Jethro Tull live in Hamburg in 1973
|Labels||Island, Reprise/Warner Bros., Chrysalis, Eagle, Fuel 2000, EMI|
|Associated acts||Fairport Convention, Lucia Micarelli, Steeleye Span, Blodwyn Pig, Wild Turkey|
|Past members||See members|
Jethro Tull were an English rock band formed in Luton, Bedfordshire in 1967. Initially playing blues rock, the band soon developed its sound to incorporate elements of British folk music and hard rock to forge a progressive rock signature. The band was led by vocalist/flautist/guitarist Ian Anderson, and featured a revolving door of lineups through the years including significant members such as longtime guitarist Martin Barre, keyboardist John Evan, drummers Clive Bunker, Barriemore Barlow, and Doane Perry, and bassists Glenn Cornick, Jeffrey Hammond, and Dave Pegg.
The group first achieved commercial success in 1969, with the folk-tinged blues album Stand Up, which reached No. 1 in the UK, and they toured regularly in the UK and the US. Their musical style shifted in the direction of progressive rock with the albums Aqualung (1971), Thick as a Brick (1972) and A Passion Play (1973), and shifted again to hard rock mixed with folk rock with Songs from the Wood (1977) and Heavy Horses (1978). Jethro Tull have sold an estimated 60 million albums worldwide, with 11 gold and five platinum albums among them. They have been described by Rolling Stone as "one of the most commercially successful and eccentric progressive rock bands".
The last works as a group to contain new material were released in 2003, though the band continued to tour until 2011. In April 2014, as he was concentrating on his solo career, Anderson said that Jethro Tull were finished. However, in March 2017, Anderson released Jethro Tull - The String Quartets, an album of reimagined Tull songs, recorded with The Carducci String Quartet.
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Ian Anderson, Jeffrey Hammond and John Evan (originally Evans), who would become members of Jethro Tull, attended grammar school together in Blackpool. Anderson was born in Dunfermline, Scotland and grew up in Edinburgh before moving to Blackpool in January 1960. Evans had become a fan of the Beatles after seeing them play "Love Me Do" on Granada Television's Scene at 6:30. Though he was an accomplished pianist, he decided to take up the drums, as it was an instrument featured in the Beatles' line-up. Anderson had acquired a Spanish guitar and taught himself how to play it, and the pair decided to form a band. The pair recruited Hammond on bass, who brought along his collection of blues records to listen to.
The group initially played as a three piece on local clubs and venues, before Evans became influenced by Georgie Fame and the Animals and switched to organ, recruiting drummer Barrie Barlow and guitarist Mike Stevens from local band the Atlantics. By 1964 the band had recruited guitarist Chris Riley and developed into a six-piece blue-eyed soul band called the John Evan Band (later the John Evan Smash). Evans had shortened his surname to "Evan" at the insistence of Hammond, who thought it sounded better and more unusual. The group recruited Johnny Taylor as a booking agent and played gigs further afield around northwest England, playing a mixture of blues and Motown covers. Hammond subsequently quit the band to go to art school. He was briefly replaced by Derek Ward, then by Glenn Cornick. Riley also quit and was replaced by Neil Smith. The group recorded three songs at Regent Sound Studios in Denmark Street, London in April 1967, and appeared at The Marquee club in June.
In November 1967, the band moved to the London area, basing themselves in Luton. They signed a management deal with Terry Ellis and Chris Wright and replaced Smith with guitarist Mick Abrahams, but quickly realised that supporting a 7-piece band was financially impractical, and the group split up. Anderson, Abrahams and Cornick decided to stay together, recruiting Abrahams' friend Clive Bunker on drums and becoming a British blues band. Cornick recalled that although Evan left, the band said he was welcome to rejoin at a later date. As the only member not having nearby family, Anderson lived in a bed-sit "on the verge of starvation" and worked as a cleaner for the Luton Ritz Cinema to pay the rent. Jethro Tull formed on 20 December.
At first, the new band had trouble getting repeat bookings and they took to changing their name frequently to continue playing the London club circuit, names which included "Navy Blue", "Ian Henderson's Bag o' Nails", and "Candy Coloured Rain". Anderson recalled looking at a poster at a club and concluding that the band name he didn't recognise was his. Band names were often supplied by their booking agents' staff, one of whom, a history enthusiast, eventually christened them "Jethro Tull" after the 18th-century agriculturist. The name stuck because they happened to be using it the first time a club manager liked their show enough to invite them to return. They recorded a session with producer Derek Lawrence, which resulted in the single "Sunshine Day". The B-side "Aeroplane" was an old John Evan Band track with the saxophones mixed out. It was released in February 1968 on MGM Records, miscredited to "Jethro Toe". Anderson has since questioned the misnomer as a way to avoid paying royalties. The more common version, with the name spelled correctly, is actually a counterfeit made in New York. Anderson later met Hammond while in London and the two renewed their friendship, while Anderson moved into a bedsit in Chelsea with Evan. Hammond became the subject of several songs, beginning with their next single, "A Song for Jeffrey".
