STORY WRITTEN BY GARY GRAFF
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“Jethro Tull By Ian Anderson” seems an odd — albeit descriptive — title for a show. Anderson, after all, is Tull’s founder, frontman and songwriter.
But that’s something he wants people to recognize in this later stage of his, and the band’s career.
“I think people have a very, very sort of stunted imagination in regard to that,” Anderson, 68, says by phone from his home in Great Britain. “Jethro Tull is as alive and well as it’s ever been, but forgive me for my conceit and arrogance and pomposity — I would like you to know my name before I did, and a lot of folks around the world don’t. They just know the name Jethro Tull and they don’t know Ian Anderson, the guy who’s been around from the beginning and who produced the records and engineered a lot of them and sung and played a lot of the instruments and things.
“So I put my own name in the mix. If I’m doing the Jethro Tull repertoire then it will say Jethro Tull in big letter and Ian Anderson in maybe smaller letters. And if you see something advertised that looks like it’s Jethro Tull, then hopefully it’ll be a concert that has me standing in the middle of the stage playing the flute.”
“Jethro Tull By Ian Anderson” takes stock of that career, which began during 1967 and has sold more than 60 million albums worldwide. The multimedia piece is a rock opera about the real Jethro Tull, a British agriculturist and inventor whose name was bestowed upon the band by an early manager. It’s caused plenty of confusion over the years — Anderson has lost track of how many times he’s been referred to as Mr. Tull — but he recently decided to do some research into the original Tull’s life, which spawned the idea for the current show.
“As I was reading I was just struck with a few things he did or said that I felt, ‘Wow, that’s really uncanny, but that sounds like one of my songs,’” Anderson recalls. “And I thought, ‘I Wonder how many songs I have written over the years that somehow make references that tie into that story,’ and I came up with a number of them that were obvious fits to his story, and a few more that I thought, ‘Well, I can easily bend that to fit, or maybe vary the story line to fit the songs.’”
The piece, however, is not strictly an 18th century agrarian history lesson but rather ties in some of Tull’s philosophies to current issues of climate change, global overcrowding and food and water supply issues.
“I wanted to reimagine Jethro Tull as a contemporary character, and what would he be doing if he was working on agricultural improvements today,” Anderson explains. To that end he also wrote five new songs and 20 connecting pieces to augment a setlist heavy on Tull (the band) favorites such as “Aqualung,” “Living in the Past,” “Locomotive Breath” and more.
The show has already toured in Europe and is coming to North America for a handful of dates, and Anderson plans to keep it on the road well into 2016. And so far he’s happy with how it’s been received.
“We have so far not encountered adverse reaction from audiences,” reports Anderson, who plans to film and record the show for future release. “They seem to be amused, regardless of their cultures and backgrounds. It’s sufficiently entertaining on a simple level. Happily it seems to be the right kind of balance between toe-tapping music and thinking person’s music.
“It’s not a message of doom and gloom or preaching too much details. It’s essential positive and buoyant; I try to keep it upbeat and fun because essentially it is an optimistic story of the future, the challenges that face us and how they might be overcome.”