Ian Anderson Talks To Paul McLaney

Acclaimed Auckland musician Paul McLaney (Gramsci, Impending Adorations) is a huge Jethro Tull fan. So, with Tull’s Ian Anderson in New Zealand touring, it seems only right that we bring you Paul’s interview with Ian Anderson, conducted the last time Anderson was in New Zealand. Paul is the consummate Tull fan, so the interview is a bit lengthy, but fellow Tull fans will appreciate the depth of Paul’s knowledge and his questions, which stray from the norm.

Here’s a brief intro from Paul: Last time Ian was in Auckland I met up with him for what was meant to be a brief interview but ended up sprawling to almost 3 hours. I’ve finally manged to transcribe the bulk of it (attached) and as a longtime fan I believe it touches on a whole bunch of things that I haven’t previously hear Ian discuss. As a fan its particularly interesting to me when Ian touches on his guitar playing, influences and production ideas.

The full transcription of the interview is below:

As a lifelong fan it is my hopeful endeavor to provide you with some questions you haven’t had to answer before. Lets start with the premise of ‘Homo Erraticus – “We’re all from somewhere else”

You moved from Scotland to Blackpool at age of 12. How much of an impact on your world view did that event have? Did that move instil some sense of self as an outsider? A loner? As a career overview it could be argued your writing has been concerned with displacement and the idea of the outsider/the observer – ‘and it seems like you’re the only person sitting in the audience’ – the maligned characters of Aqualung…

The idea of people moving according to pressure of work opportunities, family. We are a mobile society, arguably we were a mobile society some 60 odd thousand years ago when we, the species, came so we’re told out of Africa. It’s the story of Homo Sapiens, we are a wandering tribe. And we do that evermore these days because travel is so much easier than it was 65000 years ago. The way that we are these days I suppose is just an acceleration of the way that it was when I was 9 years old and my brother and who was then his relatively new wife hightailed it to Canada to start a new life. My brother was much older than I was; I have 2 much older brothers, one surviving.

Is this Rob who was involved with The Scottish Ballet?

No this was Alistair, he was an engineer. And the sense of that being quite a family wrench because Alistair had been the younger of my 2 older brothers, he was the one that tended to involve me as a 6 or 7 year old in things; boats, canoes. It was quite a wrench for me, the loss of that fraternity was something that I didn’t take terribly well. A felt a bit abandoned really, not that I wanted to go to Canada. And at that age I didn’t really have many other friends. I had to come to term with the fact that people do what they have to do and in his case it was to try and find meaningful work and a future where he could start a new life, a family. And I suppose that made me think about these things as a child and therefore it seemed to me as I grew up kind of obvious that was probably going to happen to me too. My older of the 2 brothers had also left home and gone to London when we moved down to Blackpool, he was working in Edinburgh and Glasgow and so the sense of family being split up; my mothers family are from Manchester my Fathers family were from the Scottish border, the lowlands and I suppose I grew up with a sense of us being scattered to the winds.

12 years old is quite a formative time.

That age of innocence in a post -puberty world is all too easily lost because things become more…. Well, your relationships with girls becomes a bit different, your relationship with guys becomes probably more edgy, more competitive, more about peer group pressures to conform to do things. That’s a formative time in your life to pass from childhood to puberty.

Its not widely reported as to when your musicality kicked into gear, did it coincide with the move?

When I was about 11 years old I strummed a bit of tuneless guitar in a Skiffle group but I didn’t really learn to play meaningful music in terms of understanding some of the logistics of making music; chords, melody, harmony until I was maybe 15, 16 years old and it dawned on me how it worked.

Did your emigration create a sense of displacement? Instilling some sort of outsider quality?

I’m an observational writer, I have little interest in bleating about my personal version of the human condition. I grew up listening to blues and everything was you know “I woke up this morning…” its all very basic stuff and whilst its very admirable and a huge part of my musical life its not something that I ever felt offered me the prospect of earning an honourable living because so many people had done that kind of song writing much better than I could ever do and today, strangely, people still try. It’s the basis of all pop music and much of rock music is to sing about your heart on sleeve emotions and it usually, most of the time comes down to sex.

You have spoken in the past about the idea of folk memories, not really being a student of Gaelic or Celtic music but around the time of ‘Songs From the Wood’ and ‘Heavy Horses’ you are referencing that music. The idea being that certain aspects of these music are in our D.N.A. – the exampe of the emotion stirred by a piper…

I think there is something of that, somehow is passed on genetically. Its obviously not a detailed past life photo memory, its more of an element of response; the likelihood that you will respond to certain musical structures, perhaps certain thoughts. I mean its defined by your culture and where you’re from. Its defined obviously in religious music for a lot of people. They are transported by the sound of music which is essentially of worship. Those of us who can make music perhaps as a celebration of ideas as well as emotion and perhaps rather than celebrating spirituality we have a lot to draw from both in terms of our natural inclinations musically and then what you learn, what you inherit in our formative years. In my case the blues was part of it, jazz inasmuch as I understood some of the complex chord changes. But you know there are certain things that its good to know about and understand at least something about but I also know that that’s not for me.

It’s interesting that the basis of the Blues and Celtic music is the pentatonic scale but employed differently. A different way of looking at the same space?

Yes and you find the same things applying in music from Asia and in some very primitive forms of Western Classical music origins too. These essential elements really do seem to something that are quite universal. But to go back to the beginning of your question about migration – that’s what Homo Erraticus is about – and its obviously a touchy subject, one best with the minefield of political corruptness.

I understand that’s why you use the writer’s device of Gerald Bostock as he can say things like ‘Johnny Foreigner’ whereas Ian Anderson  probably shouldn’t.

