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Mandy tells Tull tale for Bluesfest

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There’re a few things about Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull that you might not know. Firstly, he has a wicked sense of humour, is the passionate grower of very hot chili peppers and is an animal conservationist for The Andean Mountain Cat and more to discover in the Q&A below.

You are one of the few people in the world who are known equally by two stage names: Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull. Which do you prefer and why?

Nowadays I prefer Ian Anderson, but the repertoire is still Jethro Tull so both are valid concert billings. In my passport, it says Ian Anderson. No mention of Jethro Tull!

You are famously recognised as a flautist… but you are a multi-instrumentalist. Was the flute the first instrument you gravitated towards? Which is your favourite instrument?

I started with guitar, of course, like many others in the 60s. But the flute was a point of difference so it became the instrument I am most associated with. No-one confused me with other bands and artists. And so, it remains my favourite instrument to this day. But the guitar is more useful for writing songs.

You were last at Bluesfest in 2011 – and absolutely nailed a packed tent. Has the band changed since then?

No – the same bunch of jet-lagged old guys with valid visas and no previous convictions. Just in case the Department of Immigration and Border Protection are reading this…

New members?

Not unless someone stowed away in my luggage. In which case the Border guys will get them, for sure.

What can we expect to see in your festival performance this year?

A selection of best-of material, of course. Maybe one or two new songs depending on our allotted set length. If the money’s right, I can toss in Smoke on the Water and Whiter Shade of Pale. Or should that be a lighter shade of ale?

You have a band member whose role is listed as ‘vocals and stage antics’. What do ‘stage antics’ entail?

Ian Anderson talks to Mandy Nolan about the music and myths of Jethro Tull. Photo Billboard
Ian Anderson talks to Mandy Nolan about the music and myths of Jethro Tull. Photo Billboard

Tomfoolery, jigging about and bum-wiggling. But that was Ryan O’Donnell, guest vocalist, who is currently Ray Davies in the London musical Sunny Afternoons. Otherwise engaged, although he is a virtual guest on our big video screen on full production tours. A bit impractical at a multi-act festival, however.

Wasn’t this your role in the early years?

Still is if I’ve remembered to drink my half-bottle of Jack Daniels before the show. Brings out the inner Ollie Reed in me.

You made an album with one of the best titles… ever: Too Old to Rock and Roll – Too Young to Die. A concept piece about a fading rock celebrity (any relation?) who finds, when he wakes after many years in a coma, that his fashion and music style has turned full circle and he is relevant and the toast of the town again. You said that point of the album was to illustrate how his style of music may go out of popularity with every other fashion and fad, but he is determined that, if he sticks to it, everything comes back around and the style will rise again. 

Did you ever feel Jethro Tull went ‘out of style’?

Absolutely! Again, again and again. In and out, up and down like a sailor’s trousers.

Do you think that you have come full circle – and it is your time again?

My time is 06.30 every morning when I wake up. It is my favourite hobby. Waking up. I try to do it as often as possible.

Staying on albums… there’s been a trend for the older generation of stars – with enormous back catalogues – to feature one album each performance night of a tour. Or a tour based specifically around the performance of an album track by track in order (Springsteen, Brian Wilson, Patti Smith). Have you ever done that – considered that?

Been there, done it. Aqualung, Thick as a Brick tours, but I think audiences want a bit more variety. After all, the albums have been quite different from each other so not everyone likes the same records.

It may not be so well known that at one time you were considered as a ‘heavy metal’ band. Indeed, in 1988 you beat Metallica to the Grammy for the Best Hard Rock / Metal Performance. Was that a shock?

It was certainly a shock to Metallica. They had to shelve all the Metallica Grammy Winners T-shirts for another year. But I do have a heavy metal flute: 0.997 pure silver. If I can find one in plutonium, I could glow in the dark.

What three other things about Ian Anderson that people may not know? (salmon-farm owner / deep-vein thrombosis survivor and awareness campaigns spokesperson… a ‘Prog God’ Award recipient…?)

Grower of very hot chili peppers. Supporter of the Christian Church – not the religion so much as the old smelly buildings themselves. I do charity shows each year for the maintenance and upkeep of our great medieval cathedrals. I am engaged in the conservation of small wild cat species too from time to time. Check out the Andean Mountain Cat.

What / who are you inspired by and listening to right now?

Muddy Waters, Beethoven and Varttina, the Finnish folk band. Right now, I am listening to Marc Almond’s new, as-yet-unreleased song that I just guested on, called, Lord Of Misrule. A perfect Christmas song that we will play together at Worcester and Winchester cathedrals in December.

What’s your ‘secret song’, when no-one is around… what song are you playing?

Convoy by CW McCall. Perfect for US tours when we are barrelling down the freeway to the next town.

You’ve been married for thirty years. Can you remember your wedding song?

Forty years, actually. It was a long time ago. I don’t think they had invented the gramophone back then so we didn’t have a wedding song. But, for my daughter’s wedding (married to actor Andrew Lincoln, Rick Grimes of the Walking Dead) it was Handel’s Arrival of the Queen of Sheba. Followed by Nina Simone’s Feeling Good.

Jethro Tull performs at Bluesfest 2017 on Easter Sunday.

For more ticket and program info go to bluesfest.com.

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