Martin Barre Interview; Releasing
50 Years Of Jethro Tull On Nov. 6th
November 1, 2020
Guitar legend, Martin Barre of Jethro Tull is about to release a double CD titled 50 Years of Jethro Tull on November 6. One disc is a live-in studio recording while the other is a variety of Tull classics and deep cuts done acoustically with different arrangements.
We had the opportunity to speak with Martin from his home in England to discuss the new album, Eddie Van Halen and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
GD: Hello Martin! I hope that you’ve been well with all of this madness going on.
MB: I’m good, I’ve been busy. I’ve got lots of projects including this 50th CD, I’ve got a DVD that we’ve been working really hard on completing and that’s going to be out in a couple of weeks. It’s a live show from Edwardsville. I’m writing music, I’m still playing every day. I’ve got a new alto flute and I’m going back to redo my grade on my exams on the flute. The summer’s been great because I’ve never had a summer off. The winter will be different. I’ve got so many things that I like to do, so I’m going to be fine.
GD: This is a unique album where one CD is a live, electric performance and the other is an acoustic take on Tull songs with different arrangements. What made you decide to take this approach?
MB: I just think that both sides of the story need to be told. The acoustic songs and the electric songs work hand in hand. There’s always been that dynamic of being really quiet, simple acoustic songs to full blown rock stadium levels that really made Tull different. I think we were famous for it. Those songs deserve to be heard and I’ve got the two girl singers who are good at singing those acoustic songs and I just had to have them a part of it.
GD: Yes, they do a fantastic job. I know that Dan Crisp sings some songs and others are sung by I believe Alex Hart and Becca Langsford. How did you choose who got to sing which songs?
MB: I just divide it up, because they both do backing vocals. The songs that I wanted to try, one suited one voice. I listened to them all and they decided between the two of them which suited their voice. So they divided it down the middle so it was nice and fair. They can sing each other's songs, they both got great voices and they are both capable of singing in different styles. It was an easy choice.
GD: Was it a conscious decision to leave off “Aqualung’ and “Thick As A Brick” from the album?
MB: “Thick As A Brick” is a commitment time wise. You can’t really do a meaningful amount of it without sort of going into fifteen or twenty minutes of music. I find that more meaningful to do that piece of music live. There’s lots of musicality in it. I just thought that by not doing it would give me the chance to do another three songs. (laughs) We spent the whole day recording all of these tracks and we came to the end and we’ve not done “Aqualung” and they’re all looking at me saying “should we do “Aqualung?” They go “yeah, you really need to.” I don’t want to do it because I need to do it. I should do it if I want to do it. I figured there’s a lot of versions out there. Let’s be very contrary and let’s put an album out that doesn’t have it on. It’s a bit obvious and I don’t like to be obvious. In the same respect, the version of “Locomotive Breath” isn’t the one that people would expect. I just want people to be refreshed and surprised in a nice way about the choice of music.
GD: That’s a great word. It is refreshing to hear “Locomotive Breath” done acoustically. It’s something very different and refreshing. It’s an excellent version.
MB: Oh good! Then it was successful. A lot of people have picked up on it. I’ve just been in the studio one day with my mandolin just fiddling, as you do, and it just grew from there. Essentially, Becca carries it off to make it really, really different.
GD: So the title of the album is 50 Years of Jethro Tull. Does it seem like you’ve been performing music for 50 years?
MB: It doesn’t. I feel quite numb from all the statistics. It was fired off because the real 50th Anniversary was in 2019. That’s when Tull formed in ‘68 and I joined at the very, very end. There was no management or record labels or whoever’s responsible for those decisions to mark the 50th Anniversary of the band. Which I thought was a little unfair on the fans which have given us a long and amazing career. I just decided that I was going to celebrate my 50 years since 1969, and do something in 2019 which was my sort of thank you to the fans. It is a special occasion and something to be proud of to mark such a long history. I wanted to do it. I thought it would be exciting and I could put my own spin on everything. All in all, it was a very positive project to have.
GD: I had the opportunity to see you perform at The Kent Stage last year and the entire band was fantastic. Did Clive and Dee get to play on the live bonus tracks on the album?
MB: I remember that. (laughs) I was thinking about today. I’m going to have to look at the bonus tracks. Yes, Dee plays on “Heavy Horses” and “Songs From The Wood” so yes they do. The bonus tracks were added at the very, very end. The CD was just on sale at gigs in its basic form. It was only available at shows because I wanted a shared experience, a souvenir, something special. It wasn’t available outside of the gigs. This CD is available worldwide and it was a late decision to make it a little bit different. Those four tracks are from the DVD, but they don’t get full mention, I’m afraid. Let’s hope they forgive me for that. They are somewhere in there. Dee is for sure and Clive might be on bongo’s or tambourine. (laughs)
GD: You obviously have been in contact with Clive and Dee. Have you kept in contact with any of the other members of the band like John Evan and Jeffrey Hammond?
MB: No. To John, I’ve tried to get in touch with. We did an Australian tour but I couldn’t get through to him. Jeffery, he’s called me occasionally. He called me at the beginning of lockdown to make sure everything was ok. We had a lovely, long conversation. I speak with Dave Pegg quite regularly. Don Perry I speak to. There’s a lot of people. Some of them are best friends. Everybody is friends that have been in Tull. But my best friends know who they are, but I don’t differentiate. Just like everyone on the planet, we have friends and best friends. Why are they best friends? We don’t know, there’s just a special relationship. If I can talk about Dave Pegg, we’re from Birmingham and we have a lot in common and do a lot of other things together. We just socialize. It’s a deep rooted relationship.
