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Jethro Tull are a British rock group formed in 1967. Their music is characterised by the songs, vocals and flute work of Ian Anderson, who has led the band since its founding, and guitarist Martin Barre, who has been with the band since 1969.
Initially playing blues rock with an experimental flavour, they incorporated elements of classical, folk and 'ethnic' musics, jazz and art rock into their music.
The band have sold more than 60 million albums worldwide.
Ian Anderson's first band, started in 1962 in Blackpool, were known as The Blades. By 1964, they had developed into a seven-piece white soul band called The John Evan Band (later The John Evan Smash), named after pianist/drummer John Evan. At this point, future Jethro Tull drummer Barriemore Barlow was a member.
In 1967 the band moved to the London area in search of more bookings, basing themselves in nearby Luton. They also travelled to Liverpool. However, money remained short and within days of the move most of the band quit and headed back north, leaving Anderson and bassist Glenn Cornick to join forces with blues guitarist Mick Abrahams and his friend, drummer Clive Bunker, both from the Luton-based band McGregor's Engine. 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. 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 were using it the first time a club manager liked their show enough to invite them to return. They were signed to the blossoming Ellis-Wright agency, and became the third band managed by the soon-to-be Chrysalis empire.
Their first single was released in 1968, written by Abrahams and produced by Derek Lawrence, and called "Sunshine Day"; on the label the group's name was misspelled "Jethro Toe", making it a collector's item. "Sunshine Day" was unsuccessful.
They released their first album This Was in 1968. In addition to music written by Anderson and Abrahams the album included the traditional "Cat's Squirrel", which highlighted Abrahams' blues-rock style. The Rahsaan Roland Kirk-penned jazz piece "Serenade to a Cuckoo" gave Anderson a showcase for his growing talents on the flute, an instrument which he started learning to play only half a year before the release of the album. 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 this album, Abrahams left after a falling out with Anderson and formed his own band, Blodwyn Pig. There were a number of reasons for his departure: he was a blues purist, while Anderson wanted to branch out into other forms of music; Abrahams and Cornick did not get along; and Abrahams was unwilling to travel internationally or play more than three nights a week, while the others wanted to be successful by playing as often as possible and building an international fan base.
Guitarist Tony Iommi, from the group Earth (who would soon change their name to Black Sabbath), took on guitar duties for a short time after the departure of Abrahams, appearing in The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus (in which the group mimed "A Song For Jeffrey") in December 1968, but it turned out to be a one time only arrangement and Tony returned to Earth after the performance.
After auditions for a replacement guitarist in December 1968, Anderson chose Martin Barre, a former member of Motivation, Penny Peeps, and Gethsemane, who was playing with Noel Redding's Fat Mattress at the time. Barre was so nervous at his first audition that he could hardly play at all, and then showed up for a second audition without an amplifier or a cord to connect his guitar to another amp. Nevertheless, Barre would become Abrahams' permanent replacement on guitar and the second longest-standing member of the band after Anderson.
This new line-up released Stand Up in 1969, the group's only UK number-one album. Written entirely by Anderson — with the exception of the jazzy rearrangement of J. S. Bach's Bourée (fifth movement from Suite for Lute in E minor BWV 996 (BC L166)) — it branched out further from the blues, clearly evidencing a new direction for the group, which would come to be categorised as progressive rock alongside such diverse groups as King Crimson, Genesis, The Nice, Gentle Giant, and Yes. It was during sessions for this album that the band recorded one of their best-known songs, "Living in the Past", which was originally issued only as a single. Anderson and Chrysalis Records manager Terry Ellis reportedly wrote it in 5/4 time with the intent of preventing its ascent to the pop charts. It turned out not to be the case, as the song reached number three in the UK chart, and though most other progressive groups actively resisted issuing singles at the time, Jethro Tull had further success with their other singles, "Sweet Dream" (1969) and "The Witch's Promise" (1970), and a five-track EP, Life Is a Long Song (1971), all of which made the top twenty. In 1970, they added keyboardist John Evan (initially as a guest musician) and released the album Benefit.
Bassist Cornick left following Benefit, and formed the band "Wild Turkey".He was replaced by Jeffrey Hammond, a childhood friend of Anderson whose name appeared in the songs "A Song for Jeffrey", "Jeffrey Goes to Leicester Square", "For Michael Collins, Jeffrey, and Me", and who also is the writer and narrator of "The Story of the Hare Who Lost His Spectacles", later featured in the album A Passion Play. Hammond was often credited on Jethro Tull albums as "Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond", a reference to the fact that Hammond's mother's maiden name was also "Hammond", no relation to his father.
