Saturday, February 14, 2009

Jethro Tull

THERE are some bands which transcend simple classification, or pigeonholing. Jethro Tull was huge for us, growing up – particularly in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when they were in their youthful prime. For a time, in high school, many of us would dress wearing long baggy coats bought at second-hand shops, and knee-high moccasins into which we tucked our jeans, in an impersonation of Ian Anderson. We even made flutes out of bamboo, which we played in the Anderson position – flamingo-like, with one leg raised and tucked around the knee of the other.
My abiding memory of the group revolves around three key albums, Stand Up, Benefit, and Aqualung. We only had the first two, but Aqualung was so popular, it was one of those albums everyone heard through the chain of lending, borrowing, taping and swopping that occurred at the time. It must surely have been their greatest commercial success, thanks in large part to the title track. But it was those two earlier albums which for me set the standard by which all subsequent Jethro Tull albums would be judged.
Folk, rock, blues, jazz. The various influences seemed to merge into a unique Jethro Tull sound driven, in large measure, by the genius that was Ian Anderson, composer, vocalist and flautist supreme.
I remember a tall Dutch friend we had in Bonza Bay, Jan Raudinck (or at least that’s how it was pronounced; we never worried much about how surnames were spelt in those days). For some reason I associate those two albums with the period, in the early 1970s, when Jan spent time with us on the beach, kicking soccer balls around. He was tall and muscular, like so many Dutch people, and had the ability to shoulder the ball almost as far as most of us could kick it.
There is something terribly special about those two albums. I listen to them with a reverence normally reserved for masterpieces. In fact, I believe they were masterpieces. But I wonder what the brains trust on Wikipedia think …
The interesting thing about researching these pioneer bands is that interesting information emerges. I mean who would have thought that Jethro Tull would have been formed in the relative backwater of Blackpool? But that is where they started in 1967. My attempt NOT to categorise them failed, because Wikipedia has them as that all-embracing term “progressive rock”. “Initially playing blues rock with an experimental flavour, they have over the years incorporated elements of classical, folk and ‘ethnic’ musics, jazz and art rock. Eclectic influences, diverse instrumentation and often elaborate song construction led them to be labeled as an archetypal ‘progressive rock’ band,” says Wikipedia.
Ian Anderson

Anderson’s music career started back in 1963, says Wikipedia, with his first band, The Blades. By 1966 it was a seven-piece “white soul” band called the John Evan Band, named for their pianist-drummer, John Evans, who dispensed with the “s”. Inevitably, the band moved to London – at least those who did not quit, which was Anderson and bassist Glenn Cornick. They later joined up with blues guitarist Mick Abrahams (whom we’ll encounter later in Blodwyn Pig, another band from the period we “got into” in a pig, or big, way), and drummer Clive Bunker. They battled to make it on the London club circuit, often having to change the band’s name to get bookings. Indeed, it emerges – and here’s comes the inevitable tale of “how they got their name” – one booking agent, a history buff, eventually christened them Jethro Tull, after an 18th-century agriculturist who invented the seed drill, whatever that is. The name may well have gone the way of the many others used previously, but for the fact that it was the one they were playing under when a club manager, John Gee of the Marquee, actually invited them back to play again. They also became the third band, says Wikipedia, to fall under the nascent Chrysalis empire.
This Was

They started as a progressive blues outfit, and released an Abrahams composition, Sunshine Day, as a single, in 1968. Memorably, and collectably, the band’s name was spelt Jethro Toe on the single. The spelling was corrected for their debut album, This Was, from 1968, which was not part of our initial Tull experience. It was, by all accounts, an Abrahams-dominated album, although Anderson also contributed songs. But on one tune, Serenade To A Cuckoo, written by Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Anderson evidently exhibited his “growing talents on the flute”, which he had only started learning to play six months earlier. Anderson described their sound as “a sort of progressive blues with a bit of jazz”. Ah yes. Two bulls cannot share one kraal. So it was that Abrahams quit after the album to form Blodwyn Pig. The key reason, says Wikipedia, was that Abrahams was a blues purist, while Anderson wanted to explore other types of music. Abrahams also did not get on with Cornick and was unwilling to travel abroad or play more than three nights a week. Tony Iommi (Earth/Black Sabbath) replaced him for a while, but returned to his roots soon afterwards. (And here I sense we are getting to the meat of the matter.)
Who would have thought it, but they actually auditioned for a replacement guitarist, and Anderson chose Martin Barre, who was playing for former Hendrix partner Noel Redding’s Fat Mattress. Incredibly – and this is surely a lesson to all of us – Barre’s audition was a disaster, but he still got the nod. Wikipedia says he was so nervous at his first audition he could hardly play at all. At the second he arrived without a cable to link guitar and amplifier. But Anderson could recognise talent when he saw it, and Barre went on to become the longest-serving member of the band after Anderson himself.
Stand Up

