There’s no need to introduce Ian Anderson: he’s cutting one of the most recognizable figures in the music history. But as much recognizable as he is, Ian’s never the same, he’s always pulling some aural rabbit out of his flute, and his latest endeavor is playing with a symphony orchestra, not his usual band. So there’s no sense to ask Anderson about JETHRO TULL. Not that any of his answers is expected, they invariably have some twist. The more interesting is the conversation, then. And the more pleasurable mind game, too.
– Why would artist like you want to re-visit his songs with an orchestra? What did you want to achieve when embarking on this project?
Why I want to do it is because I’ve worked with classical musicians since 1968, when I had my first experience of working with a chamber orchestra. Except this, we had orchestras accompanying JETHRO TULL songs on various albums. And four years ago I was asked by a German orchestra to do a concert with them, and they organized and paid for the orchestrations to be done by somebody in the UK who did it working with me to produce some orchestral variations on JETHRO TULL pieces. So in the last four years, I’ve been doing an increasing number of concerts with orchestras in different parts of the world, and I find it challenging and interesting. I worry all the time about orchestral work and orchestrating, and it’s still for me an exciting proposition to work with different musicians in different countries. But next year I won’t be doing so many, so it’s just me ever changing shape of my concert calendar.
– In which situation you feel safer, or more musically assured: when backed by the band or playing with an orchestra?
Well, I’m also working with some musicians who travel with me all the time, so there’s a safety net. If the things are going well in the orchestral department, the rest of us know what we’re doing. We’re kind of okay with the whole bunch of the rehearsals that we’re doing with an orchestra being careful about the arrangements to bring on-stage and not sound like a train-wreck. I think so far we’ve been pretty lucky as we had no terribly bad moments, but every concert produces some degree of tension and concentration, and if it was all easy it wouldn’t be worth doing. There’s got to be some scary moments to make it a challenge, and we invite that by the nature of the music: it’s not all easy to play as far as it’s quite difficult music.
– Could that mean that, if anything’s wrong with the orchestra, you turn the volume up to eleven and start playing as usual?
No. You think you’re likely hear if something is wrong with the orchestra, because we’re playing too loudly in the first place and they can’t hear themselves, and that’s the first natural issue when it comes trying to integrate so called rock music and live orchestral work on a stage. It’s almost always a disaster because rock musicians don’t know how to play quietly – and we play very quietly on-stage. We play at the same level as any instrument in the orchestra, but everybody in the orchestra and other musicians are individually amplified in the PA system, so the audience hear it at a comfortable volume – not too loud, not too quiet – but on-stage it’s very quiet. And that’s the way it has to be if you’re going to do orchestral concerts: everybody has to hear themselves play, everybody has to hear everybody else. It’s a delicate procedure and the biggest problem that all orchestras have when they work with artists not from the classical world – they always fear that the volume is going to be too loud on-stage, but I hope we gently reassure them that we understand the problem, that we as acoustic musicians are their pals, we are their brothers. We know what to do because we come in the world of acoustic music; I don’t play with the guys from JETHRO TULL who play loud rock music because for them it would be very difficult to do these concerts, it would be very, very difficult for them to play and certainly not have all that volume. But for me… I have no problem with it because I’m an acoustic musician. I’ve been playing in a rock band for all these years, but I welcome the chance to play at quiet, acoustic levels on-stage.
– Doesn’t it take much discipline?
It’s not so much a discipline, it’s a preference. I mean I enjoy having my hearing after all these years while so many musicians I know from the world of rock music can’t hear anymore because they’ve damaged their hearing after years and years of playing too loudly on-stage. JETHRO TULL is quite loud on-stage but for the last twenty years I’ve been wearing earplugs on-stage as I’m very careful about my hearing.
– Now, temporarily away from TULL, could you imagine anybody else fronting the group? Thijs Van Leer, perhaps? Ian McDonald? Or Martin Barre who also plays a flute? I mean if you allow it.
