JETHRO TULL: New Day Yesterday
review by J.C. Hartley
For a while back in the 1970s, the greatest decade in the history of reality, Sunday night's top 20 on Radio One was followed by a little half-hour programme on an artist working in the progressive genre, which is how, walking the salt marshes of the Solway Firth in the near dark, with my gran's transistor radio squashed against my ear, I came to be seduced by the liquorice tones of Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull.
The album being plugged was Minstrel In The Gallery (1975), and the blend of folky, flutey arrangements, nasal vocalisation, and big electric power chords, won me over. Tull became the band that best represented where I fit in musically with my decade, although I continued to listen to Genesis, Yes, gawd-help-me Emerson Lake & Palmer, Focus and many other behemoths of rock, as well of course as the voice-of-our-generation David Bowie, Roxy Music and others of that ilk; how eclectic we were.
In the fourth year at school, 'year ten' as it is today, our history teacher, expounding on the 18th century inventor of the seed-drill, was sorely disappointed when mention of Jethro Tull brought little response, "That's yer yoof culture," he said, "here today, gone tomorrow." Indeed, when I fell into the orbit of the band they were already some seven years minstrelising, not at all fashionable, never were, and were never likely to become so. I set about collecting Tull's back catalogue, imitating Anderson's vocal style, and as soon as I left school I attempted to grow his distinctive forked beard, a feat I only achieved recently by accident while growing facial hair for the Everyman Male Cancer charity. I was able to acquire all of Tull's previous albums, by spending my student grants in second-hand music stores, and continued to look like a member of the band, unfortunately it was the late 1970s, and having long hair and a beard made one stand out at punk rock gigs (as did the poncho), and eventually my listening habits morphed as my scalp reddened under weekly applications of henna.
I am happy to say that I can continue to listen to Jethro Tull with enjoyment; I have gone back to the 1970s to pick up on music that I missed out on at the time, Kevin Ayers, Incredible String Band, some 'metal', Beefheart, etc, but I don't listen to much that I liked at the time, but Tull albums such as Benefit, Warchild, and the compilation Living In The Past, can still do it for me.
This DVD retrospective is a curious little number, more akin to a 'bonus' documentary on a bigger disc than a standalone release. Current and past members of Tull meet in a London boozer and reminisce to camera, while videos of old line-ups and concerts play in the background. There is little controversy and any old antagonisms are stowed away; Glenn Cornick will not be drawn on why he left, although it seems likely he was elbowed aside to allow Jeffrey Hammond to join, John Evan reveals he only uses his status, as a former band member, in business deals, if it turns out a customer is a big Tull fan (yeah John, like that just crops up in conversation!).
The briefest of background history is given, as if it is assumed that the DVD audience will already be big Tull fans. There is nothing said about the critical mauling for the albums Thick As A Brick and Passion Play, that drove the band into a kind of recording exile in France, or the war of words with Led Zeppelin, about the latter's tax exile, carried out in the pages of the music press. In the finale to Tull's 1977 Hammersmith Odeon gigs (I was there gentle reader), Anderson bounced gigantic balloons decorated with pound signs into the auditorium, and declared that super-tax was a myth, no one paid any more than 98p in the pound. Consequently the documentary comes to a close while you are still waiting for it to get into its subject.
The best things about this disc are the bonus performances, including a variety of TV appearances, videos, and live concert footage, including the Benny Hill-esque Kissing Willie, and Jeffrey Hammond's Tale Of The Hare Who Lost His Spectacles, which is like Eric Idle impersonating Alan Bennett reading Winnie The Pooh on acid.