Because he was living in a cold bed-sit, Anderson bought a large overcoat to keep him warm, and, along with the flute, it became part of his early stage image. It was around this time that Anderson purchased a flute after becoming frustrated with his inability to play guitar as well as Abrahams, and because their managers thought he should remain a rhythm guitarist, with Abrahams becoming the front man.
"I didn't want to be just another third-rate guitar player who sounded like a bunch of other third-rate guitar players. I wanted to do something that was a bit more idiosyncratic, hence the switch to another instrument. When Jethro Tull began, I think I'd been playing the flute for about two weeks. It was a quick learning curve ... literally every night I walked onstage was a flute lesson."
The group's first major break occurred at the National Jazz and Blues Festival at Sunbury-on-Thames in August 1968, where the band drew a rapturous reception and positive reviews in the music press. The band have since claimed that the success at Sunbury was a result of their persistent touring, which had generated a grassroots following who had all assembled at the festival and encouraged the rest of the audience. Cornick recalled, "from that moment on, we were a big band."
The group recorded their first album, This Was, between June and August 1968, and it was released in October, reaching number 10 in the charts. In addition to original material, the album included the traditional "Cat's Squirrel", which highlighted Abrahams' blues-rock style, while the Rahsaan Roland Kirk-penned jazz piece "Serenade to a Cuckoo" gave Anderson a showcase for his growing talents on the flute. The overall sound of the group at this time was described in the Record Mirror by Anderson in 1968 as "a sort of progressive blues with a bit of jazz".
Following the album's release, Abrahams left the band in December to form his own group, Blodwyn Pig. There were a number of reasons given for his departure. Abrahams had heard that Ellis wanted Anderson to be the frontman and group leader, at his expense, and realised he was unlikely to have the majority share in songwriting. Other reasons given were that Abrahams was a blues purist while Anderson wanted to branch out into other forms of music, and that Abrahams was unwilling to travel internationally or play more than three nights a week. Abrahams himself described his reasons more succinctly: "I was fed up with all the nonsense, and I wanted to form a band like Blodwyn Pig."
The group tried several different replacements for Abrahams. The first was David O'List, who had recently left the Nice. After a week's rehearsal, O'List didn't show up and lost contact with the group. The next choice was Mick Taylor, who turned the group down because he felt his current gig with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers was a better deal. Following this, the group put an advertisement in Melody Maker which was answered by Tony Iommi. After a few rehearsals, the group appeared in The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus on 11 December. The group performed "A Song for Jeffrey", but only Anderson's singing and flute was live; the rest was mimed. Iommi felt closer to his old band, Earth, so he returned to Birmingham to rejoin them. However, his brief time in Jethro Tull instilled a strong work ethic in Iommi. Earth later became Black Sabbath, achieving great commercial success.
The next choice was Martin Barre, who had seen the band perform at Sunbury, and had been tried out at the same audition as Iommi. Barre arranged a second audition with Anderson, who showed him some new songs that were in a different style to the blues they had been recording. Anderson was impressed at Barre's technique, and offered him the job as the new guitarist. Barre played his first gig with Jethro Tull on 30 December 1968 at the Winter Gardens, Penzance.
After Barre joined, the group did a few shows supporting Jimi Hendrix in Scandinavia, then set out on an extensive tour of the US, supporting Led Zeppelin and Vanilla Fudge. Having attracted a substantial live following, Ellis and Wright asked Anderson, who had become the dominant songwriter, to write a hit single. The result was "Living in the Past", which reached No. 3 in May on the UK singles chart and No. 11 in the US, and resulted in an appearance on Top of the Pops. Although other so-called "serious" groups actively resisted issuing stand-alone singles at the time, Jethro Tull felt a hit single was a positive move for the group, if not their main priority.
The next album was Stand Up, recorded during April–May and August 1969. It was released in September, and quickly reached No. 1 in the UK charts, the only album by the group to do so. Anderson had now established himself as the group's leader and songwriter, and wrote all of the material, aside from his jazzy rearrangement of J. S. Bach's "Bourrée in E minor BWV 996 (fifth movement)". The album cover unfolded to a photo insert of the band attached to the covers like a pop-up book.