I can’t imagine it for two good reasons. Number one: the copyright on the name JETHRO TULL for purposes of a musical group is owned by my company, so legally it will be impossible for somebody else to use the name without my giving it up. Secondly, JETHRO TULL without Ian Anderson would be bluffing for the money but it definitely wouldn’t be JETHRO TULL. I’m the one who wrote the ninety-five per cent of the music and stood in front of the stage for all these years, and I’m the only original member of the band. Well, Martin Barre is a long-serving part of the group that many people would recognize, but I don’t think for one minute that the name JETHRO TULL could be applied to the band that don’t have me in it. It’s quite a stretching of imagination that two members of QUEEN would be thinking about making an album called “Queen” without Freddie Mercury and their bass player. To me, it’s stretching the imagination a long way but JETHRO TULL without Ian Anderson I think would not be impossible for more than one reason. So no, I can’t imagine it, I’m hundred per cent sure it won’t happen! (Laughs.)
– Oh, I thought your imagination was unlimited but now we know the limit of it!
You know I’m going to ask you to explain to me these last two comments in case I’m offended!
– Isn’t it a limit of imagination if one cannot imagine something – and you can’t imagine TULL without you?
I think semantically you’re following a very insecure way of thinking.
– Ian, it’s only a joke!
Alright, then! I believe you. Carry on!
– Talking about semantics… You described what JETHRO TULL do as “a little light music”, how would you describe the music you’re playing with an orchestra?
The term “a little light music” referred to the album that I made without keyboards and, as a whole, without a rock context. It was a sort of a semi-acoustic album of live performances we did in a few different places including Jerusalem, and that was called “A Little Light Music”. It was a shift between a normal, a rather more rock JETHRO TULL line-up and a greater emphasis on the acoustic music that we did on that tour, it was just a four-piece band. In a sense, JETHRO TULL I think is one of the very few bands in the history of pop and rock music who covered so many different musical styles and so many different musical levels of intensity. Some of the songs that we do would fit within the genre of rock music but there’s also quite a substantial body of work which you might more properly call acoustic music. It’s been a big part of JETHRO TULL’s music from the earliest days, a part of JETHRO TULL’s identity, and this acoustic side comes from me and not from the other guys.
“A Little Light Music” is a pun on “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik”, but “light music” was a term given by the BBC in early years of broadcasting to refer to, I guess, some very accessible, not too witty classical music. I guess, “light music” probably embraced also soul and gentle orchestral music of accessible nature to broad public. So “a little light music” was a kind of reference to something that was, er, the opposite to being a hard rock band which JETHRO TULL was sometimes perceived as being. Even now regular requests for interviews come from magazines and radio stations specializing in heavy rock music because some of the contemporary hard rock bands cite JETHRO TULL as an influence or one of the influences they had in their formative years. It’s a general term but not one that I would apply all the time to JETHRO TULL, it’s just a way to describe a particular album, really.
– As influential as TULL have been, did you ever think you changed the face of rock music by letting Tony Iommi go and move on with BLACK SABBATH?
Tony was someone we knew from the band that he played in before BLACK SABBATH was born. We ran into Tony at a gig when he and his band – where I think were the future members of BLACK SABBATH – were supporting JETHRO TULL in some little big somewhere in the latter part of 1968. He was a nice enough chap and had a nice clean straightforward guitar style, and he came to help us with a television show we were asked to do for “THE ROLLING STONES, "The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus": we were very briefly at that and Tony came along to mime playing guitar, because actually I was the only one of us who was live on the show, the other guys were just miming. And Tony came along to do that because he was someone we played with briefly in a kind of jam session in a studio, and it’s possible that if Tony’s music and our music could be more complimentary at the time, then he might have become a member of JETHRO TULL. But Tony was… I don’t know if you know but Tony Iommi has some damage to his fingers from an industrial accident which meant that he was forced to evolve a particular style of playing guitar. For instance, it’s quite difficult for Tony to play most chords across the whole six strings but he can play single notes and riffs and things, and the music that I was writing quite often was a little more adventurous from just being three chords on a monophonic guitar. So Tony would never really fit as a guitar player for JETHRO TULL.