No I probably shouldn’t and I mean probably have said that once or twice in kind of a joking way, sort of sending up that stereotype rather right wing, crusty, offensive kind of ex Squadron leader 40 years ago or something. I relish some of the colloquial traits of the stereotypical Englishman, it makes me smile, it makes me laugh so as long as there is no malice in it then I find those useful reference points and I hope that people will view them with a smile on their face as well but you know its also gives you pause for thought; “What is it that this comes from? What is the mindset, the mentality? Where does  joking end and serious unacceptable comment begin?” And these definitions are things that you have to weigh up as you do with many informed and entertaining comedians who challenge our perceptions of what is okay and what isn’t. And I think all of that is very fertile ground for a music writer just as it is for a comic writer or for a a thespian, a screenplay writer. Its all stuff we can get our teeth into and it makes what we go to create much more interesting as a result. I mean I’m just coming up to the last 3 or 4 episodes of Breaking Bad which I’ve begun relatively recently having known about it for a few years but never got around to watching only because it was becoming an increasingly difficult task the more episodes were made. And that above all is a morality tale. La Familiare. Its about that whole thing of trying to work out that dark side of our characters which all of us and all the characters of Breaking Bad possess to some degree with the essential idea of right and wrong stretched and pulled in different directions. Its not a mirror of everyday to day society or day to day family life but it’s a good exaggeration and above all else is a morality play.

There’s a real ‘Britishness’ to your work manifest in many forms, bith musically and lyrically. Hints of Tennyson one moment, Elliot the next…

(Laughs) Well I have studiously avoided reading any poetry or English literature because a long time ago, probably in America, interviewers would toss in these knowledgeable comparisons and far from making me think, ‘ooh, they think I’m, you know something of my writing owes something to so and so, maybe I should check that person out”, it has the opposite effect; I just don’t want to go near them.

Something like ‘Baker St Muse, which is kind of snapshot, stream of consciousness into something like ‘Heavy Horses’ which is more pastoral. These are all extremely poetic things. Is the inspiration from other poetry?

No not really no, I don’t do poetry. The only poets I’ve ever read would be William McGonagall (sp?) the worst poet in the world as he’d been styled and a little bit of Robert Burns we did at school.

One Brown Mouse.

Exactly but I don’t have any love for poetry. Poetry to me is like lyrics without a tune, there’s just something missing. I’m sure its not in reality but that is the way that it occurs to me first off is that I’m missing something. Missing a vital ingredient which fills me with imagination but when I see words written on a page I am reminded of rhythm, I’m reminded of the cadence of the way that those words will fall when they are spoken with any meaning or passion and therefore there is the beginning of a song; there is rhythm and there is melody essentially just a half step behind the words of poetry. But it just seems to me like whoever wrote the poetry just stopped short of the full intellectual process.

Your guitar playing. From the Aqualung album you developed a very particular style of acoustic guitar playing which Id argue reached its zenith on the Minstrel in The Gallery album (followed extremely closely – had it been released – by the Chateau recordings). It seemed to arrive fully formed on the Aqualung album. A wonderful hybrid of melodic lines and runs matched with a string rhythmic propulsion.

Wondring Aloud, Slipstream, Cheap day Return, Lifes A Long Song, Nursie, Thick as A Brick, Scenario, Critique Oblique, Only Solitaire, Skating Away,  Requiem, Salamander, Cold Wind to Valhalla, March The Mad Scientist (a favorite of mine)

The last time we heard that style employed in a released composition it was the song Jack-A-Lynn  rare love song). Is it something you have retired for god and if so why?

It did come fully formed, it was fully formed about 6 months before because it was really in the Summer of 1968 that I started to try to use the acoustic guitar not only as a song writing tool but to begin to try, very tentatively, because when Mick Abrahams was the guitar player in the band it wasn’t really, it didn’t feel like it was a band that could embark on that route of acoustic guitar being in it somehow and so it wasn’t really until ’69 that I started to begin the confidence building exercise of using the acoustic instruments to actually be a featured part of recorded songs. I mean the mandolin came in pretty early on, actually it probably came in before the acoustic guitar in terms of recording and then it was the songs that appeared, a bit of simple stuff, on the ‘Stand Up’ album and then less so on ‘Benefit’ which was more of an electric album. But by the time we got to ‘Aqualung’ then I had actually got a couple of years really of writing songs which had a guitar part that really was a guitar part.

It’s very unique to you that style…

Well that’s the point, its not. I make no pretense that this is sort of a hugely original kind of styling because I picked up in 68/69 from people like Roy Harper, Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, the sort of new folk guitar players – nobody American at all – but it was that bunch of British guys and whilst most of them had come to it from a finger picking kind of thing which I just never managed to do or really wanted to do, I quite liked the idea of using a plectrum  in a way that stretched it out a bit produced around basic chords, little phrases and turns you could build into the tune or build into the structure of the part so it became a little tune, a counter melody sometimes little fills in between vocal lines.

You have a wonderful back strum… (laughs)

And I suppose that to me is evident in flute playing as well because I do the same function is obtained my certain little stylistic things in flute playing, grace notes or using the voice or triple tonguing to create little effects which are in themselves sort of rhythmic, decorative, but they have a little habit of just acting as a kind of punctuation point, something that gives you a… they are a musical semi colon. So its part of what to me comes I suppose quite naturally but I must have picked it up from some of those guys, particularly Roy Harper who wasn’t a huge buddy but someone I was around/with from time to time you know playing on the same bill.

And he was from Blackpool too…

Well I didn’t know him then. I knew of him by reputation just before I left Blackpool. There was this guy who’d been a grammar school boy at another grammar school who had gone down to London and become a folk singer. We didn’t really quite know who he was but he was this character who’d gone off to seek his fortune and whilst he hadn’t exactly made it, he’d made a record which was more than most of us did around Blackpool in those days. So that was part of my growing up was that picking upon certain things and between Muddy Waters, Beethoven, Roy Harper and a few other elements that was the genesis of, if you like, ‘style’ for me.

The last time we heard that style of guitar playing employed in a released composition it was the song Jack A Lynn (a   rare love song). Is it something you have retired for good and if so why?

Mmm, yeah I mean it’s a little bit twee and dated just as if you hear the finger picker folks, if you hear that music today it is something that conjures up ‘The Sixties’, the folk revival and so my particular thing does feel a bit 70s but that’s not say somebody won’t come along doing something very similar tomorrow and have a hit record with it. These things, if there not cyclic they  at least do define themselves in a particular period of time even if they do come back again some time later.

