This feature appeared in Amplifier Magazine, October 2003
Martin Lancelot Barre is a humble man with a self-effacing, affable veneer. Especially when he's assured that materializing five minutes late for an interview is no big deal for a musician of such historic renown. "I forgot I was a rock 'n' roll legend, thank you for reminding me!" Says his working partner of thirty-four years, the extremely talkative and confident Ian Anderson, "without Martin Barre, there would be no Jethro Tull." Anderson and Barre need no introduction to classic rock fans, nor to each other. Landmark albums such as Aqualung, Thick As A Brick, and Benefit gave birth to arena rock, air-guitar, and established the importance of FM radio in the 1970s. The band is still filling stadiums worldwide, and a retrospective DVD entitled A New Day Yesterday will stuff many a Christmas stocking. This year, the prolific duo have unleashed two wildly different solo albums for entirely different reasons.
Barre's effort, Stage Left, is an devil-may-care instrumental excursion into blues, jazz, classical, and heavy metal, save for one vocal track, ironically titled "Don't Say A Word," rendered by a local pub singer and friend, Simon Burrett, from Martin's hometown of Devon, England. "I've never had to live up to anything because I've never been a guitar hero," opines the youthful Barre. "My reputation is of someone who is particularly under-rated. That's fantastic; I can get away with murder." With no specific game plan other than to "get on with what I want to do," the guitarist soars. Among the many stand-up cuts is a rather noble attempt at traditional blues entitled "As Told By." Barre transforms the rudimentary twelve-bar three chord template into twelve chords and endless melodic tangents. He laughs "that's my problem; I can't leave well enough alone. I find it very hard to be simplistic. Then again, I try not to be a smart ass. My music sounds easy, but has depth to it."
Barre turned his sidemen loose in the studio with minimal instruction. "Nelly Returns" features stellar fretless bass work from current Jethro Tull member Jonathan Noyce, whom Barre drafted fresh out of music school. The swirling effects employed on "Celestial Servings" were borne as a result of Noyce's noodlings with a device which drove Barre "bonkers" every night backstage during a recent Tull trek. Barre confesses he hated the sounds at first. Then he fell in love with the contraption and made it the basis of a song. "Winter Snowscapes" exudes orchestral ambitions with grandiose, cinematic textures. Recalling the misstep of Jethro Tull's A Classic Case, an album of symphonic greatest-hits, Barre waxes ala Monty Python: "I'd like it done properly." Nudge nudge, wink wink. "Oooooow, aren't I a bitch!"
Modest as he may be, there is one jewel missing from the crown for Martin: the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. "It's a shame, I don't know what's gone wrong" he notes with sadness.
"I used to think that stuff didn't bother me, especially after we won the Grammy. That award means a lot to me now. I'm quite proud of it. I'd be honored to be in the Hall. Jethro Tull has never taken a year off. Somebody there doesn't like us I guess."
As one of rock's premier showmen, Ian Anderson is accustomed to the spotlight. Tull traditionalists will be overly pleased to discover that Rupi's Dance, Ian's fourth solo outing, evokes the warm, acoustic trappings of Songs From The Wood and Heavy Horses. Anderson pontificates "part of being around for a long time is looking back and taking stock of what you've done and not existing in a mindless bubble, chasing the next thing. For me this album is like Cezanne and Monet, who spent their latter years re-examining what they perceived years before."
Relieved from the constraints and responsibilities of writing for a band affords Anderson the freedom he relishes every now and then. Rupi's Dance delves into more personal, intellectual, and emotional areas than do the group efforts. Ruminations from a table in Starbucks ("Calliandra Shade: The Cappuccino Song"), voyeuristic delights ("Photo Shop"), a paean to a famous Italian flautist ("Griminelli's Lament"), confessions of a CNN junkie ("Not Ralista Vasileva"), adolescent insecurity ("Two Short Planks"), artistic rivalries ("A Raft Of Penguins") and fear of failure with the opposite sex ("A Hand of Thumbs") coalesce via English folk motifs, jazz licks, progressive-rock leanings, classical passages, and rich melodies. With a work ethic that forgoes demos, re-tracking, and multiple takes, Anderson's song-cycle is fresh and exuberant.
The album's centerpiece is the title track. Rupi, the object of Ian's desires, is not a woman, in fact, she's a cat. "The song explores the way in which we personify animals. There is a sexy thing that parallels between the way a cat moves, and plays with you emotionally and physically. I don't intend to hoodwink anyone. The emphasis is on the grace and femininity of the feline form…or a sexy, dark haired lady who is trying to get you to go to bed with her."
Rupi's Dance will be represented in Ian's solo ongoing "Rubbing Elbows" tour, an interactive event featuring local guests from television, radio, and print media. "It would be easy to say it's David Letterman with a flute." Intrigued by the masters of the talk show format for their improvisational prowess and quick wit, Anderson looks forward to the mental challenge of blending dialogue and music with a rotating cast. Remembering his numerous stints on Late Night and the Howard Stern Show, Anderson exclaims "I don't really know what I'm going to be talking about until it comes out of my mouth." Intimate concerts have their drawbacks. "I just did two shows in Greece and noticed that most of the men folk have yet to discover a bar of soap. There was this acrid smell in the audience. It was the same in Turkey. The Italians: probably one-in-four had a hygiene problem. The Germans are clean as a whistle, they love showers." Is Anderson willing to go public with his research? "I'm a CNN guy, but I think I'd choose my moments before I talk about stereotypes. Yet it wasn't the women. I went out and sniffed a few, and they were fresh as roses!"
Ian Anderson’s Rupi's Dance and Martin Barre’s Stage Left are out now on Fuel 2000