For an impressive span of over five decades, Martin Barre and Ian Anderson were the two constant presences in Jethro Tull. Anderson’s voice, flute and songwriting shaped the band’s vision but Barre’s stellar guitar work was the essential ingredient for its counterbalancing rock and roll sound. Barre—who has pursued a solo career for years, in addition to his Tull duties, which lasted from 1968 to 2014—spoke with PKM’s Anthony Petkovich about his career, his technique, his relationship with Anderson and everything else under the sun. We are proud to present this conversation with Martin Barre, guitarist extraordinaire.
Back in 1975, British rock musician Ian Anderson was complaining to 19-year-old Creem journalist Cameron Crowe.
“At one point, a lot of people,” Anderson seethed, “started thinking my name was Jethro Tull. ‘Hey, Tull. Hey, man. Hey, Jethro. Hey Jet.’ I once got called Jet, which I thought was quite attractive, I must admit. It wasn’t by a girl, unfortunately. It was by a rather diseased-looking young gentleman from one of the Southern states.”
I confess to being equally guilty.
In 1974, when I was just a 13-year-old kid—and hopefully not too “diseased-looking”—I bought the Jethro Tull single “Bungle in the Jungle”, immediately thinking Jethro Tull was, indeed, a guy, not a group.
Jethro Tull, “Bungle in the Jungle”, from Warchild (1974):
After all, I’d never seen a picture of the band (we’re talking well before the Internet); also, the 45 I purchased had nothing whatsoever to identify Tull (the local rinky-dink record shop where I bought the single simply sold the disc in a generic white sleeve—sans artwork), so I assumed Jethro was, well, a dude!
But not long after purchasing “Bungle”—at which point I graduated to buying Jethro Tull albums, quickly became a bona fide fan, and soon thereafter found out that “Jet” was very much a band—I realized that Anderson himself could easily be mistaken as “Tull”. He was after all the founder/singer/songwriter/producer/leader/front-man of the British band. And as rock’s most famous flautist, Anderson was featured (alone!) on many a Tull album cover. (I also discovered, in a mid-‘70s Circus Magazine conversation with Anderson, that Jethro Tull was a real-life 18th-century English agriculturalist who’d invented the seed drill.) The Scottish-born Anderson—who moved with his family at age 12 from Edinburgh to the northwest English seaside resort of Blackpool, where the original foundation of the band germinated—was also the one member in Jethro Tull who was a constant fixture since its formal configuration/christening in 1967.
Over the years, gifted musicians certainly came in and out of the Tull fold on a regular basis, including amazing bassists (Glenn Cornick, Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond, John Glascock, Dave Pegg), superlative drummers (Clive Bunker, Barriemore Barlow, Mark Craney, Gerry Conway), and fantastic keyboardists (Eddie Jobson, Peter John Vettese, David—now Dee—Palmer, and the highly underrated John Evans).
But there was one outstanding musician who, next to Anderson himself, was the other longest-standing member of Jethro Tull: namely, electric guitarist Martin Barre.
A Birmingham native, Martin Lancelot Barre officially joined Jethro Tull in December ‘68, replacing guitarist Mick Abrahams (who appeared on the band’s premiere ‘68 blues-oriented platter, This Was, not long afterwards quitting to form the blues-rock outfit Blodwyn Pig); Barre ultimately staying with Tull until its break-up in 2014, playing standout guitar on every record, beginning with the group’s second LP, i.e., the seminal Stand Up (1969).
Never just a progressive-rock band, Jethro Tull were definitely a tough group to pigeonhole. During the late Sixties and throughout the Seventies, the typically five-piece musical unit dynamically traversed the vistas of blues-, hard-, folk- and, yes, prog-rock. Anderson, aside from handling vocals and flute, usually played most of the acoustic guitar parts, while sometimes branching out into saxophone, trumpet, violin, mandolin, balalaika, and sundry other musical instruments over the years. And, although Barre handled the majority of the electrical guitar duties, he’d occasionally contribute to the acoustic guitar department; from time to time playing more ethnic stringed devices like the lute and Spanish guitar; even dabbling in flute and recorder on a few early Tull productions.
And while the ‘80s saw the insufferable rise of the synthesizer (even within Tull’s own ranks during the early ‘80s), virtuoso Barre successfully weathered the keyboard-laden storm, coming back with a vengeance on grittier, more-guitar-riff-dominated LPs like Crest of a Knave (1987), Rock Island (1989), and Catfish Rising (1992).
Then in 1994, Barre got his feet wet outside of Tull with his first solo effort, A Trick of Memory, singing most of the songs himself, though happily handing over the vocal responsibilities to the very soulful Maggie Reeday on its follow-up, The Meeting (1996). Several years later, Barre delivered the memorable all-instrumental Stage Left (2003) followed by the, largely, all-acoustic instrumental Away With Words (2013), on which he cleverly fuses his own original melodies with numerous personal Tull favorites. And with the release of Back to Steel in 2015, Barre comfortably settled on guitarist/vocalist Dan Crisp and bassist Alan Thomson as the core of his band; the newly formed, redoubtable trio next releasing Roads Less Travelled (2018)—jam-packed, from start to finish, with original, Barre-penned numbers—as well as the excellent double CD, with accompanying DVD, Martin Barre Live in NY (released in 2019, though recorded in 2016 at Daryl’s House Club in Pawling, New York).
And while Barre is no longer with Jethro Tull, he most definitely still plays their music, which he, of course, had a key hand in developing and arranging for well over 40 years. The success of the group is definitely due, at least partly, to his sometimes heavy, consistently tasteful, all-around indispensable, distinctive guitar work (Barre’s early blazing solo alone on “We Used to Know”, from Stand Up, being just as good as any Clapton wah-wah interlude from the height of Cream’s glory days. Sorry, Eric.)
Jethro Tull, “We Used To Know”, from Stand Up (1969):
Additionally, with his current band line-up, Barre is giving many favorite Tull tunes welcomed facelifts; the new arrangements both augmenting and energizing classics like “Sweet Dream”, “Fat Man”, “A Song for Jeffrey”, “Skating Away (On the Thin Ice of the New Day)”, and “A New Day Yesterday”; while his ripping double-guitar leads (a la Wishbone Ash/Allman Brother) with Dan Crisp breathe further new life into the Tull canon of songs; Barre is still, however, handling the lion’s share of the solos.
In 2019, the guitarist put out Martin Barre: 50 Years of Jethro Tull, a double CD containing electric and acoustic versions of both classic and deep-cut Tull songs to celebrate Barre’s five-decade anniversary of joining the iconic British band.
AND… as 2021 marks the 50th anniversary of the legendary Aqualung LP (which catapulted Tull to international rock stardom in 1971), Barre is planning to take it on the road and perform the entire album live.
I spoke on the phone with Barre about his lengthy period with Tull and his relatively new career as a solo artist; the ever-modest guitarist—speaking from his Devon digs in South West England—being as gentlemanly and downright friendly as ever.
PKM: So, Martin, how do you get that big, thick, muscular guitar tone we’ve come to know and love for so many decades? Is it a deep secret?
Martin Barre: No. (laughs) I wish I knew, and in many ways, I’m glad I don’t know, because I think if I knew and could analyze it, I’d be worried that one day I wouldn’t get it anymore. I’ve got different amps, every different guitar on the planet, and I plug in and play—and the sound of a big guitar comes from not just the amp, but from the guitar, from the fingers, the wrist, the arm, the shoulder, the messages that the brain sends to all of these muscles, the pressure on the left hand, the pressure on your picking hand… There are so many variables with tonality, and I love the fact that you can really have so much dynamically with an electric guitar if you really work on it. You just don’t plug in and turn it on full.
“Misere”, from Martin Barre, Live in N.Y. (2019):
Nowadays, however, I really back off on the amp distortion and just try and get the sustain and the fluidity from my technique. Robben Ford does it, and it’s not a distorted amp sound. It’s all in the playing. It’s a beautiful thing when he does it, and I try and have that same approach to music. The trio… Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Johnson, and Robben Ford… all famous Texas-blues men who nailed it big time. But, I mean, you can’t buy a sound. You can’t sound like Jeff Beck just because you’ve got a Strat and a Marshall 100-watt amp and cab (laughs); just like you can’t sound like Hendrix, either. A wonderful thing about guitar playing is that dozens of variables all come together and produce, hopefully, a sound where people go, “Oh! I knew it was you.” To me, that’s the biggest compliment, when somebody says, “I knew it was you playing on that. I could tell.” And I go, “Ah, that’s really good.” I don’t make an effort to make that happen, but I’m really pleased that, whatever I do, it seems to work, and the end result is recognizable.
But, yeah, tone, tone, tone. All the way.
Martin Barre, “After You, After Me”, from Stage Left (2003):
I also like space. I mean, for a note to have importance, it needs air space on either side of it. Sometimes you can play a legato phrase, and there’s no air space. But I quite like it when you can just stop playing—not for a long time (laughs)—but in the solo you come to an abrupt halt and then pick it up again on a nice part in the bar. Yeah, it’s just dynamics and giving breathing space to music.
I think it was Bill Harkleroad (aka Zoot Horn Rollo, guitarist for Captain Beefheart) who said, “It’s more important what you don’t play than what you actually play.” The spaces set up the note, and they’re more important than the note—if that makes sense.
I mean, you can’t buy a sound. You can’t sound like Jeff Beck just because you’ve got a Strat and a Marshall 100-watt amp and cab (laughs); just like you can’t sound like Hendrix, either. A wonderful thing about guitar playing is that dozens of variables all come together and produce, hopefully, a sound where people go, “Oh! I knew it was you.”
PKM: Absolutely. “Hymn 43”, which is on 50 Years of Jethro Tull, is one of Aqualung’s greatest songs. Why was it played so rarely, if ever, on stage by Tull?
Martin Barre: (laughs) I’m only laughing because probably there are a few criteria for Ian (Anderson) to play them, and one of them is probably that there’s a lot of flute in it. I’m half joking. I don’t know. Ian had his favorites, and I had my favorites, and sometimes they matched, and other times they didn’t. I’m a rock guitar player, so it suits me to sort of have something you don’t even have to think about playing because it falls under your fingers; it’s very easy to play musically, so you can add something to it that you wouldn’t in a very complex piece of music.
“Hymn 43”, fromMartin Barre: 50 Years of Jethro Tull (2019):
PKM: Tell us a bit about where you live in Devon, England.
Martin Barre: I live near Plymouth towards the Cornwall border. Near the sea. It’s very rural, very pretty, very cold and damp… (Though) we’re beginning to get really hot summers.
PKM: Is Devon where your studio, otherwise known as The Garage, is located?
Martin Barre: It is. We moved about 12 years ago. We were in a different location in Devon for about 30-plus years, and that’s where I had a really big working studio. It was a complex of three studios, but it all got a bit much to manage, so we moved and I have a studio here. It’s two rooms with a hole in the wall: the computer in one room and a nice library, which becomes the live room. But, yeah, we can do everything here but drums. But then Garage Studios essentially is where I do probably 95 percent of the guitar playing and where we do a lot of vocals, all of the mixing, and all of the writing and arranging. So, yeah, essentially it’s mostly done at home. But I tend to actually record in a proper studio.
PKM: 50 Years of Jethro Tull is a double CD, with disc one recorded “Live at the Factory Underground.” I don’t hear an audience, though. And sometimes I hear three guitars between you and Dan Crisp. I don’t know… Am I imagining it? So there are overdubs on the recording?
Martin Barre: Yeah. There are. There’s no attempt to pretend that it’s 100 percent live. But the tracks were all played live. Essentially, the vocals were live. Dan (Crisp) played all of his guitar parts live. Drums and bass are live. I played nearly all of mine live. There are a few solos and a few little decorations. It wasn’t essentially set out to be a live CD, but we wanted that live atmosphere; that sort of feel of it being another gig, with all of us being tight and in one room, in one space, and the interaction. And, again, it’s a facility which we’ve used before. We’ve done acoustic and electric shows there; recordings and live shows. It’s a very small live club with recording facilities, a proper recording studio, and it’s quite a cool place. But we didn’t want an audience because it wasn’t a commitment to doing a “live” CD. We just didn’t want to record it in a very sterile fashion, in which most records are done these days.
“Teacher”, fromMartin Barre: 50 Years of Jethro Tull (2019):
PKM: Understood. How did you come to know vocalist/guitarist Dan Crisp?
Martin Barre: Dan lives in Germany now. But at the time, he lived very close to me here in Devon. I’d known Dan when I was in Tull, and we’d sort of done a few local bars, mainly playing his music, because he’s a singer/songwriter and has been so for 15 to 20 years. So I knew Dan and worked with him, but not in a Tull context. We did a few of my instrumentals acoustically, and just had a bit of fun playing locally.
Then I started my band when Tull finished, and had a vocalist, John Mitchell, who went off to do another project, so I thought, ‘Well, I need a vocalist.’ And I was trying to rack my brains. Then I thought, ‘What about Dan?’ who was sort of sitting there right under my nose, and I didn’t see him, he was so close. It was a Eureka moment, because I’d never thought of trying Dan, and it was an immediate success, and his voice, which a lot of people compare to Ian’s, has not changed, so the characteristics of his voice have been with him before he’d even heard of the band called Jethro Tull (laughs) or listened to one of the tracks. Dan’s a very natural performer. He’s his own person. And he’s blossomed and developed as a performer, and with it, his vocal ability and guitar playing. He’s really come into his own.
Martin Barre, “Locomotive Breath”, Live at Daryl’s House Club, New York, 2017:
PKM: He’s terrific. And how did you hook up with your current bassist Alan Thomson?
Martin Barre: I’ve had quite a few bass players in my band. They came and went as musicians do these days. And when I was looking for a new bass player, I phoned Dave Pegg, because I thought, ‘You never know. Dave might say, “You know what, I’m gonna come and play with you for a couple of years,’’’ and that would have been fabulous. But Dave’s obviously busy with Fairport Convention. Then he asked me if I’d ever thought of trying Alan Thomson. I knew Alan had played with John Martyn, but I didn’t know the band and their music very well. I also knew Alan had played with Pentangle, but I thought he’d played more acoustic guitar in that band.
So I called Alan, and we got on well. “Well, I’ll send you 20 tracks,” I said. “Why don’t you learn them, then we’ll get together in London.” So, I went all the way up to London, he came down from Glasgow, we played all of those songs once (laughs), and I thought, ‘Right. That’s it.’ Didn’t have to play ‘em twice. Just once. And so it worked out.
Alan’s an incredible musician. He can play anything and everything. He’s got an incredible ear, and is a great person to have in a band; just a real team player. Alan’s also a really good guitar player and great slide guitar player, but essentially a great bass player.
“A New Day Yesterday”, from Martin Barre, Live in N.Y. (2019):
PKM: Where did your interest in music first develop? I read that your father was a musician.
Martin Barre: Yeah. He inspired me because he loved music, but I didn’t like the music he liked. He gave me big-band jazz records and Barney Kessel and Wes Montgomery. But when I was a young kid, I didn’t want to play jazz—I wanted to play rock and roll. But Frank Wess was on one of those albums, and Count Basie, and I thought, ‘Wow! That’s really cool!’ So it made me buy a flute. I was 14 years old. Music was sort of a family trade. My dad wanted to be a musician. My granddad was a professional musician, and one of my uncles was also a professional musician. And although my father never vocalized it, he was very pleased that I was trying to do something with music and, in a very subtle way, really encouraged me all the way.
PKM: That’s great—just as it should be. So how did you find out there was an opening in Jethro Tull and what transpired during the audition?
Martin Barre: Well, I didn’t want to do it because it just terrified me; I mean, the thought of having to audition for a job. So I ignored it. But I didn’t know at the same time that they were trying to find me because we’d done a gig together six months before—that is, my band (note: the blues group Gethsemane) and Jethro Tull, when Mick Abrahams was in [Tull]; and they remembered me and were trying to find me so they could ask me to come to the audition. (laughs) And the very last gig that I did with my band—we were finishing, splitting up because we had no money—is the gig where they found me. Terry Ellis (Tull’s longtime manager) tracked me down to this gig in London, gave me his business card, and said, “Call me in the morning.” I knew what it was. And I was still terrified. But I did it—and it was horrible; like a room full of guitar players. But they short-listed: I think it was me, Mick Taylor, and Tony Iommi. They tried Tony, but Tony wasn’t that keen on the music. It didn’t really suit his style.
So, I called anyway to see how they were getting on (laughs), because I was a bit frustrated. I thought I should have done a lot better at the audition. And they said, “By coincidence, Tony is not that keen on it.” So I said, “Well, can I have another go?” and they said, “Yeah.” And the next time it was just me and them for a whole day in a rehearsal room, and I was able to do my best and that’s how it started.
PKM: You play a lot of flute in Away With Words. Did you play flute professionally well before joining Tull?
Martin Barre: Oh, yeah. Absolutely.
PKM: And on Aqualung, you’re listed as playing “descant recorder”.
Martin Barre: Yeah. That’s on “Mother Goose”.
Jethro Tull, “Mother Goose”, from Aqualung (1971):
PKM: Ah-ha. Never knew which song. And in some early live footage of Tull, you play flute on “Bouree”.
Martin Barre: That’s right. Well, I played flute on Stand Up and Benefit, and when I met Ian, I was a flute player in the Roland Kirk style in a blues band; playing guitar, as well. I played a lot of flute before that—and saxophone, which I didn’t like so much. But I kept up my flute playing, which I’d started at school. And obviously one flute player is enough in a band. (laughs) So that diminished. And I’m happy to play guitar to the end of time.
But I’ve always had a passion for flute, and when Tull finished, I didn’t immediately take up on flute. I just thought that would be a bit of a cheap shot. I didn’t want to do anything that made it obvious that I wasn’t playing with Ian anymore. So we got around the flute and keyboard parts with the two guitars. But as we progressed, I started playing flute a lot more. And as I’m talking to you, I’m in my studio, and in front of me are five flutes, all on stands, and on the other side of my room is a flute on a stand next to my flute music. So I’m playing every day. I bought a really good alto flute, which I really love. And it’s the first time in a long time that I’ve felt independent as a flute player, because I don’t want people to relate my flute playing with Ian’s flute playing. The standard is totally different, anyway. He’s an amazing player—and I’m not.
Jethro Tull, “Hunting Girl” live in London, 1977:
PKM: I think your flute playing works really well on Away With Words.
Martin Barre: It’s fine. And I’ve always played a bit of flute; but like any instrument, if you don’t play it every day, you don’t get better. And in lock down, I’ve been playing every day, so my technique’s got back up to standard again. My tone has improved. Yeah, it’s fun—and I won’t ever turn my back on it.
