Saturday, November 15, 2008

A Passion Play

His exaggerated gestures and stage personality go well with tunes full of complicated time changes. Frizzy-haired Ian Anderson, the front man of Jethro Tull, and the owner of five-and-a-half cats, speaks to Mathures Paul before his tour of India

Ian Anderson’s talent is sufficiently unique to ensure considerable interest whenever he wants to put out Jethro Tull releases or go on road (providing a break from his duty as farmer, master of several cats and keeper of a few dogs). His past works may sometimes seem exaggerated but Aqualung, Thick As A Brick and War Child highlight his vital contribution to rock’s past. Born in an era when a revolution of sorts changed the rules in the music industry, Jethro Tull has remained true to its roots, never failing in its objective. In the 1960s the term ‘art rock’ was used to sell Tull in the US but today, the name Ian Anderson is enough to ensure sold-out concerts, anywhere in the globe.

Not very fond of milestones, even Anderson had to succumb to the excitement of celebrating 40 years of a band many thought would fold up much earlier. Instead, several line-ups later, Jethro Tull continues to deliver what can be called a concoction of progressive rock, folk laced with classical undertones.
The 1967-68 line-up, except for Ian Anderson, is unrecognisable. Martin Barre (guitar, backing vocals), who joined (after two changes) in 1968, and Anderson are the only constant factors.

The India tour starts in Kolkata with Anoushka Shankar joining in. Our conversation, obviously, began on this point. “I am reading an e-mail from her. She is suggesting fine-tuning a song. We would play together for 45 minutes, inclusive of 17-20 minutes of new music. Usually she calls me Grizzly and I fondly call her Princess because of the amount of luggage she is bringing on the tour. Given how one uses them, nicknames can, at times, suggest irreverence! We are enjoying an interesting moment. After the tour we go our own ways, hoping to meet again. This would be a sad and beautiful moment. Musically one hopes to walk away with good feelings, fond memories,” says Anderson.

Surviving even a few years with no change in the line-up has been difficult for Tull, let alone working with one musician ~ Martin Barre ~ for 40 years. “We have a lot of similar interests, most important being living apart. We share a relationship through music. One doesn’t bring to stage the other stuff. If there is a bond, of some sort, between two or three people, one wouldn’t like to complicate matters. There are groups who party for long hours. Jethro Tull members are calm and quite. We visit museums and sip coffee. I like to watch news, communicate on the Internet. Our time is spent differently. Let’s say, we are boring people... No loose women, no bad habits.” Well, that’s how Anderson usually speaks!

It’s been awhile fans got to hear original studio material from Tull; the last album was The Jethro Tull Christmas Album (2003). “Last year we recorded a few tracks but we couldn’t finish them. We have a huge backlog. I am hoping January through March we would be recording. We have been on the road for 40 years and are on the wrong side of 60. There is a finite period to play ahead! Then we have our solo projects. I always prefer playing original material at concerts but during our India tour, the focus would primarily be on 40 years of Jethro Tull. In simple words, Tull is re-examining its early works. Next year there would be fewer Tull concerts and more from Ian Anderson.”

Then there is the problem of deciding on tracks that become a part of Ian Anderson projects or Jethro Tull albums. “Being an acoustic musician this is always a difficult task. Earlier, Ian Anderson’s solo works were incorporated into Tull projects. In the last 10-14 years I have presented some genuine solo albums. Acoustic music has always been my preference.”

Making any Jethro Tull album a success is its lyrics, besides, of course, Anderson’s flute. But there are numbers that refer to subjects typically English and quite out of context for concerts in India. “I hope people don’t understand these bits. I don’t understand Hindi or Russian numbers. Yet, there is magic, a sense of seduction in this ignorance. Only technical details attract me to a song. Instrumental music is different, more appealing to the senses. One can listen to Hariprasad Chaurasia, Charlie Parker or Beethoven’s compositions and understand them. But I don’t find life in rock lyrics; they are riddled with clich├ęs. It’s hard to come up with something new. I haven’t found anything fresh since the late 1980s. Since then we have seen a renewed interest in early music styles. Same sounds recycled.”

Two subjects, besides music, are close to Anderson’s heart ~ the environment and feline creatures. “Environment talk is cheap, feels politicians. But the bitter pill needs to be swallowed. Obama has a lot of problems to tackle, besides the economy. There is a lot of pain yet to be experienced. We are expecting too much from Obama in a short time. The point is, there are too many people on earth. We have always enjoyed the freedom to procreate but the definition of this word needs to change. We are fighting over petty religious issues now but in 10 years time we would be fighting over a few drops of water. Politicians talk the talk but never walk the walk. A lot more bad things are yet to happen.”

To change the conversation from this sensitive topic, we start discussing cats. “I share five-and-a-half cats. The half cat belongs to my daughter who is visiting me. I don’t have ownership on the two dogs; they belong to my wife. We have a lot of chicken, sheep but no horses. We live in the countryside in an area that’s not particularly beautiful but it provides good old country comforts,” rounds off Ian Anderson.

[Jethro Tull performs in Kolkata on 27 November (Science City Auditorium), in Mumbai on 29 November (Sri Shanmukhananda Chandrasekarendra Saraswathi Auditorium), in Delhi on 30 November (Hamsadhwani Amphitheatre), in Bangalore on 2 December (Palace Grounds) and in Hyderabad on 3 December (Shilpakala Vedika). Tickets are available online at and the tour is sponsored by Seagrams 100 Pipers and promoted by E18. Tickets for the Kolkata concert are available at Music World (Park Street, Forum Mall and Dharamtala. Delhi concert tickets are available at Music World (Ansal Plaza, Connaught Place, Pitampura and Vasant Vihar)]

Article take from The Statesman.

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