An Evening With Ian Anderson On Jethro Tull

 An Evening With Ian Anderson On Jethro Tul

In 2018, Ian Anderson busied himself with a world tour that included the UK to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Jethro Tull, the band he has led for the entire length of the band’s career. Now Ian Anderson will soon begin a world tour that reaches the UK in late September and October with the band celebrating their Progressive Rock leanings. In among the live dates, however, Ian and new Jethro Tull guitarist Joe Parrish will embark on a series of dates that mix music, video, and even a Q&A session between Ian and the audience. “An Evening With Ian Anderson On Jethro Tull.”

Here, Ian explains what fans of Jethro Tull will get on the night, and how he is looking forward to answering some of the trickier questions that may come his way.

Jon Kirkman (JK): Let’s backtrack a little bit to 2002 and 2003 when Ian Anderson embarked on an American tour under the banner Rubbing Elbows. It was essentially a mixture of Ian talking about Jethro Tull and of course his life, and some music as well, and it was on American Radio. He’s decided to bring something similar to the UK in the sense that it’s actually a show and it’s taking place through April and into May, and it’s an evening with Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull. So, Ian, first of all, good to speak to you today. Tell us a little bit about this.

Ian Anderson (IA): Well, basically I’m filling a hole because our keyboard player John O’Hara is busy for six weeks off from working with the rest of us to work on a west end musical that he’s engaged to do. So, rather than put everybody out of work for six weeks, I thought, well, at least we can give a few people a job, and I’ll find an alternative that doesn’t involve all the band. So, that’s why this came into being. It was something I talked about doing a while ago because I did a couple of, not fan conventions, but sort of chatty friendly “Evenings With” kind of thing in other countries apart from the USA tours way back. It’s a format that gives a little more intimacy and gives people the opportunity to interact a little bit. I will invite them to be the Andrew Neil to my Boris Johnson, and you can finally nail me and watch me squirm. So, I’ll invite some questions and generally talk about the band, how it came about, and of course, the writing of songs. There’ll be lots of little musical performances. I’ll be playing flute and acoustic guitar, and I have a new guitar player, Joe Parrish, who’s going to be with me on stage, and a video screen so we can illustrate and show some embarrassing shots of people’s bottoms in dressing rooms, or whatever it is we find to put up there! (Laughs)

JK: These formats are becoming ever more popular with various people from film stars and television stars and music stars as well. I mean, I can remember going to see a really interesting evening with Roger Moore. And they do really capture the moment with audiences because it really is up close. And as you said, it’s a chance to ask questions that possibly may make you feel a little uncomfortable, which I’m sure it won’t in your instance because you’re very, very adept at handling questions. But it is a little bit like putting yourself out there, isn’t it?

IA: Yes, and it’s good that people feel they can come along to this show and ask all the questions they wouldn’t dare to ask to Roger Moore. Yes, I’m fairly thick-skinned, so there’s nothing that’s really going to humiliate me or embarrass me too much. And I’m a professional wriggler anyway. It’s not too difficult to slightly deflect something that maybe is uncomfortable. It’s not that it would be uncomfortable to me. It’s more that if we get onto topics that could be embarrassing to somebody else, whether it’s one of the band or a friend or peer group musicians, then I would not feel it appropriate to do or say something that would embarrass them if they were sitting in the audience. And of course, in these days of social media, if it were someone of note, they might well get to hear about it anyway. So, that might cause me a little professional wriggle or sidestep. I’m not a kiss and tell kind of guy when it comes to relationships with former musicians or whatever. There are a few things I suppose I will answer, but not quite answer. I mean, I’m not going on with any preconception or rehearsed lines. I’m just completely winging it, and that’s what makes it fun for me. And having done this on two US tours back in the earlier part of the millennium, it’s something I look forward to doing again. I know how it works, and the only difference really is this time we don’t have the connection with local radio because local radio here is local cheesy pop format radio. In America, of course, every city great and small has its classic rock station. And so that would be the friendly home for a radio station DJ to be a co-host of the show and bore the connection with radio in terms of marketing, promotion, and finding some special guests, which is what I did back then. On this occasion, we have no special guests because the format is a little bit more about looking into the life and times of Jethro Tull, how it came to be, and we don’t really need the special guests of the 36 other members of the band who, one way or another, will form the basis of the repertoire that I will be referring to during the course of the evening. So, that’s what this show is about. It’s an intimate show and one that I think will be fun for me, which is why I’m doing it, fun for the audience, which is why they’ll be paying their money to come and see it, and fun for the nearest Travelodge or Premier Inn, who will get the opportunity to put us up for the night. I say that because as you can imagine, this is small venues and small crowds. It’s on a shoestring budget, so it’s Travelodge all the way, really.