Immediately after releasing Stand Up, the group set off on their first headlining tour in the US, including an appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival. Barre recalled, "It was really the turning point for Jethro Tull—for everything that we were to become and everything we were to inspire in others." The band was invited to play in the Woodstock Festival, but Anderson declined, being afraid that the band would be permanently typecast as hippies, only able to play one musical style.
On 29 January 1970 the band appeared on BBC's Top of the Pops again, performing "Witch's Promise". Evan rejoined the band in early 1970. He had stayed in London since the John Evan Band broke up, living with Anderson, and began studying music at the University of London. The pair did not see much of each other due to Jethro Tull's increasing workload, and Evan was reluctant to rejoin due to his studies, which gave him access to a free studio. He played as a session musician on the next album, Benefit (1970), following which Anderson said they needed somebody to play the keyboard parts on tour. His tutor eventually persuaded him that it was a good idea, and Evan formally joined. The album reached No. 4 in the UK and No. 11 in the US, and allowed the group to sell out 20,000-seat arenas, establishing themselves as a premier live act. In August, the band played to one of their largest audiences at the 1970 Isle of Wight festival. The band insisted on a full soundcheck early Sunday morning, before performing later that day.
The Isle of Wight appearance was followed by another US tour, following which Cornick left the band. He was keen to socialise on tour, while the other members became more reclusive and introverted. Cornick said he was fired by Anderson, while the band's official website said he was "invited to leave" by Ellis, but given full support and encouragement to form his own band. Cornick subsequently formed Wild Turkey, a band which he revived for Jethro Tull fan conventions decades later. He died in August 2014.
Anderson invited Jeffrey Hammond to replace Cornick, buying a new bass for this purpose. However, Hammond had not played an instrument since going to art school shortly after his time in the John Evan Band, and was chosen more for his social compatibility with the other band members than for his musical skills. This line-up recorded Aqualung in late 1970, releasing it in 1971. The album was split into two sides, subtitled 'Aqualung' and 'My God', and featured Anderson's opinions about organised religion. Recording the album was problematic due to technical issues in the studio and Hammond's rusty musical skills. On "Locomotive Breath", Anderson recorded the backing track on his own, singing along to a hi-hat accompaniment, which the rest of the band recorded on top of later. Despite Anderson's concerns that it may have been "too radical" as compared to the band's previous albums, Aqualung was the first Jethro Tull album to reach the top ten in the US, peaking at No. 7. It sold over one million copies, earning it a gold disc by the RIAA in July 1971.
Because of the heavy touring schedule and his wish to spend more time with his family, drummer Bunker quit the group after the Aqualung album in May 1971, and was replaced by Barrie Barlow, who Anderson rechristened "Barriemore". Barlow had first recorded with the band for the five-track EP Life Is a Long Song. Except for Barre, the line-up of Jethro Tull now consisted entirely of former John Evan Band members from Blackpool.
Anderson had become annoyed with music critics calling Aqualung a concept album, which he did not intend it to be. On a "banter" track that accompanies the 2005 Aqualung Live album recorded for XM Satellite Radio, Anderson insisted, "I always said at the time, this is not a concept album. It's an album of varied songs...in which three or four are kind of the keynote pieces for the album, but it doesn't make it a concept album."
In response to the many critics who called Aqualung a concept album, Anderson decided to "come up with something that really is the mother of all concept albums". He had become influenced by Monty Python's humour, and wrote a suite that combined complex musical ideas with a sense of humour to make fun of the band, its audience and its critics. The album, released in 1972, became Thick as a Brick, which was co-credited to a fictional schoolboy, Gerald Bostock. It consisted of a single track running over 43 minutes, split over two sides, which was uncommon for rock albums. Although the finished album was a continuous piece of music, it was written and recorded in stages, with the whole band helping with the arrangements. Thick as a Brick was the first Tull album to reach number one on the (US) Billboard Pop Albums chart with the following year's A Passion Play being the only other to do so.
1972 also saw the release of Living in the Past, a double-album compilation of remixed singles, B-sides and outtakes (including the entirety of the Life Is a Long Song EP, which closes the album), with the third side recorded live in 1970 at New York's Carnegie Hall concert on 4 November 1970. The album was successful, as it allowed new fans to catch up with early singles, particularly in the US where they had not been popular on initial release. New Musical Express called Jethro Tull one of "Britain's most important and successful 2nd generation progressive bands".
