Ahead of his York gig the legendary Jethro Tull frontman talks to Nick Love about cultural invasions, musical style and his new album
The brutal time limits that are imposed on interviews with celebrities can be either a blessed relief or a curse. Some self-deluded “artistes” I have found so wearisome that they could send a glass eye to sleep! However when the subject is genuinely stimulating, as with Ian Anderson, then the latter most definitely applies.
I am talking to the front man of the legendary band Jethro Tull about his forthcoming solo album and tour which takes in York’s Grand Opera House on May 15th.
Ask people about Jethro Tull and they recount the iconic silhouette of Anderson playing the flute perched on one leg.
Anderson and Tull are so synonymous that some people even think that Anderson is called Jethro Tull, who, as Ian points out is in fact “the dead inventor of the seed drill”.
It’s a name that Anderson and his band have lived off for over 40 years and to which he pays homage in a jocular manner, saying that “it’s almost as though I got his pin number and fleeced his bank account”.
We talk about the new album Homo Erraticus. The subjects that Anderson/ Tull have covered in more than 40 albums in as many years are so diverse as to defy any type of trend and Homo Erraticus is no different, being about the nature of migration from the ice age onwards.
‘We are world beaters’
As ever, there is a message embedded within the well-crafted and musically complex collection of songs.
Anderson says that migration – or “the hot topic of immigration” as it now more commonly described – “will test the moral and ethical discipline of not only politicians and world leaders, but our children and great grandchildren for years to come”.
Anderson is disarmingly rational in the points he makes. He wants to encourage discourse and “pleasant debate” on population growth and the ever shifting movements of people without resorting to the kind of vituperative hysterical rhetoric exemplified by the likes of Nigel Farage.
He points out that “it not just about physical migration – but that of ideas, cultures and of spirituality and religion.”
Although the British “don’t have a great record” when it comes to invasion of other territories with “boots on the ground”, he makes the powerful and irrefutable argument that “when it comes to invading other countries with our culture, with our arts and entertainment we are world beaters – we have an empire like no other in the history of the planet”.
By now you’ll get the picture that this is no vapid, callow pop star who is no more than a musical mannequin for intellectually bereft formulaic “hit factories”. This is an artist who has sold more than 60 million records with a style of music that practically defies classification.
That takes some doing and is a testament to a musical style allied with some astonishing and evocative lyrics. Read the words to Heavy Horses or Dun Ringhill and tell me that they don’t stand as poetry in their own right.
Jethro Tull are so distinctive it’s practically impossible to “pigeonhole” them. Jethro Tull sound well… like… Jethro Tull!
‘Rekindle a moment’
Homo Erraticus (meaning wandering man) is no different in that it contains all the diverse idiosyncrasies immediately distinguishable to Jethro Tull cognoscenti, and is the best album to come from Anderson / Tull for a long time.
There are more than the occasional flashbacks to earlier gems interlaced throughout and the album is all the better for it.
The impressive opening track Doggerland has a powerful driving flute and guitar riff that is reminiscent of Protect And Survive from the album A.
The uplifting Tripudium Ad Bellum contains morsels of the hypnotic flute solo from the Heavy Horses classic The Mouse Police Never Sleeps, and Puer Ferox Adventus has an atmospheric freeform opening like that of Dark Ages from Stormwatch.
The end track, the strident Cold Dead Reckoning has the feel, quite deliberately Anderson confides, of the classic Locomotive Breath.
Never though do you get the feeling of cross plagiarism from previous works – just reassuring leitmotifs that leave you in no doubt that you are listening to Tull.
Anderson speaks of “without being too obvious – wanting to rekindle a moment”. Nothing could better personify this than my favourite track New Blood, Old Veins, which is a metaphorically perfect description of a song that would have sat comfortably on an earlier “hey-day” album such as Heavy Horses.
We all draw from our past – we are after all the sum of everything we have ever done or experienced. Anderson articulates this well: “subconsciously channelling things that were already somewhere in the back of your mind”.
He calls it “style” – as in everyone or everything has a particular “style” which defines them to some extent and should be guarded jealously.
Jethro Tull reunion?
I’m looking forward to the upcoming show in York. I asked Ian if his solo band is in effect “de facto” Jethro Tull or whether we could look forward to a rapprochement with his estranged and erstwhile guitarist of 40 years, Martin Barre?
He was I would say, diplomatic. He doesn’t rule out a reunion though he says “I’ve got other things I want to do before I snuff it that are demanding, but not appropriate to do under the Jethro Tull banner”.
The shows will consist of a first half that is entirely Homo Erraticus and a second half of Tull classics with some surprises. Much to satisfy the traditionalist and new converts alike.
Interestingly Anderson says that “on stage I can’t tell the difference between solo Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull” and with the possible exception of Barre who leaves an indelible imprint on the distinct musical sound of Tull over the last 40 years, I would be inclined to agree.
- Homo Erraticus is out now
- Ian Anderson plays York Grand Opera House on Thursday, May 15 at 7.30pm. For more details, and to book tickets, go to the Grand Opera House website
- More music articles here