And then they released Stand Up, in 1969. From nowhere, the band achieved it’s first and only UK No 1 album, with every song an Anderson composition, except his jazzy arrangement of J S Bach’s Bouree. Wikipedia says as it departed further from the blues, it marked a new direction for the band, “which would come to be categorised as progressive rock, alongside such diverse groups as King Crimson, Genesis, The Nice and Yes”. With Anderson now in full control, Wikipedia observes that on Stand Up, influences from Celtic, folk and classical music are evident. I may be confused, but Wikipedia says the cover, with its intricate woodcut designs on front and back of the band, opened up and the band members stood up, as in a child’s pop-up book, which linked to the title. But surely it was the five figures on the cover of Benefit who are paper cut-outs. Then again, we only got the “Interpak” – locally pressed – version of Stand Up in South Africa, so we probably missed out on this more elaborate cover.
Having just given Stand Up my undivided attention on the old record player – after nearly 40 years the album is still in quite good nick – I was gobsmacked by the quality of the group. I mean this was only their second album, yet it is arguably their best. Just reading the notes on the back cover, it emerges that the cover idea – and I’m not sure if this includes those “stand-up” figures – was based on ideas from Terry Ellis and John Williams. It was printed from woodcuts by New York graphic artist Jimmy Grashow. Ellis, by the way, produced the album with Anderson. But what of the music itself? As I said, this album has been part of my soul for nearly 40 years, so it is difficult to be objective. But I defy anyone not to be impressed by the sheer quality of the musicianship, the arrangements and the lyrics. Also, Ian Anderson’s voice is at its most iconic on this album, while it was here that he set a new standard for flute-playing in rock music which no-one that I have heard of has come near to equalling.
What I haven’t had previously is a copy of the lyrics, so finally I am discovering precisely what those songs were about. Anderson seemed to favour music involving a series of short, crisp notes giving songs a thumping rhythm, which would then often slow for quieter interludes, before picking up again. That, in totally layman’s terms, is what happens on A New Man Yesterday, the opening track. “My first and last time with you / And we had some fun / Went walking through the trees, yeah! / and then I kissed you once” These actual words are all new to me. “Oh I want to see you soon / But I wonder how. / It was a new day yesterday / But it’s an old day now.” Here we have a verse that is delightfully poetic – and once again love is the muse. For those, like me, who never knew precisely Anderson was singing, the next and last verse reads: “Spent a long time looking / for a game to play. / My luck should be so bad now / to turn out this way. / Oh I had to leave today / just when I thought I’d found you. / It was a new day yesterday / But it’s an old day now.” You have to hear Anderson’s vocals on these songs to understand just why this album was so impressive. Words like “old day now” are sung “o-o-old da-a-ay now”, or suchlike, in that inimitable voice of his. But this, of course, is all couched in musicianship of the highest order. There are lead guitar breaks by Martin Barre that are superb, while this is the first time, probably, many would have heard Anderson’s unique way of almost mumbling into his flute, grappling with it as he turns what up till then had been considered more of a classical instrument into a frontline rock instrument.
Another key to this album’s success is the track sequence. After the fairly heavy opening number, Jeffrey Goes To Leicester Square starts with soft guitar notes, copied by bass and drums before Anderson launches into words I am reading for the first time. I always heard something like “why say woman”, when in fact the song starts: “Bright city woman / walking down Leicester Square every day. / Gonna get a piece of my mind.” Stop right there. You must remember that “every day” and “my mind” here become treasured pieces of Andersonia, tremulous words worked into incredible shapes to give the song that much more meaning and depth. “You think you’re not a piece of my kind. / Ev’rywhere the people looking / Why don’t you get up and sing?” Also, don’t underestimate the roll of Glen Cornick on bass. He makes the notes flow effortlessly up and down the fretboard, helping to give the song its impetus. And of course the flute – this time, interestingly, played by Barre (as well, probably, as Anderson) – gives that added dimension. One heard the words in those days without really listening. It was more about the feeling the song induced, than what it was about. But here, finally, I read that the next verse goes: “Bright city woman / where did you learn all the things you say? / You listen to the newsmen on TV. / You may fool yourself but you don’t fool me. / I’ll see you in another place, another time. / You may be someone’s, but you won’t be mine.”
On the next track, Bouree, Anderson did what many others would try – some may even have preceded him – and that is transfer a classical tune, this time one by Bach, to the rock medium. In order to do so, you need to be a consummate master of your instrument, like the guys in Emerson, Lake and Palmer were, and like Anderson was on his flute – surrounded by other men equally competent on theirs. This isn’t rock and it isn’t classical rock, or classical music. It is a unique fusion of styles with a taughtness that is truly inspirational. The melody is struck by the flute and bass, with a second flute joining in at a lower pitch. Drums come in to add body and before long the flute takes on a magical character never heard on record before. There are lovely quiet sections where just the bass and cymbals predominate. Gentle guitar chords add texture before a lovely ending during which Anderson literally grapples with that flute as he squeezes every ounce of sound out of it. No music lover has truly lived till he or she has heard this version of Bouree. My humble opinion, mate.
Naturally, the mood changes for the next song, Back To The Family, which kicks off with some emphatic drumming, before the words: “My telephone wakes me in the morning - / have to get up to answer the call. / So I think I’ll go back to the family / where no one can ring me at all.” Here, again, it must be stressed that Anderson is injecting his full being into singing those last words of each line. There must be a word  in the lexicon of music appreciation for what he does, but I’d just recommend you go out and listen to these songs. “Living this life has its problems / so I think that I’ll give it a break. / Oh, I’m going back to the family / ’cos I’ve had about all I can take.” Would that one could opt out like this when you’re older, and return to the safe haven of the family home. But as a young man, no doubt Anderson felt the pressures of his newfound fame. Oh, and I love this change of pace – and the obvious allusion to a certain nursery rhyme – as the song gets heavier: “Master’s in the counting house / counting all his money / Sister’s sitting by the mirror - / she thinks her hair looks funny. / And here am I thinking to myself / just a wond’ring what things to do”. Da-da-da-daa, da-da da da-da-da. It’s that kind of song. Most of them are, with an insistent rhythm which drives the thing wondrously on. But, as the song proceeds, he gets tired of the “soft life”, where “doing nothing is bothering me”. “There’s more fun away from the family / get some action when I pull into town.” But almost immediately he regrets it: “Everything I do is wrong, / what the hell was I thinking? / Phone keeps ringing all day long / I got no time for thinking. / And every day has the same old way / of giving me too much to do.” Da-da-da-daa, da-da da da-da-da. Slip in lashings of great lead guitar and flute counterpointing, if there’s such a term, and you have another great number.
And the next song had to be soft and gentle, which it is. Look Into The Sun starts with slow, subtle acoustic guitar and bass, as Anderson eases into: “Took a sad song of one sweet evening / I smile and quickly turned away. / It’s not easy, singing sad songs / But still the easiest way I have to say.” Again, those last words are being caressed in Anderson’s unique way, while an electric guitar insinuates its sound into the melody. “So when you look into the sun / and see the things we haven’t done - / oh was it better than to run / than to spend the summer crying. / Now summer cannot come anyway.” A couple more equally insightful verses complete this song on which the bluesy guitar work just develops and develops, with wah-wah added at the end for added flavour. As with all the songs on this album, one gets the sense that every note of every instrument is carefully choreographed. Nothing is left to chance, or is allowed to be slightly below par.
And, as George Harrison might have said, it don’t come easy. In fact, Anderson on the next track says Nothing Is Easy. The song starts with soaring flute backed by drums, with Anderson diving into the racy rhythm with: “Nothing is easy / Though time gets you worrying / my friend, it’s OK / Just take your life easy / and stop all that hurrying, / be happy my way.” Really, this is the first time I’m really hearing this lyrics, though I’ve loved these songs madly, as Bowie might say. It’s a paradoxical song, really. While he espouses being laid back, he concludes in each verse that, well, nothing is easy. “When tension starts mounting / and you’ve lost count / of the pennies you’ve missed, / just try hard and see why they’re not worrying me, / they’re last on my list. / Nothing’s easy.” Da-daa-da, da-daa-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-daa, da-da-daa!”
Hell, the next song I always used to sort of dismiss as the fun track on the album, in which they poke fun at fatties. Nothing of the sort. Fat Man is arguably the finest track on the album, with Anderson proving his incredible versatility by leading matters on, not the flute, but the mandolin. Indeed, on this album he also plays the acoustic guitar, Hammond organ, piano, balalaika and mouth organ. And it is on this song that we hear that voice, that incredible playing with the last word of each line, at its most emphatic. “Don’t want to be a fat ma-a-a-a-an, / people would think that I was / just good fun. / Would rather be a thin ma-a-a-a-an, / I am so glad to go on being one. / Too much to carry around with you, / no chance of finding a woman who / will love you in the morning and all the night time too-oo-oo”. Reading these lyrics for the first time, I love the humour in the next verse: “… Won’t waste my time feeling sorry for him, / I seen the other side to being thin. / Roll us both down a mountain / and I’m sure the fat man would win.” A hallmark of this song is also the great bongo solo by Clive Bunker, as well, again, as some magnificent electric guitar solos.
Naturally, the mood changes for the next song, We Used To Know, which starts with desultory, gently strummed acoustic guitar, possibly 12-stringed. “Whenever I get to feel this way, / try to find new words to say, I think about the bad old days / we used to know.” You know, the more I think about this music, the more I marvel at how we got any school work done at all. With all this talent around, made especially for us, the youth of the early 1970s, what were we supposed to do? We had to devote most of our energies to getting into it, appreciating it, savouring it. I remember my brother Alistair, who died so suddenly of heart failure at age 41 in 1996, loving this next verse: “Nights of winter turn me cold - / fears of dying, getting old. / We ran the race and the race was won / by running slowly.” That was an unfortunate coincidence, because I was looking at the last two lines, about winning by running slowly, not thinking that the first two lines may have been written about him, too. Indeed, this song seems to have a somewhat morose fascination with death. “Could be soon we’ll cease to sound, / slowly upstairs, faster down. / Then to revisit stony grounds. / We used to know.” There is some excellent writing here: “Remembering mornings, shillings spent, / made no sense to leave the bed. / The bad old days they came and went / giving way to fruitful years.” The next verse, in particular, I think is a classic: “Saving up the birds in hand / while in the bush the others land. / Take what we can before the man / says it’s time to go.” And so it concludes: Each to his own way, I’ll go mine. / Best of luck in what you find. / But for your own sake remember times / we used to know.” Again, throw in brilliant flute and wah-wah guitar breaks, some excellent bass, and you have another work of the highest quality.
The penultimate track, Reasons For Waiting, starts with some of the finest, most intricate acoustic guitar work on the album, alongside that wonderful flute. “What a sight for my eyes / to see you in sleep. / Could it stop the sun rise / hearing you weep? / You’re not seen, you’re not heard, / but I stand by my word. / Came a thousand miles / just to catch you while you’re smiling.” Funny that, but there is a similarity here to a song by Audience, who are from about the same era and play similar sort of music. “I came a long, long way just to see you smiling / You’re not smiling…” The Tull song is again sung with that Anderson touch, with the flute and acoustic guitar giving it a folksy feel. There is even an introduction of strings near the end, which soar heavenwards beside that voice.
The final track, For A Thousand Mothers, sounds like a continuation of the previous song, the drum beats seeming to rise from the ashes of the sudden ending of Reason For Waiting. It is a song so many of us know about: relating to our parents. “Did you hear mother - / Saying I’m wrong but I know I’m right. / Did you hear father? / Calling my name into the night. / Saying I’ll never be what I am now. / Telling me I’ll never find what I’ve already found. / It was they who were wrong / and for them here’s a song.” In the second verse he reveals that a child’s success arises because “unknowing you made it all happen this way”. This is a tribute, especially, to mothers.
And so there we have it. This album is a must for all who love good music. It is pioneering stuff be a special bunch of talented lads.
And, while it may have done well, the band were wise to realise they had to make a decent living, so they followed it up with a single, Living In The Past, which I’ve probably heard, but can’t place, which that same year, 1969, made it to No 3 in the UK. While other prog rock groups eschewed singles, Tull had further success with Sweet Dream (1969) and The Witch’s Promise from 1970. A five-track extended play (or EP, the likes of which we I don’t think saw much of in South Africa), Life Is a Long Song (1971), made it into the Top 20.

