By Patrick Prince
IN HONOR OF THE 40TH ANNIVERSARY OF JETHRO TULL’S “THICK AS A BRICK” ALBUM, vocalist and flutist Ian Anderson has conceived various scenarios for its protagonist’s fate. In the sequel, “TAAB2,” we get to ponder the possible paths of Gerald Bostock, the precocious boy from whom we last heard in 1972.
Over 40 years, many things have changed. The fictitious St. Cleve Chronicle newspaper on the original album cover is now StCleve.com. As we experience the nearly 60 minutes of “TAAB2,” we contemplate, through Anderson’s songwriting, whether Gerald has become a successful banker, a rather ordinary man or a prostitute who lives a sordid existence on the streets of London. It’s the listener’s choice to decide which fate is most in tune with the true nature of Gerald Bostock. The Ian Anderson touring band — keyboardist John O’Hara, bassist David Goodier, drummer Scott Hammond and guitarist Florian Opahle — will perform both “Thick as a Brick” albums in succession on a lengthy worldwide tour this year.
The project is ambitious, but it should be rewarding for most fans of Jethro Tull. Just a word of advice: Do not dare to call it prog rock — at least, not around Ian Anderson. Goldmine caught up with Anderson at home in England to learn more about “TAAB2.”
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Goldmine: How did this sequel idea — this continuation of “Thick as a Brick” — take fruition?
Ian Anderson: In a number of phone calls and discussions with people in record companies in the last few years, there have been a number of thoughts expressed on their part about doing a sequel to “Thick As A Brick.” But it was only really in 2010, when I was discussing this with Derek Shulman, the ex-singer of the prog rock band Gentle Giant in the ’70s. He and I talked about it a couple of times, and in the usual manner of my telling him in no uncertain terms that I really didn’t want to go back and revisit something that’s as rooted in the past as “Thick as a Brick” was. Suddenly, a new angle popped into the conversation, which was, ‘I wonder what Gerald Bostock would be doing today? What the little lad would be up to? And also, what the St. Cleve Chronicle, the newspaper — what would that be today?’ So those two things sent me pondering on the possibility of doing not something that was a follow on from back then, but that was a big leap in time, 40 years into the future. That seemed a little more plausible. Then I sketched out a concept based on the possible paths that the young Gerald might have taken in life and put StCleve.com into the mix with an online parish newsletter, which is kind of modeled really on some of the small-town and village community online websites that we have over here.
In this case, out of the various possibilities that I planned for the young Gerald to sing about, or for me to sing about, were some contentious things, some rather sad things, some rather mundane and equally plausible futures where he might just be a very ordinary man running a little village shop and looking after his customers and playing with his model trains. I did, on the album cover, however, make him an ex-politician, which I think was probably the most likely thing. But I save that for the album cover rather than make that one of the musical options. I think the one thing you’d probably would be if you were a precocious young boy in 1972 and you were writing elaborative, rather surreal poetry, you’d probably be a bit of a pain in the ass as a kid, but you might have grown up to be a politician. My gut feeling is that the politician is the most likely course the young Gerald would have taken. Equally well he may have been seduced by finding God — because he looks like a little spotty kid with glasses. He looks a bit of an academic rather than a sports hero, so I thought this guy would get bullied and pushed around on the sports field just as happened to children who were like that. Or equally decided that he really didn’t like boys and pushing and kicking games. Maybe he was more of a gentle soul who might well prefer a more artistic and sublime pursuit.
In one proposition, I have him make choices regarding sexuality and have him fall into the perils of being driven out of his home by parents who didn’t understand, and ending up on the streets of London and becoming a rent-boy. A sad reality, but nonetheless one of those plausible things that could have happened to me, because that song (“Swing It Far”) is actually quite autobiographical, apart from the anal sex parts. Because when I was a kid, my father called me Jessie, which is a Scottish term meaning, you know, poofter or shirt lifter, or f**got as you would say in America. An unpleasant thing. And he was desperately afraid that I was going to become gay, that I was going to be a homosexual when I was a young teenager. And so he used those cruel names to me and that would have — very easily — had the opposite effect from reality, it could well have pushed me in that direction. It didn’t, because I decided that the attractions of young females were infinitely preferable when I was 15 or 16 years old. So that didn’t come to pass, but it could have.
GM: You hint that there are conclusions that might have karma-like proportions.