I did find on that guitar stuff that there was a period when I wanted to be, whilst conveniently being in a rock band traveling around the world and making lots of noise, I also wanted to be that sort of lone troubadour because essentially I’m a bit of a loner, I don’t thrive well in company. I mean when I walked into this restaurant I said to the lady can you find me a table as far away from any human beings as possible. She looked at me rather a degree of contempt that I should want to separate myself from my fellow man or woman or screaming children. But the thing is its just I only have so much in my day of being available to people. If somebody asks me for an autograph (Somebody did..) and I’m not doing an interview at the same time or busy with a mouthful of food in which case they will have to wait their turn (they did…) but most of the time you know somebody will ask me for an autograph I’m usually happy to give it to them but of course people don’t always pick the right moment inevitably. And I remember going up to John McEnroe and Boris Becker once while they were having lunch in a hotel and intruding upon their lunch and sticking out my hand saying ‘Oh H! Nice to meet you!” and being met with this steely gaze and thinking maybe I shouldn’t have quite done it that way. So yes we’re all guilty of the same thing of knowing that there’s an opportunity and if you don’t take it, it will never come again.

In regards the acoustic guitar styles there are a few examples of open tunings in your canon – I’m thinking of things like ‘Salamander,’ ‘Cold Wind to Valhalla,’ ‘One Brown Mouse.’

Well there’s a lot of it on albums from much later on like ‘The Secret Language of Birds’ and ‘Rupi’s Dance’ – lots of alternative tunings and bouzoukis but the thing that has always, always been a bug bear for me since the mid 70s was that playing live on stage doing open tunings you’ve got to retune your guitar then and there or you’ve got to have a separate guitar and there was a tour, some tours when I was on the road with 3 guitars. There was a main guitar, a back up guitar and a guitar for open tunings which was just such a pain every night, having to tune 3 guitars and a mandolin, saxophones and god knows what else. So I did make a choice you see that guitar playing, it was something that was a bit of a personal crusade to try and be a bit of a troubadour, lone wolf, Roy Harper kind of guy, hitching a lift on the motorway going to your gig to the adulation of fans and disappearing quietly into the night to find some lonely B&B but in reality unless you were born into that world and that was your entrée into music you can’t have success and then go back there again, it doesn’t really work. You’re just a phoney if you try and do it. So I decided that whilst guitar playing for me wasn’t something that I would not do again I just felt that I don’t really want to try and present myself as the guy who is trying to demonstrate some prowess as a guitar player or as a self accompanying singer songwriter guy. I’m a flute player in a rock band and that’s the public perception. It’s always been that more than me being a singer, more than me being a record producer, guitar player or playing other musical instruments. The thing that people think of is FLUTE and rock music. That’s the widest most generalised perception so probably as I’ve got older then I’ve felt that’s my little niche in a very broad musical world and I’m very grateful to be still in that place where I can fulfill that role and there’s nobody else coming along to claim the crown anymore than there was in 1969. Never was I ever the only flute player in town, I was just the loudest because people who played the flute like Ray Thomas from the Moody Blues or Chris Wood in Traffic and Thijs van Leer  in Focus.. There are a whole bunch of flute players in the world of music even Peter Gabriel, I saw him on Youtube finally..

He played flute on a Cat Stevens record ‘Mona Bone Jakon’

Well wisely Peter obviously decided to give that a rest because I suppose I had that kind of thing locked up

Pretty hard to do while wearing a fox head I would imagine

(laughs) well I was gonna say if I started appearing on stage wearing a giant sunflower hat or something I would have been treading on his territory so it was probably a good idea that he kept the hat and I kept the flute.

I’d like to ask some questions in regards Maison Rouge; initially the mobile set up which was employed for ‘Minstrel’ and ‘Too Old Too Rock’n’Roll’ in Monte Carlo and then specifically ‘Heavy Horses’ which was the first album recorded in your newly constructed studio Masion Rouge studios in Fulham. How did owning your own studio impact on your recording process; you had already recorded 2 albums with the mobile version but returned to Morgan Studios for the intervening ‘Songs From The Wood’; itself a startling production and perhaps the most impressive to that date.

How much of an impact did that have on your songwriting? ‘Heavy Horses’ is an extremely detailed production – a most successful collision of flok and rock. Did having the studio give you the opportunity to explore that style of production without looking at the clock etc?

Well yes and no, I don’t think we actually looked at the clock that much when we were working in Morgan Studios either, you wanted to get the job done and do it right so ‘Songs From The Wood’ which was recorded in Morgan Studios had every bit as much attention and detail in it as did its successor ‘Heavy Horses’ it was just a change of mixing console. In a way it was easier for me to be hands on in Morgan Studios than it was for me to be hands on in my own recording studio because not only was it my studio and all my equipment but more importantly Robin Black who was the studio manager and the chief engineer he had a very heavy personal investment in the design and the commissioning of all the equipment so it was almost more his studio than it was mine (laughs). At Morgan Studio he was a hired hand and I was just a customer so it was actually strangely easier for me in Morgan than it was in my own studio. It was also not that easy getting in because I had to run that as a commercial studio, I didn’t want it be some rich boy’s plaything, though it did become that to the man I sold it to. It seemed quite important to me that it should stand alone as a commercial enterprise therefore when we had people like Gus Dudgeon coming in taking 7 days of work then he got the priority and we would be standing there at midnight waiting for Gus to finish so we could get in and do a session from midnight to 6am.

There’s some wonderful footage from the ‘Lively Arts’ documentary around 1979 and the making of tracks from ‘Stormwatch’ which is a great way of seeing that studio in action and the desk itself.

Well it underwent some changes both in terms of the equipment that was in it and the second studio that we built at Maison Rouge was actually a much better studio than Studio 1 and indeed it had more up to date equipment in it initially though we refurbished Studio 1 as well. But that became quite obvious after 2 or 3 years that this was just a nightmare game of just constantly, if you were going to be a top flight studio. And then you could be earning gross 1200 to 1500 pounds a day in old money, well think what that is today. It is impossible money in today’s record industry. But we only just survived on that you know, anything less than a thousand pounds a day then we were precariously close to breaking even

Neil Finn has a studio here, Roundhead. He also lives there. I caught up with him the other day and he’s a fan. His first ever gig was your initial performance of ‘Thick As A Brick’ at The Civic in 1972.