And then that Evans lad from up north, who dropped his “s” to become John Evan, joined in 1970, and was part of the magic formula that produced Benefit. Incredibly, Wikipedia has only one sentence about an album which also profoundly impacted on my soul. I’m shaken and flabbergasted.
Evan’s piano gives Benefit a different shape, a new range of emphases, to Stand Up. The cover says that “piano and organ (are) played by John Evan . . . for our benefit”. Oddly, the actual band members are only named on the backs of their cardboard “cut-outs” which, seen from the front, reveal a full-frontal of Anderson in classic bent-leg flute-playing pose, complete with long jacket and high boots, not to mention that shock of long hair and beard. Oh and the maniacal wide-eyed stare. Looking through a pair of windows behind the stage are the four Tull members, sans Evan of course, though he became a full member afterwards.
Only a year separates these two great albums, but an incredible amount of change is evident, while at the same time Benefit retains most of the best traits of its predecessor. With You There To Help Me starts with some echoing flutes – suggesting immediately a more progressive sound – and then unusually muted opening lines from Anderson, which however build and strengthen as the song progresses. “In days of peace - / sweet smelling summer nights / of wine and song; / dusty pavements burning feet…” You are shaken out our your reverie as he then changes mood: “Why am I crying, I want to know. / How can I smile and make it right? / For sixty days and eighty nights / and not give in and lose the fight.” Like Back To The Family on Stand Up, there is a similar need to escape: “I’m going back to the ones that I know / with whom I can be what I want to be. / Just one week for the feeling to go - / and with you there to help me / then it probably will.” The song is marked by great vocal harmonies, along as always with superb electric guitar and of course those reverberating flute notes.
There are 10 beautifully crafted songs on this album, each a unique gem in the history of modern music. And they often seem to be created out of virtually nothing. A whim, a turn of phrase, a feeling. Da-daa, da-daa, da da-da daa. Most of Anderson’s songs have this  simple sort of structure, and it works wonderfully. On Nothing To Say, the lead guitar strikes up the tune, and is followed by some lovely acoustic guitar as Anderson launches into: “Everyday there’s someone asking / what is there to do? / Should I love or should I fight / is it all the same to you? / No I say I have the answer / proven to be true. / But if I were to share it with you, / you would stand to gain / and I to lose. / Oh I couldn’t bear it / so I’ve got nothing to say. / Nothing to say.” Unless I’m mistaken – and I’ve been here, having been divorced by my first wife after three turbulent years of marriage – this is about a love-hate relationship with a girl. Take these lines: “Every morning pressure forming / all around my eyes. / Ceilings crash, the walls collapse, / broken by the lies / that your misfortune brought upon us / and I won’t disguise them / So don’t ask me will I explain / I won’t even begin to tell you why. / No, just because I have a name / well I’ve got nothing to say / Nothing to say.” It goes on with this beautifully jumbled logic of a relationship in crisis. The piano is much in evidence here, along with superb bass, electric guitar and drums. Again, an expertly crafted song.
Who, if I asked them, could recall how the song, Inside, goes? Yet, as soon as you see the lyrics, it comes back. “All the places I’ve been make it hard to begin / to enjoy life again on the inside / but I mean to. / Take a walk around the block / and be glad that I’ve got me some time / to be in from the outside / and inside with you.” A bit like Ian Matthews, these songs are all about affairs of the heart, the subject which occupies the minds of most people, most of the time, especially when they’re young. The song picks up a bit with the lines: “I’m sitting on the corner feeling glad. / Got no money coming in but I can’t be sad / That was the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had / And I won’t worry about a thing / because we’ve got it made / here on the inside, outside so far away.” This song ends on a high note: “Counting lambs, counting sheep / we will fall into sleep / and awake to a new day of living / and loving you so.”
After that gentleness, there is need for some urgency, and that is what Son offers, with powerful electric guitar alongside the vocals: “Oh, I feel sympathy. / Be grateful my son for what you get. / Expression and passion. / Ten days for watching the sunset; / when I was your age amusement we made for ourselves. / ‘Permission to breathe sir,’ don’t talk like that, I’m your old man. / They’ll soon be demobbed son, so join up as soon as you can. / You can’t borrow that / ’cos that’s for the races and doesn’t grow on trees.” After this confrontation, the mood switches: “I only feel what touches me / and feel in touching I can see / a better state to be in. / Who has the right / to question what I might do, / in feeling I should touch the real / and only things I feel.” This is heady philosophical stuff, methinks. But the old man is not impressed: “It’s advice and it’s nice to know when you’re best advised. / You’ve only turned thirty, so son, you’d better apologise. / And when you grow up, if you’re good / we will buy you a bike.” Ouch! And we’re not even halfway through this album.
The last track on Side 1 is For Michael Collins, Jeffrey And Me, and it starts off with gentle acoustic guitar. “Watery eyes of the last sighing seconds, / blue reflections mute and dim / beckon tearful child of wonder / to repentance of the sin. / And the blind and lusty lovers / of the great eternal lie / go on believing nothing / since something has to die. / And the ape’s curiosity - / money power wins, / and the yellow soft mountains move under him.” It’s profound stuff, with the crescendo building until Anderson unleashes: “I’m with you L.E.M. / though it’s a shame that it had to be you / the mother ship is just a blip / from your trip made for two …” And so continues yet another grandee, which seems to address man’s exploitation of animals. “And the limp face hungry viewers / fight to fasten with their eyes / like the man hung from the trapeze - / whose fall will satisfy …”  I like the last few lines: “And the yellow soft mountains / they grew very still / witness as intrusion the humanoid thrill.” It has a nice sci-fi ring to it.
“Flying so high, trying to remember / how many cigarettes did I bring along? / When I get down I’ll jump in a taxi cab / driving through London town / to cry you a song.” To Cry You A Song launches Side 2, and those lines surely are about a drug trip. Here it is searing, soaring electric guitar which sets the pitch. The chorus: “It’s been a long time - / still shaking my wings / Well, I’m a glad bird / I got changes to ring.” Then that tight da-da da-da da-da da-da da-da-da-da! The imagery is as good as anything the Beatles did. “Closing my dream inside its paper-bag / Thought I saw angels / but I could have been wrong. / Search in my case, / can’t find what they’re looking for. / Waving me through / to cry you a song.” Was that a near drug bust?
We literally do come down for the next song, A Time For Everything, which has a slow, steady momentum. “Once it seemed there would always be / a time for everything. / Ages passed I knew at last / my life had never been. / I’d been missing what time could bring.” The other verse is equally powerful, and between the two there is some of the nicest flute on the album, along with lead guitar and organ.
The next track, Teacher, is another tour de force, a masterpiece of poetic story-telling. Most familiar will be the up-tempo chorus-type verse. “Jump up, look around / find yourself some fun, / no sense in sitting there hating everyone. / No man’s an island and his castle isn’t home, / the nest is for nothing when the bird has flown.”
Play In Time uses fuzz and wah-wah and other devices to give it a decidedly progressive sound. And is that an organ or synthesizer I also detect? As an indication of Anderson’s musical progression, I like the lines: “Blues were my favourite colour, / till I looked around and found another song / that I felt like singing.”
The best acoustic guitar work is saved for the last song, Sossity, You’re A Woman, which features some intricate finger-picking and lovely changes of tempo. “Hello you straight-laced lady, / dressed in white but your shoes aren’t clean …” This is another relationship with an older woman that is on the rocks: “The bitter-sweet kiss you pretended / is offered, our affair mended.” And further on: “All of the tears you’re wasting / are for yourself and not for me. / It’s sad to know you’re aging / Sadder still to admit I’m free.”
This is another incredible contribution by Jethro Tull, but they had more tricks up their sleeve.

