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Acoustic talks to Ian Anderson as he
packs his bags in preparation for an all acoustic UK tour in support
This spring of 2007 will be a good time for fans of Jethro Tull – particularly
for those that appreciate the acoustic side to JT’s character.
March and April see the release of EMI’s The
Best Of Acoustic Jethro Tull album as well as an acoustic Jethro Tull UK tour. In the past 38
years, Jethro Tull have sold over 60 million albums, notched up three
Top 10 singles and have performed over 2500 shows in more than 40 countries.
Acoustic discusses the new album, the tour and Anderson’s “Magnus
Can you tell us about the new album, The Best Of Acoustic Jethro Tull
and what else Jethro Tull are up to?
It’s basically a selection of acoustic Jethro Tull stuff, spread
through the years with a couple of recently recorded bonus tracks which
are re-recordings of songs we’d done somewhere in the past. There’s
also a Jethro Tull Live In Montreux DVD scheduled for release later this
year and another one that is recordings from various German concerts
through the years – all live recordings that have never been released.
Then there’s a new album which I’m about to start work on
which will be recorded on and off over the next few months because we
have some tours coming up, but it will be scheduled for release in September.
Will the album for September be acoustic
or more ‘full-on’?
That really depends on who’s around. The initial recording sessions
won’t feature Martin Barre because he’s away in Canada until
the start of the UK tour, but hopefully we can shoe-horn him in to make
up lost ground during the periods once we’ve finished the UK tour.
However, it will certainly have a Jethro Tull component part, it won’t
just be a solo album. At this particular point in time, it is my intention
that there will be three or four tracks that will feature a chamber orchestra
and there will be some acoustic music and some electric music, so it
will be fairly eclectic and unfocused rather than rekindle prog-rock
moments from 1972.
Which is what a lot of JT fans would like
Yes, they’re after ‘Thick As A Brick’ - Part 2, but
I just don’t feel that I want to do that kind of thing. While it
was a lot of fun doing that kind of music back in 1972 and ’73,
I’ve never really liked rock or loud music very much and while
the more extravagant arrangement of things are challenging and fun to
play, they are not so fun for the poor ol’ punter to have to listen
to and I can’t escape the idea that the best songs I’ve written
are four or five minutes long rather than half an hour long and those
songs have a high proportion of acoustic music in them – that’s
what I’ve been doing all my life, I’ve been the unplugged
guy in a rock band.
Thinking of the tour, how do you go about selecting a set list?
When you come to do a set list, it’s a bit of a thankless task
because you’re always going to find that you don’t really
satisfy those members of the audience whose interest is in the obscure
and remote – record company marketing executives refer to them
as ‘core fanbase’. I affectionately refer to them as the
train-spotters. But we have to remember that 90% of the audience is less
committed and knowledgeable and for them you’ve got to try and
hit a few bench-markers that are going to say, ‘This is the stuff
you know, you’ll recognise this’ and then sitting that alongside
material that’s new or something they’ve not heard before.
You know that you’re going to upset the less committed fan who’ll
complain that ‘they didn’t play any of their hits’.
When pressed as to what those hits might actually be, he’ll spectacularly
be unable to name any – because there weren’t, at least not
in the sense of Kylie Minogue hits! Set lists are all about balance.
So there’s plenty of acoustic material
on the new tour?
Yes. What I’ve tried to do is come up with a bunch of songs which
are more associated with Jethro Tull the rock band; ‘Aqualung’, ‘Locomotive
Breath’ etc and do those in a way that is simply acoustic. The
question arises, ‘What is the difference between that, and what
Jethro Tull normally do?’, and when it comes to the crunch, a lot
of it has to do with whether Martin Barre is wearing an acoustic guitar
or is decorated with something more electric – that dictates to
a large extent whether you’d call it acoustic or electric. In reality,
everything I do remains the same. I just do what I normally do.
What are some of the challenges of playing an acoustic tour?
Unfortunately, the idea of an acoustic concert being some intimate bedroom
experience is not really workable. In order to make it pay the musicians
and trucks and hotels and insurances etc, we need to play to more than
1000 people which means we have to play in theatres that are capable
of accommodating 1000 to 2000 people. I don’t think it’s
possible to totally switch things off and have a completely acoustic
experience. You have just suspend belief and pretend that it’s
not coming through a PA system.
