We clicked into Zoom Tuesday to chat with none other than rock singer, songwriter and flute player extraordinaire Ian Anderson, who was on the other side of the Atlantic. The subject was A, the 1980 Jethro Tull album, the latest in the legendary British band’s catalog to receive a sparkling new remix by Steven Wilson.
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A was a transitional record for Jethro Tull, at that time one of the highest-grossing touring bands in the world. After a string of platinum albums, from Aqualung and A Passion Play to Songs From the Wood and Heavy Horses, Anderson felt something else was brewing.
“We’d been on the road continuously for 10 years,” says the enigmatic and erudite frontman, “doing multiple tours every year. And if we weren’t on the road, we were in the studio recording a new album. So we were all getting a little frazzled, and wanting to have a bit of time off – to do other things, to be with family. Time off to pursue some hobbies and fanciful projects.”
And so A began life as a side project, a solo album, with Anderson recording with one of his favorite musicians of the day, keyboard, synthesizer and violin player Eddie Jobson (Frank Zappa, Roxy Music, U.K.) Jobson bought in drummer Mark Craney, and the bass position was filed by Dave Pegg, who just joined Tull for touring but hadn’t yet recorded with the band.
At some point during the sessions, someone said “This needs guitar,” and the call went out to Tull stalwart Martin Barre, who at first demurred, then signed on.
Despite Jobson’s swirly keyboards and synthesizers, which along with a lot of fast time changes gave some songs a pronounced “prog” feel, the end result sounded – wouldn’t you know it – like a Jethro Tull album.
The record company, Anderson explains, urged him to call it just that. “They said ‘This is going to be a tough sell. If you want to sell some records – if want us to do what we can do – we need to call it Jethro Tull.’ I allowed myself to be persuaded.”
And then, he says, he had to tell the other three members of the “real” Tull that there was a new gang in town.
Although it wasn’t well-received at the time, critically or commercially, A benefits from Wilson’s “cleaning up, thinking hard and re-assembling” the multi-track tapes.
Also in this interview, Anderson discusses future projects in the Wilson series, including the much-loved album The Broadsword and the Beast, and the controversial Under Wraps. He also ponders when he’ll be able to return to live performance.