In 1973, while in tax exile, the band attempted to produce a double album at France's Château d'Hérouville studios, something the Rolling Stones and Elton John among others were doing at the time, but supposedly they were unhappy with the quality of the recording studio and abandoned the effort, subsequently mocking the studio as the "Chateau d'Isaster". They returned to England and Anderson rewrote, quickly recorded, and released A Passion Play (1973), another single-track concept album, with allegorical lyrics focusing on the afterlife. Like Thick as a Brick, A Passion Play contained instrumentation rather uncommon in rock music. The album also featured an interlude, "The Story of the Hare Who Lost His Spectacles", which was co-written (along with Anderson and Evan) and narrated by bassist Hammond. The parts played in the video were as follows: Newt (Ian Anderson), Bee (Barlow), Owl (Barre), Hare (Evan), Gorilla (Fraser Aiken), and Turtle (Mick "Ads" Adams). Passion Play sold well but received generally poor reviews, including a particularly damning review of its live performance by Chris Welch of Melody Maker.
Even as the band's popularity with critics began to wane around this time, their popularity with the public remained strong, as evidenced by high sales of their follow-up album, 1974's War Child. Originally intended to be a companion piece for a film, it reached number two on the US Billboard charts and received some critical acclaim, and produced the radio mainstays "Bungle in the Jungle" (#12 on the US singles chart) and "Skating Away (On the Thin Ice of the New Day)". It also included a short acoustic song, "Only Solitaire", widely thought to be aimed at L.A. Times rock music critic Robert Hilburn, who had written a harsh review of the Passion Play concerts at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. However, Anderson said the song was written before Hilburn's review and was aimed at music critics in general. The War Child tour also featured a female string quartet playing along with the group on the new material.
In 1975, the band released Minstrel in the Gallery, an album which resembled Aqualung (1971) in that it contrasted softer, acoustic-guitar-based pieces with lengthier, more bombastic works headlined by Barre's electric guitar. Written and recorded during Anderson's divorce from his first wife Jennie Franks, the album is characterised by a markedly more introspective tone than their previous album, and critics gave it mixed reviews. By this point Jethro Tull had been awarded six RIAA gold records for sales of Stand Up (1969), Aqualung (1971), Thick as a Brick (1972), Living in the Past (1972), A Passion Play (1973), and Minstrel in the Gallery (1975). For the 1975 tour, David Palmer, who had long been the band's orchestra arranger, officially joined the band's stage show on keyboards and synthesisers. In February 1975 Jethro Tull sold out five nights at the 20,000-seat Los Angeles Forum, prompting Melody Maker to run the headline "Jethro – Now The World's Biggest Band?" After the tour, bassist Hammond quit the band to pursue painting. John Glascock, who earlier was playing with flamenco-rock band Carmen, a support band on the previous Jethro Tull tour, became the band's new bassist.
1976's Too Old to Rock 'n' Roll: Too Young to Die! was another concept album, this time about the life of an ageing rocker. Glascock made his first appearance on this album, contributing backing vocals in addition to the bass lines. Palmer continued to arrange, and he recorded as a guest on two songs. For the 1976 tour, Jethro Tull became one of the first bands to use giant projection screens for the larger stadium shows. Although Too old... did not sell as well as the other 1970s albums, the 1976 compilation M.U. - The Best of Jethro Tull, achieved Platinum Album in US and Gold record in UK. A television special was recorded showing the development of the album's concept in a live show with the band (fully dressed in the most rock-hard-tongue-in-cheek outfits), but the programme was never officially released.
In the late 1970s, Jethro Tull released a trio of folk rock albums, Songs from the Wood (1977), Heavy Horses (1978), and Stormwatch (1979). Songs from the Wood (1977) was the first Tull album to receive generally positive reviews since the release of Living in the Past (1972).
The band had had long ties to folk rockers Steeleye Span (Tull were the backing band on Steeleye Span front woman Maddy Prior's 1978 solo album Woman in the Wings as a way of repaying her for contributing vocals on the Too Old to Rock 'n' Roll: Too Young to Die! album) and with Fairport Convention (Fairport members Dave Pegg, Martin Allcock, Dave Mattacks and Ric Sanders have all played with Tull at one point or another, as well as folk drummer Gerry Conway who became a Fairport member after playing with Tull). Although not formally considered a part of the folk rock movement (which had actually begun nearly a decade earlier with the advent of Fairport Convention), there was clearly an exchange of musical ideas among Tull and the folk rockers. By this time, Anderson had moved to a farm in the countryside, and his new bucolic lifestyle was clearly reflected on these albums, as in the title track of Heavy Horses (1978), a paean to draught horses.
