Legendary rock guitarist Martin Barre of Jethro Tull fame is currently touring B.C. with a crack band, performing the Aqualung album in its entirety.
He called the Georgia Straight from a friend's house near Nanaimo yesterday and filled us in on the tour.
GS: First off I wanted to ask a little bit about Aqualung, obviously. I loved Aqualung; I used to listen to it in high school. While you and Ian and the other Tull members were recording that album did you have the sense that it might be the huge hit that it turned out to be?
MB: No, I think the opposite, you know. We struggled with just, I mean, for want of a better word, a vibe, a feeling of togetherness with the group. I think we just got distracted. We had three years of huge success and we just sort of dropped the ball for a little while, and got a little big lazy and sidetracked. So it was a difficult album to make. It didn't come together easy, so there was no feeling of accomplishment by the time we finished it. But of course, as we were touring it, it gathered success.
Looking back, why do you think that album was so popular worldwide?
Well, I mean, it's an easy formula of good songs and good riffs. Radio-friendly songs. It had power and emotion in it. These are questions that fans answer more than I do, 'cause, you know, we put everything we can into every recording and every performance, but that doesn't mean to say it's gonna be a success. The fans' perception of what they like and they don't like, really, you never know until it's out there.
Would you say it was the most commercial-sounding Tull album?
Umm. I don't think the sound.... I think the only difference in commerciality was the fact that it had more of a marked mixture of acoustic and electric, which I think people quite liked. It was refreshing, that contrast, and other bands weren't doing it. So that would be the difference. But I think the actual sound of the band wasn't that far off Benefit, and we hadn't really--other than having a bit more Hammond organ, and the piano. I mean the more I think about it I think the keyboard element was getting more established during Aqualung, and then finally became a bigger part in Thick as a Brick.
Aqualung was the most successful Jethro Tull album. Is that your personal favorite Tull album?
I wouldn't say so, no. I mean, I like sort of a track or two off every album Tull made. I like "Mother Goose", I like "Up to Me", just 'cause they were quirky, you know, they're just sort of things that I don't particularly enjoy playing, but there's not much I don't like. Maybe one-percent of what we ever did I actually, against all the odds, I actually don't like, and they're usually ones that nobody knows anyway.
But it's difficult for me because I know them all, and I was part of all of that process of writing, arranging, and producing, so I'm proud of everything we did and some things are always going to be more fun to play than others, but essentially my band doesn't play anything that they don't love to play. They have that choice--or I have that choice--if I don't like a track I don't play it. And equally, if there's a track I really like and it's a really unknown track, I'm gonna play it anyway. So it's a luxury that I've sort of taken on board.
Which of the non-Aqualung songs in your current setlist would you say are going over best with the audiences?
Oh, you know, they really love a selection. And I'll tell the audience, 'The first half is our choice, the second half is Aqualung.' And there's nothing we play that people don't like. It's a great selection, and it goes right across the career of Tull. And I like it to be a surprise, so that we start a song and you can tell people are like, 'Oh yeah! Great! Glad they're doing this one.' And that's what I want. I want to sort of throw a curve ball in now and again.
The singer you currently have on the Aqualung tour, Dan Crisp, does a great job. I was watching Live from Sellersville Theatre on YouTube just before you called. Where did you find him?
He's a friend from near where I live and I worked with him when he was just a singer-songwriter. And really, he wasn't my first choice, but then when we sat down and talked about it and he started going through songs it was just magic. It was like he was meant to be. And he hasn't changed his voice or his delivery. People think he's copying Ian, but believe me he's anything but. His vocal delivery is just perfect for Tull songs, and he's improved as a great entertainer on stage. I wouldn't swap him for anything--including Ian.
Your guitar solo on Aqualung's title track has been acclaimed as one of the greatest solos in rock music, although obviously it isn't a competition. I personally love that solo; the notes seem perfect. Were you feeling inspired when you laid that solo down?
Uh, I think we were all inspired all the time. I think solos were the cream on the cake. You did the backing track, that was hard work; you put a few little riffs and additions on top, that was sort of nice and fun. But if you had a solo, that was your chance to shine, and you just had a coupla runs at it or you didn't do it. So it was always full of adrenalin and full of emotion, so yeah, I think you just went the little mile further for your solos because you knew they were gonna be there and no one was gonna change 'em.
The Aqualung 50th Anniversary Tour plays tonight (July 21) at the Royal Theatre in Victoria, tomorrow (July 22) at the Tidemark Theatre in Campbell River, Sunday (July 24) at the Port Theatre in Nanaimo, Monday (July 25) at the Bell Performing Arts Centre in Surrey, and Tuesday (July 26) at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre.