Ian Anderson interview

Wychwood's headliner speaks exclusively to eFestivals

By Scott Williams | Published: Tue 8th Mar 2011

around the festival site (2)

Friday 3rd to Sunday 5th June 2011
Cheltenham Racecourse, Prestbury Park, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England MAP
adult weekend £115, concession weekend £90, youth (10-15yrs) £55, child (5-9yrs) £15, under 5's
Daily capacity: 7,500
Last updated: Fri 27th May 2011

Ian Anderson, the flute wielding lead founder of Jethro Tull has fed his chickens, and settled at his office desk to spend most of the day doing various chores, like Russian visas, an Australian tour itinerary, and have a quick chat with eFestivals ahead of his forthcoming headlining show at this summer's Wychwood Festival.

around the festival site (2)
How are you?
I'm 63 and I've woken up, what could be better? This afternoon I tend to go and play some music, and rehearse some stuff, and work on music that I'm writing.

You're headlining Wychwood have you been to the festival before?
No, I haven't, I've heard of it, only in as much as it's not too far from where I live in North Wiltshire. I have a little notion about the background of it, and I'm vaguely familiar with it, and the kinds of the bands that are on.

You don't play many festivals...
Let me make this really clear, I am not a festivalgoer. You are as likely to find me at a music festival as you are hang gliding or bungee jumping. Going to a music festival I consider only marginally less dangerous, because I'm just not cut out for crowds of people and a lot of noise. That's what I do for a living, stand in front of crowds of people, and make quite a lot of noise, but the idea of being there one second longer than necessary whilst other people are making a lot of noise, that to me is hell, I suffer beyond belief. I suffer horribly from people-claustrophobia, and so being back stage with lots of bands, roadies, organisers, liggers, and factotums wandering around is just torture for me.

I get there, do my soundcheck, disappear, come back do my show, and disappear as fast as I can. I'm not a festivalgoer. In fact I very rarely play festivals either as a solo artist, or with Jethro Tull. There's perhaps only once or twice in a year that we play a multi act festival, that's par for the course. Other than that we play music festivals when music festivals are a series of nights, and one artist plays on one night, like the Montreaux Jazz Festival where you're the only act on in the Stravinsky Auditorium, or if you're playing at some in some beautiful town square in Italy, the chances are that you're the only act on that night. It becomes more like a concert within the structure of a series of concerts which is called a festival.

Multi acts festivals, and especially multi-stage festivals to me are not something that I relish doing, unless I have some advance warning that they're relatively benign and benevolent affairs. Rock festivals are something I'm pretty terrified of.

Has that always been the case?
Yes, you see I had a pretty rough induction into the world of rock festivals, which was playing at the final Isle Of Wight festival back in 1970, when The Moody Blues, and Jethro Tull and Jimi Hendrix were the final acts on at night, on the final night of three night. At which point the festival was imploding with anarchy and total lack of money, and pretty much a total lack of crowd control, so there were riots and fights, and everything was going absolutely pear shaped.

Jimi Hendrix, and we were, as had happened on previous occasions, determined not to go on last, and so our road crews were racing to set up our equipment, and whoever was able to plug in first was going to go for it. And we won! Hendrix really didn't want to go on last that night, because he had a new band wanting to play new material. Of course he then had to close the show, the audience were somewhat hostile to his new direction, and his new material and he ended up, grudgingly, having to play his hits, and he wasn't a happy bunny. He choked on his own vomit a couple of weeks later, and that was the end of Jim Hendrix, and that was his last major appearance, which was very, very sad, and to have been there at the time, and seen such a vulnerable, and rather sad human being making his exit, essentially, from the public stage, it was memorable for all the wrong reasons. That's indelibly imprinted on my festival recollection folder, on my mental hard disc.

So, if that hadn't happened you may not be so unwilling to play festivals?
There would have to be an awful lot of other things that didn't happen that night to make it enjoyable, it was truly torturous. I mean that's well captured in the documentary about that festival that's been well documented, and seen many times, and indeed when Jethro Tull Live At The Isle Of Wight 1970 the DVD released by Murray Learner and Eagle Vision was released a couple of years back I insisted included some of the documentary footage just to set the scene of how ridiculous this crazy festival was on the night. It was an induction into a hall of infamy, and I've played a few festivals since, and some of them have been okay, and most of them are just not my cup of tea, even though other people are having a great time.