But his skills and the talents that were, I suppose, inherent in him allowed Tony to develop a physical dexterity to good effect with BLACK SABBATH who more or less invented an idea of riff-oriented heavy metal. But I think it was a logical step onwards from bands like CREAM who were riff-meisters, and there were bands like LED ZEPPELIN and DEEP PURPLE who employed these legendary guitar riffs in their songs, but BLACK SABBATH did it the most with riffs and the two or three note-opened chords that Tony can play with two damaged fingers on one hand. Django Reinhardt also developed his own style because he had, I guess, two working fingers on one hand. You see sometimes this kind of adversity allows you to develop something that is your own unique style and you can excel in a way that other people might just give up. And Tony managed to turn his physical impairment around into something that makes him one of the guitar legends – if not for his dexterity of playing but at least for the fact that his contribution to rock music is a unique one.
– One of the unique guitarists is Ritchie Blackmore, a fan of yours. You’ve lent your flute to one his records, but is there a possibility of you doing something together? He’s playing mostly acoustic music now too, so the results might be interesting.
(Sighs.) Well, that has been talked about a few times. Ritchie and his mother-in-law who manages him expressed interest in doing some concerts with me or JETHRO TULL at some point, and I have asked promoters and agents whether they thought it was a good idea but the message that comes back is a very mixed one because Ritchie and his manager have a reputation of being very difficult to deal with. It’s a shame but some agents simply don’t want to have anything to do with Ritchie Blackmore and his current incarnation any more than they did with DEEP PURPLE when there were often little episodes that pissed people off. Ritchie is a practical joker and I think his reputation is probably at least partly deserved although I’d always find him to be a pleasant and thoughtful and intelligent person and I didn’t have any personal bad experience of Ritchie. He’s not a great personal friend but someone whose music I admire. But in forty years of playing music he’s upset a lot of people along the way. (Laughs.)
You have to find a way to make your contribution, your music in keeping with other people’s musical culture, and that is something that I did for many, many years: I just played my own music in the context of JETHRO TULL, and that was it. Occasionally I played on other people’s records, but during the last ten or fifteen years I played with other people more often – in their concerts or on their records – so I enjoy the challenge of finding a way to make my contribution work in someone else’s world. It’s a challenge, it’s something that makes you think, that makes you expand your musical horizons a bit. I think it’s good for the soul and it’s good for the fingers. Whether I’m playing – or attempting to play – in the field of jazz, with people like Anthony Jackson or whoever it might be, whether I’m playing with the symphony orchestra, whether I’m playing with a folk group or a hard rock band, it’s all just challenges to try to find a way to make your music work. It means more than just playing different notes, it’s a construction of the musical stylings that you work within. There’s quite a lot of styles in the world contemporary and historical music, so no one can be a master of it all but it certainly is a good discipline and a good experiment to try to reach out and find out about other kinds of music. And that’s what I think I’ve been doing the most of my life, and to this day every time I play with another musician or play some other kind of music I learn something that I didn’t know the day before.
– How different is this new project in comparison to “A Classic Case” that you recorded with London Symphony Orchestra?
That wasn’t me, that was David Palmer, an ex-member of JETHRO TULL, who had a commission from the German record company to make a sort of easy-going orchestral album of JETHRO TULL music but it was not a success. David is capable of writing much more interesting music and much more interesting arrangements but he was given a very clear instruction to make it a very middle-of-the-road, very elevator music, and this simplicity is so much what he did. It was very boring and my contribution was unimaginative, it was just helping out an old friend. My flute, a little bit of acoustic guitar and “diet” piano parts were recorded in the studio, and I didn’t get to hear the end result after the orchestra have been added. It wasn’t an album made by actually playing with the orchestra, it was fabricated in the studio, they overdubbed their parts later. So it’s not my album, and I have not a great feeling about that record, it’s one of the examples how not to make an orchestral album. I think it’s not really interesting.
– Who did the orchestral arrangements for this tour? Not Dee Palmer, I guess…
No, no, no, no, no, no. Orchestrations were mostly done by me with three or four other people involved in the orchestrations of the songs that I’ll be playing when I come to Israel in September.
– Is there much space for improvisations with an orchestra playing to the charts?