Martin Barre, “Sundown”, from Away With Words (2013):
PKM: What are some of Martin Barre’s favorite Tull songs?—ones that really stand out.
Martin Barre: I guess they’re fairly well-represented on the double (50 Years of Tull) CD. I haven’t put anything on there because it needed to be there, and that’s why there’s no “Aqualung” and there’s no electric “Locomotive Breath” because I didn’t feel the need to have yet another recording of those two songs. I mean, I’m obviously aware of what people want to hear and hate to hear, essentially. But I just think that, because it’s my 50th anniversary, I can indulge in what really made those 50 years important to me. So it’s really reflective of my own favorites than being “the best of Tull”.
And it’s the first time in a long time that I’ve felt independent as a flute player, because I don’t want people to relate my flute playing with Ian’s flute playing. The standard is totally different, anyway. He’s an amazing player—and I’m not.
PKM: Fair enough.
Martin Barre: But I can pick out a track like “Slow Marching Band” which is a great song, which is why I did it on Back to Steel. And recording it, I fell in love with it all over again; just the music, the cleverness in the chords that Peter Vettese came up with. But, because there’s not much guitar in there, I had to sort of reconstruct all of the keyboard parts.
But Tull was always hot and cold. There’d be great tracks, tracks that didn’t work and that you’d rather forget. Not many. And then the acoustic songs are great, and I love playing all of them. There are so many different aspects of things that are good, great, fantastic, not so good; but nothing ever happened on one album where we’d say, “That was the one that went to the stars and back.” It happened all over the career of Tull: highs and lows, great tracks, and tracks that should be played less. (laughs) You do what you do, and you’re at the mercy of your audience. That’s entertainment.
“Slow Marching Band”, from Martin Barre’s Back to Steel (2015):
PKM: I hear ya. So why did you decide to go it alone in ’94 and begin doing solo albums, while still recording and touring with Tull?
Martin Barre: When you have a singer/songwriter, you sort of leave ‘em alone, because if it ain’t broke, it doesn’t need fixing. So Ian wrote most of Tull’s music, and that was his job. That’s what he did. I wasn’t hugely involved in that. I mean, I was very involved in arranging. But I wanted to write music, and obviously a solo album gives you the initiative to go and do that. Ian liked what I did and totally supported it. I had the energy and the focus to go and do solo albums, and I love doing them because I sort of discovered how studios worked. I discovered how easy it was to record and how fun; and I also reveled in the role of being the sort of MD (music director), bandleader, arranger, writer… All of these jobs in music aren’t a chore. They’re fun. And I’d been missing out on them. (laughs) So as soon as I started doing it, I thought, ‘Wow, I’m really enjoying this whole process of producing an album from beginning to end. Doing the cover, the lyrics—maybe not so much lyrics (laughs)—but just writing and arranging is the best thing on the planet. I had to learn how to do it, so the songs… There are things in my songwriting that I’ve always thought needed improving, and you only really find out by default where the weaknesses and the strengths are.
PKM: Ian Anderson dedicated Crest of a Knave to you, calling your guitar work—per his liner notes on the 2005 re-mastered CD—“brilliant, (giving) the record so much of its special qualities.”
Martin Barre: I wasn’t aware that he’d dedicated it to me. Well, there’s a lot of me on it; a lot of guitar-playing, a lot of input, arranging… and I wrote a little bit of the music. But essentially Ian, Dave Pegg, and I recorded that album between the three of us, so it was quite personal. To say that there’s a lot of my personality and character, I hope, in the CD… I’m proud of it. I’m proud of my Grammy. And I’m glad we won it. And, in retrospect, I think we deserved it.
We weren’t there (at the 1989 Grammy Awards) because our record label (Chrysalis) advised us not to go. They said we had no chance of winning. It’s a shame because it’s the one time I could have been somewhere significant and important where the music world was watching and listening. But we weren’t there, and I think people thought it was rude. And it probably was. It’s a real shame.
Jethro Tull, “Raising Steam”, from Crest of a Knave (1987):
PKM: I’m sure many people knew that Chrysalis Records didn’t want to foot the bill for you guys to attend the Grammys. But speaking of absences… How did you feel about not performing at Woodstock? When I interviewed him about 10 years ago, Ian Anderson told me that he didn’t want to do the gig because of the whole drug element, preferring instead to play at an American college.
Martin Barre: Well, the story I heard, which I’ve always believed, was that they stopped flying people into Woodstock. We were scheduled to appear, and the people promoting and directing Woodstock said, “We can’t have anybody else in. It’s a mud bath. The whole infrastructure is collapsed,” which it had. We weren’t able to go is what I believe, from my memory of it, and I sort of stick by that, really. I think, if we had a choice, we definitely would have gone; and we were in New York ready to fly up there, but they just shut the whole place down.