This is not the fault of festivals, or festival organisers, it's just me being out of step with most other people. I mean going to a football match would terrify me, I can just about hover around in comfy seat at Wimbledon for a couple of hours, and then I have to get away. I can just about manage that, it's a little bit more civilised, but going to a rock concert or a music concert in a theatre I find incredibly difficult.

That's quite strange, you're not the first frontman I've interviewed that has this kind of problem.
I think there's quite a few of us. I know actors who feel the same way, when they go to see their chums in a play, and they're very twitchy because when we watch people on the stage doing their thing we tend to put ourselves in their shoes, and we get a little nervous for them. We become critical, and we're not really being entertained, we're seeing it too much as insiders, and not able to let it come to to us. Some of us anyway, are uncomfortable, we tend to read too much into it, and feel uncomfortable about it. I've always become uncomfortable watching people on stage whether I know them or not. I'm okay for a few minutes, but then I become uneasy.

When I do concerts I walk on a stage and I'm doing my thing on my terms and it's my stage. I have paid for the venue, I have paid for the humpers who load in and load out, I've paid for the cleaning bill, it's my stage, whether it's something we're promoting in the UK, or whether I'm playing in the USA, it feels like a given, that at least for the next few hours it's my territory, and it's declared as such in contractual terms, and that's what I'm used to. When I'm forced to share that with other people I don't find it so easy. Perhaps that's selfishness on my part, but I'm looking forward to doing Wychwood, because it sounds like quite a friendly one, a family affair, rather than some of the festivals I know of from the past.

You're appearing as 'Ian Anderson plays Jethro Tull' rather than 'Jethro Tull' is there a difference?
There is often a difference, sometimes quite a major difference because the majority of shows I do these days are as Ian Anderson, whether it's with an orchestra or a string quartet, or an acoustic band, or an electric band it's rather more of an opportunity for me to stretch into the Jethro Tull catalogue, and other pieces of music, and perhaps some new music as well.

But, if it's billed as Jethro Tull then there is that expectation, particularly in certain countries, and at certain times of the year, that it's Jethro Tull the rock band, and the audience will have a meaningful proportion of people who are rock fans, and maybe only know us for a couple of songs that fit the genre that they like. They can be quite noisy, and maybe enthusiastic, but very noisy, and if you're trying to play some gentle acoustic moment, that occurs in many of Jethro Tull's rock songs, moments big contrast and dynamic change, where it's just a voice and an electric guitar, then there is a tendency for those people whose lives are steeped in meat and potatoes, they don't have the patience or the tolerance for those changes in mood.

I do get nervous, particularly when I'm doing US tours as Jethro Tull. I did two tours as Ian Anders in America last year and the audiences were as good as gold every night, without any whistling or hooting or interference and it was absolutely fine. It was like playing a theatre tour in the UK. But, in most of June, we're out in America as Jethro Tull, and I have to grit my teeth a bit before every show, because I know that a lot of the time, there's going to be that noisy, unforgiving lot in the audience, that can ruin the moment for me, and indeed for other members of the audience. I get complaining emails from punters, usually in America, blaming me for some reason, complaining that their concert was ruined by some yobbo sat next to them. But there's little I can do from the stage, other than politely ask them not to do it.

This year. is the 40th Anniversary of 'Aqualung' are you doing anything to celebrate that fact?
The Jethro Tull tour, particularly in America, are billed as the 'Anniversary Aqualung Tour', so we're playing the whole of 'Aqualung' every night. So, Wychwood, which comes after some string quartet shows in the Czech Republic, so it'll be a slightly esoteric show, I will probably have with me a new viola player that I'm just about to start working with.

So, it'll be me and another five musicians on stage, it'll have some familiar Jethro Tull stuff, but it'll stretch out into some rather more broadly based music that is perhaps a little more world music influenced, and a little more folky rather than rocky, but that doesn't mean that we'll be pussyfooting around, playing acoustic instruments all night. It will be pretty much an equal measure acoustic and electric. We're rather flexible, and we tend to have a re-think between soundcheck and showtime, about set lists, because you smell the air, and sometimes you sniff the crowd, and you make a last minute judgement, deciding not to that song but doing this one instead, because it may work better in terms of setlist sequencing.