Which Finn is this?


Oh because we toured with his brother Tim Finn in actually in New Zealand and possibly Australia? Back around ’74 or ’78 somewhere around there where he was the opening act.

You were looking at producing Split Enz at one point?

Well I was aware of them when the first came to the UK after they signed with Chrysalis and so I was aware of this, what seemed to me kind of art school band doing quirky pop but it was very intelligent and very well put together, slightly whimsical, not comedic but upbeat fun music. It seemed to me like this concealed; that this was a cheerful exterior to win people over, to be approved of. It all seemed to me that there was a slightly darker and more serious side to these guy’s music but they were signed essentially for being a quirky fun party band and I thought these guys obviously write, construct and perform music in potentially a much more serious way, it isn’t just about fun pop music. But I don’t really remember when any discussion went on it other than that the guys at Chrysalis, Terry and Chris knew that I quite liked this band Split Enz and there may have been some discussion about me playing on their record or producing a track or doing something but I mean it never really got anywhere because we were so busy and I’m sure they were trying to generate their own career. I don’t know how long the band stayed together after that but it seemed like a good idea that it didn’t hang around because I think probably the guys in the band needed a bit of space from each other and then Crowded House as an entity was obviously infinitely more successful commercially and probably in terms of the music, it had matured, not being a little bit apologetic and fun. It became a bit more of a mature balance of emotions.

You mentioned Terry Ellis there. I understand the two of you may be working on some projects again? I’ve heard talk of an Aqualung musical or something?

Well Terry recovered from, well its not true to say recovered, he’s still recovering from many health and lifestyle issues from the 80’s onwards and he’s now in reasonably good shape. He does lecture tours and is quite compos mentis and reflective and I think very well aware of a bit of damage he caused to various people.

Peter Vetesse’s comments in the ‘Classic Artists’ documentary are quite interesting on the subject of Terry.

Well the thing is Terry rubbed a lot of people up the wrong way because he was a bit inclined to just say things and wasn’t always known for his tact in communicating with musicians, road crews, other people, other record company guys and whatever so he put his foot in it a lot and he knows that and has made personal apologies to many people that he felt that he’d been a bit rough with, me included.  But that’s just realizing when you’ve been, literally at deaths door a couple of times that you don’t want to finally pop off without saying ‘sorry about that’. So understandable that he would do that and credit to him that he did. But Terry is in the last 3 or 4 years has been nursing thoughts of doing something, at least kicking off some kind of project in music and I’m sure I’m not alone in having quietly counseled Terry the pitfalls of trying to re-enter the music business in some form. Been there, done it, it’s a different world and I think he appreciates that old record company model just really hardly exists any longer and it can’t survive.

I watched his lecture – ‘The Old Model Is The New Model’

Yes and it strangely is about making a record without any record company involvement, just going in and finding a bit of money and doing the best you can with a limited period of time and then you take your wares and you try and find a way to sell them which for us did mean getting a deal with Island Records and then with Warner Brothers who were Reprise. These days it might mean selling your cds out of a van at the back of a club gig or it might mean putting it online, trying to get little dribs and drabs of money via Orchard or some other consolidator. That IS the old model, the do it yourself kind of approach but its not a model for real business success. It’s a real sad state of affairs that musicians, composers, writers these days have got really very, very little chance of achieving long term financial stability out of what they do because the only source of partially ongoing income really is the mechanical copyright, the writer royalty.

We’ve always been with Chrysalis Music for publishing and are still to this day with the subsequent owners and Chrysalis in the record sense which is these days Warner Brothers. Well technically Rhino who have the catalogue to the so-called Parlophone group of labels as part of the EMI assets that were sold off.

Fantastic work on the reissues by the way, they really are stunning packages…

Yes, it’s a sign of the times isn’t it when we talk about old models then that’s what that is, its about taking your asset and catalogue before the recorded copyright runs out which at least looks like being somewhat extended through the Pan European courts that awarded an extension to the recorded copyright from 50 years to 75 years. It doesn’t match the 95 in the USA but its better than we had. Because these are great national assets as I tried to persuade Gordon Brown of when he was Chancellor that you know these were national treasures every bit as valuable as the Crown Jewels or any stately home or grand cathedral. You know The Beatles back catalogue is a national treasure of the UK and that the copyright in those recordings, not just the copyright in the songs as intellectual property, the copyright in those recordings is something that has made and can continue to make modest amounts of income for the Exchequer to pay for the fucking schools and hospitals and social security and all the rest of it. But Gordon Brown just wanted to talk about Kilmarnock Football team (rolls eyes) and he already had his mind made up and bent and twisted by some nasty little Leftie who said there should be no copyright protection and it should be free no one should ever own anything. There’s always some of those bitter twisted people around because they can’t write a fucking contribution to the telephone directory let alone a song. They think that no one should have the right to intellectual property. Gordon Brown went into that exercise with his mind already made up and other artists like Joe Brown and I who were involved in trying to present a case, well it all fell on deaf ears and was essentially kicked out of touch under a report that was already a foregone conclusion and so we got nowhere.  The record industry were never going to get anywhere because they looked too desperate. I was always pleading for the nine tenths of the iceberg that we don’t hear about and read about in the papers its all those folks who were session musicians, or folks who have some little share of the royalty, perhaps they’d made one or two hits in the 60s and those records were going to fall out of copyright and I said it’s the difference between those guys and their little bit of a creative pension that will pay the gas bill this year and you want t take that away from them. You know the people that you maybe vaguely remember because they had a hit, just the one and you want to turn the gas off on these guys. Politicians don’t really live in that world where readily fall prey to such private argument its only if you crucify them or embarrass them in the press that they may possibly change their tune, but no I didn’t get anywhere with that which was rather sad against all the odds a couple of years later one European MP did manage to make progress which was a huge and unexpected way forward because one of the reasons that Gordon Brown presented in the attempt to muster some logic was that  its all very well if we agree to this but we have to get a Pan-European agreement which will be impossible to persuade Europe that they’ve all got to fall into step with a new copyright law in the UK. But isn’t that what we’re for, to try and be a meaningful part of the European community in which we exercise some level of leadership or authority but ‘Aww its going to cost millions..” But bugger me somebody else did it and their private initiative got it through literally 2 or 3 years later. So Gordon Browns not a bad man he s just struck me as  bit intellectually challenged when it came to thinking outside the box.

