In 1972, Jethro Tull’s masterpiece, Thick as a Brick was released as a 45 minute continuous piece of music, charting the difficulties of a child growing up and confronting a frightening and unfair world.
The album was encased in a spoof local U.K. newspaper, The St. Cleve Chronicle, with a headline story that called Gerald Bostock had been disqualified from a poetry competition because of the inappropriate nature of his epic poem, which Tull then allegedly used as the album’s lyrics.
Thick as a Brick was a worldwide success, including a No. 1 spot on the American Billboard chart, and excerpts from the piece have been regularly featured in Jethro Tull and Ian Anderson live shows. Fast forward 40 years and Ian is now releasing Thick as a Brick 2, which shows a more mature look at the world and should ring bells for people of all ages.
Cast aside all prejudices as Jethro Tull’s singer / flautist / composer Ian Anderson explains what led him to revisit the genre some 40 years after the ground-breaking Tull album, Thick as a Brick. I had the honor of speaking to Ian about his latest CD and asking, why he thought now was the right time for its release.
Robert Cavuoto: Tell me a little bit about Thick as a Brick 2 as a follow up to Thick as a Brick 40 years later. Why is now the right time?
Ian Anderson: Certainly 45 years wouldn’t be a good idea because it’s a big project with a lot of work involved. Best to do it now while I still feel young and enthusiastic.
In terms of why not 25 years ago, I always maintained that I really didn’t want to remake or do a sequel to Thick as a Brick or Aqualung. Nostalgia doesn’t work for me and I just didn’t have a reason. I did have a look at it a few years ago and I spent a few hours doodling and noodling, writing a piece of music to see if it was a suitable entrée, but I didn’t have a place to take it that gave it any relevance.
It was only at the end of 2010 when the questions were posed, “I wonder what little Gerald Bostock would be doing today?” and “What would have happened to the St. Cleve Chronicle?” (the 16-page parochial English newspaper). The answers threw out a way to bring this album to the year 2012, when I could take a giant leap, not just sort of “What Happened Next?” back in ’72 or ’73.
I could jump ahead 40 years and say that would be a way to look at how different many things are in life 40 years on, and in some cases how things don’t change. Most notably the futility of war, the reference to Wootton Bassett, repatriation of dead souls and the parallels between the exit, as it will soon be, from Afghanistan is a very direct parallel with 1972 with the drawdown of US troops in preparation to abandon South Vietnam in 1973. We’re 40 years on down the line and some things sadly stay the same. The coffins with flags draped over them stays the same.
Robert: Thick as a Brick was a monstrous album. How do you think this one will stack up? How are you going to measure success with this new release?
Ian Anderson: To me, success would probably mean a few different things. It would mean the fun and enjoyment of recording, listening to it, and performing it live. I’m doing this ultimately for me. I’m not doing it for the fans. I’m certainly not doing it for the record company or anybody. Ultimately, I don’t give a flying fuck whether anybody else likes it or not (Laughs).
Obviously, I want the other musicians to enjoy it too, but primarily I’m just doing this for me. I get my jollies by writing something. It makes me laugh sometimes. It makes me cry. I can feel the emotions in response to it as a listener. I’m doing it for me, so that’s the first measure of success. Secondly, I want to make my money back because in this day and age to make a real album with real musicians in real time, in a real recording studio, with real microphones and real instruments, is expensive.
Robert: How long did it take to record this CD?
Ian Anderson: This album was made pretty quickly. It was 10 days of rehearsal in November last year followed by a period of, I believe, 9 days of recording. There were actually 7 days of recording but there were another couple of days that were the setup day and general organizational day. We rehearsed and recorded it right after it was written. It was recorded as a live performance piece.
The musicians knew that it was in a form that would work. The original Thick as a Brick was not so carefully considered as a live performance piece and there are huge problems when it comes to playing it live. Most people just didn’t notice that we didn’t actually play every bar of music that was on the record, because quite often it was just totally impossible to do. In some sections of music I’m playing two guitars. There are two vocals and in one area there are two flutes going on at the same time. It takes six people just to do it
Robert: True. Where do you want Jethro Tull’s place to be in music history?
Ian Anderson: I would like to think Jethro Tull or Ian Anderson, however you want to look at that, is recognizable as not owing a huge amount to anybody else. It’s not generic rock music. I know as a lyric writer I do not write songs that are like everybody else. My vocabulary is more ornate and developed. My understanding of grammar and construction is perhaps a little more developed on a loftier level than those who might be living as singer/songwriters. It doesn’t make my stuff better or more clever.