We all have barriers where we have improvisation. The orchestra obviously collectively can’t improvise – only one person can really improvise at a time – as they have specific parts which they have to follow, but those parts allow for extended or contracted periods of improvisation. So there’s a lot of cues we get given on-stage, and the conductor has to be very carefully watching for cues to bring the orchestra back in or get them to stop repeating one part and move on to another. We did try to make it as with all of my music since I began – without improvisation I would feel as if somebody cut off one of my arms. Improvisation is very important part of the music I play, but equally important is to know where to stop, because pure improvisation without structure, without discipline and arrangement becomes boring and self-indulgent. That’s what you’re trying to achieve to balance in the way that you make music. There’ve been various aspects of music-making and different styles and different tonalities and different instruments, but it’s all about the balance.
There’s a great exposure to failure, to mistake when you’re performing live in the public, you have to be capable and be confident, and if you’re going to improvise, then you need that special skill that I guess people from jazz and, maybe, blues or from folk music quite often have. But it’s the skills that members of the symphony orchestra rarely have: indeed, many of them are great players but they have absolutely no clue whatsoever how to improvise. It always seems to me a little strange that they’ve become as good as they are after so many years and they still have never learnt to write their own music or improvise. There are some of the world’s greatest flute players for that matter in that category that have no concept whatsoever of improvisation. Maybe they think the same about me because I don’t read or write music – I just play by ear and memorize it – and maybe it’s good that there is differences between us. I think therein lies a part of why it’s so special: there’s something that all orchestral musicians can do that I can’t do, which is to read the music off the piece of paper, and something I can do which few of them do, which is to improvise – particularly in the rhythmic context – which is quite difficult, if not impossible, for most orchestral musicians because they’ve never needed to acquire those skills.
– This balance thing. Although it’s called “Orchestral Jethro Tull”, you’re playing pieces from your solo albums as well. How do you decide…
Well, it’s not a terribly difficult decision – it’s all my music! (Laughs.) Whether it’s JETHRO TULL or Ian Anderson solo music, even if it’s something taken from a classical composer or piece of traditional music.
– Yeah, but the question is, how do you decide, when composing, which piece will make a TULL album and which an Ian Anderson record?
Oh… I think if it’s a piece of music that has an obvious place in it for rock arrangement – for drums, for electric guitar – then it’s going to become a piece of music for JETHRO TULL. But if it’s a piece of music that’s really acoustic or perhaps requires the instruments and arrangements that I would rather play myself and just get it done because I’m in the studio, then sometimes it becomes a solo project. But you know, going back to a lot of JETHRO TULL music, particularly in the Seventies, a lot of that music was made by me without the other guys. I mean I was in the studio and would record things for them to come and do their little bit afterwards.
– Like “Songs From The Wood”?
“Songs From The Wood” was actually much more of a band album, the others had a lot more input into that than most other records such as “Minstrel In The Gallery” or the “Aqualung” album. There are several pieces on the “Aqualung” album that were really just… the pieces of music that could have been on Ian Anderson album if I’d made one at the time, because they were just me playing most of the instruments. And that’s something I did as early as 1968, when I was first on myself in the studio with a string quartet. A part of my musical life has always been about working alone and coming up with things that were more like an artist working in the studio painting a picture – and you can’t paint a picture by committee. An artist works alone. I have cats, and cats, as we know, walk alone. And there is something in my psyche that likes quite often to be that way, to walk off on myself from everything and work much more in a vacuum without an influence of other people. Sometimes you need to involve other people, which you have to do from a diplomatic, assuring point of view and it works, but a lot of time I like to be on my own. Again, it’s a balance between ways of making music: sometimes it’s me sitting in the studio, sometimes it’s me on the stage playing live with a symphony orchestra. That’s the opposite extremes but I enjoy both of them. I enjoy the fact that I can work in these apparently different ways, that’s part of the fun of being a musician. It wouldn’t be musically very satisfying for me to just be doing one kind of music, playing one instrument, not really exploring the possibilities of music can dispel upon us and our audiences.