The band continued to tour, and released a live double album in 1978, titled Bursting Out, which was recorded during the European leg of the Heavy Horses tour. During the US leg of this tour, John Glascock suffered health problems and was replaced by Anderson's friend and former Stealers Wheel bassist, Tony Williams.
Their third folk influenced album, Stormwatch, was released in 1979. Glascock, after having open heart surgery the previous year, died in his home of heart complications. Anderson completed the bass parts for the unfinished songs on the album, and Dave Pegg of Fairport Convention took the bass responsibilities for the Stormwatch tour.
Following the Stormwatch tour, Jethro Tull would undergo its largest line-up shuffle to date. Barrie Barlow, depressed and withdrawn after the death of his close friend Glascock, quit the band soon after the tour ended. Moreover, Palmer and Evan found their futures in the band to be murky with Anderson's announcement that he wanted to work on a solo album. The two moved on to other projects immediately, including a collaboration that resulted in a classical-based pop/rock band called Tallis. Jethro Tull was left with Anderson (the only original member), Barre and Dave Pegg.
Tull's first album of the 1980s was intended to be Ian Anderson's first solo album. Anderson retained Barre on electric guitar and Pegg on bass, while adding Mark Craney on drums, and special guest keyboardist/violinist Eddie Jobson (ex–Roxy Music, Frank Zappa, Curved Air and UK, the last of which had opened for several shows on Tull's Stormwatch tour). Highlighted by the prominent use of synthesisers, it contrasted sharply with the established "Tull sound". After pressure from Chrysalis Records, Anderson decided to release it as a Jethro Tull album. Entitled A (taken from the labels on the master tapes for his scrapped solo album, marked simply "A" for "Anderson"), it was released in mid-1980. According to biographer David Rees in 2001, Anderson had never intended for the dramatic line-up shift. It was instead the request from Chrysalis Records to release A as a Jethro Tull album rather than an Ian Anderson solo album that gave the appearance of a huge band member turnover.
In keeping with the mood of innovation surrounding the album, Jethro Tull developed a music video titled Slipstream. Four staged and separately filmed music videos are mixed with concert footage from the A tour. London's Hammersmith Odeon was used for exterior scenes, but the main concert footage was actually from an American performance in Los Angeles, at the Los Angeles Sports Arena (as heard on the Magic Piper ROIO), filmed in November 1980. The video, released in 1981, was directed by David Mallet, who has directed numerous music videos, including the pioneering "Ashes to Ashes" video for David Bowie. The electronic style of the A album was even more pronounced in these live performances, and was used to striking effect on some of the older songs such as "Locomotive Breath". The more familiar Jethro Tull sound was brought to the fore in an all-acoustic version of "Skating Away on the Thin Ice of the New Day" featuring Jobson on mandolin, Pegg on mandola and Craney on bass.
Jobson and Craney returned to their own work following the A tour and Jethro Tull entered a period of revolving drummers: Gerry Conway, who left after deciding he couldn't be the one to replace Barlow, Phil Collins (as a fill-in for the recently departed Gerry Conway, played with the band at the first Prince's Trust concert in 1982), Paul Burgess (for the US leg of the Broadsword and the Beast tour, and who left to settle down with his family) and permanent drummer Doane Perry.
1981 was the first year in their career that the band did not release an album; however, some recording sessions took place (Anderson, Barre, Pegg, and Conway, with Anderson playing the keyboards). Some of these tracks were released on the Nightcap compilation in 1993.
In 1982, Peter-John Vettese joined on keyboards, and the band returned to a somewhat folkier sound—albeit with synthesisers—for 1982's The Broadsword and the Beast. The ensuing concert tour for the album was well attended and the shows featured what was to be one of the group's last indulgences in full-dress theatricality: the stage was built to resemble a Viking longship and the band performed in faux-medieval regalia.
An Anderson solo album, which was in fact an Anderson-Vettese effort, appeared in 1983, in the form of the heavily electronic Walk into Light. Although the album featured electronic soundscapes and synthesiser voicings advanced for its time, as well as cerebral lyrics about the alienating effects of technology, the release failed to resonate with long-time fans or with new listeners. However, as with later solo efforts by Anderson and Barre, some of the Walk into Light songs—such as "Fly by Night", "Made in England" and "Different Germany"—later made their way into Jethro Tull live sets.