PKM: How did you feel about the whole ‘60s and ‘70s drug culture? I know Ian Anderson, and many members of Tull, didn’t care much at all for it.
Martin Barre: Well, I think the same thing, because my experience of the druggie/hippie thing was quite aggressive. The people that we met through concerts… I won’t call them fans, but I found the audience in that state of mind quite frightening, and they’d really sort of hassle you. I mean, we had people breaking into our dressing room with knives. Really unpleasant things. I never saw it as being an example of love, and music, and good will. It was just a drug. A drug’s a drug. And I think, as a general rule, people who’re involved in alcohol and drugs don’t become nice people. They might think they are, but in my mind, the opposite’s more likely.
The story I heard, which I’ve always believed, was that they stopped flying people into Woodstock. We were scheduled to appear, and the people promoting and directing Woodstock said, “We can’t have anybody else in. It’s a mud bath. The whole infrastructure is collapsed,” which it had.
So we came to America, and I think the first time it hit us was when we were in San Francisco and LA; then we really did sort of hit the back end of the hippie years. As I say, mostly the people that were like that—and they were mostly males, men—weren’t nice people. They weren’t nice to us, and they weren’t nice to me. But we weren’t a drug band, not for just any reason. We just didn’t do drugs. And we didn’t drink, either—not because we were puritanical or religious. I just thought, ‘It’s a free world and if Mr. Smith is free to smoke dope, then Mr. Jones is free to not smoke dope.’ (laughs) You have to live by that same idea of freedom. You have total choice in how to behave, and we just chose to behave in a very, maybe, boring English way. You know, cups of tea and hot chocolate. (laughs)
PKM: Right on. Just curious—why was there such a paucity of slide guitar in Tull? The few times you did play slide, it was marvelous.
Martin Barre: It wasn’t my forte, is the first thing that comes to mind. I’ve never worked hard on my slide playing for it to be of a quality where I would use it more. I enjoy playing, and I like the sound and the effects of doing it. Alan, whom we talked about, is a really great slide player, and he does it a lot and you can tell.
But me? Here I am in my room, and I’ve got all of my guitars, and I’m turning around and on the far place shelf are a bunch of slides, and they’re all neatly in a little row. Glass ones at the back, steel ones in the front, like little soldiers, and they’re probably covered in dust. I probably haven’t played slide in months, for no reason at all. But if it came to mind, I would religiously play every day, just to improve and get a better tone and a better vibrato. It may be a case of not so much supply and demand, but demand and supply. There’s not a huge demand for slide playing in Tull’s music, so the supply is equal there.
But we weren’t a drug band, not for just any reason. We just didn’t do drugs. And we didn’t drink, either—not because we were puritanical or religious. I just thought, ‘It’s a free world and if Mr. Smith is free to smoke dope, then Mr. Jones is free to not smoke dope.’
But I always had fun doing it, and sometimes you just want a piece of music covered from a different angle. You just want to change the sound of it, change the style, and you think, ‘What should I do?… Ah! I’ll play slide on it.’ (laughs)
Jethro Tull, “Cold Wind to Valhalla”, from Minstrel in the Gallery (1975):
“Song for Jeffrey”, from Martin Barre: 50 Years of Jethro Tull (2019):
PKM: Long-time Tull drummer Doane Perry (note: in Tull from 1984-2014) says that he introduced the band to the satirical rock documentary This Is Spinal Tap (1984), in which actor Harry Shearer plays Derek Smalls. But, of course, you’re the original “Derek Small”, the name which the Spinal Tap guys obviously lifted from Tull’s Passion Play album.
Martin Barre: (laughs) Yeah, they got the name from that. It’s fun, isn’t it? Well, the first time we watched [This Is Spinal Tap], I think we were in a hotel. We were watching a video of it, and we didn’t find it funny. It was so close to home, we were just going, “Whoa! We did that. Oh, blimey.” It was quite… It was like… embarrassing. So the first time through it, we were like, “Oh my God. This is like an exposé of everything terrible we’ve ever done. Every mistake and every embarrassment that’s happened to us, here it is in a movie.” But then the second time we saw the humor and obviously laughed a lot. I mean, obviously it’s a very clever film and well-researched. There are a lot of bands represented in there, with or without their knowledge.
The first time we watched [This Is Spinal Tap], I think we were in a hotel. We were watching a video of it, and we didn’t find it funny. It was so close to home, we were just going, “Whoa! We did that. Oh, blimey.”
PKM: I couldn’t help but notice that on 50 Years of Jethro Tull, there are three songs from 1974’s Warchild album. How did you feel about Warchild?