Intellectual property uis one of those subjects hat can challenge the layman. I always off the analogy of a glass of wine, where the wine is the publishing and the glass is the recording; the vessel for that wine. You can pour that wine into many different glasses.

That’s a very good analogy. I think that songwriters everywhere whilst they may have in some instances have been paid hugely for their work over the years, there’s a little bit of a miracle there when you listen to a well sculpted song. Whether its Hotel California…

… ‘We Used To Know…”

Well I wasn’t going to say that but the Eagles song is a twenty times, hundred times better song than my song so credit to them wherever they got the chord sequence from. A monkey banging on a piano key would have come up with it sooner or later so credit to them they had a great song. It’s not my kind of song but it’s a very well written song lyrically and musically it really is very skilful so its made them a ton of money. But is really a little piece of magic, it goes on forever and you talk about the glass, the actual recording of that particular song can be re-recorded countless times by either the Eagles live in concert, re-recorded in the studio, recorded by other artists but it is that song itself which has that greatness about it and it could be argued that many songs by The Beatles have that same thing, they are really little pieces of magic. But when it comes to The Rolling Stones its really about The Rolling Stones, if somebody else does ‘Brown Sugar’ or ‘Satisfaction’ or ‘Jumping Jack Flash’ frankly its not really going to make a lot of sense (laughs).

I saw The Stones for the first time recently and I have to say Jagger impressed; I mean he really only does one thing but he’s magnificent at it – he definitely does the best Mick Jagger I’ve ever seen (laughs).

Well exactly, the thing about Mick Jagger is that he started off without the bar being set very high in terms of his vocal limitations because he was never a classic singer, he just tended to sort of shout it out, throw it out there without any real vocal discipline or whatever but that was a very very shrewd move if he ever thought about it because its not too difficult to sing like Mick Jagger even when you’re 70. And obviously he keeps in shape and runs around a bit so he doesn’t get too out of breath and can do what he does and does it a whole lot better than Paul McCartney does. Paul McCartney who obviously, as he’s got older has found it much much more difficult to sing The Beatles’ classic hits. I mean they are songs that are the songs of guys in their early 20’s and his voice as it was, and John Lennon’s voice and the general sound of The Beatles is a very hard thing to recreate when you’re 70 years old just as it was impossible for Pavarotti when he was even in his 50’s. It’s always sad that the great period for any true singer, you know some skilful true singer is probably going to be that level of maturity between the ages of 30 and 40, maybe 45. Before that you’re a little bit of a loose canon, before that you’re a little unformed but there’s this wonderful period sets in when everything is right and if you get 10 years of that you’re very very lucky because it will start to become much much more difficult for you to do.

There are those freaks of nature, people like Glenn Hughes who has covered Jethro Tull in the past – ‘To Cry You A Song’ I believe. He plays with Joe Bonamassa as well which reminds me, you’re in the ‘Book of Joe’…

In the what sorry?

‘The Book of Joe’ – Joe and his manager have this book which is really a list of anyone who has ever helped him and apparently on an early tour he did with you, you were extremely good to him and ensured he sounded great  had tome to sound check properly etc.

(Laughs) Well if you mean he got his sound check everyday, well then yes, hmm (laughs). Joe was a kid that was literally a bit of a precocious upstart kid who was used to hearing from everybody ‘Wow you’re great and you’re only 12 or 15 or 18′ or whatever he happened to be so he’s grown up as the prodigy child guitar player who grown ups had given him these accolades and instead of it going to his head he was always rather sort of you know, not bashful but just a polite sort of nice guy and when he toured with us it was essentially.. He was a bit like a young Rory Gallagher, he could fire it out there, a lot of rapid fire, slightly uncontrolled guitar playing and very shouted out, uncontrolled singing but Joe is in that period now where he is in his 10 year maturity phase where now he’s much more disciplined, his playing is much more thoughtful, it has pauses in it, it uses the bigger gamut of musical taste to present itself and his singing, very often, is a little more controlled and little bit more varied in intensity so you know Joe is an example of one of those people who are lucky enough to mature as much better singers and performers than they were in their 20s and you know he’ll be around for a long time because of course he is essentially a contemporary blues player, he has a very definitive style. And it’s not that there’s nobody else out there but every so often there is somebody like that who does their version of middle class white man’s blues and Joe is that man for a 20 or 30 year period, he will be impossible for anyone to get anywhere close to and why would you want to because if you do that thing you’re just going to be compared to Joe Bonamassa – if you’re in that genre of music.

On the ‘Classic Artists’ documentary it was really lovely to see contemporary interviews with Barrie Barlow, John Evens and Mick Abrahams. There’s obviously a lot of enduring friendships in those relationships even though they haven’t been band members for some while.

Well I think they’re enduring tolerances really in most cases because you know, you put any bunch of guys together you know in a platoon in Vietnam and they’re maybe not going to take a hit for their buddy but they’ll certainly always be there to give covering fire. There is a sense of bond, there is a supportive and loyalty based relationship that you have but you are disparate souls who probably in other walks of life would absolutely not lavish any attention or much interest on each other and that’s how it is in a lot of relationships in music in bands, there is a bond becomes almost like family and that’s ultimately what I think of my relationships with all those musicians, I mean there’s arguably at least 27 of us and if you extend it a bit further into some people who were not technically band members but were guests for a period of many months or years then its up to 36 or something,… 34… (counts in head) 35 musicians in total plus me and its like a big family thing, and you know there are some of them that I am warm with and connected to, like Jeffrey Hammond and John Evans who I was having dinner with a few nights ago in Melbourne.