This line-up released Jethro Tull's best-known work, Aqualung in 1971. On this album, Anderson's lyrics included strong opinions about religion and society. Though consisting of distinct tracks, there is a common narrative thread leading some rock critics and connoisseurs to label it as a concept album. The lyrics of the title song of "Aqualung" feature a disreputable tramp, wandering the streets and "eyeing little girls with bad intent"; the focus of the song "Cross-Eyed Mary" is a young prostitute who operates from near a school. "My God" – written before "Benefit" and already a staple of the band's live act before Aqualung's release – is a full-frontal assault on ecclesiastic excesses: "People what have you done/locked Him in His golden cage/Made Him bend to your religion/Him resurrected from the grave..." In contrast, the gentle acoustic "Wond'ring Aloud" is a love song. The title track and "Locomotive Breath" remain staples of U.S. classic rock stations and, to this day, are rarely left out of Jethro Tull's live act.
Jethro Tull returned strongly 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 utilised a drum machine. The band won the 1989 Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance, 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. Under advisement from 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, the band took out an advertisement in a British music periodical with a picture of a flute lying amid a pile of iron re-bars 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, allowing him to win.)
The style of Crest has been compared to that of Dire Straits, in part because Anderson no longer seemed to have the vocal range he once possessed. 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 historic 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
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.
Multi-instrumentalist Martin (Maart) Allcock, who as a member of Fairport Convention, had played as a guest with Tull at the Cropredy festival the previous year, joined the band mainly as keyboard player, starting with the 20th Anniversary tour (this may seem unremarkable, but multi-instrumentalist Allcock - proficient on all manner of stringed instruments with Fairport - had never previously played keyboards professionally with a band).
In 1989, the band released Rock Island, which met with less commercial and critical success than Crest of a Knave. 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 Jethro Tull Christmas Album release.
1991's Catfish Rising was a more solid album than Rock Island. 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.
Allcock, who had played on the Catfish Rising tour, although not the album itself, quit the band at the end of the year to pursue solo work.
After the 1992 tour, Anderson had re-learned how to play the flute, and begun writing songs that heavily featured world music influences. Dave Pegg also left the band to concentrate on Fairport Convention. He was replaced by Jonathan Noyce. 1995's Roots to Branches and 1999's J-Tull Dot Com are less rock-based than Crest of a Knave or Catfish Rising. These most recent original Jethro Tull efforts 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 have 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 1995, Anderson released his second solo album, Divinities: Twelve Dances with God, an instrumental work composed of twelve flute-heavy pieces pursuing varied themes with an underlying motif. The album was recorded with Jethro Tull keyboard player Andrew Giddings and orchestral musicians. Anderson released two further song-based solo albums, The Secret Language of Birds and Rupi's Dance in 2000 and 2003, respectively.
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.
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.
Ian Anderson performed a version of the song "The Thin Ice," on the 2005 Pink Floyd tribute album Back Against The Wall.
2006 saw the release of a dual boxed set DVD "Collectors Edition", containing two DVD's "Nothing Is Easy" and "Living With The Past". Included on "Nothing is Easy" is footage from the 1970 Isle of Wight festival, considered by many Tull fans to be a classic Jethro Tull performance. "Living With The Past" includes a documentary that features the band on tour, in Britain and America, in 2001. It also has footage of a reunion of Jethro Tull's first line up - Anderson, Abrahams, Cornick and Bunker - filmed playing in a pub. Bassist Jon Noyce left the band in March 2006 after having a falling out with Anderson similar to the Anderson-Abrahams thing. Giddings quit the band in July 2006 citing constant touring and less time for family. They were both replaced by Dave Goodier and John O'Hara respectively
March 2007 saw the release of The Best of Acoustic Jethro Tull, a 24-song set of Tull and Ian Anderson acoustic performances taken from various albums. 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 the July 4, 2003 and featured, among others, "Fat Man", "With You There To Help Me" and "Hunting Girl".
In addition to another busy tour schedule in 2007, Jethro Tull are also in the studio recording some new material for a new CD. If it is released it will be the band's first proper new album since 1999. Some of the new songs were performed live during the recent UK acoustic tour, and 2007 Autumn tour