Ever wondered why the name “Jeffrey” was so favoured in certain Anderson compositions? Was he openly homosexual? Well, Wikipedia tells us that when bassist Cornick left following Benefit, he was replaced by Jeffrey Hammond, a childhood friend of Anderson. In typically playful fashion, when Hammond was credited for such songs as The Story Of The Hare Who Lost His Spectacles from the A Passion Play album, it was often as Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond. This was an inside joke born of the fact that, though unrelated, his mother’s maiden name was also Hammond.
And so the stage was set for Aqualung, which was released in 1971 and described by Wikipedia as “Tull’s best-known work”. I mean it was so widely known and listened to that I recall once getting a lift back to Beacon Bay from my high school, Clifton Park in Nahoon, East London, after tennis practice, with our coach, whose name escapes me, in his VW Beetle. And on his car tape was playing none other than Aqualung. I immediately afforded this oke more respect. Just how “in” with the younger generation he was became clear a few years later when he got a matric pupil up the spout, as it were. Though he was no “disreputable tramp” like the title character of this album, who walks the streets “eyeing little girls with bad intent”.
Not surprisingly, Wikipedia has a fair amount to say about Aqualung. And, on relistening to this album, I have to correct my earlier view that Stand Up and Benefit were their greatest works. They were great early works, but Aqualung marks a progression from romance-linked songs, beautiful in themselves, to something far deeper. Anderson was now looking beyond himself to big issues – and few are bigger than the role of religion, which is pretty much the theme for most of the second side of this album.
The first side, says Wikipedia, contains six “character sketches”, including those of the lecherous hobo, Aqualung, and Cross-Eyed Mary, a prostitute. Aqualung itself was played so often most of my generation will be more than familiar with most of the lyrics, not to mention those powerful opening bars, played with heavy lead, bass and drums, which send Anderson on his way: “Sitting on a park bench - / eyeing little girls with bad intent. / Snot running down his nose - / greasy fingers smearing shabby clothes. / Drying in the cold sun - / Watching as the frilly panties run. / Feeling like a dead duck - / spitting out pieces of his broken luck.” I’ve seen the tramps in London. As one coming from the race-riven, skewed society that was apartheid South Africa, in 1990 it was something of a shock to see aged white men like Aqualung. Now, as I write, 15 years after the advent of democracy in our land, the number of white tramps grows exponentially. But how is this for good writing. He eyes the little girls “with bad intent”, and all he sees is, not the children running, but the “frilly panties”. He seems to have a cough, maybe TB, with the epithet transferred as he spits out pieces of his “broken luck”. Given that he is “aqualung”, and therefore has water on the lungs, he might as easily be spewing out pieces of broken lung. Not a pretty image for a rock song. Then, in typical Tull style, the mood switches, just as the Burton Silverman picture of Aqualung on the front cover is of an evil-looking lecher, while there is more sympathy for him in the painting on the back. Now we see him for what he is, a lost, lonely soul: “Sun streaking cold - / an old man wandering lonely. / Taking time / the only way he knows. / Leg hurting bad, / as he bends to pick a dog-end - / he goes down to the bog / and warms his feet.” Later, he seems to meet the narrator, as the pace of the song picks up: “Do you still remember / December’s foggy freeze - / when the ice that / clings on to your beard is / screaming agony. / And you snatch your rattling last breaths / with deep-sea-diver sounds, / and the flower blooms like / madness in the spring.” That is good writing. I’m reminded of Henry Reed’s Naming Of Parts, in which he juxtaposes the bursting forth of spring with the efficiencies of preparing weapons of war. Here, an old man’s decay contrasts with the “madness” of flowers blooming in spring.
Cross-Eyed Mary starts with some romping bass and flute. The opening lines are as familiar as family, though precisely what was being said I only discover now: “Who would be a poor man, a beggarman, a thief - / if he had a rich man in his hand.” This seems odd since the song is about a poor girl, not man, a young prostitute who “signs no contract / but she always plays the game”. This is life in the underworld: “Dines in Hampstead village / on expense accounted gruel, / and the jack-knife barber drops her off at school.” So she’s still at school, which would have made the song relevant to teenagers like us. Indeed, references to school, especially disparaging ones, were lapped up by the rebels in us. She’s old before her time: “Laughing in the playground – gets no kicks from little boys: / would rather make it with a letching grey.” And then the line which makes you think this was indeed a “concept” album, that these two songs, are linked: “Or maybe her attention is drawn by Aqualung / who watches through the railings as they play. / Cross-eyed Mary finds it hard to get along. / She’s a poor man’s rich girl / and she’ll do it for a song. / She’s a rich man stealer / but her favour’s good and strong: / She’s the Robin Hood of Highgate - / helps the poor man get along.” Throw in an incredible flute break at this point, followed by an equally incisive lead guitar and the song is rounded off.
If the authorities in this country had been privy to these lyrics at the time, I’ve no doubt it would have been banned. And that’s even before we look at Side 2, which would have shocked their pseudo-Calvinistic selves to the core.
Just when you’re in for an album of hard-core rock, Anderson pulls the unexpected on the next track, which starts with some beautifully picked acoustic guitar and gentle bass. I never did know what Cheap Day Return was all about, so it’s nice to finally discover: “On Preston platform / do your soft shoe shuffle dance. / Brush away the cigarette ash that’s / falling down your pants. / And you sadly wonder / does the nurse treat your old man / the way she should. / She made you tea, asked for your autograph - / what a laugh.” This short song was, says Wikipedia, written by Anderson after a visit to his critically ill father in hospital.
Is that a recorder I perceive alongside the strummed and picked acoustic guitars on the energetic Mother Goose? It is another immortal Tull song, so well known yet, to me, not yet properly probed. What is it all about? “As I did walk by Hampstead Fair / I came upon Mother Goose – so I turned her loose - / she was screaming. / And a foreign student said to me – is it really true there are elephants and lions too / in Piccadilly Circus?” I’d have to recommend he come out here, to South Africa, to find what he’s looking for. But still I’m searching for some meaning in this song, which now takes a typical new mood direction: “Walked down by the bathing pond / to try and catch some sun. / Saw at least a hundred schoolgirls sobbing / into handkerchiefs as one. / I don’t believe they knew / I was a schoolboy.” What it means, I don’t know, but as schoolboys we loved it. And it just got weirder and weirder. “And a bearded lady said to me - / if you start your raving and your misbehaving - / you’ll be sorry. / Then the chicken-fancier came to play - / with his long red beard (and his sister’s weird: / she drives a lorry).” Wikipedia says this is one of six character sketches, but I don’t see it. With references to labourers “digging up their gold” and “Johnny Scarecrow” in his “jet-black mac” which he stole from a snow man, this is one wacky, fun, song.
The more contemplative Wond’ring Aloud offers some respite, as one is soothed by soft piano and gentle strings. I was reminded of Ian Matthews at his most sublime. I never knew what that first line was, so here it goes: “Wond’ring aloud - / how we feel today. / Last night sipped the sunset - / my hands in her hair. / We are our own saviours / as we start both our hearts beating life / into each other.” Isn’t that great poetry? She goes to make some buttered toast and returns “spilling crumbs on the bed”. “And,” he concludes, “it’s only the giving / that makes you what you are.”
Up To Me, the last song on the side is, inevitably, more upbeat, and it starts with a guffaw, before the band launches into ra ta da-da-da-da da da! “Take you to the cinema / and leave you in a Wimpy Bar - / you tell that we’ve gone to far - / come running up to me.” It’s a cosy, domestic song, I think: “Make the scene at Coucin Jack’s - / leave him to put the bottles back - / mend his glasses that I cracked - / well  what one’s up to me. / Buy a silver cloud to ride - / pack the tennis club inside - / trouser cuffs hung far too wide - / well it was up to me. / Tyres down on your bicycle - / your nose feels like an icicle / the yellow fingered smoky girl / is looking up to me” And so the scene is set for I’m not sure what, because some embittered lines now follow, if you’ll pardon the pun, as the tempo lulls. “Well I’m a common working man / with a half of bitter – bread and jam / and if it pleases me I’ll put one on you man - / when the copper fades away. / The rainy season comes to pass - / the day-glo pirate sinks at last – / and if I laughed a bit too fast / well it was up to me.” There is some lovely Traffic-like flute in this quieter final section, again underscoring Anderson’s versatility.
Wikipedia says that the first track on Side 2, My God, is a “full-frontal assault on ecclesiastic excesses”, putting religion before God. Bear in mind that at this point Anderson was only in his 20s. Yet here we have him writing a song which will be heard by millions and it is about the nature of religion. Bizarre. Yet the band pull it off with consummate ease, indeed they do it masterfully. At over seven minutes, this is a kind of mini-rock opera. It starts with some complex acoustic guitar work, with equally good piano setting the stage for those opening lines, which are an admonition of those who would foist their version of God on us: “People – what have you done - / locked Him in His golden cage. / Made Him bend to your religion - / Him resurrected from the grave. / He is the god of nothing - / if that’s all that you can see. / You are the god of everything - / He’s inside you and me. / So lean upon Him gently / and don’t call on Him to save you / from your social graces / and the sins you used to waive. / The bloody Church of England - / in chains of history - / requests your earthly presence at / the vicarage for tea. / And the graven image you-know-who --/ with His plastic crucifix - / he’s got him fixed - / confuses me as to who and where and why - / as to how he gets his kicks.” It is something of a ramble, but within it lies an anger which cannot be subdued: “Confessing to the endless sin - / the endless whining sounds. / You’ll be praying till next Thursday to / all the gods that you can count.” It may look bland on paper, but with a choir chanting alongside beautiful flute work and all manner of nuances this is a real work of art. And it is followed by an almost heavy metal “hymn”.
The vocals on Hymn 43 starts almost aggressively, like an angry preacher. “Oh father high in heaven – smile down upon your son / whose busy with his money games – his women and his gun.” Then the chant, “Oh Jesus save me!” alongside some distorted lead guitar. Yes, I see this is an anti-war hymn, also anti-racism and exploitation, as the next verse makes clear: “And the unsung Western hero killed an India or three / and made his name in Hollywood / to set the white man free. / Oh Jesus save me!” Then the indictment: “If Jesus saves – well, He’d better save Himself / from the gory glory seekers who use His name in death.”
Anderson could read people like a book. After that onslaught, one hankered for a bit of peace, and that is what Slipstream provides. It is a gentle folk song, complete with soothing strings. I only ever heard the words as a flow of sound beside the acoustic guitar, so it’s great to see what was being said: “Well the lush separation unfolds you - / and the products of wealth / push you along on the bow wave / of the spiritless undying selves. / And you press on God’s waiter your last dime - / as he hands you the bill. / And you spin in the slipstream – timeless – unreasoning - / paddle right out of the mess.” Gentle, perhaps, but the attack is no less barbed. And this sets the scene for arguably the most well known tracks on the album. Few people older than about 40 will be unaware of Locomotive Breath. But what was it all about?
It started off slowly, with long, deliberate notes on the piano. A guitar answers as the pace picks up, before finally we are confronted by that heavy staccato sound: da-da-da daa daa daa! “In the shuffling madness / Of the locomotive breath, / Runs the all-time loser, / Headlong to his death. / He feels the piston scraping - / Steam breaking on his brow - / Old Charlie stole the handle and / The train won’t stop going - / No way to slow down.” Hell, isn’t that a great opener? This is a guy in trouble. “He sees his children jumping off / At the stations – one by one. / His woman and his best friend - / In bed and having fun. / He’s crawling down the corridor / On his hands and knees - / Old Charlie etc.” Then: “He hears the silence howling - / Catches angels as they fall. / And the all-time winner / Has got him by the balls. / He picks up Gideon’s Bible - / Open at page one – God stole the handle etc.” Phew! I’m just relieved I wasn’t privy to those lyrics as a teenager, man. They would have twisted my little brain even more than it was already.
If organised religion has taken a hammering thus far, the last nail, as it were, comes on Wind-Up, in which Anderson puts it all openly on the table. Again, it starts off with some slow piano and acoustic guitar, before the bass and drums add urgency. Then, in what is surely an autobiographical account, Anderson sings, often with an icy humour, about this thing called religion. “When I was young and they packed me off to school / and taught me how not to play the game, / I didn’t mind if they groomed me for success, / or if they said that I was a fool. / So I left there in the morning / with their God tucked underneath my arm - / their half-assed smiles and the book of rules. / So I asked this God a question / and by way of firm reply, / He said – I’m not the kind you have to wind up on Sundays. / So to my old headmaster (and to anyone who cares): / before I’m through I’d like to say my prayers - / I don’t believe you: you had the whole damn thing all wrong - / He’s not the kind you have to wind up on Sundays.” I love this chorus line. Imagine a child going through this, which is not unlike what probably happened to many kids down the years: “Well you can excommunicate me on my way to Sunday school / and have all the bishops harmonize these lines - / how do you dare tell me that I’m my Father’s son / when that was just an accident of Birth. / I’d rather look around me - compose a better song / ’cos that’s the honest measure of my worth. / In your pomp and all your glory / you’re a poorer man than me, / as you lick the boots of death born out of fear. / I don’t believe you: / you had the whole damn thing all wrong - / He’s not the kind you have to wind up on Sundays.”  
As I said, this was a somewhat heavier subject than previously tackled by Anderson. I wonder what the repercussions were within the church at the time? Wikipedia says the album reached No 7 in the US, with Hymn 43 reaching No 91 on the singles chart. In 2003 Rolling Stone ranked it at No 337 in its top 500 albums list.
I kind of lost interest in Tull for a while after these three key albums, which sustained me Tull-wise throughout my high school years, even though they would still venture out into a wide range of concept albums, such as Thick as a Brick, from 1972. While I was only in Standard 8 then, this album kind of passed me by, as did most of the others.
20 Years of Jethro Tull