IA: Oh, yes, well, in the sense that whatever the myriad of interventions that present themselves to us and cause us to change track in life, maybe there is some underlying preordained future where we all end up where we were going to end up anyway, regardless of what we do in the meantime. That sort of belief is not one that I share. I consider it as a possibility, and it’s a fascinating subject intellectually as a concept for this album, but it’s not something that I personally espouse or believe in. I just think it’s an intriguing possibility, that, in spite of what we do, there’s a likelihood that we kind of end up somewhere in the same general orbit, but maybe not exactly in the same place.
GM: You mention in the liner notes of “TAAB2” that the social media and Internet generation “may choose to ponder well the myriad of chance possibilities ahead of them at every turn.” Do you think that the younger generations are even more impulsive in their decision-making?
IA: I’m not sure that they are, actually. I think these days, the choices present themselves, the information is out there, where you can actually make a lot more deliberate choices as a youngster in terms of your education and in terms of your career aspirations. Certainly when I was a boy, there wasn’t that much information out there. There was the school library and a few career books that gave you some idea as to what you might be in life. But it was actually very limited. It was hard to find anyone to talk to. I mean, if you talked to the master, whose job it was to discuss careers, you know, he was really pretty boring and pretty limited, and the advice was usually the same: “Oh, just go to university, get a degree and then worry about getting a job later.” We didn’t have many options for making educated choices when we were children. And our parents were pretty bloody useless, as well, because they just wanted us to be the doctor or the dentist or the lawyer, all the stereotype characters, and didn’t really think outside the box. So, I think today there’s a lot more possibility for people to make educated decisions and less excuse for them to be impulsive and just simply react to the kind of events in their lives that may push them — perhaps often through peer-group pressure — into one course of action or another.
Peer-group pressure is the worst kind of scenario. It’s the worst thing that can happen to you, to fall into the clutches of your friends and fellow students who try to nudge you one way or the other — perhaps in a well-meaning way, but often in a way that’s really something that puts pressure on people, whether it’s pressure in terms of adopting a given lifestyle or clothing or staying out late and partying or taking drugs or whatever it might be. Peer-group pressure can be very dangerous and damaging things to young people. And they should really be prepared to be a little more independent, in my opinion.
GM: You’ve written most of the album “TAAB2” on acoustic guitar. Did that change the way that you usually do your songwriting? Don’t you usually write the lyrics first?
IA: Most often I write some element of music first and try to get lyrics as soon as I can, because I know from bitter experience to write all of the music then try to write the words afterwards is really a very difficult and self-conscious way to come up with lyrics. I like to have a title. I like to have a few lines of lyrics pretty much at the same time as I get the music. But on this occasion, I did write the lyrics in advance, really, and I had held sections where I had lyrics but no set idea about music until it came time to think about the meter that was implied by the lyrics, you know, the rhythm that lyrics have, just written on the page, almost as a poetic way they imply rhythm. And because of the natural cadence of reading those lyrics, they have some ups and downs, and they suggest some beginnings of melody. So the music came pretty hot on the heel. But it was mostly lyrics first with music later the same day or the next day, and most of it written on acoustic guitar rather than the flute — I mean, there were two or three things that begun as melodies off the flute. For the most part, it was lyrics typed onto my laptop computer but following the concept which had been laid out as a fairly detailed framework on which I could then fill in the spaces.
GM: In the past you have said that you don’t like the phrase ‘concept album.’
IA: A concept album is a concept album. I only didn’t like it when it was presented in 1971 in regard to the “Aqualung” album, because newspaper reviewers and critics called “Aqualung” a concept album, which I really didn’t feel that it was. It was a collection of songs, and two or three had some common ground. That didn’t make it a concept album. When I write a concept album like “Thick as a Brick” or “A Passion Play” or “Divinities” or this one, it’s a concept album. I think the term prog rock is not one that I’ve ever been enamored of. But progressive rock, which was a term applied to us back as early as 1969, was a terminology I found perfectly acceptable. I rather like being in a progressive rock band. It sounds like you’re taking those essential elements of rock music and making some eclectic, forward-thinking music using a variety of influences from other music forms, which is what it was about. But prog, as it became known, is a rather derogatory word that implies that bombastic, overblown, selfish music that had too many long guitar solos and/or noodly keyboards — so people like Rick Wakeman and the members of Yes and early Genesis and Gentle Giant and a whole bunch of bands like that who were, you know, they had their heads right up their own asses. But I put mine up only for really “Thick as a Brick” and “A Passion Play” — with a sense of having a little fun with that genre, which in the case of “Thick as a Brick,” was, I thought, fairly obvious. We were making a parody, doing a bit of a Spinal Tap version of prog rock, and I thought most people would get the gentle joke. But some did and some didn’t.