Does that make an acoustic tour more challenging than a conventional
It’s more difficult in the context of it being a Jethro Tull concert – not
from a musical point of view, but you’ve got to sell the idea to
an audience. To some people the idea of an acoustic Jethro Tull concert
might seem like an added bonus, but by the same token, you’re likely
to be switching off between a third and a half of the people that might
otherwise come if it was just billed as ‘Jethro Tull’ – their
perception is that they are getting something less for their money.
What guitars do you plan to be using on the tour?
My main guitar that I’ve been playing for a few years now is a
slightly long-trousered version of the Andy Manson Traveller which was
one made for me to a drawing I sent to him. It’s very reminiscent
of a French parlour guitar circa mid to early 1800s. I wanted a smaller
bodied guitar, just for the practicalities of stuffing it into a guitar
case along with two flutes and various bits of electronics.
That guitar has a very recognisable sound
Well, it is what it is. Frankly, once you’ve stuffed a transducer
under the saddle of an acoustic guitar, its body shape, size and natural
resonances don’t have a great deal to do with the end sounds. 90%
of the sound is dependent on the material of the saddle and the bridge.
The resonance only really affects the sustain. In terms of tonal qualities,
very little finds its way through.
Will you just be taking the one guitar?
No, I’ll be taking a bigger second guitar which is another Andy
Manson – I think it was one of the first guitars that he made for
me so it must have been around 1990. It’s one that I will use for
a couple of songs when I use different tunings. When I say it’s
a bigger guitar, it’s still only ‘0’ size in Martin
parlance, but to me it feels like strapping on a bus!
You have in your collection some very special
There is one guitar I have which I consider perfect in terms of size
and shape. It has an almost full scale neck but it’s a size two
Model 30 – I actually have two of them. They’re ancient,
from somewhere around 1860 to 1880 – nylon strung, no way could
they ever be strung up with steel strings and played, but they are beautiful
guitars because they have this wonderful, almost organic body shape without
feeling or sounding like small guitars. The size two is my favourite
Martin size and I have some ones and a few ‘0’ sizes. Most
of my old Martins are those from the pre-steel string era.
Have the band begun rehearsals yet?
Well, I have (laughs)! Most afternoons I go off for half an hour and
play through some songs. I like keeping up to date with the feel of
playing things as well as new songs I’m working on - so I’m
always at it really. As for the other folks, we have a preparatory
pre-rehearsal soon and then there’ll be final rehearsals for
the UK tour.
So how many times will the whole band rehearse before a tour?
Normally there’s one rehearsal.
Yes, one full, day-long rehearsal. Most of the guys all know what they’re
doing, they show up for work having had some reference tapes for a little
while and written material – most of them read and write music
fluently – so there’s lots of reference material. They can
pretty much get up to speed without having to be in a room with each
other. For this tour, because there are a couple of people who haven’t
played this before, we might have two days.
And two days will be enough?
Yes, two days will give us a real opportunity to get it up to the point
where it’s exciting and a little bit nerve-racking, but not to
the point where you’re over rehearsed. You have to try and keep
it fresh – you’ve got to feel a little bit tense that first
night and hopefully there are no train wrecks, but from then on over
the next two or three weeks, things grow and every night is a bit of
Do you every worry about it going wrong on stage?
We all make a few unforced errors every night – there are going
to be a few stinkers from everybody in the band at some point. Chances
are, some of the band don’t even notice the odd wrong note from
somebody else – the punters even less. In reality, you yourself
know that there’s been some absolutely horrible moment which fills
you with self-loathing and despair. It’s inconceivable I could
ever do a show and not play a couple of seriously wrong notes or, worse
still, I find myself in what I call my Magnus Magnusson moments – ‘I’ve
started so I’ll finish’ – you somehow find yourself
accidentally in the wrong key and you’re going to play some pretty
serious avant-garde jazz because there’s no way to get back again!
That’s part of the thrill; ‘How’s it going to be tonight’.
credit interviewer Hugo Montgomery-Swan