Martin Barre: I see plateaus in Tull’s career and maybe Stand Up was one, Thick As A Brick (1972) another. But Warchild… um… it’s quite pop-orientated, but from a playing point of view, it was a step up for me. Psychologically, I just felt comfortable playing it. Maybe I had a nicer guitar, a nicer studio sound… Sometimes everything goes right on the day (of recording), and other times nothing goes right on that day. I’m not saying we had albums where nothing went right. Certainly Warchild was a very positive album to make. You know, everything was fun. The songs were really vibrant. So it was a stepping stone for me, and I enjoyed it a little bit more because of that.
Jethro Tull, “Rainbow Blues”, bonus track from Warchild (1974):
PKM: One of the great Martin Barre solos is on the title track of Minstrel in the Gallery (1975). There’s a funny story about bassist Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond and the recording of that song, isn’t there?
Martin Barre: (laughs) Yeah. In music—and it’s happened to me—if you write a piece of music and you teach it to somebody without counting it in, there’s a danger that they think the downbeat is the offbeat, and vice versa. So you learn the notes, but they’re in the wrong place. It’s quite hard to explain, but it’s a phenomenon that happened to me, and it’s a nightmare because you have to unlearn it and learn it again in the right place. So I always make sure that the first time somebody hears an idea I’ve got, or a riff or… it’s usually a riff. I mean, chords are very obvious where they sit in the bar, but I always count them in (laughs), so that everybody knows exactly… I mean, if you’re playing a lot of notes, there are lots of places where those notes can be. And it happened to Jeffrey (on “Minstrel in the Gallery”). So he couldn’t play, and if he counted it in, he’d play in the wrong place in the bar. So we gaffer-taped a drumstick to his shoe and made him tap his foot, and we just said, “The note’s in the same place as the sound of the drumstick when it hits the floor.” (laughs)
PKM: It’s too bad that the terrific guitar solo and music which you wrote after the initial acoustic section of “Minstrel in the Gallery” is always edited out both in concerts and on best-of-Tull record compilations.
Martin Barre: Yeah. Well, Ian hated it. Somebody asked him which piece of music he disliked the most—or whichever way you wanna put it—and it was that piece. It doesn’t bother me. But we played it maybe five years ago for a few tours; in America I think we did it, just a bit of it. And the guys (in the band) loved it, and I’m going, “Really?” (laughs) I just had a stigma attached to it, because when you know somebody really doesn’t like something, it’s very hard to detach yourself from that stigma.
Jethro Tull, title track from Minstrel in the Gallery (1975):
PKM: You commented in a Tull documentary from 2008 that, when punk really started to surface in London back in 1976, you hated the music of punk itself but loved the attitude.
Martin Barre: Yeah. I like great playing. I like classical music. I love Brahms and Beethoven and Bach and Elgar. It’s beautiful music. Impeccably written. Virtuoso playing. That’s where my head is musically. So when I hear a bunch of kids thrashing out a couple of chords really badly, obviously they don’t give a shit (laughs) about what’s going on, my immediate reaction is that it’s not good music. But you gotta go beyond that. You gotta look ‘round the other side. And it was a sociological… maybe I’m grappling for what I mean, but it made a statement in a social way rather than in a musical way, and I think that all of those kids… I mean, I read that the punks, a lot of them, it was their way of getting back at prog music, all of the pomp and pretentiousness of the music that was going on, and probably including Jethro Tull. They just thought that, ‘Everybody’s up their own ass, and we just want to get down to real basics.’ And I think (punk) has a good place in the history of music, and that the intensity and the energy and the attitude are just right on. They’re 100 percent. You can’t learn how to do that. You just have to have it. And to have that essence in any music is really good and a very healthy little chemical element of music.
“Fat Man”, from Martin Barre, Live in N.Y. (2019):
PKM: I remember in this same Tull documentary, you thought it was “very strange” how the Aqualung album in ’71 really took off as a critical and commercial success.
Martin Barre: We didn’t expect it to, because it was a difficult album to make musically, and the studio was breaking down. I mean, it was a tough album. It didn’t have a great vibe, for wont of a better expression. So we were sort of relieved that we’d gotten to the end of it without killing each other—or setting fire to the studio. But I just think sometimes all of your stars align and, you know, it was the right album, the right music, we were in the right place with our touring, with the fan base, and with the people who had come to like us and like the music and followed us. It all sort of lined up in one direction, and it became a huge album.
I read that the punks, a lot of them, it was their way of getting back at prog music, all of the pomp and pretentiousness of the music that was going on, and probably including Jethro Tull. They just thought that, ‘Everybody’s up their own ass, and we just want to get down to real basics.’ And I think (punk) has a good place in the history of music, and that the intensity and the energy and the attitude are just right on.
