This year marks the 40th anniversay of the seminal Jethro Tull prog concept album Thick As A Brick, which Ian Anderson will be playing in its entirety, for the first time since 1972, on his upcoming UK tour.
The Tull frontman has also recorded, in a solo capacity, a sequel to the 1972 classic. Thick As A Brick 2, or TAAB2 as he prefers to call it, will comprise the second half of the live show.
RUSHONROCK‘s Martyn P Jackson caught up with Anderson for an exclusive interview prior to the tour.
rushonrock: The upcoming tour celebrates the 40th Anniversary of Jethro Tull’s Thick As A Brick, so why have you decided to tour in a solo capacity, rather than with Tull?
Ian Anderson: I do most of the shows that I do, in the last 10 years increasingly – it has been from a few, to an equal number, to a majority of shows – under my own name. That’s for many reasons but the primary one being that when it says “Jethro Tull” on the ticket I think for many people, in many countries, it suggests the best of Jethro Tull’s repertoire, the collection of songs that are best known. I’m happy to do that some of the time, just not all the time.
rushonrock: Why is that?
IA: Life’s too short. I have other projects, other plans and other repertoires. Sometimes I want to play with symphony orchestras or string quartets or do acoustic tours or focus on a particular genre of music within the catalogue of stuff that I’ve done. So it gives me a little more feeling of choice. It also keeps away, in certain countries, this not being one of them, the riff-raff. The beer drinking buddies who like to come and whistle and hoot and yell ‘Rock n’ Roll’ in every quiet moment are more inclined to stay at home if I don’t simply say ‘Jethro Tull’.
rushonrock: When you last toured Thick As A Brick in 1972 there were men in bunny suits and a frogman answering a telephone – have you got any surprises up your sleeve this time round?
IA: I’m reprising some of those moments but doing it in a different way. I think the whole point of the new album is that it’s taking some elements of fantasy and fiction and bringing them into 2012, so I have to present them in a different context. St Cleeve Chronicle is now stcleeve.com, an online community newsletter, instead of being a small, parochial newspaper.
rushonrock: And what about the frogmen?
IA: Frogmen? They’re kind of still a feature of the world out there. I just spent a fairly tortuous hour a couple of weeks ago shooting some video on Brighton beach with a frogman. We have a few moments reprising elements from the previous show, just as on the new album I make little references, here and there, to the original album. That’s fun to do, and sometimes quite a challenge to make it feel artistically satisfying, as opposed to just shoe-horning something in to bless some moment with an element of nostalgia to appease the ageing fan. That’s not a good reason for doing anything. As a composer of music I like to do it with an eye to artistry, so I try and do it in a way that feels right for me. I don’t want to do too much of it, because that would be overstepping the mark, but I want to do enough of it that there are these four or five little reminders. It’s just like waving a little flag saying, ‘Hey – remember me?’.
rushonrock: The original album tapped an established vein of British absurdist, satirical humour – a tradition that includes Monty Python, Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear but how did audiences in the rest of the world react to it?
IA: It was very varied back in 1972. Most people in the UK got the joke, as it were. I think most people in Australia got it too. In America 50/50 – maybe. In Japan zero. It wasn’t so important in Italy because maybe they weren’t into the lyrics anyway – because not so many people spoke English then. I think it was more about the sound of the words and the nature of the music that made Thick As A Brick a popular album in Italy or Spain at the time. In many of the Latin countries, in fact, it didn’t depend on lyrics – that didn’t have any meaning at all. When it came to doing the new album I thought I’d better make sure that even the older folks, who perhaps still don’t have any English, can understand what this is about. That’s why I included on the DVD in the special edtion of the album, as well as on the website, the German, the Italian and the Spanish translations, along with Russian and Czech and some other things. It’s really there to try and give people that link into the lyrical content that we didn’t do in 1972.
rushonrock: Turning to TAAB2, was it easier putting yourself in the mind of a 50 year-old Gerald Bostock – the fictional schoolboy who supposedly wrote the lyrics for the original album – than into the mind of a child prodigy?
IA: It was easier than putting my mind into the imagination of a 48 year-old, because Gerald was supposedly eight years-old at the time of the 1972 album, but I decided to make him 50 – with anniversaries if you put a zero on the end, it makes it easier for me. So his parents apparently lied about his age. He wasn’t eight when he entered the poetry competition – he was, in fact, nine. By the time he’d won the competition and been disqualified he’d turned 10. That neatly makes him 50 today. I have duly recorded that his parents lied about this age just to conveniently make him 50.
rushonrock: How does the concept behind TAAB2 relate specifically to Gerald?
IA: I’ve brought Gerald into the contemporary age by thinking what might have happened to him, what might he have chosen to do, what good or bad luck might have befallen him, what life-changing events and career choices might have presented themselves? I started off with the idea that I was going to look at Gerald in terms of his outcomes as a 50 year-old in a few different scenarios. I wrote down a number of possibilities and only had room to really explore five of them because I wanted to write two pieces about each of those two characters. One to briefly go through some of their development in life, another piece to bring them into the current age.
rushonrock: How challenging was that?
IA: I knew the constraints. I wanted to stay at 50 minutes, but I strayed into 53 minutess and something seconds, which is one of the longest vinyl albums ever to be cut when I did it at Abbey Road last week. It was about limiting those possibilities to a few that I could home in on. Things I felt confident I could write about, either from personal experience, or through my knowledge of those sterotypes or characters in the real world. Through Gerald’s various parallel personalities, or characters that he might have become, then, in a sense, it’s a bit of a metaphor for the lives of all of us. We react in many crucial moments of our lives to make decisions that will shape the rest of our lives, whether we know that at the time or not.
rushonrock: Are you speaking from personal experience?
IA: I can easily pinpoint half-a-dozen absolutely crucial, life-changing moments. My life would be completely different if I’d taken the other choice. I’m pretty sure most people can feel that too. I’m pretty sure that most people, perhaps in their teenage years right now, are facing those same choices that I had to face. It also means making decisions and reacting to chance interventions that will shape the rest of their lives. Hence this album, I think, is not just for baby-boomers looking back on their teenage years. It’s also an album for younger people looking forward and having to grasp the momentous importance of making good, rather than bad, decisions, and not simply reacting to your parents wanting to hold your hand forever, or, even worse, peer group pressure, which is always a very dangerous thing.