It just means that I’m different and I don’t want to sound like other people. I want to sound like me. I think I’m recognizable as a songwriter, musical arranger, and composer. I’ve grown up in a time when we’ve seen an amazing amount of inventive groundbreaking new music appear in various musical formats over these years. I’m certainly the first to tip my hat in the direction of the great songwriters and performers, but I don’t want to sound like them.
Robert: I just finished reading Iron Man, by Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath. I learned that he was in Jethro Tull for a very brief period of time. Could you tell me about some memories you have of that and if you’ve read his book?
Ian Anderson: I haven’t read Tony’s book. The last time I heard from Tony was a couple of e-mails we exchanged a few months ago, but that was before he became ill. I haven’t heard from him since, although I’ve sent him an e-mail not too long ago. I don’t know what the outcome of his cancer diagnosis has been in terms of his current state of health.
My recollections of working with Tony are fairly clear. They’re threefold. Once when we played a gig together, probably around September of 1968 at a university, his band effectively went on to become Black Sabbath. We kind of got to know Tony and thought he was pretty good and seemed to have a style that was quite different from Mick Abrahams, who was the guitar player at that time and basically a blues guitarist.
Tony didn’t have that expertise; he did have a very musical way of playing. He didn’t play a lot of major 7s. He played a lot of open fifths and fairly gutsy things, single line things, solo lines. At the end of ’68 when Mick Abrahams had departed from Jethro Tull, we got together with Tony as we did with several other guitar players. He didn’t leave his band and it was a question of seeing what we had in common. I worked on a couple of new songs with Tony and I think it became apparent to me while he could understand where I was headed, the limitations that he faces as a guitarist due to the physical injury to his fingers, meant that he really couldn’t play some of the things that I would have wanted him to play as a guitar player in Jethro Tull. He simply didn’t have the fingers to do it.
He had evolved, indeed, rather like Django Reinhardt. His limitations in terms of the physical injuries he had sustained meant he had to learn to make music in a way that he could within those limitations. Indeed, that’s what shaped Tony as a guitar player and arguably shaped heavy metal music from then on in. Tony was fine playing bar chords using a couple of fingers in a way that allowed some simple harmonies. He couldn’t very easily play more complex chords. It wasn’t ever gonna work out in terms of the music I was writing at that point, which was the music from the Stand Up album.
We enjoyed our afternoon or whatever it was in playing together. It was an enjoyable experience. We played a few blues songs and whatever else. It was fun. Later on Tony came and played with us on the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus. Without a guitar player, we said to Tony, “Can you come and stand in? You don’t have to actually play. You just have to mime.” So, Tony came along to the studio with his hat pulled down in front of his face so no one would recognize him (Laughing), because he was a bit embarrassed because his guitar wasn’t even plugged in. I was singing and playing the flute live, but the other guys were miming to the backing track. That was his only public appearance with Jethro Tull, as a pretend guitar player. I have no idea how Tony remembers it, but the way I remember it is definitely the way it was.
Robert: Just as Alice Cooper started as a band and then the singer took on the persona and became Alice, was there ever a point where you thought, “I should really change my name to Jethro Tull”?
Ian Anderson: No, when the name first came up in February of 1968, it was our agent who came up with it, as he did a number of names. We changed our name pretty much every week for about two months. It was only when we got the residency at the Marquis Club that we had to stick with a name, which was Jethro Tull. It hadn’t really resonated with me because I didn’t pay much attention to history in school. When I realized we were named after a dead guy who invented the seed drill, I felt quite uncomfortable about it. I thought, chances are we’ll have a new name in a couple of weeks, so don’t worry about it. Of course, this name stuck because that was the name we had when we started playing at the Marquis Club and started to build up a real following.
It’s always been the one thing in my life that I regret, because I don’t like the name. I don’t mind the Tull bit. That’s a good old West country, solid English name, but Jethro is a West country English name, but it’s a bit synonymous with The Beverly Hillbillies. I never felt comfortable with because it’s somebody else’s name. It makes me feel uncomfortable in the same way I’d be uncomfortable if I was playing in a band called Adolf Hitler or Saddam Hussein or Colonel Gaddafi or Winston Churchill, or name any U.S. president. I would feel uncomfortable with that because it’s somebody else’s name. That’s the one thing I’ve always found awkward, and of course there’s never any possibility I wanted to be changing my name to Jethro Tull (both laugh).
To many people I was Jethro Tull, because I was the front man and very often I was the person depicted on the album cover and the rest of the group, not to do them down, but there have been 28 members of Jethro Tull, but at the end of it all, it’s synonymous with me. I guess there’s been for me an uncomfortable sort of alter ego about it, but it’s not really that I’m two different people. For me, doing an Ian Anderson concert as opposed to a Jethro Tull concert, frankly the only difference, in terms of my personal awareness when I’m standing on a stage performing, the only difference is essentially what it says on the ticket.