Tull were just simply massive in terms of their productivity and creativity. Earlier I dismissed their debut album, This Was, as somehow a lesser work preceding their greater albums to come. However, one side of a tape, recorded for me by my late brother Alistair around 1990, dispels that theory. Though I don’t recall us having This Was, (yet the cover featuring the band dressed as woodsmen was definitely familiar), the 14 songs from 20 Years of Jethro Tull from 1988 (which in fact features over 50 tracks), gives some indication of what is included on that and other albums not part of my personal, very limited, listening repertoire. This is in fact a fascinating compilation album, which includes several “BBC Session” tracks, including the opening one, Song For Jeffrey, from This Was. And what a cracker that BBC version is – and of course it was part of my “repertoire” because it is very familiar, especially the chorus about “I cease to see where I’m going / Cease to see where I’m going”. And there, too, is that dynamic Anderson flute, as bright as ever. But let this be an example of how one misheard lyrics. A check on a lyrics site reveals that the chorus is not what I thought I heard (as noted above), but in fact it goes: “Don’t see, see, see where I’m goin’ to / I don’t want to.” At least that’s presuming they’re correct.
Also from This Was, and part of the BBC Sessions, is a cracking version of Love Story, another all-too familiar song with typical Tull zing and zest: “Going back in the morning time / to see if my love has changed her mind, yeah”. That Anderson vocal touch is just as prominent here as on Stand Up and Benefit.
The BBC Sessions versions of Fat Man and Bouree from Stand Up are not, in my mind, as good as the studio versions, but a real stand-out on this album is another song from the Sessions, a T-Bone Walker song, Stormy Monday Blues. The announcer seems particularly excited about this song which is an instrumental and ranks as one of the finest jazz-blues tunes I’ve heard. The BBC guy, perhaps showing his age, declares: “You know this group could be the biggest attraction since the Stones”. Then, really showing his age – by trying too hard to be hip – he concludes after the song: “All together too much … Jethro Tull – remember that name friends.”
 A New Day Yesterday is the final track on the album from the BBC Sessions, and while good, I believe it, too, does not have the polish of the studio version from Stand Up.
My brother was selective when he put together this tape – the other side features tracks from Bob Dylan’s Biograph album, another treasured nine tracks which not only serve as a reminder of AB’s generosity of spirit, but also of the depth of Dylan’s output.
Thick as a Brick