– How many people in these audiences do understand you? I mean I didn’t know that cheap day return that you sing about is a type of railway ticket until I had to buy one while in England. Do they really understand these English details in your lyrics?
Obviously a lot of people don’t! A few Japanese will understand it and not many people in Latin America would understand it, but I don’t understand Arab or Israeli music when I hear it, or Indian music. Indian music: I don’t understand what the hell is they’re singing about! But that’s a part of the mystery, a part of the attraction, and I really enjoy listening to foreign language music. Perhaps if I knew what the lyrics mean I wouldn’t enjoy it, if I actually understood it I would be disenchanted very quickly, because most lyrics are as bad as English lyrics in pop and rock music. I would probably think, “Oh dear! That’s what it’s about! That’s bad!” I’m sure I’d be disappointed. But it doesn’t worry me. If Shakespeare was trying to write what is easy to understand in English to be completely understood by people on the other, very basic level of understanding of the language, then it wouldn’t have lasted the way it has. You have to use the intricacies of the language to be a good writer and not to be afraid of presenting ideas, presenting little word associations to enjoy the art of writing. As for “Cheap Day Return”, quite often when I introduce the song I mention that I was visiting my father and I was on the station platform and in possession of cheap day return ticket. When I introduce the song that way I think it explains this as well as it could be explained in a few words.
– Your lyrics are as important as your melodies. Many of them, such as “gory glory seekers”, are great phonetically and are still relevant. Are there particular lyrics you’re proud of?
There are songs where I think I’ve managed to string things together in a way that is satisfying to me, and there are songs that I don’t really enjoy, and it’s usually because of little lyrics that I don’t enjoy it listening to it later. In later years, I feel a little more embarrassed than I do when it’s music that’s annoying me. I think the lyrics tend to be… The worst thing I can do is to actually sit down and try to contrive lyrics when I don’t really feel I have something special to say, when maybe I have a tune, a melody and I’m trying to find some lyrics to fit it. And usually I can’t! And if I do and listen to it year or two later, it really isn’t very good because it’s rather like creating a song when there wasn’t a need for one. The words should really have a real good reason to be born. Most of the best lyrics are the ones that just make up in me. If you think of a set of lyrics you don’t know where it came from, it pops into your head and then the rest of the song follows on pretty quickly.
But I always remember writing a song called “Budapest” – strangely, in the city of Budapest after we played a show there: I wake up the next morning and had my coffee before heading to the airport to fly back to the UK, and the song lyrically and musically just suddenly presented itself in me. So in these early hours of the morning I had my guitar out and I had the bones of the song written by the time I got into the cab and went to the airport. That’s very satisfying when you get something right, it’s just seems very natural and comes very easily. It’s like catching a butterfly – you have to grasp it, and if you don’t it’ll fly away and you’ll never see it again; but when you grasp it you have to be very careful not to damage it, not to mangle it in your hand. So you have to be very delicately trying to capture this notion, it’s a fragile moment. And when it happens, you feel quite happy. I enjoy writing music, especially when I get these little moments. Some people might call it inspiration, while I think it’s just a chance association of words that’s stimulated by some recent event or a person you’ve seen or something you heard or something you saw on TV. Whatever it is, it’s an exciting and very instantaneous and creative moment. And that’s the best way to write songs. But, of course, it doesn’t happen like that all the time. The only way to do this kind of songs is to probably write two or three a year, and that wouldn’t be enough.
– Does playing acoustic, more natural music somehow correspond with your environmental concerns?
Well, I think I’ve always liked the idea of music that was quotable and didn’t require to be burnt into the wall. When you play instruments like flute and whistle, and saxophone, and mandolin, and bouzouki, you just play them and it doesn’t matter whether you’re sitting in a hotel room or in a recording studio or standing on the stage in front of thousands of people. I just like the idea of the portability of compact, tidy little instruments – the guitar I play is a three quarters size, a French parlor guitar design, something designed specially for me to fit in my guitar case along with a spare flute, some radio equipment and to be (switching to ironic tone) legal size check-in piece of baggage on the airplane. And I quite like working within those restrictions that are coming up with the guitar that is, er, very small but very functional. And it makes me look bigger when I’m on-stage with it!
