Martin Barre Talks a ‘New Day’ for Jethro Tull Music
Jethro Tull fans have a few live events and recordings to look forward to this year.
Previously we told you about the 'Thick as a Brick' solo tour and follow-up album by Tull frontman Ian Anderson, and now long-time Tull lead guitarist Martin Barre has formed Martin Barre's New Day to play a variety of Jethro Tull songs, many of which haven't been played in concert in many years.
Although Barre is involved in a host of new projects, this one, which includes two other Tull bandmates, is most dear to him, and he recently took time out to talk to Ultimate Classic Rock about the new band, in which he'll play guitar, flute, and bouzouki.
The lineup also includes Tull bassist Jonathan Noyce, Tull alum Doane Perry (who will split duties with drummer Fred Moreau), acoustic guitarist John Mitchell, guitarist Pat O'May, and saxophone, flute and harmonica player Frank Mead.
When can we expect to hear about dates for your new group?
Gigs are starting to come in. I’ve got dates in England, Italy and probably Spain and Germany. I've taken a while to plan it. I didn't want it to take too long [to develop] but I wanted to get the right people. I was careful not to rush into it because I didn't want to get it wrong. I have the right people. The first show will be in April [in England] and, of course, the next step if this year goes to plan will hopefully be to come to America.
This is a bit of a different role than you've had in Jethro Tull.
It’s nice to make the decisions and to play the songs that I like, that I want to play. And I have a really top live band [including two] people from Tull.
You had said earlier that you were mulling how to handle vocals with this group, especially because Ian's voice is so distinctive. What did you decide to do?
I wanted somebody with great voice who wasn't somebody who [sounded like he was doing a] parody [of a rock vocalist]. I can't stand a vocalist like that. So now we have three vocalists so there are a some different vocal qualities. They [each] have good voices.
I did [consider] somebody who plays in a Tull tribute band whose voice is uncannily like Ian's in the early days. It was just bizarre, but I didn't want to go that route. It's a different band. Its playing the true music of Jethro Tull but it's my take and my way of playing it and it'll work really well.
So why start the tour in April?
That suits me because I have to do some recording, work on my website and have [other] projects I'm doing.
I don’t have so much pressure. I am starting at the bottom and I am not going to do huge shows. I want to start small and play small venues and then in a year I’ll go up a step or two. But we'll do things slowly so there is not so much [financial] pressure to do bigger shows.
What recording are you doing?
I'm starting recording next week. I'm so far behind in what I wanted to do! There is an album of Jethro Tull acoustic music, very quiet and pretty. I want to get some sort of project out for my website. I want to [compile the] best tracks [from my solo albums] and then put some live tracks in from different versions of my band and then write a couple new instrumentals. So I have quite a few.
When will your band really start to get ready to tour?
There will be a big rehearsal in April, probably a week. It shouldn't be too bad because most [of the band] knows the music. I know it inside out and Jonathan knows it inside out (Doane Perry is not scheduled to play these first dates; he will play American dates). And the Tull music I am playing is more straightforward. It's some of the older music. It won't be mind-blowingly difficult to play. It's very straight ahead and very rock but I think it could be fine. I know it will be fun.
So what songs can we expect?
I will certainly play the biggies -- 'Locomotive Breathe,' 'Aqualung,' 'Cry you a Song,' 'Teacher,' 'Nothing to Say,' 'Home,' 'Minstrel in the Gallery.' I’m throwing a few things in and there will be a lot of things that Jethro Tull hasn’t played for a long, long time. They will be played with two guitars and a sax and it’s really good. There is a huge catalog and I’m looking at songs like that, things people haven't heard for many many years.
There will also be some of my solo stuff. I'm writing some new instrumentals so hopefully there will be two new ones. It won’t be just Jethro Tull songs (there will also be songs from some of the other musicians in this band). We'll possibly have something from Bach but it won't be [the Jethro Tull standard] 'Bouree.' I have a very difficult [flute] piece if I get the nerve.
A lot of people are asking what is happening with Jethro Tull, as we all kind of know it.
I’m not going to say anything about what’s going on but my one comment on Jethro Tull ... up 'til last year in the latter years the set didn't change. I’m not even going into the reasons why but I felt even when Tull did an acoustic show it was still the same set. Whatever version of the band [was on stage] still played the same numbers. We might change one or two.
I have to say [the Jethro Tull set list] needs freshening up in a major, major way. In my mind, and I might be wrong, there are certain songs that really need to go on the top shelf for years and be replaced with something exciting. I might be wrong but that’s how I find it. The Tull show was getting very stale. We'd be coming back to the States and doing the same production or hardly any production, a very, very similar set. You can’t expect people to come back and see a show that is so similar.
I’m excited about this because it’s good and fresh it’s not like a tribute band.
One thing with Tull is that Ian Anderson always banters with the crowd. How will you handle that with this new band?
If you go and see Jeff Beck [he puts on] one of the best shows ever. It's wonderful music, wonderful playing that sounds superb and a great show and he hardly says a word. Pink Floyd, you don't have to have any [banter] really. When I did solo shows, I would get pretty tied up saying things and telling stories -- but really now I don’t.
If I have something to say I will say it and if I haven't I will shut up and get on with the music. It's a matter of being nice to the audience. One of the best things for the audience is to say something special for that night, so they know you think it's a special night. I might be in Pittsburgh and might reminisce about running in Pittsburgh. I don't know but [any banter] will always be relevant to who I am and who is in the audience. It will be quite improv; I don't have an agenda.
There's me and the guys and we might have a little chat, sort of like Fairport Convention [does] where they all take turns and say something. It's a really good idea and some of them are really good at it. And one or two aren't quite as good but these guys are making an effort to say something and that’s so nice to do it that way. That's what I want to do.
Tell us about how you plan the arrangements of the Tull music.
I quite like the idea [of] doing them very much in their original form. Then I will add lots of pieces of music that might be a segue and there will be lots of other bits and pieces but they won't intrude into the main songs. I want to do bits of 'Thick as a Brick' and 'Passion Play.' There's a lot to do and really [we have to wait] and see what works in rehearsals, things that sound good.
Does Ian Anderson know you're doing these shows?
Of course; it's on my website.
Did he call you about all of this?
I haven’t heard from anybody in Jethro Tull since July. That's ok -- we have had a lot of years together and I’ve got a life. When I started in Tull, we never signed a bit of paper saying that we were going to keep each other as bed mates! It's all good and fine and it allows Ian do what he wants to do and vice-versa. I am enjoying it and I’m sure he is. It’s fine.
What's your reaction to the fans' buzz?
I keep out of it. The proof will be in the pudding when I do gigs. I hope people will stop talking if they like it, [if] it’s good. Then I’ll have something to show for it but I have a way to go.
Find out more about Martin Barre's New Day (including tour dates) on his website.