Interview with MARTIN BARRE (JETHRO TULL)

November 2000

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With Ian Anderson
© DME

For many JETHRO TULL is mainly Ian Anderson, the band’s charismatic vocalist and flute player. Well, since 1968 there were many musicians but one must never forget that, beside Ian, in TULL plays another veteran, who got onboard with the second album, 1969′s “Stand Up”. It’s Martin Barre, a guitar virtuoso.

While interviews with Ian are many, to talk to Martin seemed to me more interesting, so we sat backstage for a little chat before the band walked out to put a show.

- I want to begin with a question about Lancelot. They used to write “Martin Lancelot Barre”…

That’s my middle name. My grandparents were French.

- Who were you influenced by as a guitar player?

I didn’t listen to lot of guitar players, I’ve got together my own way. I never ever learn guitar, I didn’t want to because if I listened to other guitar players I’d play the same style.

- Are there any guitarists influenced by you?

I don’t know. A couple of weeks ago I met Steve Vai and Joe Satriani and Eric Johnson and they all said: “Ah Martin, we used to listen to you”. They said they’re influenced by me but I just can’t hear it in their playing. It’s not so much about playing as about music.

- So what is your input in JETHRO TULL music? How did it changed after you joined the band?

They did different kind of music when I joined so everything changed anyway. We were just starting from nothing, whatever songs were like no other music. We were starting from, I think, absolute zero. But I think it took not only my guitar playing but the way the music went. They all would be saying: “Why won’t you play like this or like that?” That’s why I never listened to other people, because I just feel what is the right thing.

- But this jazz element was introduced by you?

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Oh jazz – I can’t play jazz, I never have to play jazz.

- What about your “Trick Of Memory” album?

It’s not jazz, it just sounds jazzy. I can’t play proper jazz but I can make it sound like that. I just pretend to play jazz. I can’t also play country and western but I pretend, and I can pretend to play classical music. It’s just my version of it because I listened to jazz and I listened to classical music. So it’s easy to copy and I copy in my own way but I’m not playing it properly.

- What does the title “Trick Of Memory” mean for you?

Nothing, it was a phrase that I saw in a newpaper that appealed to me. It doesn’t mean anything, it has no meaning. Memory is tricked by things, something people think they have, which they don’t have. It’s abnormal.

- Who, do you think, buys this album?

Obviously JETHRO TULL fans but not only, I wanted it to be the album that very unlikely people would listen to.

- I bought it because I thought if TULL is dominated by Ian, on your album you’d put out something very different – as Steve Howe does.

It took me a long time to do because I wrote a lot of music and then I listened to it, I thought everybody’s going to compare it to JETHRO TULL. I did an album and had thrown it away and did another one – and had thrown it away. So I could have done, maybe, two or three albums before this one. But they wouldn’t have been good enough to my ears, they wouldn’t stand side by side with the band’s albums. That was important to JETHRO TULL fans who would buy my albums as well as Ian’s albums. It should have been of high quality. That would be horrible to be cheating people, and especially fans of JETHRO TULL that buy albums by all of the band.

- What about your flute playing on the album? You didn’t want to bring Ian in?

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I can play flute but when I go over with Ian I have no practice. I played flute over thirty years, I played in school. Ian always plays a flute with JETHRO TULL and I played some flute on stage too, say, in “Thick As A Brick”, so I played flute with him.

- “Thick As A Brick” – there were anniversary editions of this album and "Aqualung". But why there wasn’t one of “Passion Play”?

Oh, this is not a popular album with the fans, there aren’t people that ask us to perform the songs from “Passion Play”. [Were there any? - DME]

- How do you, I mean JETHRO TULL, manage to keep at the top? FAIRPORT CONVENTION and other your folk contemporaries are not so popular now.

It’s a battle of minority music. They appeal to a very small minority music listeners while we’re aiming at much broader audience. Folk music is never big as maybe used to be. It doesn’t sell to a lot of people. It’s a point when everybody comes together to such a party, if you go to a town, be it London or Tel Aviv, to be a small audience it’s not when a rock band comes to you when maybe a lot more people would come. If you play jazz you can’t expect to appeal to a lot of people and with classical music you can’t.

- Rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle – you seem to avoid it and never get involved in any scandals.

We have fun. It depends on what you want to do. To have fun you don’t need a lot of booze and women. I’m married, I have children. And I have whatever hobbies – I like running every day, I play tennis. I like a lot of pretty stuff about life.

- So “Martin, a great womanizer”…

Unfortunately, I never was. When I look at pretty girl I just think that she could be my daughter. And that’s the end of it.

- Interesting, none of you seems to act like rock stars.

No, not at all.

- The reason I ask is that when some stars come to Russia, where I lived before, they act very arrogant. And you – just human beings…

I don’t know what arrogance is.

- OK, let’s get back to the music. The infamous “Chateau D’Isaster Tapes”. I heard some of the parts were re-recorded?

No, none of that, it’s all original. We didn’t touch the original tapes.

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- And "A" album, how did it come to you staying in the band when others departed?

I expected to go as well and was thinking what to do but Ian said: “I’d like you to come and play”. I asked: “Why don’t you try to work with another guitar player just to see what it might be like?” But he said: “I don’t want to”. And I go: “Thanks”.

- But what would you do if fired?

I just didn’t know. I take each day as it comes. I don’t know what might happen at all tonight, maybe I won’t be able to play again. Or I go home and my wife might say, “If you play with the group I would divorce you”. Fortunately, she understands me. (Laughs.) I don’t expect anything, if so, I’m going to be disappointed. I don’t expect to be doing this forever but I would love to.

- What can you say about these changes in TULL’s music since Eighties? When I heard “Part Of A Machine” it reminded me of, say, DIRE STRAITS but not JETHRO TULL.

Yeah, it’s a sound that I like and Ian likes and it’s different if compared to other bands yet it’s not unlike DIRE STRAITS. But I’m happy with this sound and try to improve it whatever I could.

- On the “J-Tull Dot Com” album is a song called “Hunt By Numbers”. Is it a sequel to “…Mouse Police Never Sleeps”?

Yes, of course, it is. But from the cats’ side.

You can’t ask me about the lyrics, ask Ian!

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- But you’ve read them, yes? So do you really feel like “dog-eared old copy”?

No, no, I don’t!

- Self-criticism?

Yes, we don’t take ourselves seriously. We’re very hard on ourselves. We never worry about what people might say if they say we’re the biggest shit they ever heard in their lives because we are the first to critisise what we do. We get it before everybody else.


- Why did you put this album out on Roadrunner, the heavy metal label?

Oh, it’s a political thing, it’s a label that would give us a lot of attention. On big label we’d be small. Small label wouldn’t have an ability to promote an album. So the middle-size which Roadrunner is is good for us.

- There is the JETHRO TULL tribute album. Have you heard it?

A bits of that. I think, it’s a pointless thing to do. I don’t subscribe to such a thing.

- Well, you took part in the ELP tribute!

I did it as a job. I really didn’t know what ELP might say of it. I did it as a favour for the man who was involved in making the album. I’m not say it’s bad, it’s just didn’t do a lot for me.

- On both tribute albums there was John Wetton singing. I heard you play with John. When?

On his first solo album which is called “Caught In The Crossfire”. It’s a shame it’s still not on CD. I had an album but I lost it, I put it in tape. Someday I should make me a CD, not a proper CD but from tape. There are pretty good songs.

- You know John from UK?

Yes, UK supported us in America.

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- Eddie Jobson looked very weird in TULL.

When they toured with us UK was finished and then Eddie played with JETHRO TULL as a guest. And he would never say: “I’m a proper JETHRO TULL member”, he said, “I’m a guest artist appearing with JETHRO TULL”. He’s a great player but many people didn’t like his appearance. Eddie’s a nice guy and we enjoyed working with him but he was never going to join JETHRO TULL, he wasn’t interested.

- What TULL is for you?

TULL is my life, really. It takes all my life more than anything else does. At the same time I feel independent, I do my own albums. We all being independent people but together we work very hard on what we do, so it’s a very serious job. And it’s fantastic.

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