GD: Looking back on your career, many artists like Joe Bonamassa, Steve Vai and Joe Satriani have cited your guitar playing as being very influential to them. Who has been one of your influences?
MB: I wouldn't say guitar players have been. I listen and they inspire me. I’ve only been inspired when I hear great guitar playing. It makes me want to play better. It may be Larry Carlson, it might be Robin Ford, it might be Scott Henderson, it might be Gary Moore. So many really good players. I don’t want to play like them, and I doubt if I could. I like good music and good musicians. Something that makes me want to pick up my instruments and go into the studio and practice. I think nowadays, the people that inspire me are the great music writers, the great songwriters. That’s where I’ve been concentrating my time in music writing. I just recorded a piece by Karl Jenkins, it’s up on YouTube. It’s called “Palladio” it’s a beautiful piece of classical music that has elements of rock. It’s up there with me and Darby playing drums. It’s things like that that motivate me.
GD: Now, we just lost one of the guitar greats in Eddie Van Halen. What did you think of his playing and did you ever get to see him play live?
MB: Yeah, I saw him play live. I think he’s done so much for music and so much for guitar playing. He’s inspired thousands and thousands of people to pick up a guitar, which is an amazing thing to have done. I nearly met him in a hotel. He was going into an elevator and I didn’t have the bottle or nerve to go up to him, because what if he didn’t know who I am? I didn’t, but I wanted to. But I hear from other people that knew him that he was a fantastic person, honest and a good, nice person. I have respect for such a tragic loss.
GD: I believe you got to see Hendrix or you toured with Hendrix in England. Do you see any similarities in their style between Eddie and Jimi? They both revolutionized the guitar.
MB: I don’t style wise. Because they are both out there on their own, by a million miles. Eddie Van Halen wrote the rule book on two-handed tapping. Hendrix, on his own, nobody touched him. Singing, songwriting, interpretation of other people’s songs, his playing. Hendrix and Tull did tour together in Scandinavia in early ‘69. That was one of the first tours I did with Tull and of course I was petrified. He was a hero of everybody, as well as mine. He was a gentleman, he was polite, modest, a really good person, like Eddie Van Halen and I learned a lot from him. Someone of that stature, just to be nice to people. You are intimidated by them but they put you at ease. He didn’t like his voice and I was like “how can that be?” he’s got one of the best voices on the planet. It was a nice introduction to people who had incredible talent and how they behaved and how they played, I learned a lot.
GD: Excellent. Since I’m based in Cleveland, I have to ask: what are your thoughts if Jethro Tull makes it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? I think it’s long overdue, Tull should have been in long ago.
MB: Right. Yeah, we’ll see what’s going to happen. (laughs) Maybe I’ll make it into the Hall. I’ve met the people at the Hall of Fame. When the Martin Barre Band played in Cleveland, they gave us a VIP tour. They were so nice to us. They were gracious, informative. It's an amazing place. I was really impressed. We never mentioned it once, anything about Jethro Tull being in there. There’s a lot of great things in there. It’s fabulous. If I was ever a part of it, I would be very, very proud. It’s out of my control. I’m a very happy person and I’m happy with what I'm doing and I’m happy with what I’ve done. I’ll let other people say how important or how unimportant I am or Jethro Tull is. I never expect anything and I never ask for anything. When we got the Grammy, that was just incredible. That came out of the blue and that meant so much to us. So yeah, we’ll see. I’m happy.
GD: If you did get inducted, would you be willing to play with the 1970’s era lineup?
MB: Ah, there’s a question. (long pause) Let me put it from the other direction. My band, who I’ve worked with for six or seven years. They’re amazing, I love them to bits, they are loyal, hard working and whatever I am, they are a part of it. In my mind, I would never turn my back on them. Anything I do, I would like to see them next to me on the stage because they’ve really earned their place. They interpret the music of Tull, they fly the flag and they work hard for the brand of Jethro Tull. In my mind, they deserve as much recognition as anybody. So that’s the underhanded way of looking at it. It’s a complex question and I don’t have the answer.
GD: Well, that’s a fair enough answer and I appreciate that. In the CD, you mention that you will “take my guitar on the road and continue my love affair!” Do you have any plans to tour in 2021 and will the States be a part of those plans?
MB: Oh yeah! We’ve postponed two big US tours. One was in March/April. The other was September/October. I don’t want to look, but it’s probable that we would have been over there right now. I don’t want to think about not being there. We have those two tours that we have to catch up with and others. It’s all getting stockpiled. I think it would be a wonderful difficulty fulfilling all of our obligations, and I have every intention of doing that as much as I can. I will never cancel anything, I never have and I never will. We’ve got a lot of playing to do and I can’t wait.
GD: We are dying for live music over here. We’ve had a few drive-in shows but it’s not the same as being close to other people. Martin, I wish you success on the new album. I believe Jethro Tull fans are going to love it and I believe that it is extremely well done.
MB: Thank you Greg. It’s a pleasure talking to you. Thanks Greg!
Make sure you check out Martin Barre's 50 Years Of Jethro Tull, it's a 2 CD set that features electric and acoustic versions of Tull classics and deep cuts. It gets released on November 6th.