the line-up for A was a very different Jethro Tull which, with the recruitment of Eddie Jobson who had been supporting Tull on tour with UK, failed to deliver anything like the music which made up the back catalogue. 1982’s Broadsword and the Beast was a partial move back towards the late 70s prog-folk but the Anderson solo album Walk into Light (1983) and Tull’s Under Wraps (1984) embraced a much more contemporary sound that felt more akin to pop than prog. I saw Tull at the Royal Albert Hall during the A tour and again at the Hammersmith Odeon for Under Wraps and was disappointed with both performances; the last album from that period remaining in my collection is Broadsword, having given Under Wraps to my brother as my main medium switched from vinyl to CD.
I neglected all new releases for many years, though I continued to play the records I did own and supplement my collection with CDs of early material I didn’t possess, but my interest in TAAB2, released as an Anderson solo album forty years after Thick as a Brick, kindled by articles in Prog magazine, was realised in 2014 when I bought a second-hand deluxe edition CD from Si’s Sounds in Lewes. I’m not sure about some of the lyrics but the music was good and the concept of ‘whatever happened to Gerald Bostock?’ was quite entertaining. I file my CD of TAAB2 under 'J' for Jethro Tull rather than 'A' for Ian Anderson. The appearance of Anderson, playing a ‘best of Jethro Tull’ set at HRH Prog 4 in 2016 was one of the main attractions of the event and didn’t disappoint. His vocals may not be as strong as they once were but his flute, the other musicians and the set list were all excellent.
His recent TV appearances seem to have conferred something of an elderly statesman persona, though the Jethro Tull brand still persists with a UK tour commencing in April. During their 50 years, Anderson has always had the ability to express everyday things in a poetic way, whether it’s the ‘battlefield allotments’ next to railway lines or ‘newspaper warriors changing the names they advertise from the station stand’ and there are a number of themes that run throughout his work (he does seem to have a thing about trains.) However, it’s not only his lyrics that stand out for me. Perhaps out of all the prog bands that use flute, and there are a fair number from Moody Blues to early Crimson to Gabriel-era Genesis to Focus to Camel to Van der Graaf Generator and countless Italian bands, the first group you associate with flute is Jethro Tull.