But let’s return to Thick as a Brick, because that’s where I stopped, for a while, loving Tull, simply because I never heard the album. From 1972, the album on vinyl ran, says Wikipedia, as “one seamless track on both sides of the record”. It was a concept album, “with lyrics built around a poem written by a fictitious boy, ‘Gerald Bostock’, a.k.a. ‘Little Milton’”. Odd that. I wonder if our friend Dave Tarr, the fiddle player’s dad, Milton, who stood well over six feet, was nicknamed Little Milt after this, or if it was a coincidence. His diminutive wife was Big Jean. Wikipedia says the album is notable for “its numerous time signature and tempo changes, as well as a large number of themes throughout the piece, resembling a typical classical symphony in this regard, rather than a typical rock song”. I have no doubt heard snatches of it, but would dearly love to hear the whole thing. Interestingly, Wikipedia says beyond the concept of integrating the music around the trials of a young boy growing up, the album is meant as a send-up of all pretentious “concept albums”. Incredibly, the album reached No 1 in the US. That newspaper-type cover, we learn, was a rip off of “parochial and amateurish local journalism”. It also included all the lyrics.
Living in the Past

Another album not to be sneezed at is Living in the Past (1972). While a supposed greatest hits collection, it also contains unreleased songs and several singles and B-sides that never made it onto albums. The gatefold packaging evidently included a colour photo booklet with over 50 images of the band. Two songs were recorded live at Carnegie Hall. The album reached No 3 in the US, with the title track reaching No 11 among the singles – three years after its UK release. This just indicates the time lag that often existed when groups like Tull, or individuals like Dylan, were at their most prolific, between the songs being recorded and actually reaching their markets. Interestingly, Wikipedia tells us the song Living In The Past was written in quintuple meter (5/5), evidently a rarely used format inspired by Take Five, the jazz classic first recorded by the Dave Brubeck Quartet.
A Passion Play

A Passion Play, from 1973, I did not hear. Another so-called concept album, it evidently concerns, says Wikipedia, “the spiritual journey of one man in the afterlife”, and like Thick as a Brick is one long track, although it is in fact a medley of sequed shorter songs and the “oddly whimsical spoken word piece, ‘The Story Of The Hare Who Lost His Spectacles”. The lyrics were apparently dense, “filled with wordplay and allegory”, and the music not as creative as their earlier work. Incredibly, again, it reached No 1 in the US, but only No 13 in the UK.
War Child

War Child, their eighth album, was released in late 1974, having originally been planned as part of an abortive film project, says Wikipedia. The War Child movie concept sounds fascinating. A “metaphysical black comedy”, it would have concerned the life of a teenage girl in the afterlife. Characters based on God, St Peter and Lucifer would be portrayed as shrewd businessmen. And here’s the interesting part. It was to have featured ballet dancer Leonard Rossiter, with Margot Fonteyn as choreographer and Monty Python’s John Cleese as possible “humour consultant”. It ended up being a rock album after no studio could be found to finance the film. By all accounts it sounds a fascinating record which no doubt is worth hearing.
Minstrel in the Gallery

