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Jethro Tull disbanded in about 2014 after nearly 50 years in the business. The lead singer and songwriter Ian Anderson still performs Tull material as well as his solo music, with other band members pursuing their own projects.
Open quotesIn the clear white cirles of morning wonder
I take my place with the lord of the hills
While the blue eyed soldier, stands slightly discoloured
In neat little rows, sporting canvas frills
With their jock straps pinching, they slouch to attention
While queueing for sarnies, at the office canteen
Saying, ‘how’s your granny?’ and ‘good old Ernie?’
‘He coughed up a tenner on the premium bond win’
Close quotes-Ian Anderson 1972
It should be no surprise that somebody with low immunity to repeat fascination (or is that obsession?) grows up with more than a passing interest in something. Face it, anoraks tend to look better on men; they tend to comfort the child within more than normal outdoor attire. And the passing interest to which I refer is never enough. What use is a football team if we can’t learn all the players’ names and how many goals they’ve scored. Is football a sport, a business, or a security blanket?
It’s the same with music. Buying a CD is not an act of purchasing an item from a retailer. It’s a rite of passage. Another brick in the wall we build in our lives around the very things we want to be released from. And some people appreciate music not because of the way it sounds, but because it reassures us that our little world (even at times though painful) is still just the way we constructed it.
And so it was for me with Jethro Tull.
All bands have super fans. The types who will burn you a CD and write their own version of the lead singer’s biography on the notes they hand you with it. Maybe in the hope that these fabled scriptures will entice you into their world, despite their fear that you will only leave a mess. Our obsession for our sacred musical cows is a shrine to our hopes and despairs, a context in which to understand our lives, a key to lock the door that truly, deep down, we are so desperate to open.
Jethro Tull are not alone, and not to blame. But it is through the very nature of their music and its meaning that I came to find a world I could grow up in undisturbed by the other, more substantial world. And to this day, I see them as a guiding comfort and inspiration, one I will either share or not with other people, but to whom I turn whenever my mood requires alteration, or consolidation.
Bob Dylan galvanised a society in change with his lyrics and was rightly hailed as a genius. But under the plane of the once stagnant water of social consciousness that the sixties channelled into a raging torrent, lay another even greater genius whose words would echo as a whisper to ears attuned so. Dylan’s words (among others) brought people together and in part awakened the higher level of consciousness that came to mark the end of times when mass society was unable to think for itself. But this was only a new common denominator. The works of Jethro Tull were broadcast at a higher frequency. Put simply, Dylan wrote words that people came together to share (if not even in conversation but in action and shared rebellion). Jethro Tull spoke in a way that people understood privately, in a way that helped individuals make more sense of their own lives. Had Tull been inclined to matters Che Guevara, I wonder how different our world would be today! There’s a thought.
For those who don’t know, Jethro Tull are a British band active since late 1967 when a group of then Blackpool teenagers renamed their act in the hope of making the big time. And rename it they did, several times, before a temporary name chosen largely at random and out of desperation happened to stick. There was never any intention to name the band after a pre-Industrial Revolution agricultural improver (and had there been I imagine Turnip Townsend would have been the popular choice) and members of the band are openly embarrassed by it. But it’s too late now, as they say.
There is too much history to recount here, but for the record, the band has had close on 20 members over the years and has worked with many other musicians. They have recorded about 20 albums and released many others, not all of which have been simple ‘cheap’ compilations exploiting existing tracks. Their style is virtually uncategorisable and draws on influences ranging from blues to jazz, folk to rock, classical and even the occasional pop beat rears its head. A total of over 300 songs is enough to keep most obsessives going, and I think Ian Anderson, the lead singer, can relax in the knowledge that, yes, somebody somewhere, at any given moment, is playing one of his songs.
For a few years I’d have most likely shouldered that one on my own, although these days the dire need to listen has subsided and I consider myself a mere big fan. But the music’s meaning has shaped me in so many ways, perhaps no, not always for the best, and I’d be willing to bet that Ian Anderson would be horrified to meet a complete obsessive. Maybe somebody with a kid named Jethro? Please! Obsession has to have its limits, we couldn’t go about alienating our idols now could we?