But it'll all be Jethro Tull material?
I expect so, considering I've written it all, whether it's Ian Anderson, or Jethro Tull it's all my music, and me playing it. The difference between an Ian Anderson concert and a Jethro Tull concert is two members. Three of the guys who are playing with me, are often playing with Jethro Tull on Jethro Tull concerts as well. We just make it a little less electric on the Ian Anderson shows, and I work with a guitar player who is schooled in classical and flamenco music, although he is an excellent rock guitar player as well, but he has the kind of breadth of technique and performance to cover a large area of music, which I find more suitable for my solo tours.

60% of the music we play will have been played on a Jethro Tull tour, and might well get played three days later at Red Rocks Arena, it might have a different nuance, but it will have a degree of common material. We change, week to week, month to month, but why try not to make a 100% change because musicians, and lighting guys, and sound guys, are a little resistant to having too much of a change too often. I try and keep some of the elements in place over longer periods of time, so perhaps 30% of the setlist may change from month to month, but over the course of a year it may change by 80 or 90%.

I saw you when you played Exeter Cathedral at Christmas...
Yes, when I was incredibly ill, and when I got to Exeter I was so ill that day.

What I noticed was that you'd re-worked the majority of the material for that festival.
That was a Christmas show, the Christmas concerts I do are really kind of different from anything else I do, because firstly they're secular concerts, within the orbit of the Anglican church or a cathedral so i try to embrace some elements of more tradition, in terms of a Christmas Carol service, getting the audience to singalong and have a bit of organ, or a bit of local choir, that's part of the mix, having a prayer or having a few readings, these are all things that I try to include. I hasten to add I'm not a Christian, and I'm not a homosexual, but I strongly support gay rights in most areas of life. I don't have to be gay to support the gay community, and I don't feel I have to be a signed up practicing Christian to support the Christian church, which I do emphatically. And, I very much like the idea of being in some way a little catalyst to bring people into the church, who are not normal church goers, which is part of why I do it. The other part of it is rather more pragmatic, it's just simply raising money for the inevitable renovation funds, since our great historical are often falling down, and depend so much on public donations, to support them.

I'm a bit of a sourpuss most months of the year, but at Christmas I try to muck in and join in with that spiritual thing, without it being for me, a purely Christian festival, it's a spiritual affair, a social affair, a family affair. One of the nice things about the Anglican church is that it's a very welcoming branch of Christianity, where everyone can join in, Sikh, Hindu, Jew, Muslim, everyone is welcome. There's not a feeling of isolation or rejection, anyone can walk in off the street, and I like that inclusiveness.

There's a current revival of popular acoustic folk rock, are finding it's bringing new people to Jethro Tull?
It's never been away, it's just that there's been a greater emphasis perhaps in the last 10 years on acoustic music and particularly with the rise of a number of bands, whether they're rock bands including elements of acoustic elements in their music, or whether they're actually acoustic musicians fundamentally. There's been a growth and a revival in terms of new British folk music, often played by the sons and daughters of a previous generation, who were around back in the Sixties and Seventies.

Yes, I think that is a matter of growth, in other countries however there's strong elements of modified traditional music, where the elements are traditional but the execution and performance, and arrangements are much more contemporary. Seth Lakeman would epitomize that in the UK, and Varttina the Finnish folk-rock band would epitomize it, if you're looking a bit further afield. That stuff has been around for a while now, it's not something new, just because the world echoes to the Mumford & Sons. They're just an example of there having been a breakthrough in a slightly more accessible and commercial version in that kind of performance. I'm glad that it has, but I don't think it impacts terribly much on us. We're one of those bands who have been around for a long time, and that's what I do. I've been an acoustic musician in a rock band for the last 42 years, it's just business as usual for me.

Thanks for your time Ian.
See you in the sunny month of June.

Wychwood music Festival returns for the seventh year to Cheltenham Racecourse, Gloucestershire from Friday 3rd to Sunday 5th June.

An adult weekend ticket is priced at £115
Weekend disabled (2 for 1) ticket £115
Youth (aged 16-18)/concession weekend tickets £90
Child 10-15 year old weekend tickets are priced at £55
Children aged 5-9 years weekend ticket £15, and those under 5 can attend for free. Day tickets are also available.

A weekend camping pass is priced at £20, a concession/youth weekend camping pass is available at a price of £10. Children under 16 can camp for free, live in vehicle/campervan passes are priced at £35 per person.

To buy tickets, click here.

eFestivals is again proud to be a sponsor of Wychwood Music Festival in 2011, as part of our commitment to put 10% of our turnover back into festivals.
interview by: Scott Williams

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