GM: As far as the upcoming tour is concerned, you will be playing the first “Thick as a Brick” album in its entirety, and then the sequel, as well?
IA: Well, the intention was always, before we announced any dates, that when we finished recording “TAAB2” that it would be played live onstage alongside the original “Thick as a Brick,” so it was always going to be both together with a 20-minute intermission. And that is, indeed, the plan, and the only thing that remains a bit of experimentation is whether we play the 1972 one first and the 2012 one second, or the other way around. We’ll probably try it both ways when we do our U.K. tour and see what the audiences prefer.
IA: That’s right. Well, the people that have played on this record, three out of four of them have been playing with me for 10 years in my solo concerts, orchestral concerts and so on, as well as two of the guys are regular Jethro Tull members, as well. All of the band, including the most recent member, Scott Hammond, the drummer — who started playing with me towards the end of 2010 — all of those guys have done some concerts as Jethro Tull, so they’ve all learned a lot of the Jethro Tull repertoire. They have quite a good organic feel for how the history of Jethro Tull plays a part in what we do today. The only difference for me is when I look to my left that I see the guitar player Florian Opahle rather than the guitar player Martin Barre. But the rest of the time I’m onstage I’m not really … nothing changes for me. When people say what’s the difference of an Ian Anderson concert and a Jethro Tull concert, I shrug my shoulders and say not a lot. For me, it’s another day in the office. I’m onstage singing my music to an audience, and I don’t really stop to think necessarily what does it say on the packaging, what does it say on the concert ticket. It’s something I actually really don’t think about at all. The only reason it would impact upon me during a concert is that as Jethro Tull, sometimes we will get people in the audience who are a little more loud and obnoxious in their behavior, whistling and shouting and hooting in all the quiet places, which really annoys the rest of the audience, as well as me. The thing is, there are those occasional — not fans, but people who know a little bit about Jethro Tull because of radio play in the USA, where perhaps a few of the rock songs get played …
GM: … so they are shouting out “Aqualung” …
IA: Yes, so that is the reason that “Thick as a Brick” came to a dead stop in 1972. After I performed in America, it was really not an enjoyable album to present live to an audience. It was very unsatisfying for me to be onstage and not being able to hear what I was playing because of the noise of people shouting and whistling. But that was then. This is now. It’s going to be an easier ride now. Of all the tours that I do in North America, I never experience those problems when it’s an Ian Anderson concert. I don’t anticipate that being an issue.
GM: Well, you mentioned Martin Barre, and obviously fans are wondering: Was Martin not available for this project? Was he considered for this project?
IA: I’m sure they are. But I don’t really have any comment about that. It’s just that Martin and I had a long chat about events this year, when, I think last June, we talked on a number of occasions, talking about our plans for the future. Both he and I have things that we want to do while we’re still mentally and physically capable of doing them. And this year, Martin has a lot of projects he’s working on, playing with a number of other artists and going on tour with different configurations of his own band. So, we have our projects this year, and it’s good to take some time away. But as to what the future holds, it’s difficult to answer that question. Both Martin and I will see how things go on, but it would be surprising to me if there weren’t any Jethro Tull concerts involving Martin Barre sometime in the future, but they’re not on the date sheet or the year planner.
GM: I understand. You know how fans can get — there’s chatter of, ‘Where’s Martin, where’s Doane (Perry)?’ They wonder if there’s a schism.
IA: No, I don’t think so. We have a very positive relationship, but just because you work together and you’ve spent a lot of time working on concerts and making music, it’s not something that anybody should feel obliged to do. We’re supposed to be creative souls, restless spirits. We should be able to do stuff, and that’s why I think it’s an important year for everybody to follow some alternative paths. I mean, none of us are young. If we don’t do the stuff that we want to try doing now, there might not be another chance. We may be dead in a year’s time. The same to Martin, who’s got a chance to do some of the things he wants to do. So, it’s a good time to be doing these things.
GM: Just like the new album itself expresses, change is inevitable.
IA: Sure. You know, there have been 22 members of Jethro Tull, if you define them by having performed as full members on an album or as having done as least one major tour. And the guys who played on the original “Thick As A Brick,” three out of the five of us quit playing music a long time ago. And two of them are in no position to play music, physically not able to play music. In some ways, to simply call this album “Thick as a Brick 2/Jethro Tull” could easily imply to people that the original lineup was somehow back together, and that’s absolutely not a practical possibility. I really didn’t want to simply bill this as Jethro Tull, because I felt perhaps in the same way as Roger Waters for whom “The Wall,” that was his baby. “Thick as a Brick” back in 1972, that was my baby. I wrote it all. I presented the fait accompli to the other guys, and they learned the music and played it onstage. But it was my concept, my piece of music. And as the guy who’s written almost all of Jethro Tull’s music over the years, I think sometimes it’s nice that you can stand up and say, ‘This is mine.’