Aqualung, 1971

So what’s so special about a band with a flute? Well, maybe nothing, if that’s what you choose to conclude. But from the first time I heard them, they have always been magic to my ears. In 1987, as a 13 year-old I was looking through my dad’s music collection recording his heavy metal, basically taping anything with long hair. And an intriguing album cover came to light which, as the synchronists among us would say, had a certain ‘energy’. And after lending a curious ear, Songs from the Wood single handedly rendered the labours of that day a complete irrelevance as I promptly decided to record more Tull over the Whitesnake and Van Halen. I think it was Aqualung next, then Stand Up.
Then a Tullite friend of my dad’s got wind of this news and taped me about another 12 albums. After getting a CD player for Christmas it was then inevitable I slipped on an anorak too, and the collection started to grow, with the trivia, the fanzines, the programmes and rare EPs, all sorted into date order. I even won a Tull general knowledge competition at one of the conventions I went to, and the raffle. At the time I think it was my proudest moment. Seems a bit sad now, but I was completely in love with Jethro Tull.

Ian Anderson

Greatest genius ever!
Greatest genius ever!
And in 1970
And in 1970
Open quotesWhere the lush separation enfolds you
And the products of wealth push you along on the bough wave
Of their spiritless undying selves, and you press on God’s waiter
Your last dime as he hands you the bill
And you spin in the slipstream, tideless, unreasoning
Paddle right out of the mess, and you paddle right out of the mess
Close quotes-Ian Anderson, 1971
Bred for humanity, sold to society. An ode to the poetry of desperation.


None of the lyrics, album covers or photographs on this page are my work or copyright. They should instead be credited to the most intelligent person ever to write lyric or note, Ian Anderson, front man of Jethro Tull.

Heavy Horses, 1978

But one thing means more to me than anything. It’s the way in which I am able to find a friend in Ian Anderson’s poetry. I should point out, only about three Tull songs have been written by somebody other than Ian Anderson. Out of over 300! Not all of them have been inherently majestic, but the gems are simply breathtaking. Reviewing the 1978 release, Heavy Horses, one newspaper invited its readers to consider that the lyrics were ‘almost Ted Hughes’ (source, hearsay), the erstwhile Poet Laureate.
Open quotesIron clad feather feet pounding the dust
An October’s day towards evening
Sweat embossed veins standing proud to the plough
Salt on a deep chest seasoning
Bring me a wheel of oaken wood
A rein of polished leather
A heavy horse and a tumbling sky
Brewing heavy weather
Close quotes-Ian Anderson, 1978
It is at times like this that I want to pack in TEFL and go back to England, to the dream I have of a smart but ageing country house surrounded by unadulterated velvet green.

The Broadsword and the Beast, 1982

Open quotesI chase your every footstep, and I follow every whim
When you call the tune I’m ready, to strike up the battle hymn
My lady of the meadows, my comber of the beach
You’ve thrown the stick for your dog’s trick, but it’s floating out of reach
Close quotes-Ian Anderson, 1978, from the song Rover
Not long after The Beatles sang ‘she loves you yeah yeah yeah’ came this gem of a love song. Not, as we usually expect, a mono-emotional starry-eyed stick of candyfloss shoved into our faces to remind us, albeit unintentionally, that the fairground of love is all happy, all sad, all fun but mostly very predictable. The relationship between the thought provoking Anderson and his beloved inspired this verse from a song surely written to remind us that love is anything but predictable, and that its endless mystery is sometimes very much orchestrated.
Open quotesMuscled black, with steel green eye
Swishing through the rye grass
With thoughts of mouse and apple pie
Tail balancing at half mast
And the mouse police never sleeps

Lying in the cherry tree
Savage bed foot warmer, of purest feline ancestry
Look out, little furry folk, he’s the all night working cat
Eats but one in every ten, leaves the others on the mat
And the mouse police never sleeps

Waiting by the cellar door
Window box town crier, birth and death registrar
With claws that rake a furrow red, licensed to mutilate
From warm milk on a lazy day, to dawn patrol on hungry hate
No, the mouse police never sleeps
Climbing on the ivy
Windy rooftop, weathercock
Warm blooded night on a cold tile
The mouse police never sleeps
Close quotes-Ian Anderson, 1978
Like cats? Gotta love this song, a tribute to our most murderous friends, those entitled to spend the night engaged in savagery most wicked, yet still allowed to spend the day curled up asleep in the master bedroom.
Open quotesShe wore a black tiara, rare gems upon her fingers
She came from distant waters, where Northern lights explode
To celebrate the dawning of the new wastes of winter
Gathering royal momentum, on the icy road
With chill mists swirling, like petticoats in motion
Sighted on horizons, for ten thousand years
The lady of the ice sounds a deathly distant rumble
To Titanic breaking children lost in melting crystal tears
Capturing black pieces, in a glass fronted museum
The white queen rolls on the chessboard of the dawn
Squeezing through the valleys, pausing briefly in the corries
The ice mother mates and a new age is born
Close quotes-Ian Anderson, 1979
If your wife can inspire prose like this, either she's dynamite or you are.

The band today

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Jethro Tull