JK: Yeah. Of course, years ago, there wasn’t this kind of interaction with a band, and every band and every artist has some form of social media outlet. And I suppose it’s given people the confidence to ask questions that possibly 40 years ago they wouldn’t have dared ask.

IA: Yeah, I think this kind of a context has been around for, well, certainly we would have to be going several decades back because of course America, and indeed Britain, had its TV and radio talk shows where guests would come on and talk about themselves. In a sense, my model when I started doing this in the USA was not an evening with Des O’Connor or Roger Moore. It was a David Letterman show. And so, I was trying to do something that was very much in the context of American talk show TV. So, it was a little bit cheesy, it was a little bit edgy, it was a little bit punchy, but nonetheless, the Americans got it completely. I only ever tried that version of that show once in the UK, and it fell a bit flat because the audience didn’t really understand the nature of that presentation. It wasn’t something they were so familiar with. So, I didn’t pursue ideas of doing it further in the UK until I thought, well, maybe it can be a bit more storytelling, a bit less prepared in the sense of a TV talk show with guests and little odd interludes and so on and so forth. So, it’s slightly changed, but these things, as you rightly say, everybody and his dog are doing “An Evening With.” It’s been around for quite a few years with lots of people, and I personally have never been to one, but I’m well aware of other artists who are doing it, and I guess if someone was on in my local town hall or little theatre venue, I might well pop along if I had a free evening and I wasn’t having a takeaway curry.

JK: You’ve mentioned that these venues are a little more intimate than what you’re used to with Jethro Tull. But you are playing some theatres and some very nice ones. For instance, the City Varieties in Leeds, and of course, the Buxton Opera House, both of which are beautiful venues. And I think they’re probably among the biggest venues that you’re doing on this tour, particularly the Buxton Opera House, which is, you may know, a Frank Matcham creation. He’s the guy who designed the London Palladium and quite a few theatres across the UK.

IA: Yes indeed, and indeed some of the Blackpool venues of the early part of the 20th century because he was brought in to do the Winter Gardens Ballroom to make it exotic and over the top. So, yes that’s part of the history of British theatre, and having played in Buxton at least once before, I know what I’m expecting and the atmosphere. But there are lots of beautiful little British theatres. When I say little, I mean they’re anything from 500 seats to 2000 seats, but they are very special venues. It’s always a privilege to do those places. And rather like their counterparts in Europe, there are some very beautiful traditional old fashioned theatres and concert halls that acoustically are much more friendly than some of the more general buildings, either performing arts centres or town halls, which were never built with an eye to or an ear for acoustic comfort. But yeah, some of the old theatres are great places to play. You can hear a pin drop, unfortunately.

JK: (Laughs) I’m sure you’re going to cope very, very well. Now, you’ve mentioned that there’s going to be some musical performances with yourself and Joe Parrish. And you said you’re going to be performing some of the lesser-known Jethro Tull songs, which again, for the fans is going to be really good. Obviously with the repertoire that Jethro Tull has you must be spoiled for choice.

IA: Well, spoiled for choice, but also to some degree restricted by what you can do with just two people on stage because there’ll be little point in barking upon some hugely complex piece of prog-rock with just an acoustic guitar and a flute. It’s just not going to convey easily anything except the elements of melody or whatever. So, I think I have to be a little bit careful. The Jethro Tull tour that follows on in  October is, on the other hand, perhaps more fitting in the sense of being an opportunity to play a lot of either unperformed or not performed in the last 20 or 30 years pieces of music. So, that one is stretching out a little bit more into doing the less predictable. Indeed there’s a lot of material in that show, which for the members of the band there’s a huge learning curve because they’ve either never heard it before, not necessarily being Jethro Tull fans when they were younger or just got around to listening to it, let alone having to work it all out and transcribe it, and then of course, relearn it in the context of a live performance. Which, with the accompanying big video screen and all the effects and lighting and so on, it becomes quite a big preparation job. And that’s indeed what I’m engaged on at the moment during these last two and a half weeks running up to rehearsal dates and then starting off this production tour at the end of February in Spain. So, by the time we get to October, hopefully we’ve all learned to play the right notes and in the right places.