In 1984, Jethro Tull released Under Wraps, a heavily electronic album with no "live" drummer and instead, as on Walk into Light, a drum-machine was used. Although the band were reportedly proud of the sound, the album was not well received, particularly in North America. However, the video for "Lap of Luxury" did manage to earn moderate rotation on the newly influential MTV music video channel. Also, the acoustic version of the title track, "Under Wraps 2", found some favour over the years and a live instrumental version of the song was included on the A Little Light Music concert CD of 1992. Some long-time Jethro Tull fans[who?] regard Under Wraps as one of the band's weaker efforts; however, Martin Barre considers it his favourite. The main riff from the song "Paparazzi" also became a regular part of live sets as a part of Barre's solo spots; however, this was the only part of the album that remained in the live sets after the Under Wraps tour. As a result of the throat problems Anderson developed singing the demanding Under Wraps material on tour, Jethro Tull took a three-year break. Vettese quit the band after the tour, angry at critics for the bad reviews of The Broadsword and the Beast (1982), Walk into Light (1983), and Under Wraps (1984). During this hiatus, Anderson continued to oversee the salmon farm he had founded in 1978, although the single "Coronach" was released in the UK in 1986 after it was used as the theme tune for a Channel 4 television program called "Blood of the British".
Jethro Tull returned in 1987 with Crest of a Knave. With Vettese absent (Anderson contributed the synth programming) and the band relying more heavily on Barre's electric guitar than they had since the early 1970s, the album was a critical and commercial success. Shades of their earlier electronic excursions were still present, however, as three of the album's songs again used a drum machine, with Doane Perry and Gerry Conway sharing drum duties on the other tracks. Prior to the Crest of a Knave tour, keyboardist Don Airey (ex-Rainbow, Ozzy Osbourne, Michael Schenker Group) joined the band.
The band won the 1988 Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance Vocal or Instrumental, beating the favourite Metallica and their ...And Justice for All album. The award was particularly controversial as many did not consider Jethro Tull hard rock, much less heavy metal. On the advice of their manager, who told them they had no chance of winning, no one from the band attended the award ceremony. In response to the criticism they received over the award, their label, Chrysalis, took out an advertisement in a British music periodical with a picture of a flute lying amid a pile of iron re-bar and the line, "the flute is a heavy metal instrument." In response to an interview question about the controversy, Ian Anderson quipped, "Well, we do sometimes play our mandolins very loudly." In 2007, the win was named one of the ten biggest upsets in Grammy history by Entertainment Weekly. In 1992, when Metallica finally won the Grammy in the category, Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich joked, "First thing we're going to do is thank Jethro Tull for not putting out an album this year", a play on a Grammy comment by Paul Simon some years before thanking Stevie Wonder for the same thing.
The style of Crest of a Knave (1987) has been compared to that of Dire Straits, in part because Anderson no longer seemed to have the vocal range he once possessed and preferred to use the lower registers, while Martin Barre's guitar sound apparently drifted towards Mark Knopfler's style. Two songs in particular – "Farm on the Freeway" and "Steel Monkey" – got heavy radio airplay. The album also contained the popular live song "Budapest", which depicts a backstage scene with a shy local female stagehand. Although "Budapest" was the longest song on that album (at just over ten minutes), "Mountain Men" became more famous in Europe, depicting a scene from World War II in Africa. Ian Anderson referred to the battles of El Alamein and the Falkland Islands, drawing historical parallels of the angst that women left behind by their warrior husbands might have felt:
died in the trenches at El Alamein,
died in the Falklands on TV
They toured this album with "The Not Quite the World, More the Here and There Tour". It was also the first time in the band's history that it had two electric guitar players on stage, when Anderson, albeit rarely, played rhythm guitar.
1988 was notable for the release of 20 Years of Jethro Tull, a five-LP themed set (also released as a three-CD set, and as a truncated single CD version on 20 Years of Jethro Tull: Highlights) consisting largely of rarities and outtakes from throughout the band's history, as well as a variety of live and remastered tracks. It also included a booklet outlining the band's history in detail. Now out of print, it has become a collector's item, although many (but not all) of the outtakes have been included as bonus tracks on remastered releases of the band's studio albums.
