Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Salvation a la Mode

In 1967, Jethro Tull began their sojourn at the Marquee Club in London. Ian Anderson recalls, "We played once at the Marquee as the John Evan Band, went back, sort of hiding our faces from John Gee the manager, and became Navy Blue the second time we played the Marquee, and the third time we played at the Marquee we were Jethro Tull, and luckily that was the one that stuck." In January '68 the band released their first the pop-folk oriented single "Sunshine Day," released on MGM under the name Jethro Toe. The name of the band, of course, was Jethro Tull, after the 18th-century English inventor of the seed drill, but the record company misspelled the name after Derek Lawrence from MGM read their name misspelled in the Melody Maker. It was on this single that Ian Anderson debuted as flute player. "I began the flute just before we came from Blackpool down to London because I sold off, in order to raise some cash and to settle some debts, I sold an electric guitar that I had. Since Mick was going to join the group on guitar it seemed pointless keeping it, so I tried to sell it for cash, but the shop wouldn't take cash; they said 'We'll let you trade it in against something,' and the only things I could think worth having that were sufficiently portable, to put in a pocket during that rough and ready existence that was to follow, were a microphone and ... as I looked round the shop, I saw a flute hanging up and thought 'I'll have that.'"

A month later the band started its Friday residency at the Marquee as Jethro Tull. The band became a fixture in London's music scene and their image, headed by Ian Anderson's emblematic figure playing flute with a leg up and dressing like a beggar, made a lasting impression on the London hip. Jethro Tull played their last gig at the Marquee in November 1968, two months after the release of their debut album This Was. The album foreshadowed Tull's eclectic mix of rock, jazz and English folk. While many bands were experimenting with classical and jazz oriented sounds, only Tull was zeroing in on what was blatantly British (a forte established by The Beatles), creating an atmosphere that summoned up the ghosts of Blake and Willy the Shake. 

By Stand Up, released in August 1969, the Tull mystique was fully established, particularly with the inclusion of Bach's "Bouree." Ian Anderson's flute playing was huffy, puffy and full of breathy flourishes as he yanked out blues harmonica-like effects, with a gritty underpinning of what the flute was meant to be. It was the rock of side of fusion before jazz purists made "fusion" a dirty word. 

 Early the following year, Tull began working on what would prove to be, for many fans, the group's magnum opus, Aqualung. Anderson's writing had been moving in a more serious direction since the group's second album, but it was with Aqualung that he found the lyrical voice he'd been seeking. Suddenly, he was singing about the relationship between man and God, and the manner in which organized religion separated them. The blues influences were muted, but the hard rock passages were searing while the pastoral folk influence provided a refreshing contrast. And everybody, college prog-rock mavens and high-school time-servers alike, seemed to identify with the theme of alienation that lay behind the music. Aqualung includes the stylized liner note: "In the beginning Man created God; and in the image of Man created he him . But as all these things did come to pass, the Spirit that did cause man to create his God lived on with all men: even within Aqualung. And man saw it not. But for Christ's sake he'd better start looking." Ironically, Aqualung is one of the few Jethro Tull albums where the lyrics are not printed, despite the fact this is arguably the album where the lyrics mattereth most.