You know, it’s not something I want to share with other people who just turn up into the studio and play their bits and go home again. That’s fine. That’s what musicians do. But I don’t feel it appropriate to do that. It’s just that this is an Ian Anderson project. But it’s quite clear I still use the name Jethro Tull, but in a slightly more diffused fashion. However, it doesn’t really worry me what people say, and there will be people jumping to conclusions or having ideas. People are troublemakers, as well you know. I think it’s quite likely that there will be people trying to make some issue out of there being some rift between band members. We’ve experienced that in the past, as I’m sure lots of bands have. Probably the band that suffered mostly from that is The Rolling Stones, for whom it seems half the planet wants there to be a fistfight between Keith Richards and Mick Jagger. And the sad thing is that 90 percent of them want Keith Richards to win.
GM: Getting back to the “TAAB” sequel, there’s going to be a special-edition release, too.
IA: Yes, yes, the special edition, which will be released at the same time. It’s a CD, the same as the regular album, but it also contains a DVD, which has two formats of 5.1 surround mix, it has the 24-bit high-end stereo mix. It has the video of the making of the album, interviews with the musicians and engineers. It has me reading the lyrics in some different locations and contexts and it has the PDF files of the multilingual translations of the album lyrics, and it had the PDF pages of StCleve.com for those too lazy to type it into their URL address bar on their computer.
GM: Will it be on vinyl, also?
IA: Later in the year there will be a remastered “TAAB1.” We intend to at least attempt to cut a vinyl record of “TAAB2” at the same time, but it’s nearly 54 minutes, and it’s pushing the boundaries of the technology (laughs), but we will be cutting it onto a copper disc as a master, which means it’s a lot more stable, and the parts that are made to create the vinyl records from are more resilient during that manufacturing stage.
GM: I look forward to it on vinyl, in its original format.
IA: Yeah, people like the vinyl. They like to pick it up and hold it and look into it, but, frankly, if you want to play it, you’re gonna have to have some pretty good quality vinyl turntable and stylus. Even then signal-to-noise ratio of vinyl is pretty crap. The tendency for inner groove distortion, to the degree where you have to manipulate the mix to get it onto vinyl in the first place because you’re gonna have to use a lot more compression and high-end limiting and stuff that you don’t have to do in the digital world. And so the compromises you make are pretty savage, and that was one of the problems with the original “Thick as a Brick” or “Aqualung” album. They were mixed for vinyl but also for the emerging new medium of the cassette tape, which, of course, meant that you had to really, really make these big compromises in your mixings, because you couldn’t risk trying to get onto these formats the kind of full bandwidths that you would get in the recording studio from your 2-inch analog tape. You can’t do that when you come down to mix it to cut vinyl. There was a lot of bad stuff to it, to squeeze it onto a vinyl record.
GM: Gerald Bostock aside, is Ian Anderson satisfied with the paths chosen, and where do you hope new paths will lead?
IA: Well, I’m not happy. I am unbelievably grateful. It’s not just a question of being happy. (Laughs.) I think of all the things that I might have been that could have been either pretty disastrous for me or possibly just less than satisfied. I had some very clear-cut points in my life where I chose a path. Sometimes things just happen that I can’t explain and cause me to do one thing as opposed to something else. Other things were more deliberate choices. But a couple of things that were early career choices, like to join the police force or become a journalist — they were things I was really serious about doing but I was turned away. I didn’t get past the interview stage, so I didn’t get to be a policeman, but I was fully prepared to sign on the dotted line and be a policeman. And I didn’t get a job in the local newspaper office, and I went to art school where I started playing music in my spare time. And then, one day, I walked into the music store, and the sun had just come out from a rainy cold day in Blackpool in the north of England. The sun came through the window of the music store and glistened on an object hanging on the wall, which caught my attention as the sun shone on it. And it was a flute, and for no reason I said, ‘Oh, I’ll have one of those.’ You know, rather like going into Starbucks and ordering a latte with some topping you’ve never tried before. It was just a chance moment where you think you’ll try something without any good reason whatsoever. And, of course, you can say that would have definitely been a life-changing moment for me.
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