JK: I don’t think I’ve ever been to a Jethro Tull concert where that hasn’t been the case, so I think you’re on safe ground there. With this particular performance with “The Evening With,” are you prepared to maybe give us an example of one of the lesser-known songs you’re going to do, or are you going to keep it a secret and let people find out on the night?

IA: My head is so full of varied setlists! (Laughs) I would have to go to my computer and dial in the provisional setlist for those nine shows we’re doing. Yeah, I mean there are lots and lots of bits and bobs, but I’m afraid it’s not coming to mind. Some of the things that I won’t be doing, for instance, other than maybe talking about the album and the recording of it is the Aqualung album. But there are a couple of examples of pieces of music from that, but as you can imagine, some of the things that I’m doing are more of the acoustic pieces. So, for instance, the song “Wond’Ring Aloud” from Aqualung is one I haven’t played on stage for a long, long, time apart from the odd fan convention or something where it’s just me with a guitar. It’s that sort of material, but also there are elements of the big stuff. It’s just that we will play examples of it. We will play not necessarily an entire song, but we’ll slip in some elements of a piece of music just to jog memories and have the opportunity to talk about how those songs came about and why perhaps they might be considered the highlights of the Jethro Tull repertoire over the years. But, you know, there are a few oddball things in there as well. But this kind of a thing is about nostalgia, recollection, explanation, entertainment, so I’m not setting out to challenge people by playing an evening of really obscure weird material. But I will veer in that direction a little more in October with the Jethro Tull production tour. However, it is a mixture of stuff and quite deliberately very different material on the solo tour, if we call it that, compared to the full band tour because there will be people who will come to both of those types of shows and we don’t want them to in any sense think, Oh, it’s just the same thing again but with a drummer. (Laughs)

JK: (Laughs) What I like about yourself as an artist and also Jethro Tull is, you’ve been involved in mixed media productions for a long time. For instance, going back as far as, I suppose, Too Old To Rock And Roll when you did the TV special, and more recently, you’ve had a book, The Ballad Of Jethro Tull, and of course, on the 50th Anniversary there was the video screen for that as well. I mean, you seem very at home with pushing the envelope, if you like, and I hate that phrase. A lot of bands of the, if you like, vintage of Jethro Tull would go out and just play the greatest hits, and that’s that. But you’ve never been that way.

IA: Well, I opened the envelope carefully with a second class stamp on the front of it back in 1972, really, when we did the Thick As A Brick tour. Although there was no video screen, it was a more theatrical show. It had elements of, I suppose, Python-esque humour in it that was an easy thing for British audiences and possibly Australia, Canada, and a few other places. But it was tough on the poor old Germans! (Laughs) And the Japanese, who just really didn’t get it at all. But America slowly came around to that way. It crossed the border from being completely weird and surreal to making some connections, actually, along with the growth of Monty Python and the acceptance of very British post-war humour finally taking hold in the USA during the early 70s. So, it began back then, and by 1973 there was a big video screen on stage that opened and had interludes in the middle. So, we used a video screen then with back projection. That was quite an unusual thing to have at a rock concert. And then by 1975, we did tours, particularly in the USA, which were billed as “television,” where again we had a big screen with a mixture of live more or less in sync performance of the band playing on stage with other little elements, which were billed as “television.” So, I think at that time maybe video screens were beginning to pop up at big multi-act festivals; I’m not sure. But it wasn’t back then, as far as I recall, something that you would see if you went to a regular rock gig somewhere. A screen with things happening on it was pretty unusual. So, that’s why it goes back a long way and that kind of approach on and off over the years then came back, really, in 2012 with the live tours of Thick As A Brick I & II. And then we’ve continued, I suppose, 50% of our concerts since early 2012 have been with a video screen and that kind of production. You can’t really do it in greenfield sites, open-air concerts in the middle of Europe when weather is obviously very unpredictable. Screens are tricky blighters from a health and safety point of view, as indeed video walls are. So, even if you go that route you’ve got to have such incredibly heavy-duty engineering to be safe, not only for the audience but the performers and the crew members alike. So, it gets a little bit too complicated and too expensive to do that on a show when you’re just popping into a market square in the middle of Italy, or the middle of a field in Switzerland. It could potentially be the straw that breaks the economic camel’s back from a promoter’s standpoint. And basically those kinds of shows tend to be very often without even a soundcheck, especially if you’ve got more than a couple of acts on the bill. You don’t even get a soundcheck, you’ve just got to go on and go for it and hope that things get sorted out in the first two or three songs and you can actually hear what everybody else is playing. So, we do those kinds of dates probably half of the shows in any one year without the production stuff, and they vary according to where we are in the world in terms of how we do that kind of a generic Jethro Tull best of show, or indeed the Christmas concerts in cathedrals. Again, that’s a very specialised kind of production from the vantage point of view of dealing with acoustic craziness. I mean, playing in a cathedral is a very delicate and tough gig for sound engineers and for band alike because of the reverberation times and the odd configuration of seating. But from my point of view this is hugely interesting. It means that during the year there are four or five different kinds of structures of concert. That keeps me engaged. It’s not like you’re just doing the same thing week after week, month after month for a whole calendar year. It’s chop and change every couple of weeks to do a different setlist, a different kind of performance. For me that’s much more interesting than just repetition.

