Ian Anderson, on vocals, guitar and flute, and his band will be in Malaga next week. SUR
In 1969 Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon, marking the birth of a new era of space travel. At the same time, back down on earth, musician Ian Anderson was initiating his own ground-breaking voyage with Jethro Tull, who, along with their contemporaries, launched a new era of music.
“Mine is the music of a restless soul. I’m easily bored,” says Anderson, whose eclectic musical adventure has taken him through blues, folk and classical, as well as rock. Jethro Tull became one of the first bands to be given the label ‘progressive rock’, a term he says should not be confused with the journalistic invention ‘prog rock’ of the early seventies, “a kind of anal, obsessive music” taken up by the likes of Genesis or Yes. Jethro Tull’s concept album ‘Thick As A Brick’ did go down that route, but as a parody, although Anderson estimates that only 50 per cent of listeners got the joke.
Now the flute-playing frontman and his band are bringing that parody to Malaga as part of the ‘Thick As A Brick 2 -Whatever Happened to Gerald Bostock?’ tour, looking back at how life has, or could have, changed over the last four decades.
“It’s an album of alternative existences. We face lots of turning points in life and sometimes take paths that are radically different,” he explains, admitting that it is a “bit of a headful”.
The story started in 1972 with the release of the original album with lyrics attributed to the fictional Gerald Bostock, Anderson’s “precocious little schoolboy”. In the sequel, ‘Thick As A Brick 2’, we discover what may, or may not, have happened to Gerald, a character who, the writer admits, is around 20 per cent Ian Anderson, and 80 per cent fiction. “By letting a little bit of yourself slip into your character or your story, you give it some authenticity.”
Anderson was awarded an MBE in the 2008 New Year’s Honours List. He can’t say exactly why he was chosen (he just hoped then that it hadn’t been Tony Blair’s idea), but, as he points out, he was part of the birth of an era.
“The late sixties, early seventies was a very fertile period of creative writing and performance of the sort I don’t think we’ve seen since,” he says, adding that new bands of today still lean heavily on the influences from that generation of music, and younger fans go to his concerts. Anderson even has a theory as to why this is: as we emerge from adolescence we realise that what our parents listened to was actually quite good.
But was the rock and pop of that period better than the music of today? “It was original but not necessarily better - it’s just that we had the edge.”
“1969 was that defining moment, when stuff happened for the first time,” he says, bringing up the space travel analogy. “I’m not the Neil Armstrong of music, but I’m certainly one of the lesser lights who strapped in and felt the power of someone lighting the blue touch paper.”
Despite Jethro Tull being one of the world’s most successful bands in the mid-seventies, Anderson was never the typical rock star. He tried to avoid notorious hotels used by bands and crews and was never part of the ‘sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll’ culture, which set him apart from the rest. “I have a bit of a reputation amongst my peer group musicians as being standoffish, a loner and, I suppose, not very friendly.”
One of the characters Ian Anderson imagined Gerald Bostock may have turned into was a politician. Perhaps he would have made a good one himself. He is certainly capable of talking in an eloquent, convincing, even verbose, manner and he shows an acute sense of fair play that would certainly not go amiss in any parliament.
Anderson was put off football as a boy by the aggressive crowds and the notions of cheating and faking fouls that were apparent to him even as a child: “I found it distasteful that people couldn’t be more generous and gentlemanly”.
As his fellow rock stars learned, he’s not the “guys together” type. “Football is perhaps the pinnacle of lads together behaving badly, and they get paid an inordinate amount of money for doing it and for being very unsportsmanlike,” he says.
It must be this constant quest for fair play that led Anderson to decide not to take his pension when he became eligible last year on turning 65, and to feel guilty for “glueing up” the system at the local NHS doctor’s surgery when he can afford private health care.
“My feeling is that those of us who are lucky enough to be in the high tax bracket should try to feel good about it, and if we can manage without those benefits perhaps we should put them back in the charitable pot rather than gleefully grabbing, thinking ‘ooh it’s payback time’,” he says, at risk of sounding self-righteous.
Private or not, doctors featured heavily in the life of Ian Anderson in the nineties when a leg injury led to a brush with death from deep vein thrombosis. After his scare in an Australian hospital, rather than rethinking his lifestyle he did his best to get out of the wheelchair and back on stage.
Now he dons his special compression hose on long haul flights and carries on touring. “Around 120 concerts a year,” he points out, and each one is “like a two-hour aerobics session”.
Much of his time on stage is spent playing the flute on one leg, a practice that dates back to the band’s early days in the Marquee Club, London.
“I was playing the harmonica. My trousers were too tight and my Marks & Spencers underwear was probably a little on the small side, so when I sucked on those really high notes on the harmonica, one leg involuntarily rose in a mixture of pain and pleasure,” he explains. The idea was transferred from harmonica to flute, and stuck.
At the height of the economic crisis, Jethro Tull are bringing their tour to Malaga where unemployment has hit 35 per cent. Will people be able to afford the tickets (they start at 25 euros)? “People are finding it difficult to spare that little bit of leisure money,” he admits.
Ever fair, Anderson says he reduces his fees by around a third for concerts in struggling countries: “People like me who want to come and play in countries like Spain have to be prepared to be modest about our artist’s fee,” he adds.
The music industry itself is hardly buoyant. Long gone are the days when artists could make a fortune selling records and Anderson is concerned: “I’m not complaining, I’m an old guy and I’ve sold tons of records, but I’m whingeing on behalf of the 20-year-old who’s just signed his first record deal and realises that he’s actually going to make very little.”
Let’s hope that on February 8th Jethro Tull will give their Malaga audience value for their money. Anderson explains how the band will play the original ‘Thick As A Brick’ album in its entirety, followed by ‘Thick As A Brick 2’.
“The good news is that there’ll be a 20 minute intermission,” he says, almost by way of an apology.
Restless soul, perhaps, but Ian Anderson certainly makes sure he has a clear conscience.
Jethro Tull in Malaga
Concert: Thick as a Brick 2 - Whatever Happened to Gerald Bostock?
Band members: Ian Anderson, David Goodier, Scott Hammond, Ryan O’Donnell, John O’Hara & Florian Opahle
Date: Friday February 8th
Time: 10 p.m.
Venue: Palacio de Ferias y Congresos, Malaga
Tickets: 25, 40 & 50 euros www.malagaentradas.com