In fact, I just did an interview for an English magazine, because it’s the 50th anniversary of Aqualung, and we’re gonna play the whole album, from beginning to end, when we get back on the road. Somebody suggested it to me, and I said, “No, no. I don’t wanna do that.” Then I looked at the album and thought, ‘Well, we do a lot of those songs anyway, and the ones we don’t do, I quite like.” So I started playing them and messing around with them and thought, ‘Yeah, it really does work as a set of music from beginning to end, in sequence. It does work as a show.’ So that’s what we’re gonna do.
Jethro Tull, “Wind Up”, from Aqualung (1971):
PKM: Fantastic. Are you gonna record some of the shows?
Martin Barre: I don’t know. There’s a lot of stuff around. (laughs) The DVD (The Martin Barre Band, Live at the Wildey, 2019) is a live show, and I want to give that its space and its importance. Our live shows will probably include a lot more of my music in the first set, just to get back to what I like doing. But I like both things; so the second part of the show will be Aqualung. Just a different show. I like to move the goal posts, and it’s something that we weren’t doing with Tull in the latter years.
When people come and buy a ticket for a show in 2021 or 2022, they’re gonna see a completely different show, and they’ll appreciate that we’ve spent a lot of time and trouble and thought and musicality in putting it together and making it fresh and exciting and better than the last (tour).
“Thick as a Brick”, from Martin Barre, Live in NY (2019):
PKM: Sounds great. You stayed with Tull for quite a long time, ever since Stand Up. Obviously there was some kind of chemistry between you and Ian Anderson.
Martin Barre: Well, we all got on because you’re living together on the road. It was never a constant. Some years you got on better with somebody else, but it was such a minor thing. We were very business-like. It was all about the music, trying to get better, trying to improve, trying to make great albums. But I enjoyed touring. We had fun and had a lotta laughs all the time, so we all got on really, really well.
But essentially back home, we all had different lives, and maybe that’s the best thing. I guess we didn’t have anything in common, other than music, but then you’re gonna have something in common. It’s quite important that the one thing that’s really vital is the thing that you have in common.
But (Ian and I) had similar work ethics. We’re perfectionists in our own way. I think we just knew each other’s capabilities. We knew where to draw the line. Not always, but musically we really knew each other; our weaknesses, our strengths, and what we should be doing, what we shouldn’t be doing. And eventually no questions had to be asked: Ian did what he did, and I did what I did because we both knew 100 percent what our job was, and we did it to the best of our ability. Yeah, it’s just a mature relationship, where you had a job to do, and you did it to your best ability and tried to have fun and enjoy it and make it a very positive experience at the same time.
But (Ian and I) had similar work ethics. We’re perfectionists in our own way. I think we just knew each other’s capabilities. We knew where to draw the line. Not always, but musically we really knew each other; our weaknesses, our strengths, and what we should be doing, what we shouldn’t be doing.
PKM: There’s this story—perhaps urban legend—that when you recorded the phenomenal guitar solo on the title track for Aqualung, Jimmy Page was waving to you on the other side of the sound booth. I mean, that solo seems so well-developed and well-arranged, as opposed to improvised.
Martin Barre: No, it’s improvised in every sense. Totally. There was no planning at all. I wrote the sequences down. The beginning I knew I was going to play, and the sort of half-time introduction to the solo. But the solo is just like, ‘Off you go and if you don’t get it first take, you can erase it and do it second take.’ But then essentially with analog recording, you don’t get many go’s at it. And on the first take, Jimmy walked into the control room and was sort of waving madly at me, and I just thought, ‘I can’t wave back because (laughs) I need to get to the end of this solo and get it on tape.’ So I just sort of turned ‘round and turned my back on him. I’m sure that at the end of it, we smiled and went and said ‘hi’. We hadn’t seen each other for a couple of months because (Led Zeppelin) were working in the studio in the basement, and we hadn’t bumped into each other at all, so it was hilarious that he’d pick that very moment to come and say hello.
Jethro Tull, title track from Aqualung (1971):
PKM: So how are you occupying yourself during this crazy time, Martin?
Martin Barre: I’m busy. At the one end, I put up some guttering today. That’s really musical. (laughs) And on the other hand, I play a lot of guitar, play a lot of flute, and do a lot of writing. I’m really busy. The only things I’m not doing are live gigs, and that’s a disaster.
PKM: It’s terrible. Well, hopefully we’ll get back to that soon, right?
Martin Barre: We will. We will. We just have to be patient.
PKM: Right. Well, thanks for the chat, Martin. And thanks for all of the great years of enjoyment you’ve given us—and more to come, right?
Martin Barre: Yep. Indeed.
Get the scoop on Martin’s newest projects, upcoming tour dates, and assorted other fun surprises at MartinBarre.com.
Special thanks: Alan Bisbort, Barbara Vetter, John Pluth, John Lappen, and Derek Johnston