In 1989, the band released Rock Island, which met with less commercial and critical success than Crest of a Knave (1987). The lead-off track, "Kissing Willie", featured bawdy double-entendre lyrics and over-the-top heavy metal riffing that seemed to take a satiric view of the group's recent Grammy award win. The song's accompanying video found difficulty in receiving airplay because of its sexual imagery. Although Rock Island was something of a miss for the group, a couple of fan favourites did emerge from the album. "Big Riff and Mando" reflects life on the road for the relentlessly touring musicians, giving a wry account of the theft of Barre's prized mandolin by a starstruck fan. "Another Christmas Song", an upbeat number celebrating the humanitarian spirit of the holiday season, stood out against the brooding and sombre mood of many of the songs on the album and was well received at concerts. It was re-recorded for the 2003 The Jethro Tull Christmas Album release.
1991's Catfish Rising was a more solid album than Rock Island (1989). Despite being labelled as a "return to playing the blues", the album actually is marked by the generous use of mandolin and acoustic guitar and much less use of keyboards than any Tull album of the Eighties. Notable tracks included "Rocks on the Road", which highlighted gritty acoustic guitar work and hard-bitten lyrics about urban life and "Still Loving You Tonight", a bluesy, low-key ballad.
Following a further, semi-acoustic 1992 tour (which included Dave Mattacks but not Andy Giddings, and which was documented with A Little Light Music, the band's second official live album), Anderson relearned how to play the flute (after his daughter, who took up flute classes at school, discovered that her father often used the wrong fingering) and began writing songs that heavily featured world music influences. However, the first Tull releases containing the "relearned" flute were the 1993 25th Anniversary Box Set which, as well as the remixes of classic songs and unreleased live material, included a whole CD of old songs from the band's entire career recorded by the current line-up, and the 1993 Nightcap compilation album containing unreleased studio material (mainly from the scrapped pre-Passion Play album), with multiple flute parts re-recorded.
Prior to the recording of 1995's Roots to Branches album, longstanding bass player Dave Pegg left the band, wishing to concentrate on Fairport Convention and not being keen on the world-music direction the band chose. Doane Perry (returning as the band's full-time drummer) recruited his friend and widely respected session bass player Steve Bailey to fill the gap: Ian Anderson, in turn, relinquished control of the rhythm section arrangements on that record, leaving them completely to Bailey and Perry. Despite his studio contributions, however, Bailey did not join the band, and Pegg's formal replacement as Jethro Tull bassist was Jonathan Noyce.
Roots to Branches (1995) and 1999's J-Tull Dot Com were less rock-based than Crest of a Knave (1987) or Catfish Rising (1991). Songs on these albums reflect the musical influences of decades of performing all around the globe. In songs such as "Out of the Noise" and "Hot Mango Flush", Anderson paints vivid pictures of third-world street scenes. These albums reflected Anderson's coming to grips with being an old rocker, with songs such as the pensive "Another Harry's Bar", "Wicked Windows" (a meditation on reading glasses), and the gruff "Wounded, Old and Treacherous".
In 2001, Anderson reunited with Glenn Cornick, Clive Bunker and Mick Abrahams for small pub dates. It was the first time the original four members had played together since 1968. The Living with the Past (2002) DVD includes a documentary that features the band on tour, in Britain and America, in 2001. It also has footage of the 2001 reunion of Jethro Tull's first line up filmed playing in a pub.
2003 saw the release of The Jethro Tull Christmas Album, a collection of traditional Christmas songs together with old and new Christmas songs written by Jethro Tull. It is the last studio album of this band. It became the band's biggest commercial success since the 1987 Crest of a Knave. An Ian Anderson live double album and DVD was released in 2005 called Ian Anderson Plays the Orchestral Jethro Tull. In addition, a DVD entitled Nothing Is Easy: Live at the Isle of Wight 1970 and a live album Aqualung Live (recorded in 2004) were released in 2005.
2006 saw the release of a dual boxed set DVD Collector's Edition, containing two DVDs – Nothing Is Easy: Live at the Isle of Wight 1970 and Living with the Past. Bassist Jon Noyce left the band in March 2006. Keyboardist Andrew Giddings quit the band in July 2006, citing constant touring allowing not enough time for family. They were replaced by David Goodier and John O'Hara respectively. In the following year The Best of Acoustic Jethro Tull, a 24-song set of Tull's and Ian Anderson's acoustic performances taken from various albums, was released. Included are a new live acoustic version of "One Brown Mouse" and a live performance of the traditional song (attributed to Henry VIII), "Pastime with Good Company".
In September 2007, Jethro Tull released CD/DVD Live at Montreux 2003. The concert was recorded on 4 July 2003 and featured, among others, "Fat Man", "With You There to Help Me" and "Hunting Girl", with the longest unchanged line-up: Anderson, Barre, Perry, Noyce and Giddings.
