By Mike Greenblatt
Jethro Tull has been sliced in half, and it’s still bleeding. One half has Ian Anderson resuscitating “Thick As A Brick,” and the other half has Martin Barre touring Europe with The Legends of Rock and his own Martin Barre’s New Day.
Wait a minute! “Thick As A Brick 2” without Martin Barre and drummer Doane Perry? Are you kidding? Anderson has gone on record as saying scheduling snafus between “TAAB2” and Barre’s two projects prevented the two Tull giants from performing together this time around. Let’s see what Martin says, shall we? Hint: It ain’t pretty.
Martin Barre: It might happen. They’re talking about Canada in January, but it all depends how the June and October tours go. It all sort of snowballs, but I’m hoping it will carry on. It’s not in my control. And if we do Canada, I don’t see any reason why at some point we wouldn’t come down to the States. Yeah, it’s nice! It’s not my main project, though. But it’s good for me. It’s given me something else to focus on this year, which I really need.
GM: And the material thereof? Is it Tull, Yes, Supertramp, Asia and Fleetwood Mac?
MB: All of the above. Five tracks from each band. There’s a 10-piece backing band. When I first got the set list, I looked at the tracks and thought, “Oh no! I’ve got all this stuff to learn!” But, apparently, I’m only playing the Tull stuff, so it’s a pretty easy gig for me. It’s going to be really good. What I think I’m going to do is call John Wetton. He’s a very good friend of mine. I want to pick one of the Asia tracks to play on. I want to also play on the one Fleetwood Mac track they’re doing by Peter Green. I’d love to do that.
GM: Is Jon Anderson of Yes going to sing Jethro Tull?
MB: No, I actually don’t know who’s singing the Tull. I assume it will be one of the vocalists of the big backing band. One of them, I think, is Bruce Guthrie, and he’s very, very good. But that would be something [laughs]. Maybe Jon’s thinking, “Wow, it’s been my lifetime ambition to sing ‘Aqualung.’ There’s also another element: a band called Excalibur. It’s the guy who put this all together. There will be five or more Excalibur tracks, as well. Jon and I will be together on one of those. It’s all a bit of mix and match.
GM: But your main project is Martin Barre’s New Day.
MB: It certainly is. And what a band! Frank Mead played sax with Bill Wyman. Drummer Geoff Dunn’s from Procol Harum. I’ve got Jethro Tull’s bassist Jonathan Noyce. Pat O’May is a very good French guitar player who I worked with last year. Vocalist John Mitchell is from an English band called It Bites.
GM: And it’s all Tull material?
MB: Yeah, with some of my instrumentals and a couple of Pat’s songs. Frank is also an amazing blues harpist, so he does a couple of blues things. I think it’ll be about 80 percent Tull. I have to see how rehearsals go. I want it to be a sort of rock-blues show. There’ll be nothing lightweight. The Tull stuff, other than the favorites, will be stuff Tull hasn’t played for 20, 30 years, so it will be pretty fresh. We’ll do the tracks that I’ve wanted to do for a long time: “A New Day Yesterday” [“Stand Up,” 1969], “Teacher” and “To Cry You A Song” [“Benefit,” 1970], a chunk of music from “Thick As A Brick” , something from “A Passion Play” , “Minstrel In The Gallery” , “Home” [“Stormwatch,” 1979] and “Later That Same Evening” [“Under Wraps,” 1984].
GM: Are you going to play some flute?
MB: A bit. Frank also plays flute, and he’s a very good Irish folk flute player. Nobody will be playing in Ian’s style. I don’t think that would be the way to go. The material I’m doing doesn’t have that much flute in it, anyway. In the early songs, it was pretty minimal. It was only the later albums that had a lot of flute. I think it could work out really well.
GM: Is it going to feel funny to turn to your left onstage and not see Ian?
MB: No, it’s not.
GM: You’ve played with him for so long. What has it been? About 150 years, right?
MB: Yeah. About that long.
GM: Give or take a few decades. Hey, I gotta tell ya, I’ve been a longtime fan of Jethro Tull, and you, specifically. I’ve always thought you’ve been one of the most overlooked and underrated guitarists in rock music. I put you on a pedestal. I’ve been in your audiences, thrilling to your guitar solos for decades. I must say, the Tull fans who I know are up in arms over the fact that you and [drummer] Doane [Perry] aren’t on this Ian Anderson “Thick As A Brick 2” project. So let me ask you point-blank: What the f**k, man?
MB: Yeah, well, it’s not something I really want to talk about. I think the fact of the matter is, I know nothing about it. When Ian announced on the American tour last year that he didn’t want to do any more Jethro Tull shows, Doane and I had no idea that he was planning to do “Thick As A Brick 2.” This was all stuff he had planned before he had told us anything. He told us nothing, yet, obviously, he had thought this through for a long time. It is what it is. Everybody has to draw their own conclusions.
