Ian Anderson Takes Jethro Tull Back To The Future!

by John A. Wilcox

Jethro Tull was born in 1674. He was a pioneering agriculturalist and inventor of the seed drill. In 1731 his book The New Horse Hoeing Husbandry was published. Tull died in 1741. An important figure in the history of agriculture, to be sure. I can already sense your urge to click off of this page. Trust me - it gets much better! Here we are in 2015. Tull the inventor is getting the rock opera treatment by none other than Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull the rock band. I asked Anderson about his inspiration for the show. The original Jethro Tull, the historical agricultural inventor of the 18th century. Said Anderson. Someone that I've known about since 1968 when our agent gave us the name of somebody that I'd never heard of because I didn't do that era of history at school. To me it was just a name that was made up. I didn't realize that he'd named us after a dead guy.

As Anderson researched Tull, he found conflicting historical accounts. How does one deal with that? Anderson again: I took the elements of it all and made a sort of pastiche of his story and extrapolated that into the near future. I'm really re-imagining Jethro Tull - not as an 18th century agriculturalist - but as a 21st century agriculturist working in biochemistry and engineering of genetic crops and in the world of cloning and livestock and so on. So we've got this guy who's set in the present day. Making the same agricultural advances. Of course these days agriculture is big business, so he's patenting his inventions. Making tons of money whilst on the other hand he's helping to feed the planet. He's faced with a quandary and the radical dilemma of is it right that I should be making so much money and become so wealthy out of doing something that is providing the basic resources for human survival and sustenance in a growing population worldwide with depleted resources due to climate change etc,etc. Heady stuff!

Ian Anderson laid out the format for me. I've written 5 new pieces which deal with the areas that are not covered by my historical repertoire. There are 15 classic best of Jethro Tull songs; 5 new ones; and a bunch of connecting little pieces called recitatives which are sometimes 10 seconds long, sometimes 30 seconds long. Using certain operatic devices in terms of the structure of the concert with recitatives rather than spoken introductions. Musical introductions making it a little more entertaining for the 50% of people that I play to in my life who don't speak English, because as you can imagine I don't just do concerts in the UK or in the USA. Having recitatives rather than spoken introductions along the lines of "Well thank you very much ladies and gentlemen. For our next number we're going to play blahblahblahblahblah..." It's kind of interesting when you actually create a song version of that to explain where the song is going, and accompanied by video which is again these days a part of making things a little bit more entertaining and multimedia for an audience who expects perhaps more for their money than they would've done if they went to see Jethro Tull 40 years ago.

In addition to his crack touring band, the show will feature "virtual" guests playing at various moments during the concert. How do these performances match up with the band? Anderson once more: It varies. Much of it has to be done with a click track if the video has to be really in sync. Speaking of playing in sync, the methods for doing so have gotten much easier over the decades. Anderson related a moment from the early 70s during the sessions for the Aqualung album: When we recorded Locomotive Breath it was to me standing in the studio for 3 1/2 minutes clicking 2 drum sticks together to keep time and get the guys to play to that to avoid speeding up or slowing down! A long way from the multimedia madness in this new show. Jethro Tull fans are sure to be delighted!

Ian Anderson performs Jethro Tull: The Rock Opera
Tuesday November 10 at 8:00 PM
The Capitol Theatre
149 Westchester Avenue
Port Chester, NY 10573


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