He doesn’t play at all now is that correct?

No but he actually sings in a Welsh Choir would you believe it or not, he’s actually even gone back to the UK as a member of the Melbourne or the Australian Welsh Choir or whatever they are.. We’re used to the Austrailan Pink Floyd but the Australian Welsh Choir is pushing the bounds (laughs) as a tribute act.

They could get some Dee Palmer arrangements….

Well yes I just saw an email from him last night that I must reply to.

I love that song ‘Coronach’ that you guys did together.

Well it was one of the things that David came up with, he came up with 2 or 3 things in his long relationship with me which I wouldn’t say I felt duty bound to do it but I’ve always tried to, you know if somebody in the band came up with something of their own, if I thought it was good enough, if I thought it was up to the mark I would say okay lets use this. Whether its 4 bars of music in the middle of a song or whether it’s a complete piece.

I’ve always assumed that some pieces of ‘Pibroch (Cap In Hand)’ were generated that way; the wonderful breakdown into the flute and mandolin section and then the synth arrangement climbing out of it?

Umm, without checking the mechanical royalty distributions I couldn’t tell you. Most of the things where anybody else got any royalties were mostly on ‘Songs From The Wood’ – that was the album that had the most, you know, little contributions from the other guys.

That piece of music ‘Pibroch’ is just outstanding; the reversed guitar intro…

Yes, there might have been a bit of Martin. What was done always at the time, whoever was the author of some musical melody or melody plus chords essentially, the piano, what defines music in the sense that you traditionally have always organised it in terms of mechanical royalty payments would be that – and this goes back to Tin Pan Alley days of the 20s and 30s – where that it was the piano score, it had the melody and you reduced it to a piano part plus the lyrics, the words of the music. That was the thing that was published, was the published music in manuscript form. It was always a piano part that encapsulated whatever the arrangement was as a piano part so it was chords, melody and the words written above the stave and that’s what defined essentially song writing and the mechanical royalty payments. And so when that transferred to the idiom of pop music…

And Progressive Rock…

Absolutely, then there were a couple of rather egalitarian outfits who thought well you know we’re all in this together, we should all share it. Lennon/McCartney decided they were the song writing partnership and would split everything 50/50 regardless of who came up with what and if you’re sitting in a room and probably smoking marijuana or drinking a lot of beer and no one can remember who wrote what the next morning then maybe it makes some sense but clearly it does cause potentially a lot of friction later on because the danger is when there is something that history has revealed as a really important piece of The Beatles catalogue and Paul’s going to say well John didn’t write anything on this it was all me, you can understand he’s going to feel a little miffed about it when John Lennon, deceased, and Yoko Ono, not yet deceased are getting all the glory and half the money. So it is potentially not a great way to do it and I remember Yes were a band that had supposedly decided that everything would be split 5 ways right from the beginning and maybe it works for some people and some bands that they happen to stay together and stay good friends. It’s not likely though in most cases that it makes sense and especially because you usually find someone or a pair of people are much more the contributors and what comes from other people is more or less just arrangement ideas and I come from a school that says if you play the bass guitar or you play the keyboards or whatever then just because someone says theses are the chords and you come up with a bass line, you’re not writing a song, you’re supposed to be able to do that. If I play on somebody else’s record, play some flute stuff that I’m being asked to play, I’m not expecting to be paid for it at all because I do it as freebie, I never ask for any money. But the idea that because I played this improvised flute solo that I should get paid on someone else’s record for playing a bit of flute as a writer would be completely crazy.

Tell that to the Hammond organ player from Procol Harum. ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ is the most played song ever on British radio and it’s still in dispute I believe?

Yeaaah, and Matthew Fisher, who for years and years and years, including when he rejoined Procol Harum when they toured with us in the USA was a rather dark sort of twisted, not really very charming man and obviously – well I say obviously, to me it seems pretty obvious – he was put up to it by family, friends, maybe a no-win/no-fee lawyer or whatever, but put up to getting his big pay out later in life and he actually won it first time around and Gary (Brooker) won it back on appeal. But the fact remains that a learned but probably entirely unmusical judge is going to be swayed by arguments presented by facetious lawyers who think they can come with some clever approach to music writing but you know Matthew took that line essentially from Bach. Not note for note or in the same context but its not exactly original writing and it falls for me into the category of arrangement where someone has taken something that is out of copyright, as Bach’s music is, put in a different context and probably done it in a slightly, initially in an almost improv way in the first rendition and it became probably formalised into a specific line, well I know he did because I’ve played Matthew’s line… come to think of it… Matthew was briefly back in it at the request of a German TV company to play when Gary Brooker and I were both on this big 50 years of rock n roll huge spectacular thing in Germany. A 3 hour show, the history of everything to do with music from Bill haley and the Comets onwards and so I was playing in what you might call a house band, the live entity so we had people like Jack Bruce came and did (sings) ‘it’s getting near dark bum bum bum’…

Well the guitar solo in that is Blue Moon isn’t it?

(laughs) Well yes a little bit of that slipped in but that was an example of when you have someone like Matthew Fisher comes on to play you realise that he’s been actually booked, because I don’t think Gary wanted him there… nobody actually knew that we was there. I d assumed it was just going to be Gary on his own so somebody’s got to cover this line (sings organ riff from ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale‘) the sort of Bach thing so I’d learnt that on the flute thinking well he’s playing piano so he’s not going to be playing this line so I’ll give it a go. So I’d learnt all that and we were in rehearsal and I started to play my part in the sort of dress and camera rehearsal and I though, “Hang on…”

…my flute sounds like a Hammond organ…

(laughs) well no, ‘some bugger in the session band has decided to play it on the bloody organ’ and I turned around to give him a dirty look because I’m standing at the front next to Gary and I’m supposed to be playing the line and suddenly there’s somebody else doing it and I looked around and did a double take and it was Matthew Fisher. (Laughs) so I then had to say listen I’m really sorry but I didn’t know you were going to be there and therefore I now don’t need to play this bit. But then of course the producers of the show came up and said no no we want you to play it as well but I said well he’s the guy that played it on the record, come on its his moment of glory! (laughs). So we came to some compromise where I kind of stepped back from it, did a few fills and bits around it but is an example of, like any great guitar solo whether its Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton or whoever it might be, it takes on its own form and then you start to think well this is actually a classic great guitar solo so maybe to play it live on stage you kind of do it, if not note for note then pretty much the same shape and elements because people have heard it so many times they want to hear that. That one off improvised guitar solo, they want to hear that, they don’t want to hear something completely different.