JK: Yeah. Well, you’ve got a very busy year ahead of you with Jethro Tull, and this series of dates is going to be incredibly interesting for a lot of people. It’s literally Ian Anderson under the microscope. If this is successful, are we likely to see more?

IA: That depends on whether any of the band members decide they have to goof off for a bit. Basically, if they don’t, then the chances are then we wouldn’t do that because my job as an employer is to keep people busy and earning money. So, my responsibility is to an immediate group of people, which is band a crew, and then beyond that there are all the other peripheral people involved in everything from record company people to merchandise to agents and venues. There’s a lot of people who depend upon folks like me turning up for work because their livelihood and continuity of livelihood depend on somebody deciding at a whim, “I think I’ll do a comeback tour this year.” Or, if you’re Ozzy or Madonna, “I’m not feeling terribly well. I think I’m going to have to cancel it.” I mean, these things happen, obviously, and it’s putting people out of work. It’s putting noses out of joint if they’ve paid for tickets, and even if they get a refund it really messes up your travel plans. Of course, a lot of people travel to concerts these days. On big events they will be booking hotels and flights and all of the things that go with it. They might get their ticket money refunded or an alternative date, but perhaps the greater part of the expense and trouble they’ve gone to, unfortunately there’s not going to be a refund for them. You have basically blown it.

JK: Well, the tour takes place, and it’s nine dates and starts on the 20th of April and ends on the 19th of May.

IA: The 20th, 21st, and 22nd are the first three dates, and then we go onto the up north for the 3rd, 4th, and 5th, of May in Lincoln, Leeds, and Buxton. And then later on in May it’s Blackheath in London on the 17th and Southend on the 18th, and Guilford on the 19th. I’m reading all of this off my year planner, which just happens to be in front of me at the moment. But normally speaking, if you ask me, “Well, what are you doing tomorrow?” I haven’t got a clue! (Laughs)

JK: (Laughs) Well, people can find out more details on the website JethroTull.com, and they can get tickets directly from the box offices at the various venues. Ian, as ever, you never lead anything other than an interesting life, which is probably a good thing for you, and it’s a great thing for us fans of Jethro Tull and Ian Anderson. Thanks for talking to me today!

IA: Great pleasure. Good to talk to you too. Take care!

An Evening With Ian Anderson On Jethro Tull starts in Yeovil on the 20th of April and ends on the 19th of May in Guildford. Tickets are available from the respective venues, and more details can be found at www.jethrotull.com

Mon 20 April                     Yeovil                                   Westlands
Tues 21 April                     Bristol                                   St. George’s
Wed 22 April                     Cheltenham                       Town Hall
Sun 3 May                           Lincoln                                 Drill Hall
Mon 4 May                         Leeds                                     City Varities
Tues 5 May                         Buxton                                 Opera House
Sun 17 May                        London                                 Blackheath Halls
Mon 18 May                      Southend On Sea             Palace Theatre
Tues 19 May                      Guilford                               G Live


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