Jethro Tull's Martin Barre Celebrates 50 Years of Aqualung
“Sitting on a park bench, eyeing little girls with bad intent.”
If you don’t know what song that iconic opening line belongs to, then you don’t know your classic rock. For the last 50 years, that lyric and its immediately identifiable six note guitar opening have defined the career of JETHRO TULL, one of classic rock’s most endearing and accomplished British rock bands.
Released in March 1971 during a ten-year stretch from ’69 to ’79 when Jethro Tull produced an incredible 11 albums, AQUALUNG was the masterpiece that most fans remember thanks to its title track and songs like “Locomotive Breath” and “Cross-Eyed Mary.” And while Jethro Tull may have packed it in, the guitarist responsible for creating a great deal of the historic riffs, power chords and soaring melodic solos found on those records – the incomparable MARTIN BARRE – is back on the road, performing Aqualung sequentially in its entirety with a kick-ass band that reunites him with Tull drummer and percussionist Clive Bunker.
In support of the Martin Barre Band’s upcoming performance at FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in St. Catharines Barre took time to talk to GoBeWeekly.com about the recording sessions for Aqualung, whether it’s actually a concept album, where Tull sits in the hierarchy of prog rock, and that time the band opened for Jimi Hendrix
GOBE: Last time we spoke you had just released Roads Less Travelled, an album full of great riffs and a variety of guitar stylings. What’s your level of satisfaction on that project looking back with a lens of hindsight?
MARTIN: I always seek to improve. When I listen back it’s with a critical ear. There are things I like and things I’m happy with. There’s always that little bit that’s not quite right that you think, I shouldn’t have done that. Everything moves forward. I keep that in mind on the next project. At the end of this year, I’ll start recording again and take what I learned from the last one. I never regret anything, because like all music it’s a little snap of a particular point in time, like it or leave it. I’m never 100 percent happy with anything.
GOBE: Of course, the times since then have been defined by the emergence of COVID. Did you use the last two years as a period of unbridled creativity or more of a chance to take a break from it all and reassess?
MARTIN: I think both you know. I was quite happy on the one hand to just not be able to do anything, because it’s almost impossible to not get out on the road and work, through necessity or just because I like to do things. The first year was really good because I just breathed. I played a lot of music. I bought myself an alto flute and played a lot of flute. I worked hard on that. It was just nice. When I think of all the aspects of work as a musician, the travel, the work, the admin, I didn’t have any of that for almost two years and it was fabulous. As it went into year two it was just frustrating. Music had been forgotten, certainly by the U.K. government. Musicians got no support at all. They were just swept under the carpet while others were taken care of. Then it became apparent people really needed to work. But we’re back. We played three months in the States. Shows were sold out. People came to the concerts. It all works. The good news is I think we’re moving on.
GOBE: It’s definitely the case in Canada. Here we are in 2022, you’re heading back to Canada, specifically St. Catharines, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Aqualung. That was the band’s first album with keyboardist John Evan, the first with new basist Jeffrey Hammond, and the last with Clive Bunker on drums. What do you recall most when thinking back to those Aqualung recording sessions at Island Records studios?
MARTIN: I wouldn’t say they were historically amazing. Magic didn’t happen in the studio. In fact it was the opposite. There was a lot of hard work. They had a lot of problems getting good takes on the songs. There’s no predicting what happens in the studio and it didn’t come easy. I wouldn’t say it was all fabulous fun and euphoric music making. It became a great album. Sometimes it took its toll. Sometimes emotions even negative ones can bring out something special. There were high points. I can remember recording Aqualung, all of it, very well. It was a real mixture of good days, bad days. Every way of recording was used. Playing acoustic, the whole band playing live in the studio or building a track bit by bit. We just went in every direction we could.
GOBE: Did you have any sense upon completion of the recording that it was going to be a major album for the band? Did you have a sense of how good it was?
MARTIN: Not at all. Not in the slightest. There was no sense of achievement because it was such a hard album to make. We didn’t sit back, listen to the whole album in the studio and go, ‘wow, this is a great album.’ I think it was just relief we got through it. Then as we went back to touring and playing the new songs as we always did, it then became apparent that the songs fit very well into the live shows. I think the audience and the fans are the people who made the album what it is. The way they perceived it and they accepted it and enjoyed it.
GOBE: It was your first top 10 record in the U.S, with sales of over 7 million worldwide. I assume that earned you at least one significant payday. Do you recall any indulgent purchases you may have made at the time?
MARTIN: (laughing) You have to remember in those days record deals were a shadow of what they are now. I think we made the record company a lot of money. I seem to recall they all drove Bentley’s and Rolls Royces. We might have had a second-hand bottom of the range Mercedes. There was no golden egg. We just toured and rolled on. It was like a snowball thing. There was no increase in our output, it just remained constant each year. We weren’t extravagant. We weren’t interested in the trappings of money. We just wanted to be on the road and make music and tour and enjoy our youth.
GOBE: Darn, I was hoping you were going to say you bought your first Lear Jet.
MARTIN: First? That sort of suggests there was more than one. We were never in that class. The only time we ever took a Lear Jet was when all of us would be flying to the next gig and all the airline flights would be cancelled. The only way to get to the next gig would be a private jet and it was so good! It was a real treat. It didn’t happen very often, usually the last resort.
GOBE: When you revisit the Aqualung material on this tour, is there anything you would change? Do you have an affection for it? Do you appreciate your playing? What’s your connection to the music at this point?
