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Jethro Tull guitarist Martin Barre plays two shows in Largo this week

Bill DeYoung

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Martin Barre was Jethro Tull's lead guitarist from 1969 to 2011. Publicity photo.

In one of the richest catalogs in all rock ‘n’ roll, guitarist Martin Barre figures prominently on all but two Jethro Tull albums: The very first (This Was, 1968) and the most recent (The Zealot Gene, 2022).

Of course, the wildly eccentric British band was – and is – the brainchild of Ian Anderson, the singer, songwriter and flutist who’d come up with every single song, and concept, since the beginning.

As Anderson jettisoned and replaced band members over the years, however, Barre was always there. He was the only constant, other than Anderson, from Tull’s early, glory days of Stand Up, Aqualung, Thick as a Brick and Songs From the Wood through the later years, when the records stopped selling and the tours became little more than exercises in nostalgia for the diehard fans.

His electric riffing was key to many of those iconic, million-selling songs. Barre and Anderson understood each other; the guitarist seemed to know what every tune needed.

So Barre was gobsmacked when, in 2011, Anderson dismissed him, too, choosing instead to hire new, young players to perform as “Jethro Tull” behind him.

The good old days: Ian Anderson, left, and Martin Barre, 1970. Crysalis Records.

Since that time, the Martin Barre Band has continued to carry the Tull torch, although Anderson owns the name … and, quite rightly, the lion’s share of the legacy. The Martin Barre Band plays Central Park Performing Arts Center in Largo Thursday and Friday (Jan. 13 and 14), on a tour celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Aqualung album.

The 75-year-old guitar legend spoke to the Catalyst from South Florida, where he and his bandmates – Dan Crisp on vocals, Alan Thomson on bass and Darby Todd on drums- were rehearsing.

 

St. Pete Catalyst: Now that Tull as we know it seems to be no more, are you in a good place as far as your music and your career?

Martin Barre: I really am. At first, it was really difficult and traumatic. And a little bit unpleasant. And then I realized, very slowly, because I started writing and recording straightaway to keep my mind occupied, that I’ve got a lot to say and a lot to play. That I wasn’t able to do before. I was literally released from a very confined situation in Tull. Tull had become not toxic but a very stagnant pool of talent. And since then, I’m definitely in a very happy place.

 

Obviously that legacy is very closely associated with Ian. But it’s your legacy as well. Is going back on the road and playing Tull music a way for you of re-claiming your stake in it?

Yeah, I feel that I’m a big, big part of it. And I’m not forcing myself into that situation. I feel that it’s my heritage. I put 45 years of my life into that project. I’m proud of it, and I think I have a right to be a part of it until I decide not to. It feels very natural, and luckily most of the early stuff was very guitar-heavy. So it’s me, I’m there, and very obviously there, and so it feels a very natural mantle to take on.

 

You’re touring “Aqualung at 50.” How deep into the catalog do you go? Do you do any of the folkie stuff, or the prog stuff?

I have a book full of all the songs that the Martin Barre Band – I call it the four-piece band – has played, everything, and that we can play. And it’s crazy. It’s probably six hours of music. We’ve all enjoyed putting it together, and we can pull any of those pieces out the bag on pretty short notice and play ‘em. It starts back at Stand Up and it goes all the way through to Crest of a Knave. And they all sound great.

The great thing about my band is that Dan is able to sing all this catalog. In the original keys. People say “He sounds just like Ian!” And he doesn’t, he’s Dan. I knew Dan before he’d even heard any Jethro Tull music, and he had the same voice. But it really lends itself perfectly to my music, and to Tull’s music.

 

It’s pretty obvious to me that the band – you and the other guys in classic-era Tull – were integral to the making of all those records, that it wasn’t merely Ian telling everyone what to play.

Yeah, it was a band. And that’s what went wrong, it stopped being a band. Ian really just wanted to be a solo performer, and he didn’t really care who was behind him onstage. And essentially just wanted them to do the job and reproduce what he needed to do his job with.

But we’re back to being a band again. It’s really like the old days when we toured, we ate and we traveled … spent pretty well 24 hours a day, seven days a week working and traveling. And sort of enjoying each other’s company. It is that formula of being a real tight unit that changes music.

 

Over time, did you see it coming for Jethro Tull – “this is going to end”?

I guess I should’ve done! But I just thought that the relationship between me and Ian transcended everything and anything. And Ian always said that without me, there’d be no Jethro Tull. And I got lulled into thinking that was a cast iron working relationship. You don’t have to be bosom buddies to work together, and in many ways in a long-term relationship I think you need to have your own life. And your own things, musically and personally. But we worked so well together because we knew each other like the back of our hands. It was a very strong, like Keith Richard and Mick Jagger. They know each other. They might not love each other, you don’t need to, but you respect and work together.

It was a shame. And a really bad business move.

 

If he were to call you tomorrow and say “We’re pushing 90, we’re in our wheelchairs, come and play,” would you do it?

I probably wouldn’t, because my loyalty lies with the guys I play with. I might say ‘Yeah, you can some and join my band any time you like. As a guest.” I have great respect for the guys that I employ, essentially, and I would never let them down. They come first.

 

The Martin Barre Band performs Thursday at 7:30 p.m., and Friday at 8 p.m. Tickets here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Tull Fan

    January 11, 2022at10:11 pm

    As a long time Tull fan and follower I’m very impressed with the direct questions asked here, and the honesty of the answers elicited. Even the more established music journalists tip -toe around these issues in Tull interviews.
    Bravo

  2. Avatar

    Mark

    January 13, 2022at3:28 am

    No Barre, no Tull.

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