During interviews in November 2011, Martin Barre stated that there were no current plans for future Jethro Tull work and he does not foresee any Tull concerts through 2013. In 2012, Barre assembled and toured with a group, billed as Martin Barre's New Day, which included Jonathan Noyce that played mostly Tull material.
On 30 January 2012, Anderson announced via the Jethro Tull website that Thick as a Brick 2: Whatever Happened to Gerald Bostock?, a followup to Thick as a Brick, would be released on 2 April 2012. It was recorded by Anderson and the Ian Anderson Touring Band, who made the following tour together too. There are two former Jethro Tull members bassist David Goodier and keyboardist John O'Hara plus guitarist Florian Opahle, drummer Scott Hammond and as an additional vocalist Ryan O'Donnell. Thick as a Brick 2 had its world premiere on 14 April 2012 at Perth Concert Hall, Scotland, UK, kicking off an expected 18-month tour supporting both the original and new albums.
In November 2013, Anderson announced via the Jethro Tull website that a new album Homo Erraticus ("The Wandering Man") would be released in April 2014. This will be followed by tours in the UK and US, during which the album will be played in its entirety. Homo Erraticus will be a prog-rock concept album which, according to Anderson, "chronicles the weird imaginings of one Ernest T. Parritt, as recaptured by the now middle-aged Gerald Bostock after a trip to Mathew Bunter's Old Library Bookshop in Linwell village. Bostock and Bunter came across this dusty, unpublished manuscript, written by local amateur historian Ernest T. Parritt, (1873–1928), and entitled Homo Britanicus Erraticus." Like Thick as a Brick 2, Homo Erraticus is billed as an Ian Anderson solo album.
In an April 2014 interview following the release of Anderson's solo album Homo Erraticus, Anderson announced that from that point on, he would be releasing all his music under his own name. Anderson stated that Tull "kind of came more or less to an end during the last 10 years or so", and stated his preference "in my twilight years, to use my own name for the most part being composer of virtually all Tull songs and music since 1968". The album treats of prehistory to the future forecasted eight thousand years of human migration. In the liner notes Anderson explains that he will continue to operate under its own name.
2015 saw Anderson tour with the Ian Anderson Touring Band and the project Jethro Tull - The Rock Opera; a lyrically modified Tull repertoire and new rock songs about the namesake of the band, Jethro Tull, together with elaborate video productions to the stage. The touring band included a female vocalist for the first time, Icelander Unnur Birna Björnsdóttir who also plays the violin. The 2016 Tour visited Europe, Australia, and the USA.
Jethro Tull's music has been referenced in popular culture, appearing in movies, (Breaking the Waves, Anchorman, Almost Famous, Apollo 18, also mentioned by Owen Wilson's character in the movie Armageddon) television series (The Simpsons, Breaking Bad, Supernatural, Life on Mars, Fargo) and commercials.
Their influence on musicians includes Iron Maiden's Steve Harris and Bruce Dickinson, Dream Theater's John Myung, Blind Guardian's Marcus Siepen, Joe Bonamassa, the Decemberists' Jenny Conlee and folk doom metal band Blood Ceremony. Rush's Geddy Lee, for example, said about Jethro Tull: "I was a massive Tull fan from very young ... and, I hope, that too reflects in Rush. I was mesmerised by Ian Anderson. His presentation was simply magical and he delivered it with such a sense of humour and great style ... We [of Rush] saw it as a huge challenge to try and create something that can seem so dynamic onstage."
Nick Cave is a fan of Jethro Tull, having named one of his sons Jethro in honour of the group. His group, Grinderman, also covered "Locomotive Breath" during soundchecks. At Cave's own request, Ian Anderson presented him with his Album of the Year trophy at the MOJO Awards in 2008.
Bands who have covered songs from Jethro Tull include Iron Maiden, who recorded their own version of "Cross Eyed Mary" for the B-Side of "The Trooper". The folk band Turisas recorded "Broadsword". Finnish heavy metal band Northern Kings recorded "Fallen on Hard Times". "Rainbow Blues" was covered by Blackmore's Night, former Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore's band. The song was released on their 2003 album Ghost of a Rose. The Ronnie James Dio band Elf, in 1972 played live versions "Aqualung" and "Cross Eyed Mary". Also in the seventies, the Italian band Premiata Forneria Marconi (PFM) played live a version of "My God" and "Bouree". In the Stoner Metal compilation Sucking the 70s, there are two covers of Jethro Tull songs: "Cross-Eyed Mary" and "Hymn 43", from the bands Clutch and Alabama Thunderpussy, respectively.
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