Well obviously the guitar solo from Aqualung is one but also the first flute entrance in Thick As A Brick is very particular

Well that’s a line of music, that’s not an improv, that’s a very specific line of music but I always know for me when something comes out of just winging it and when I’ve actually written it ahead of time before I go into the studio or when its been conceived of during the rehearsal and arranging process that this is going to be the line. But what I’m saying is that all these things when it comes to mechanical copyright mean  it’s a very, very difficult issue and you have to do it at the time you record it. If you don’t write down who played this line and did they come up with it themselves; is it actually in the musical sense, is this the melody now? A musical melody as opposed to a piece of improv. I don’t believe you should be paid for improvising because arguably everything that everybody plays on every record begins as some act of improvisation, even in the sense of writing it you’re winging it on a piano or a guitar or singing a line in your head, it’s improvised at least at the point of creation. It’s a real can of worms to open up later in life and I think you’ve always got to write these things down at the time and agree you know that ‘one sixty-fourth of this song goes to you because these few bars, you wrote that tune and its not just an improv its actually a worked out tune that is reflected harmonically, reflected in maybes other people’s parts that now work with this piece. So I think you’ve got to agree to that at the time. And I still have all my handwritten notes from these albums where people contributed something in writing terms.

Are you enjoying going through the process of remastering the catalogue? I would imagine that in a lot of instances it would be the first time that you have listened to some of these recordings in a while?

Well not really, most of them I’m quite familiar with from the original recordings but when you go back and if you’re listening as I am at the moment to not only Steven Wilson’s new mixes of ‘Minstrel In The Gallery’ but also a live concert from Paris of that era that he’s just getting to the final stages of now…

Did you play much of that record live?

Not… probably only 3 or 4 songs. Things like ‘Baker St Muse’ were never played live. The string section, the little 6 piece mini chamber orchestra that played on that record, it was a very integral part of the way the record evolved.

‘Requiem’ is probably my favourite song…

Hmm, again I don’t think I’ve ever played that one live on stage.

Beautiful lyrics…

It owes more than a little bit to Roy Harper.

Actually at the time that Minstrel was done, I think I’ve already said this to Martin Webb recently, a writer for various things, but at that point after doing the two sort of more Prog albums, ‘Thick As A Brick’ and ‘A Passion Play’ and then ‘Warchild’ which was tied up with various music writing, it was mixed up with some ideas for making a movie.

The recently released orchestral pieces are lovely…

And there is a lot of orchestral stuff on ‘Warchild’ too but when we got to ‘Minstrel In The Gallery’ I was really wanting to get back to more of a singer-song writing kind of a thing so a lot of the recording of things on there began with just me in the studio on my own just making a demo of something like ‘Too Old To Rock n Roll’ or “Minstrel In The Gallery’

Were they written at the same time? I know they were recorded in the same period.

Well it’s the way that it ties together at the end of the Minstrel sessions, I think I’d written the song ‘Too Old To Rock n Roll; Too Young To Die’ – it was certainly recorded in a demo form with just me playing acoustic guitar and singing. I think Martin Barre playing some of the guitar lines as an overdub but it was just a demo for it and then we recorded actually somewhere in Brussels I think in the very early months and it was that and a song called ‘The Chequered Flag’ that we recorded in Brussels. But we then went back to the Maison Rouge studio for the more prolonged period of recording the rest of the ‘Too Old to Rock N Roll’ album a few months later

But anyway, the ‘Minstrel In The Gallery’ was a period when I had made a real deliberate attempt to go back to a lot more acoustic guitar based songs in which I was singing and playing them in the studio and the other guys then would come in. Sometimes it was a section that was acoustic and then it became electric.

Baker St. Muse…

Yeah or ‘Cold Wind to Valhalla’ which you know I’d recorded the first section with vocals, guitars and whatever else and then said ‘that’s the entry point and you come in we do the tune now as a big raging electric thing which was a real mistake, I should have carried on with the song and very gently lifted it a little bit.

I love the radio version, on the ’20 Years of Jethro Tull’ boxset there’s the first release of those songs for a radio session and ‘Cold Wind To Valhalla’ does in fact fade out at that turnover point…

Well it exists in its full radio form on the supplementary tracks that Steven Wilson has been doing, in fact I’ve just opened an email from him yesterday which I must reply to. I’ve approved all the stereo mixes, now he moves to the 5.1 which I mostly just moving things in the stereo field to make the full 5.1 feel but there are usually a few level changes and things you have to do, a few pans and such and he was saying ‘do you want to come to the studio and work on the 5.1 sounds after Christmas’ which I haven’t replied to yet because he said on the other hand you probably know more or less what I’m going to do so I’m perfectly happy to do it if you don’t want to make the trip…

Is there a great deal of separation in those master recordings?

