Monday Muse: How to become a Jethro Tull fan in Four Albums or Less.
Step 2: Stand Up
So hopefully by now you have finished last weeks lesson and are now eager to proceed. And by proceed I mean, look backwards a few years and learn a little history. Whilst Aqualung has been Jethro Tull’s most lasting impression on the American radio dial, those tunes may have never made it to our shores had it not been for some quite interesting turns of fate.
The band we know as Jethro Tull started out in the early 60’s as a Blackpool based blues band called The Blades, named for the private club frequented by “M” in Ian Fleming’s James Bond stories.
In 1967 the band moved to the London area, 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 (who had replaced Hammond) 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 happened to be 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. It was around this time that Anderson purchased a flute after becoming frustrated with his inability to play guitar like Eric Clapton:
- “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.”
Let that sink in… two weeks of learning pretty much on his own. As the band released it’s first album, the progressive blues styled This Was, things were already shaking up. Guitarist Mick Abrahams and Anderson feuded over the direction of the band. Their manager at the time thought they would be more successful as a straight blues group, with Abrahams guitar out front. Anderson thought wanted to broaden the bands sound. Abrahams left the band to form his own, Blodwyn Pig, and Tull eventually settled on Martin Barre to play guitar and Stand Up became the first album to feature what is essentially the classic Tull lineup of Anderson, Barre, and a bunch of other worthies, in this case Glen Cornick on bass, Clive Bunker on drums, and David Palmer arranging strings.
I think “A New Day Yesterday” is the most recognizable song on the album, although I really like “Nothing is Easy” and the wry humor and innovation of “Fat Man”, one of the first songs on a rock album to use a mandolin. And of course, “Bouree”, a jazzy interpretation of a JS Bach composition, is one of my all time favorite pieces of music and the track I walked out to at our wedding.
In 2010 they released a metric ton of Jethro Tull reissues and the extra’s on Stand Up are a gold mine of Tull, including the contemporaneous singles “Sweat Dream” and “Living in the Past”, both big hits in the US at the time, as well as ephemera like “17” , previously available only on the hard to find 20 Years of Jethro Tull box set.
Also, for vinyl lovers, the gatefold of the album release opens up like a children’s pop up book!
Anyhow, Stand Up is in this humble fan’s opinion, essential listening. It is the first big splash of a band that would go on to sell 60 million albums worldwide and is still working 44 years later.