28th April 2012ce. I can’t recall precisely when I first hooked into Jethro Tull. It must have been about 1975, when my school mate Dave lent me a ‘pirated’ cassette tape of Thick as a Brick. (Less fuss about pirating music back then because the only way to do so was to use a hissy poorly recorded blurry soundstage copy that some bloke had copied from potentially a different pirated version, which might have come from an LP playing into a microphone, and half the time the tape would snag and reel itself into the cassette machine mechanism. Heh. They only worried about piracy when it got to be too good…) Anyhooo…
The years haven’t been kind to Ian’s voice. The last few times I’ve seen him it’s been clear he struggles to hit the higher frequencies and nowadays he makes a considerable bit of effort to do so – noticeably stabbing the air as he attacks the note. That is, however, part of the Jethro Tull feel nowadays and no-one really minds. Further, because Ian plays flute and guitar and sings all at the same time in various parts of the TAAB album, it obviously wasn’t possible to replicate on stage. He could have mimed, or used loops and digital inserts, but marvellously he chose to adopt a second vocalist. Ryan O’Donnell not only sounded pretty close to an early Ian Anderson, he took to standing on one leg holding his broom (part of the story, folks, and you had to be there) aloft like another flute! An amazingly successful solution to both problems. Later, to cope with the requirement for a violin and no violinist, a faked-up Skype session with Anna Pheobe was projected onto the back screen, where she joined in; complete with new-born babe (was that why she wasn’t there perhaps?)
It ought to be acknowledged at this point that this isn’t a Jethro Tull gig – it’s Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, and his band. They’re listed on the JTull web site as his touring band. They sounded great, as any YouTube naughtiness will show. The first ‘non-stop’ 45 minute rendition of TAAB1 was interspaced by a surreal but serious comment on prostate cancer by Ian; pulling up a couple of volunteers from the audience for an impromptu (happily staged) rectal examination! The average age and gender of the audience, much less the age of some of the band members, makes this an entirely opportune thing to do, and I could hear a lot of squirming from the audience. Me? My doctor knows me better than most. Didn’t send flowers after though… no chocolates… you’d think it meant nothing!
The second half – TAAB2 – took up the theme of the first… what happened to Gerald Bostock. If you are asking, who? then you need to go google. This was the era of ‘prog rock’, of massive story arcs in rock music, of half hour long tracks, of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, of Rick Wakeman… and so, forty years after his poetry win and subsequent disqualification, what was Gerald doing now? Perhaps a banker, a soldier, a shop keeper… and the songs in the new album reflect these scenarios. One nice part of the evening was the use of the Hammond Organ that rendered so much of the original album, and this took up the major keyboard themes in the second album, linking them together well.
A hugely enjoyable evening, when perhaps I was wondering if this would be a mind-cringingly bad idea. And one final thought on priracy… I wonder, if I hadn’t taken that stolen music home on that cruddy cassette tape, if I would have ‘got into’ Jethro Tull? Over the years I have spent a good deal of cash on their merch, including every album at least once – LP, Tape, CD and now MP3. I’ve seen them dozens of times since the seventies at major and small venues. I have indeed even bought the t-shirt… without Jethro Tull too, I might not have got into Fairport Convention, and missed out on a whole folk-rock genre… small pebbles start mighty avalanches… Passing music around may eventually be what saves music. Oh, and I ‘pirated’ the image above off the interweb (sorry Ian). 🙂