Well there is now because a part of cleaning all that stuff up is that you can get rid of a lot of the general chatter and hums and buzzes and bleeding from one thing to something else when you don’t want it. You can’t always do it without making a bit of a sonic hole but largely you can clean things up quite a lot which gives a lot more transparency and a lot more clarity and a lot more definition which is really what, in the digital world, is much more possible then even in a fully automated analogue world. You can do now, or in the last few years, a lot more to give real clarity and life to some of those old recordings. So that’s what we do but its not something I would want to spend a lot of my time with. I mean Jimmy Page, god bless him, well the last time I met him he’d just finished doing his new Zeppelin whatever it was and I was saying, ‘yeah Jimmy what we do is we’re entrusted with the Crown jewels and its our obligation every so often that we get them out of the vault, polish them up, you know make them all sparkly and new and put them on display so another generation of people can enjoy this and I said it’s a really honourable thing to do, to be the Keeper of the Crown jewels and that’s what you do, I said in my case I’m afraid I’m just someone who gets someone else to polish them up for me because I’m a bit busy (laughs) I’m off to do a gig, Jimmy was off on holiday somewhere and we just happened to bump into each other at the airport. That to me is really important thing, there are some artists who are just really going to do this themselves; they don’t want anyone else to touch it and I really respect that but in my case I’m have to say there’s not only a much bigger back catalogue than Zeppelin have or even Frank Zappa who was another very hands on control freak; right up until his death he was still working on remixing and remastering live recordings and stuff that he’d done. He was obsessive about it. Well I’m not. I know when it’s time to let somebody else with younger, fresher ears get a handle on it, especially when its something they’ve grown up with and listened to and now have a real motivation to work on.

With compression ratios and reverbs, etc – these are mixes that were done on analogue desks in the ’70s. Are you recreating those aspects?

That’s a very good point. I was just EXACTLY talking to Steven Wilson about that last week on some acoustic guitar parts on ‘Minstrel In The Gallery’ and I said it sounds like there’s two guitars here but its quite possible that what we’re actually looking at is an Eventide processor, an early digital processer with like a 30 milli second delay on it and it sounds like early digital double tracking and the trouble is its got a bit of a phase issue on the last remasters, its staring to sound very phasey and weird, the acoustic guitars have not well transferred to various copies and subsequent remastering and so he said what I’ve done is I’ve tried to recreate that particular era of processor but there is actually only one acoustic guitar track recorded in the studio but the way that you’d originally done the mix you’d split it up so it sounded like there were two guitars, half left and right in the stereo, he said I’ve tried to recreate it but if I bring up the one you think needs to be brought up a little in the balance well that’s the fake effects one and it doesn’t really sound that great even if I’m using contemporary versions of that type of effects processor or if I’m using some more generic kind of old fashioned so I’ve put it down a bit in the mix. So in the end I said, ‘Steven, you made the right decision the first time around, forget what I said, it sounded better, given that I now know there is only the one guitar then lets just do it splitting the difference.

He’s going to have fun when he gets to this record then (holds up personal copy of ‘Heavy Horses’).

I’ve always said to Steven since he first started working with us, “Look there’s going to come a time when you get a phone call from EMI, or Warner Brothers now, ‘Oh Steven would you do the remix?’ and you’re going to have to think of ways to explain you’re washing your hair that… month, and I said there comes a time when you’re going to run out of enthusiasm for this and the only reason you’re going to do it is not for the money they’re paying you but because you want to do it and you feel a personal commitment to it. But when the time come you’ve got to be really clear that this is the last one and don’t feel awkward about it because I for one really understand that it’s not really something you want to keep dragging on through the 80’s or 90’s and whatever and he said, “Well I’ll tell you what, I’ll get to the end of the 70’s and then that’s probably it”

I’m really looking forward to this one. “Heavy Horses’ is a real masterclass in the collision of acoustic and electric instrumentation. I wonder with things like “One Brown Mouse’ and ‘Moths’ how they were tracked; are you playing live acoustic along with barrie for example?

No, no, no, I always went and it on my own in the studio.

And the drums were added later?

Absolutely, lots of things were done that way. That’s how Cat Stevens used to work in the studio with his early albums, Gerry Conway surprised me when he said, “Oh well, I’m not particularly proud of the drumming on this, it sounds like I’m a bit you know speeding up and slowing down but I was just tracking overdubbing to Steve’s vocal and guitar. He’d gone in and recorded them free time, no click, just played and sang them him alone in the studio and then we all went in to overdub our parts.” Which under the circumstances they do have a good feel and sound pretty cohesive but because of that I felt I could probably do better because a) I can maybe play some of my parts to a click, a metronome so it does stay steady but we can record that and it gives the other guys a more obvious clarity of something to play to. It gets a bit mechanical but there are places where that approach works, places where you just kind of do it free and places where maybe the first thing to go on the record is a click track because I play to it. Again Gerry Conway said “I try to look upon the click track as my musical friend as someone to work, someone to accompany me and I try to make the click my friend, I don’t want to fight it or get angry about the fact that I’m being controlled by this mechanical time, I try and make it my pal’ and I think that’s a very good way of putting it. In a sense, while you know that you’ll never be absolutely one hundred percent, you’ll be slipping maybe ten, twenty milliseconds either side of the click here and there, but that’s just imperceptible when you take the click away the end result is something that feels much more human.

My favorite quote about music is from Thelonious Monk – “Don’t think of the beat in the bar as a spot to land on but as a circle to land in…”

Hmm, yeah and Frank Sinatra who was a great guy at singing, slipping and sliding, mostly behind the beat just because it gave it this wonderful quality of interpretation unlike pop music where everything is exactly on the beat and is really boring. There are big chunks of the vocal in ‘Thick as a Brick’ – the early bits of the vocal in the first three minutes where I’m actually pushing the syncopated vocal style, putting all my vocal phrasing a quaver in front of where the beat lies to try and create that sort of slightly lyrical quality and then elsewhere I’ll be deliberately be laying my note, letting my emphasis fall behind the beat. It’s not something I learned from Frank Sinatra but I came to understand about his music in more recent years. He, Bing Crosby and a couple of others you know, Tony Bennett, these guys that are the classic crooners of the crossover jazz, big band, pop music kind of world, a lot of them had this great sense of phrasing which is why instinctively I think we like them because they sound a little bit sloppy, a little bit off the wall but they also let us know of the authority in the singing; they are totally in control and they are dictating to us how we hear their music. We kind of like the fact they’re a bit sloppy, it makes them human. Friendly in way but there’s a kind of real sense that you are in their hands.

Thank you, its been an absolute pleasure to speak with you.

I’m sorry I was couple of minutes late.

Ian Anderson’s Best Of Jethro Tull show is touring New Zealand now. Click here for tickets.