We did not have Minstrel in the Gallery, released in 1975, my first year out of school. It was a time of upheaval. After the military initially called me up for July of that year, they suddenly delayed it a year. I worked for five months on the East London Daily Dispatch as a cup reporter under legendary editor Donald Woods. Giving myself a month’s holiday before the dreaded army, I was suddenly at a loose end – and decided to follow eldest brother Ian on a fine art course at the EL Technical College under Jack Lugg. I completed my first year in half a year, somehow doing enough to pass. And I waited for my next call-up, while our family increasingly threw in its lot with the Progressive Party of Helen Suzman and Colin Eglin, the only truly anti-apartheid party in parliament at the time. So what of this album? Fortunately, a couple of tracks are on that tape I have from 20 Years of Jethro Tull, so I do have some insight into its quality. Dubbed progressive rock, it is apparently an introspective album, with Anderson’s lyrics taking on a cynical air following his divorce from first wife Jennie Franks. It is also, says Wikipedia, a strongly acoustic album, with Anderson evidently not all that happy with the band’s performance.
Yet, listening to those few tracks, I’d say this must be one of the best Tull albums. The title track starts with a bit of laughter before typically complex acoustic guitar work, and Anderson’s vocals: “The minstrel in the gallery looked down upon the smiling faces. / He met the gazes – observed the spaces between the old men’s cackle. / He brewed a song of love and hatred – oblique suggestions – and he waited.” And so continues another classic piece of song-writing, wonderfully executed.
Cold Wind To Valhalla starts with complex acoustic guitar and flute. Only a snippet of it is on my tape, but it suggests more excellence. “And ride with us young bonny lass – with the angels of the night. / Crack wind clatter – flesh rein bit on an out-size unicorn. / Rough-shod winging sky blue flight on a cold wind to Valhalla. / And join with us please – Valkyrie maidens cry above the cold wind to Valhalla.” This sort of creativity never stops with Anderson. Every song seems new and vital, as if he had an endlessly generous muse feeding him ideas.
Also on my little tape is Summerday Sands, which is only listed as a bonus track on a later CD release, and therefore not on the original. Which implies it never made it onto an LP, back then. Which is incredible, because it is another excellent piece, again kicking off with gentle acoustic guitar and Anderson’s great, great voice: “I once met a girl with the life in her hands / And we lay together on the summerday sands. / I gave her my raincoat and told her, ‘lady, be good!’ / And we made truth together, where no one else would. / I smiled through her fingers and ran the dust through her hands - / The hour-glass of reason on the summerday sands.” And so continues yet another brilliant song, but which album it is from originally I have been unable to discover. The understated, yet oh so powerful electric guitar on this track just adds to its impact.
I also find it hard to believe March Of The Mad Scientist is only a bonus track, and was not on the original album. This is one of the nicest Tull songs I’ve heard, characterised by incisive acoustic lead guitar breaks reminiscent of Mark Knopfler. “What would you like for Christmas: a new polarity? / You’re binary, and desperate to deal in high figures / that lick us with their hotter flame / lick each and everyone the same. / And March, the mad scientist, brings a new change / in ever-dancing colours.” 
Yet another of those bonus tracks is Pan Dance. Thanks to my late brother, I have heard this superb instrumental which starts with haunting echoing flute, then a Snowman-like melody which grows and grows. There are incisive strings and solo violin in a work that is almost symphonic in its sweep.
Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die!

Another album I did not pick up on at the time was Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die! From 1976, the year of the Soweto uprising in South Africa against inferior education – and more broadly against racial oppression. I see the two bonus tracks on a 2002 CD were cut from the original. One, Strip Cartoon, is on that tape from 20 Years of Jethro Tull. It is a gritty rock tune steeped in English culture. “Fish and chips, sandpaper lips and a rainy pavement. / Soho lights, another night – thinking of you. / Black cat, sat on a wall, winks at me darkly. / Suggesting ways and means that I might win a smile …”  The song concludes: “Life’s no bowl of cherries – it’s a black and white strip cartoon.”

Wikipedia says the album was planned as a rock musical, following an aging and retired rock star. Anderson was quoted as saying the story revolved around how, if one stuck to what one did best, musical tastes would come around again. Again, having heard only that snippet from Strip Cartoon, I can only suggest that this is another Tull classic deserving of better acquaintance.
Songs from the Wood

