Jethro Tull celebrated their 50th anniversary with a show at London’s Royal Albert Hall on 17th April. Many of the songs were introduced by the video messages of former band members, including Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond, Mick Abrahams and Tony Iommi. Greetings by other famous musicians (such as Dave Murray and Slash) who have been influenced by Jethro Tull’s music also appeared on the screen.
The set list spanned the band’s entire career and featured numbers from most of their 21 studio albums released between 1967 and 2003. The current line-up is very new: guitarist Florian Opahle and drummer Scott Hammond only joined last year, although both have previously played in frontman Ian Anderson’s solo band. Keyboardist John O’Hara and bassist David Goodier first started to play in the group in 2007.
60s Today spoke to Anderson in December last year. We asked him to recall Jethro Tull’s beginnings:
“The band got together in December 1967, but it wasn’t until 2nd February 1968, I believe, that we became Jethro Tull, and that was the key point. We were playing at the Marquee Club in London, for our fourth attempt, I think, to curry favour with the management of the club. At that point, there was no reason to believe that any success that we might have would be anything more than short-lived, because that’s the story of pop and rock music – you know, they come and they go. There were lots of one-hit wonders.”
“We were just grateful to have something to get out of bed for and hopefully make enough money just to survive, which we did for a few months until we began to build up a following. Then we released our first album, which did quite well, and it put us on the map. Maybe after a year or two, I began to think, “if I don’t do anything too stupid, maybe I could have a career in music” – not necessarily as a performing musician; maybe as a record producer or a manager or working for a record company, or just something connected with the music world.”
“And after four or five years, I began to think, “maybe I can go on performing”. Also, many of my musical heroes from when I was a teenager, people from the world of jazz and blues, were still playing music. They were playing until they died. Some of them, of course, weren’t very old when they died, because a lot of them were addicted to drugs and alcohol, and quite often didn’t make it to a glorious old age. But the prospects definitely seemed a little brighter after four or five years. And at this point in my life, I have to think that I will probably die with my boots on, like any good cowboy hero in a 1950s western. It’s the good fortune of people in the world of arts and entertainment that they’re able to continue as long as they feel fit and able, not having to retire at the age of 65 and learn to play golf – god help us!”
After watching Anderson perform at the show at the Royal Albert Hall, one couldn’t possibly have any doubts that he will, indeed, go on for as long as he can. His voice may not be as powerful as it once was, but the moves are still there, and he plays the flute with as much passion as ever.
A new Jethro Tull album is already finished and going to be released next year. When asked about the new set of songs, he said:
“My approach when writing music is trying not to get too bogged down with trying to write in a particular way. It’s much better to have a sense of freedom and make the music that feels right to you at the time. If you have to put a label on it later on, then it’s probably best to let somebody else do it. I don’t consciously think too much about it, other than trying to create a balance of dynamics, tempos, keys and time signatures to make it interesting musically. That’s what I’ve done since the very beginning and that’s what I do today.”
“The album is a mixture of heavy rock music, some rather spacey kind of acoustic music and electronica, so it’s not like having 12 tracks that all sound very similar to each other. I find it very boring when it’s the same instrumentation, the same musical idea being trotted out for 60 minutes of meat and potatoes.”