MARTIN: It works really well. My band plays it better than any band has played it. Aqualung with the original lineup was a lesser beast, just because we’ve got better players and we’ve got Clyde as a guest anyway and he’ll be adding stuff to the show. To have me and Clyde on a stage playing the original album, it’s never going to happen again. I’m not making a big deal about that part of it, but it is quite historic for Tull fans anyway. Besides that, the band plays great. It sounds better than it ever did. Dan does such a great job with all the vocals. These songs never shone in the Tull days. “Wind UP” never did. “My God” never did. Now they really come alive.
GOBE: Once and for all, end the debate. Is Aqualung a concept album?
MARTIN: Is it a concept album? It could be with a small “c”. I don’t think that word existed in 1971. My first answer would be no, not at all. If you’re going to put a tag on anything, yes it was a concept because no rock and roll band had mixed acoustic music with electric music and had those changes in dynamics. It was ground-breaking as a concept of creating rock and roll music and playing it live, fans had to be quiet during acoustic sessions which is something they’d not had to do before. It changed things radically.
GOBE: Tull tends to get lumped in with the major prog bands of that era. ELP, Genesis, King Crimson, YES, Moody Blues, even Rush. Did Jethro Tull have any sense of competition with those bands back then?
MARTIN: There wasn’t any. All those bands you mention, we weren’t in competition with any of them because we were sort of unique. I think someone who loved the Moody Blues wouldn’t necessarily like us by default. To the contrary, I think we all co-existed and had our own agendas. Musically, there wasn’t any competition at all. Nobody’s producing that sound or writing that sort of music or writing those sorts of arrangements. It was only us doing it. In many ways we had our own little world with Jethro Tull and we were very happy and controlled it.
GOBE: Aqualung was the band’s fourth album, released during a 10 year period from ’69 to ’79 when the band produced 11 albums. That would set some kind of Guinness World Record today. Why was the band so prolific in releasing music back then?
MARTIN: I don’t know. Having said that, I know that with solo albums I might do one a year myself. I think it was just part of the process that we toured, and then planned another tour for a new album. Back in the studio, record new material. I think it was because we needed material. We didn’t want to do Aqualung the Tour Version 2, Aqualung Again the Tour. We needed to move along musically, and it was just a natural feeling. It wasn’t a conscious decision to do it. We just always felt we had to make more to offer to people on a year-to-year basis.
GOBE: Besides have your former Tull bandmate Clive Bunker with you on this tour you’ve once again got Dan Crisp on vocals who does an amazing job with the Tull material. Is it eerie for you to hear him sing it so well?
MARTIN: No, not really. In many ways we were all very insulated in the early years, it became five people on stage all doing their own thing rather than playing as a band and playing off each other, getting inspiration and drawing on each other’s emotions. I just think it went in the wrong direction. Whereas now we all play off each other and everybody hears each other’s playing. It’s back to being a band again. I think Tull lost that ingredient in their make-up.
GOBE: if you had to pinpoint it, what will fans appreciate most about hearing the band perform this music and more specifically, what do you enjoy most about it?
MARTIN: For me, I’ve worked hard towards doing what I’m doing today, with this band. I’m so proud of them and what we’ve all achieved. It’s been really hard work. When Tull finished it was literally back to zero. Going into clubs to play for 30 people and having to start from scratch all over again. I’m proud of what we are for better or worse. I’m proud of what we’ve done. And I think for Tull fans, it’s just the best Tull music you’ll hear it in the world. We play it better than anybody. People who don’t like Tull can still appreciate the band, the playing, the energy, the entertainment at the show. It’s for everybody whether you’re a diehard Tull fan happy to be hearing the greatest hits or someone off the streeet who doesn’t know who we are who just wants to listen to a live band at night. Both extremes will be really happy with what they get.
GOBE: Final question. When you first joined Tull, the band toured Scandinavia in support of Jimi Hendrix. As a guitarist yourself, what do you remember most about watching him.
MARTIN: He was obviously a legend, 99.9 percent better than any of the young players around in the day. Playing on the same stage he was going to play on right after you was terrifying. He was a fantastic person, generous, kind, humble, friendly. Just a life lesson in how to be a good person and a great player. It was a fantastic introduction
SEE THE MARTIN BARRE BAND:
Wednesday, July 13, 2022
250 St. Paul St., St. Catharines, ON
Doors 7PM - Show 7:30PM
TICKETS ON SALE NOW - ALL AGES
Tickets are $78-90 and are available from the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre box office, 250 St. Paul St., by phone 905-688-0722, or online at firstontariopac.ca
OTHER TOUR DATES
Wednesday, July 6, 2022 - Ottawa, ON - Shenkman Arts Centre
Thursday, July 7, 2022 - Cornwall, ON - Aultsville Theatre
Friday, July 8, 2022 - Belleville, ON - The Empire Theatre
Saturday, July 9, 2022 - London, ON - Centennial Hall
Sunday, July 10, 2022 - Barrie, ON - Georgian Theatre
Monday, July 11, 2022 - Peterborough, ON - Showplace Performance Centre
Tuesday, July 12, 2022 - Brantford, ON - Sanderson Centre for the Performing Arts
Wednesday, July 13, 2022 - St. Catharines, ON - Partridge Hall
Friday, July 15, 2022 - Brampton, ON - The Rose Brampton
Saturday, July 16, 2022 - Windsor, ON - Chrysler Theatre
Thursday, July 21, 2022 - Victoria, BC - Royal Theatre
Friday, July 22, 2022 - Campbell River, BC - Tidemark Theatre
Sunday, July 24, 2022 - Nanaimo, BC - The Port Theatre
Monday, July 25, 2022 - Surrey, BC - Bell Performing Arts Centre
Tuesday, July 26, 2022 - Vernon, BC - Vernon & District Performing Arts Centre
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