Their next album, Songs from the Wood, I did get to know well – but only years after its release in 1977, evidently the first of a trio of folk-based albums, with Heavy Horses and Stormwatch to follow. It was, says Wikipedia, the first Tull album to receive largely positive reviews since Benefit and Living in the Past. Which underscores Anderson’s point about fads and fashion in modern musical tastes. A couple of tracks did, I recall, receive airtime in South Africa, especially the catchy The Whistler. So when my first wife and I arrived in London on a belated honeymoon in the northern spring of 1983, I decided we had to visit Carnaby Street. Of course it was a letdown. What had been the heart of pop/hippie culture in the late 1960s and early 1970s, was just another London street. It did, however, have a record bar and that is where I bought a copy of this album.
Having recently given it a fresh listen, I was more than impressed. Anderson’s genius showed no sign of letting up. Wikipedia says it is “filled with folk and fantasy imagery, and ornamental folk arrangement”. Neither of the subsequent two albums was “as cheerful or purely folk as this”.
A male choir, of all things, starts the title track, Songs From The Wood, before Anderson takes over the lead. The song becomes progressively heavier, but time signatures vary as folk and electric aspects are given prominence. “Let me bring you songs from the wood: / to make you feel much better than you could know. / Dust you down from tip to toe. / Show you how the garden grows. / Hold you steady as you go. / Join the chorus if you can: / it’ll make of you an honest man.” Admit it: another brilliant bit of songwriting, with the intelligent lyrics driving the song along. And, mark my words, Anderson’s words just get better and better. “Let me bring you love from the field: / poppies red and roses filled with summer rain. / To heal the wound and still the pain / that threatens again and again…” Indeed, future analyses of lyrics will place this near the top in any anthology. I love these lines: “I am the wind to fill your sail. / I am the cross to take your nail: / A singer of these ageless times. / With kitchen prose and gutter rhymes.”
Jack In The Green is the perfect follow-up, maintaining that level of excellence. Complex acoustic guitar, flute, bass, drums. It is the full Tull sound, with Anderson’s lyrics again exploring interesting areas. “Have you seen Jack-In-The-Green? / With his long tail hanging down. / He sits quietly under every tree - / in the folds of his velvet gown. / He drinks from the empty acorn cup / the dew that dawn sweetly bestows. / And taps his cane upon the ground - / signals the snowdrops it’s time to grow.” This is a magic figure which keeps the green of old England flourishing. Wikipedia says Anderson describes Jack as “an English folk creature full of a kind of elfish magic that lets him take care of everything that grows … and helps the vegetation survive those long English winters.” What a fascinating concept, and so ahead of its time given how ecological considerations are now the major political and economic issue of our time.
The album remains in that bucolic mode on Cup Of Wonders, which Wikipedia says “explores English traditions, sayings and pagan/druidic rituals”. Endorsing my views on Anderson’s literary abilities, it says the song can be “studied a line at a time, finding references to English antiquity at every turn”. This quick, tight, folk-rock number starts: “May I make my fond excuses / for the lateness of the hour, / but we accept your invitation, and we bring you Beltane's flower. / For the May Day is the great day, sung along the old straight track. / And those who ancient lines did lay / will heed the song that calls them back. / Pass the word and pass the lady, pass the plate to all who hunger. / Pass the wit of ancient wisdom, pass the cup of crimson wonder.” Consider the opening lines of the second verse: “Ask the green man where he comes from, ask the cup that fills with red. / Ask the old grey standing stones that show the sun its way to bed.” Stonehenge, perhaps? The likes of Pentangle and Fairport Convention must have marveled at what Anderson was achieving.
An organ opens the next track, Hunting Girl, which Wikipedia says “speaks in various innuendos of the sexual encounter of an aristocratic girl and a farm boy”. I saw this as a kind of rock-jig, with synthesizer, distorted lead guitar, flute, bass and drums. At other times the strings take over, making if almost orchestral. The story tells how the farm boy met up with the girl after her horse refused to jump a hedge during a fox hunt. He chats up “the queen of all the pack” as she “sat high upon a throne of finest English leather”.
And he found “this highborn hunter had tastes as strange as they come”. After that heady encounter, Ring Out, Solstice Bells takes us back to nature itself, not a raunchy female version of it. Anderson, says Wikipedia, calls it “a dance to welcome winter”. It is another complex, skilfully co-ordinated track which takes in some Morris-type clapping, and ends with the chiming of those bells.
Side two starts with the folk-rock Velvet Green, which, if Wikipedia is correct, also has its share of sexual innuendo. This is an incredibly complex arrangement, again superbly executed. Often wondered what those opening lyrics were? “Walking on velvet green. / Scots pine growing. / Isn’t it rare to be taking the air, singing. / Walking on velvet green. / Walking on velvet green. Distant cows lowing. / Never a care: with your legs in the air, loving. / Walking on velvet green…” And what of that innuendo? Consider the lines: “I’m tight against the seam. / And I’m growing up to meet you down on velvet green.”
Anderson was the whistler on The Whistler, which is like an Irish reel couched in rock. It also features some great glockenspiel by Barrimore Barlow. John Evans on piano, organ and synthesizer has, I notice on the album cover, regained his lost “s”. But is it a whistle or a flute that Anderson plays? Wikipedia says “the flute lines … are beautiful, enhanced by a drumming style that elevates it instead of obscuring it and guitar and bass lines which state the actual rhythm of the song”. Things happen at a right pace, so it is good to read about what is actually happening. “I’ll buy you six bay mares to put in your stable / six golden apples bought with my pay. / I am the first piper who calls the sweet tune, / but I must be gone by the seventh day.” Wikipedia says the song has a “rural setting, with mystical places and a no-wories attitude”. This is clear from the chorus: “So come on, I’m the whistler. / I have a fife and a drum to play. / Get ready for the whistler. / I whistle along on the seventh day - / whistle along on the seventh day.”
An electric guitar wails, as flute, drums and bass join in, before the song settles into a slow rhythm. Pibroch (Cape In Hand) peers through a window and discovers  his woman has another man in her life. This song has a rock opera quality, with elaborate orchestration in places.
The mood lifts for the final track, Fire At Midnight, which starts with a humming organ and folksy flute and piano which reminded me of Strawbs. Wikipedia says it’s a song about the joy of coming home to a loved one after a hard day’s work. “I believe in fires at midnight - / when the dogs have all been fed. / A golden toddy on the mantle - / a broken gun beneath the bed ...”
If ever an album proved the longevity of a band, it is this one. I have, however, run out of any other links to Jethro Tull, since I am unfamiliar with their subsequent albums, of which there were many, none of which, I’m sure, can be scoffed at.
I almost overlooked Coronach. This song, off that 20-years compilation album, is to my mind one of the greatest Tull songs I have heard. It explores that interesting period before recorded history, some call it the Dark Ages, which lasted about 1000 years after the Romans left Britain. King Arthur sits at the centre of the mysterious times, with all manner of interesting links to Jesus being imputed. What was the Holy Grail? Did Jesus marry and have children? Did Mary Magdelene travel with her family to Albion’s isle? Is there any merit in Dan Brown’s The Da Vince Code? Well this song predates much of the modern hype surrounding these issues, though I haven’t ascertained which album, if any, it was first a part of. Interestingly, it seems the words and music were by David Palmer, not Anderson, though he naturally handled the vocals. It is again one of those songs where you hear the words somewhat differently to what is actually being said. This song is particularly noteworthy for the prominent role given to what to my untrained ear sounds like a clarinet. Though a folk song, this doesn’t prevent the use of heavy electric guitar and drums in places. “Grey the mist - cold the dawn; / Cruel the sea and stern the shore. / Brave the man who sets his course / For Albion.” I’m sure there are arcane images in most of the verses, as the song continues: “Sweet the rose - sharp the thorn; / Meek the soil and proud the corn. / Blessed the lamb that would be born / Within this green and pleasant land.” The chorus, would you believe, I thought was saying something like “you’re any rose”. Instead, it is: “Hi-o-ran-i-o / Hi-o-ran-i-o”. Then follows: “Brown furrow shine / Beneath the rain washed blue. / Bright crystal streams / From eagle mountains born. / Fortune has smiled on those who wake anew, / Within this fortress nature built / To stay the hand of war.” Finally, the last verse: “With the wind from the east / Came the first of those who tread / Upon this stone, this stone of kings; / This realm, this new Jerusalem.”
Ian Anderson

One remaining question needs to be answered. Who was Ian Anderson? How did such a prolific and talented musician develop? Wikipedia tell us Ian Scott Anderson was born on August 10, 1947, in Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland. So he would have enjoyed the Fairport song about the king who sits in Dunfermline town, drinking of the blood red wine. His dad managed a hotel and he spent his first five years in Edinburgh. The family moved to Blackpool in 1959. Anderson attended a normal grammar school before going to study fine art – as so many other rock musicians did. While doing odd jobs, he read Melody Maker and New Musical Express on his breaks, which inspired him to form a band, The Blades, in 1963.
The rest, as they say, is history. Interesting is the fact that, once ensconsed as Jethro Tull in London, Anderson abandoned an ambition to play the electric guitar, and instead taught himself the flute, which features prominently on that first album, This Was. Meanwhile, his acoustic guitar expertise would provide the underpinning for the bulk of his massive output to come. Wikipedia says he became “one of the few recording artists outside the classical realm to use the nylon-string acoustic guitar as a melodic, rather than a rhythm instrument”. He later added soprano sax, mandolin and keyboards to his musical arsenal. Weirdly, Wikipedia tells us he first started playing harmonica on one leg, holding the mic stand for support, but later, after a journalist incorrectly said he’d done so while playing the flute, he started doing just that – even though to begin with he battled to keep his balance. His flute style involves, I learn, “flutter tonguing and occasionally singing or humming (or even snorting) while playing”, says Wikipedia, and was influenced by Roland Kird.
As one who prided himself in not indulging in hallucinogenic drugs, it is no surprise to learn that, apart from his music, Anderson became a successful salmon farmer at Strathaird, Isle of Skye. One also learns that his first wife, Jennie Franks, a photographer (he was married to her from 1970-74) is credited with writing some of the lyrics to the song, Aqualung. Shona Learoyd, whom he married in 1976, was the daughter of a wealthy wool manufacturer. They live in a 16th century farmhouse in Buckinghamshire and in the Western Isles of Scotland. One of their children, James, is a musician, the other, Gael, works in the film industry. Anderson received two honours in 2006 for his achievements.
But few honours can do justice to the legacy he has left us, both in terms of his numerous compositions, but also his ability to execute his ideas so well. And of course his voice and flute playing will go down in history as having set a standard and style never to be equalled or surpassed in terms of originality and vitality.

1 comment:

lemon chiffon said...

Thank you for this detailed and thoughtful post on Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull. This group was very much a part of my formative years. However, I didn't hear of them until I was in high school in the seventies. My first concert that I attended was their Living in the Past concert in 1973.

It was not until I saw Tool in 2004 performing Lateralus that I saw a performance as thrilling as that of Jethro.

Peggy :)

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