– Don’t you feel like claiming back a flute from the rock domain you made it a part of?
I think when I’m doing the concerts with an orchestra you still hear me playing flute in very much the same way as I would play it if I was playing with JETHRO TULL. I’m not trying to play my instrument if I was the guy sitting at the back of the orchestra playing flute, I’m playing it like me! So sometimes I play it icily, sometimes I play it aggressively. sometimes I do things that, I’m sure, flute teachers would not teach you how to do – or probably tell you not to do – my flute playing this days, I hope, is a little more varied and a little bit more developed than it was ten or thirty years ago. But I have certainly not forgotten the direction or the styling of flute playing that’s associated with me in a rock context.
– You don’t play guitar with an orchestra, do you?
I play acoustic guitar, yeah.
– Talking the guitarists, could you imagine JETHRO TULL without Martin?
Um… I had to do recently, in Russia, because Martin was unable to do a couple of concerts there, he had some pressing personal family issues. He really couldn’t do the concerts, so I did them with other members of JETHRO TULL and a couple of the guys that play with me on the orchestral tour. So there was JETHRO TULL without Martin. After I do a show in Israel, the next is a JETHRO TULL concert in Spain, and that will be with Martin Barre as the other JETHRO TULL concerts later this year. But Martin, as all of us, has a need for private time and family time and vacation time, and he lives a part of the time in his home in Canada as well as in the UK. And sometimes we are not all able to get together. Our drummer, Doane Perry, has been with us for twenty years but may never play again because of two pieces of surgery he had in a last few months – at least for now he’s unable to even think about playing drums. Sometimes people who get older have injuries associated with playing their instruments. Luckily, I’m okay. I’m just very thankful for the fact that I have not any real physical impediment now, at my age, as a result of playing. I’m a lucky guy – so far.
– Taking the subject of age… You’re advocating the digital format of the music distribution – a sign of the age. But won’t you be missing a feeling of having in your hands an album with a great artwork – such as “Thick As A Brick” or “Stand Up?
Of course, it is a shame that with a digital download you don’t really get an opportunity to have that physical object that is a record or liner notes on the album cover in a way that you could enjoy in the days of vinyl. Yeah, it’s kind of a shame, really, because I think for a lot of people that’s an important part of having a piece of music. But anything is better than nothing, and freedom with which we can combine music online brings such a huge diversity, it’s extraordinary. I had to do six radio programmes recently that I had to write and present, and I was able to research and find some very obscure music online. I was amazed with ease and speed and the variety of music that I could find online, the records that were made thirty-four years ago are still perhaps manufactured somewhere after digital rights have been negotiated. It was amazing to me just how much I could find. I, in my time, wasn’t able to find music by Sonny Boy Williamson in my local record store and now you can do it online! (Laughs.) There’s a lot of positive things about digital access to music, but the downside is that we don’t really get to see the pictures, we don’t get to read the liner notes, we don’t get that little bit of information. There is a bit when you get the iTunes but it’s nothing compared to a well-crafted album cover of the Seventies.
– If somebody sets to create a covers album by Ian Anderson all that he could download would only be FLEETWOOD MAC’s “Man Of The World” and “The Thin Ice” by PINK FLOYD. Are there more songs you’d like to have a go at?
I’m not really very good in doing other people’s music. I can play other people’s music as an instrumentalist, I don’t mind doing that. I’ve done that quite often in the last two or three years. I played with a number of people as a flute player, with some famous people doing their famous tunes on television shows and things. As an instrumentalist it’s relatively easy, but as a vocalist I find it uncomfortable because I write lyrics, and therefore my association with singing of words tends to be only with singing of my own words. As for the singing of someone else’s words, I find it quite weird. I’ve only really done it a couple of times – probably the two times that you mentioned – it’s just not something I like doing. I feel awkward singing somebody else’s words, it’s like wearing somebody else’s pyjamas or somebody else’s underpants. I would feel uncomfortable in it.
– Let’s say “weird”.