My focus now is to carry on the name and the music of Jethro Tull in the tradition that I love and was mostly involved with: the earlier days. I’ve got nothing more to say about it. I could say this, that or the other, but what will happen will happen, and it’s fine. Everybody has a right to do what they want to do in life. It’s very easy for others to be critical of decisions and directions musicians want to go in. It’s not for me to say. I’m more interested in me and going in the direction that I want to go. And it’s opened up a huge area for me. And vocally, Ian can’t really go there anymore. He’s looking at more flute playing. Actually, I don’t know what he’s looking at, but it’s not the heavy Jethro Tull that I want to represent. That’s all my territory. And I shall embrace it with open arms.
Longtime Jethro Tull drummer Doane Perry won’t be behind the kit on Ian Anderson’s ‘TAAB2’ tour, which features live performances of ‘Thick As A Brick’ and its new sequel. Publicity photo/Jay Rubin.
GM: To be perfectly frank, I found it painful to be in his audience with him trying to approximate his once-great vocals.
MB: It’s a terrible thing. I don’t want to talk about that. I listen to the early Tull tracks, and Ian’s performance is just stunning. It really is. He had such a great voice. That’s not a nice thing to happen. It’s something he has to deal with, and, luckily, something I don’t have to deal with, because I wouldn’t know what to do. It’s a tragedy.
GM: Tony Bennett sings better at 85 than he did at 45. He’s a freak of nature.
MB: Some guys do. They have better training or look after their voice more. Same as me looking after my hands. I have to exercise and take cod liver oil and all these sorts of pills that are supposed to keep arthritis away. Hopefully, it will. Being a musician is a long-term investment, be it a vocalist or instrumentalist. You have to look after your body and your mind.
GM: Well, it’s just unconscionable for Ian to not inform you of this. I’m outraged. Tull fans are outraged. He reportedly said it was a scheduling conflict.
MB: That’s not true. Sometimes it’s convenient and more pleasant to perceive a different reality than the one that really exists. I’m very positive about everything right now. I’m happier with the people I’m working with. I don’t have a problem with what’s happening. It will all level out. People will like what they like. The difficult corner, though, [with Ian’s project] is that everybody needs to know exactly what’s happening. There’s an element of being misled by not saying anything. The fact that it’s advertised the way it is in some countries certainly doesn’t suggest anything. It also doesn’t explain that Doane and I are not part of it, so the presumption could be that we are there. That bothers me. It’s on my website. It’s a big mistake. If he’s made one mistake, it’s that he hasn’t made it absolutely clear who is in the band, because people don’t go to see Ian. They go to see Ian and the band. And I think it’s quite important to know who’s in the band! It’s a shame. It’ll reflect badly on them.
GM: I knew you would bounce back, but I feel bad for Doane. Why wouldn’t he want Doane? Has Doane spoken to you about it?
MB: We speak. I’m a third of the way through a book. It won’t be this year because I’ve been recording and trying to get all these gigs together but, one day, all those questions will be answered. There are reasons. To be honest, there’s reasons for everything. And I’m fairly sure I know what they are. Nothing is being said. Ian just got Doane and I in a room and said he didn’t want to play in Jethro Tull anymore. But that doesn’t make any sense at all. So you have to sort of look beyond it.
GM: So what did Doane say?
MB: I think you’d have to talk to him. Doane’s a very soft, mellow person. He knows what’s going on. He has other work. Doane has health problems with his shoulder. He’s recording with other artists in Los Angeles. Doane will always work, because he’s such an amazing drummer and has a great network of friends. And he’ll work with me at some point. I’ve also spoken to other guys, like Barrie Barlow, on the possibility of putting together a Jethro Tull band for America, which would have some interesting people in it, like maybe Clive Bunker. I quite fancy the idea of having the lineup of Jethro Tull from a long time ago performing again. It would be hard to get some guys, I know. John Evan lives in Australia. It wouldn’t be an easy task, but it would be good fun trying. It’s a big responsibility, and I would want to get it right. I wouldn’t want to come across with a band that was anything less than 100 percent of what the fans would want and what I would want. I feel in the latter years of Tull, we were so sidetracked by doing such big shows that the production was nonexistent. We kept doing the same show! You can’t do that. I want to get back to doing something really fresh. I’ve always felt reinvesting in a project is the best thing you can do, whereas Jethro Tull has done the opposite. Nothing was put back in. It’s been all take and no give. The shows were bland. Nothing changed. When you get a bit of success, you should take some of that and put it back into the show to make it a better show, rather than just take the money.
GM: After Ian got you and Doane in that room, is that when you decided you had to look after yourself, so you made your “Legends Of Rock” and Martin Barre’s New Day plans?
MB: Oh yeah. I mean, the minute he said it, I knew I had to do it. And I wanted to do it. I’ve done solo things before, but this is full on. I didn’t find the facts of what I had to do a problem. I just found the way it happened a problem. People are such strange creatures.