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Ian Anderson

The man who would be JETHRO TULL to non-followers of the blues/prog band, lead singer/flautist IAN ANDERSON would indeed have trouble with pseudo-music historians, who’d go as far as initially filing the said outfit under the T’s! A master of one-legged flute-playing since belatedly learning the instrument way back in ’67, JETHRO TULL’s constant talisman was as much to the 70s as fellow “proglodytes” GENESIS, YES and KING CRIMSON.
Ian was born in Scotland on 10th August 1947 (East Port in Dunfermline, Fife), but as a child relocated over the border via Edinburgh to Blackpool. The young Ian discovered his love of music quite early on in his life (especially jazz and the blues), having raided his father’s record collection.
In 1963, the singer/harmonica player formed his own outfit, The Blades, along with school buddies Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond (bass) and John Evan (drums). For the next four years, the group evolved and splintered with the aforementioned rhythm players forming John Evan’s Smash, while Ian and his new chums (Mick Abrahams, Clive Bunker and Glenn Cornick) adopted the group moniker JETHRO TULL; prised from the name of an 18th century agriculturist.
By mid 1968, the quartet were breaking through; a contract from Island Records being signed after a successful Sunbury Jazz & Blues Festival appearance. Songwriter IAN ANDERSON was of course the leader, a showman and stage extrovert par excellence, his shabby attire (tartan-plaid regalia, etc.) and gruff vox sang through a mane of Fagan-istic long hair and beard, was only topped by his erratic stork-like flute-playing; his inspiration courtesy of jazz legend RAHSAAN ROLAND KIRK.
The group’s debut set, `Time Was’, entered the Top 10 towards the end of ‘68 and during the course of the next three years (with further LP’s `Stand Up’, `Benefit’ and `Aqualung’), JETHRO TULL went massive all around the world – especially America where all three sets hit the Top 20. However, come summer 1971, only Ian remained from the original JETHRO TULL, although the aforementioned Hammond-Hammond and Evan were now part of his team.
The Scots-born writer/singer was now undoubtedly their commander-in-chief, his looking-glass lyrical banter often too heavy for the pop world, especially his conceptual `Thick As A Brick’ and `A Passion Play’, chart-topping sets in the US in 1972 and 1973 respectively. The frontman’s dislike and distrust of the media and press were also rife at this point. As ‘Tull were showing signs of fatigue, at least in sales, ANDERSON would be the man behind the mixing desks for STEELEYE SPAN’s grandiose entry into folk-rock, `Now We Are Six’ (1974).
Sell-out tours around the world and transatlantic Top 30 albums continued and, by the late 70s, Ian’s JETHRO TULL had turned into a folkie/acoustic-rock outfit – roping in old FAIRPORT CONVENTION geezers in the process.
Squeezed between two JETHRO TULL albums `The Broadsword And The Beast’ (1982) and the technoid `Under Wraps’ (1984), came his solo debut WALK INTO LIGHT (1983) {*5}; the ‘Tull album `A’ – recorded with newbie musicians (bar long-termer, Martin Barre) was scheduled to take its place, until he thought better. Recorded with the help of JETHRO TULL newcomer Peter John Vitesse, the patchy solo set was both a critical and commercial disaster, but it would take over a decade before ANDERSON would attempt another. Its fault probably lay in technoid Ian’s JETHRO TULL typecasting, but fans of the man (and 80s follies) would enjoy the longevity of `Fly By Night’, `Different Germany’ and `Looking For Eden’.
During a barren 12-year solo stretch, the now proud owner of a fish farm in the north of Scotland continued to fit in the odd (very odd!) JETHRO TULL album. That aside, DIVINITIES: TWELVE DANCES WITH GOD (1995) {*4}, was indeed that difficult second album; ANDERSON now solely playing the flute (no vocals), while backing came by way of co-composer/arranger Andrew Giddings and a classical ensemble.
Also new-age and musak-inspired, the serious ANDERSON delivered a third set, THE SECRET LANGUAGE OF BIRDS (2000) {*7}, a different kettle of fish that possessed a Euro/Celtic pop-rock stance that drew comparisons to his JETHRO TULL work. `The Water Carrier’, with Baltic elements of ‘Tull’s `Fat Man’ and `Skating Away On The Thin Ice Of A New Day’ rolled into one, soared among others such as `Montserrat’, `Sanctuary’ and `The Little Flower Girl’.
When JETHRO TULL’s last breaths of studio air had looked to have subsided after 1999’s `J-Tull Dot Com’ (several live sets were poor sustenance), “Minstrel In The Gallery” IAN ANDERSON continued to stretch out his own discography; RUPI’S DANCE (2003) {*6}, …PLAYS THE ORCHESTRAL JETHRO TULL (2005) {*6} and THICK AS A BRICK 2 (2012) {*5} – the latter Top 40 entry down to Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson – reminded ye olde fans that the fisherman could still pull out the odd salmon; that doesn’t account for that recording with Italians PFM: `Live In Roma’.
Spring 2014’s HOMO ERRATICUS {*7} – Latin for “wandering man” – retrieved the art of the concept set once again; ANDERSON loosely bringing to life an unpublished manuscript authored by fictional 19th century amateur historian Ernest T. Parritt, “said to be” discovered by a Gerald Bostick (Ian’s TAAB alter-ego). Winding in folk-rock, symphonic-prog, baroque pop and everything else under the sun, one was reminded of another darkened creature from Ian’s past: Aqualung. For fans with one foot in the 70s and another trying to stand up straight post-00s (no doubt with old flute in hand), the 15 selections on the Top 20 record were served best by `Doggerland’, `Enter The Uninvited’ and finale `Cold Dead Reckoning’.
© MC Strong 2002/GSM / rev-up MCS May2014

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