Let’s say “weird”, yes, because I’ve not actually worn anybody else’s underpants that I can recall. (Laughs.) But the thought of doing so fills me with a kind of dread that I would have if somebody said, “Look, I want you to record this duet with Madonna”.
– That would be great!
No, no, it would be absolutely horrible – for many reasons. It’s a thought from the dark recesses of my mind that I hope never comes back to me again.
– But I mean you would be in the charts again all over the world. Many people will remember who you are.
Well, if that was the case I would be remembered for doing a duet with Madonna. I’d rather die! I think I would choose my legacy with care. (Laughs.) I’m not really against Madonna, I just don’t like her music. I find her very, very scary woman, one filled with megalomania. She’s a woman who is just so desperate for attention and is bruteful and frightening. And she also seems to me, judging by some recent things she said, not entirely sane. She’s someone I would be quite horrified about being asked [to work with]. Not that it would happen, I just used it as an example, there’s lots of other people I would find even more horrifying to work with. People I enjoy working with the most, people I enjoy playing with the most are people that are not famous, people you’ve never heard of. It’s the people that have some special talent or they’re young musicians, or not well-known musicians. In a way, when you play with famous people you find it useful as a vehicle to be noticed. It’s much easier to play with people who are unknown – then that concern disappears from the equation.
– A couple of years ago TULL recorded a Christmas album which, for me, was like a last part of the trilogy that started with “Songs From The Wood” and “Heavy Horses”. Then, during the tour, you played “Kelpie”, a band’s rarity which is one of my favorite TULL songs. Now, you’re out with an orchestra. How many surprises are still there in you?
I’ve no idea! I surprise myself sometimes with odd bits of music, but whether I will surprise other people I would have no idea. What I try to do when I’m doing any concert is to make it interesting and varied for me and for the audience. With a possibility of bringing in music that people haven’t heard before, that’s unexpected, I would try to do that once or twice during the concert – just because it’s nice to have your music judged in a way that is not on the basis of it having been something you recorded twenty years ago that people are familiar with. It’s nice to play a piece of music which people don’t associate with you, whether it’s your new music or music written by somebody else. That’s what will happen: there will be some music that we will play in Israel that no one’s ever heard us play before because we come to Israel with a new solo violinist, Ann Marie Calhoun. So these three or four pieces will be brand new at the time we bring them on stage and, hopefully, we will have learnt them properly so they’ll sound good.
– Your favorite animal is a cat. Would you like your next incarnation to be a feline creature if you believed in the karmic wheel?
If I had to be reincarnated as an animal, then it would be as one of my cats – but that would necessitate me being around at the same time (laughs) to have good and satisfying and fruitful life because not everybody likes cats. Some cats endure awful cruelty and are abandoned. So yeah, I’d be one of my cats so that I could have a pretty good time. If I had to endure reincarnation as somebody or something else I think I’d quite like to be a woman! I wonder what it must be like. But the problem is, if it wasn’t that great I’d have to endure sixty, seventy or eighty years of it, so that might be risky. I’ll have to think about it and then I’ll let you know.
– How would you like to be perceived as – as being in a position of a piper who’ll lead us to reason, as LED ZEPPELIN would say or a of court jester?
I think the idea of being a court jester suggests of lack of seriousness and lack of consequence, and I’m aware if I have been that in part during my professional career, in a jokey, humorous way, it’s because in many ways pop and rock music is rarely producing something that’s really important to the world. It’s probably a defense mechanism: if you make jokes about yourself then you get there quicker than with other people making jokes about you, and the press or the papers. So sometimes it’s a bit of safety net, a self-defense to be making foolish jokes at your own expense or at the people around you – it keeps it light-hearted but it also appeals to the audience that all those songs and music are quite serious. But if it’s too serious, too arty, too self-important then the humor is a way of relaxing, to make them sure that people can see the friendly imperfections that lie behind even my most serious attempts musically. So I try and keep it friendly, but I wouldn’t like to be thought of me being friendly as being a court jester. I think being a court jester is a rather serious try at disciplined and dedicated thing that is art, and that’s the way to be remembered, but I’m not sure that people will necessarily follow that idea.