Jethro Tull studio portrait.
Jethro Tull studio portrait.
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Beginning his working day with a 9am Zoom call, Jethro Tull leader Ian Anderson is a busy man. Here we talk about a new UK tour from Tull, the vinyl release of The Château d’Hérouville Sessions the band’s great long-lost album from the 70s – and the likelihood of former guitarist Martin Barre performing with them again.

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You’re seventy-six. Do you still enjoy being on the road?

I don’t know if ‘enjoy’ is the word. That’s like asking Lewis Hamilton if he has had fun driving his Mercedes for the last couple of years. Remembering every one of those thousands of words and notes for a couple of hours demands intense concentration and commitment. What I don’t like is the wasted time spent travelling or doing sound-checks, but without teleportation such is life. That’s why I travel so much by train.

You’ve described yourself as “Michael Portillo with a flute”. How much of the tour will be made by rail, strikes allowing? 

I return home by car wherever possible because I like to sleep in my own bed, but usually I’ll take the train to the show instead of a car. Barring the strikes, I use the trains a lot. And unlike in much of the rest of Europe, generally speaking I don’t really have too many complaints about the service.

The Château d’Hérouville Sessions, the great ‘lost’ Tull album from 1972, is being released on double vinyl for the first time. Why did it not see the light of day for more than twenty years?

The Château was a place at which many great albums had been made, but within a day or two we found ourselves in difficulty. We were trying to build a big concept album, and we had recorded about ten pieces, but the equipment was ailing and failing. On top of that, people were starting to come down with dysentery, bed bugs and scabies. It was a very unhappy experience. So after two weeks we took a vote and decided to go home and start work on a completely new album, which became A Passion Play.

The Château d’Hérouville Sessions music was remixed by Steven Wilson, who has ‘freshened up’ the sound of several Tull reissues, as well as those of many other artists. What do you like about his work? 

Well, it means that I don’t have to do it.

But seriously… 

Steven has a comparatively younger set of ears, and is infinitely more capable than myself at dealing in the complexities of surround sound. And besides those technical skills, his enthusiasm for the music of that era – not just mine, but also of my contemporaries – is to be admired.

The forthcoming tour is called Seven Decades, and will span the band’s entire career, with the promise of a few unexpected obscurities. 

When you say ‘spans the entire career’, it will offer little snapshots of our recorded history; it might only be one or two songs from each decade because time is limited. The set-list is the best compromise possible given the demands of touring with a complex video show in different countries, with differing expectations.

Things were gloriously easy back in 1969 because we only had two albums. Things are now much more tortuous. The skill is achieving a balance between the heavy hitters and our lesser-known works. For instance, Songs From The Wood gets rotated for a while before being replaced by Heavy Horses or Farm On The Freeway. It’s all about balance.

And what about the possibility of a new studio record? Jethro Tull’s most recent two albums, The Zealot Gene from 2022 and last year’s RökFlöte, were made in quick succession, although after a gap of more than two decades. 

They were released in quick succession, though most of The Zealot Gene was recorded back in 2017, and delayed for a variety of reasons including covid. That means we are talking a period of around five years… It wouldn’t be reasonable to expect a new album until 2028. However, I do have a [projected] release date of April 2025, so hopefully I will deliver something by then.

What are the chances of Martin Barre, the band’s long-serving former guitarist, now out of the band for more than a decade, ever playing again with Jethro Tull? 

I have no beef with Martin. But if an interview that I saw recently on YouTube is anything to go by, then he seems a very unhappy person. I don’t think that would make the atmosphere within the band very easy. Finally, after many, many, many years in which I had advised him to do so, Martin is doing his own stuff. He’s in charge of his own band, rather than a circumstance in which he is not the songwriter, producer or manager. At last he can do things his way. Judging by the amount of shows that he’s playing, he should be having a whale of a time, instead of being embittered about Jethro Tull.

Jethro Tull’s UK tour begins in Bournemouth on April 19 and ends in Liverpool on May 6. European dates follow in September and October. For dates and ticket links, visit the Jethro Tull website