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Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson Returns with Homo Erraticus

by Nancy Dunham on April 11, 2014

Ian Anderson’s snort resonates through the telephone receiver.

The eruption comes toward the end of a discussion about his April 14 release Homo Erraticus, eagerly awaited by the fans of the front man and founder of prog-rock pioneers Jethro Tull. Now that rock cruises are in vogue and a new Anderson album is in the wings, fans continually fuel rumors that the Minstrel in the Gallery may bring “Aqualung,” “Sweet Dreams,” “Thick as a Brick,” and perhaps some of the songs from his new album to the high seas.

“Well, you know, trying to play the flute on a ship during rocky weather,” he says, allowing the sentence to drift off before acknowledging in his clipped, British and always polite tone that the lack of privacy afforded on such a trip is the true downside for him. “There is, of course, that.”

Indeed.

Those that saw Anderson in 1996 during the “Roots to Branches” tour­­–– during which he gamely performed a few shows from a wheelchair soon after injuring his knee in Lima, Peru –– know the consummate showman has no problem performing under adverse conditions. On the spring night of the Washington, D.C. gig for that tour, light bounced off the silver of Anderson’s wheelchair as he twirled, sang, played his flute, and entertained fans with his somewhat crude but always family friendly jokes.

In a way that flamboyant stage persona –– introduced in the late ‘60s when he sported masses of unruly red hair that surrounded his chiseled face and his easy, on-stage repartee with the crowds -- is truly a double-edged sword.

On the one hand it makes fans feel as if they know Anderson –– who now sports a cap on stage to hide his receding hairline –– well enough to belly up to the bar with him. But they really don’t know his private life. That is clear by fans insistence that Anderson has close personal friendships with Martin Barre and the other musicians they consider part of the “Classic Tull” line up including drummer Doane Perry, bassist Jonathan Noyce, and keyboardist Andy Giddings.

“Ian and I aren’t best friends,” Barre said in a 2012 interview when asked about fans’ perceptions and their angst about the Tull “rift.” “We had a lot of years together and I’ve got a life, [Ian] has a life. I have got to respect that. When I started in Tull, we never signed a bit of paper saying we were going to be each other’s mates forever. It’s good. It’s fine. It allows Ian to do what he wants to do and vice versa. I am enjoying it, and I’m sure he is.”

It certainly seems so, as he talks about how he went about creating this new album.

“It’s not the tyranny of the blank page,” says Anderson, who did an album release party in London for this record, his first such launch party in decades. “It’s very different than that. It’s having an absolutely empty head with no idea what you’re going to write.”

Anderson has spoken extensively about how he had set a schedule to craft this album starting at 9 a.m. on January 1, 2013. That day he awoke with no more concrete plans than to write. He had coffee. He may have glanced at the newspaper. Then at 9 a.m. he went into the office of his London-area home. He played some instruments. His thoughts started to drift toward immigration – a hot button issue throughout the world – and led to the migration of man throughout history. “I had the idea for a bit of a tune by lunch time,” he says simply.

Two or three days later he had a theme, a title, and by month’s end most of an album. He sent the work to his band of the past 12 years, bassist David Goodier, keyboardist John O'Hara, guitarist Florian Opahle, drummer Scott Hammond, and vocalist Ryan O'Donnell.

Although Anderson is adamant that he can’t write with others– he shakes off the notion that the sound on the latest album leaves one wondering if he collaborated with Derek Shulman of Gentle Giant – he does seek his band’s input, in this case on fine tuning the 15 songs on the album categorized as: “Chronicles,” “Prophecies” and “Revelations.”

Anderson offers that the album was written by his alter ego Gerald Bostock, the fictional mastermind behind the 1972 album Thick as a Brick, (TAAB), and Thick as a Brick II, released in 2012.

Bostock reportedly wrote the album after reading the unpublished manuscript of an amateur historian that Anderson calls Ernest T. Parritt.

“It is certainly not Part Three of a trilogy,” says Anderson in answer to fans’ questions about the return of Bostock. “Essentially it is a reference point for Gerald. He can pop in for a cup of tea, he can have his own ideas and beliefs and he can say things that I wouldn’t say, express things that are not my particular views,” he says. “It would be like if I referred to you as a Yank. And I would feel uncomfortable if someone called me a limey. It is bordering on being offensive.”

As Anderson talks about population control, climate change, political correctness and other social issues – specifically his belief that we all have an obligation to preserve the planet for future generations -- one can’t help but think of the lyrics ‘I may make you feel, but I can’t make you think….’ that he wrote for TAAB.

“You may think I’m on the attack right now on how many children people should have,” he says at one point. “I’m not saying how many children people should have. I’m saying we should weigh the pros and cons in this day and age and not [consider it from the timeframe] where the Bible said ‘Go forth and multiply….’ But people have the right to spend as much money and eat as much food and burn as much gasoline as they like. I’m not saying they shouldn’t. I’m saying people are desperately seeking a chance of survival.”

Despite his passion, the album is classic Anderson, full of witty lyrics and infectious melodies that make a listener feel like one of the smart kids in class who looks at the world’s troubles with true concern masked with a dollop of humor.

That’s no accident, said Anderson noting he’s careful not to “lecture people like a demented college professor. You have to put the smiley face on it…We like our politicians when they smile and kid and joke. George W. Bush could laugh at himself. Even if you thoroughly objected to the man as President, reading the Bush autobiography (Decision Points) makes you like him much more.”

The bottom line to Anderson is that his music contains fragments of his beliefs and persona, but it isn’t his own autobiography.

“Think of well-known authors or artists,” he said. “We don’t think [American producer, director, screenwriter and actor] Quentin Tarantino as violent because of the violence in his movies. That’s something I find strange in rock music, that people think the music must represent the heart on the sleeve of the person singing. We create characters.”

Ian Anderson will tour behind his new album, performing Home Erraticus in its entirety before performing some classic Jethro Tull songs. As in his last tour, Anderson plans an elaborate stage show including video and theatrical performances.

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