Martin Barre: “When I get up in the morning I plug in my guitar and I play Rock music.”

Ein Gespräch mit Martin Lancelot Barre, dem Gitarristen der legendären Rockband Jethro Tull, über musikalische Einflüsse, das Alter und Ian Anderson [Interview in English].

Der Brite Martin Lancelot Barre wurde vor allem als Gitarrist der legendären Progressive-Rockband Jethro Tull bekannt, deren neuartigen Sound er neben Sänger und Querflötist Ian Anderson seit Ende 1968 prägte. Größter Hit der Band, die insgesamt über 60 Millionen Tonträger verkaufte, war 1971 der Song Locomotive Breath. Anderson beschloss im Jahr 2014 eigenmächtig, die Band nach einigen Jahren der Inaktivität aufzulösen. Seither treten er und Barre mit jeweils eigenen Bands auf. Zurzeit ist Martin Barre mit dem Programm A Celebration Of 50 Years Of Jethro Tull auf Tournee. Unser Autor Thomas Kaestle erreichte ihn telefonisch in seinem Haus in der südwestenglischen Grafschaft Devon, in dem er auch ein Aufnahmestudio betreibt. Das Interview führte er ursprünglich für die Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung. Bei zebrabutter erscheint exklusiv die ungekürzte englische Originalversion.

Where do I reach you?

I live in Devon which is in the south west of England. I’ve been living down here for 40 years. I have a recording studio in the house, so it’s a nice place to work. It’s outside the village, so it’s very rural. Very good food, very nice people and some great music. There’s lots of music down here.

Fans knowing Jethro Tull’s live albums will remember Ian Anderson announcing you as Martin Lancelot Barre. Is the middle name kind of a stage name? Or did your parents actually call you Lancelot?

It’s hard to believe but they actually did call me Lancelot. Yes, that’s my name and it’s now my son’s middle name and also my grandson’s middle name. It’s a tradition in the family. I hope, Lancelot will get passed down further.

It’s a name closely related to British mythology – do you still feel like a British musician after 50 years or rather like an international Rock star?

Britain isn’t everything. It’s ok living here but I feel like my heart and my soul and my body live in many places. I’m married to an American lady, a beautiful woman. So I spend more time in America and Europe than I probably spend in England. I’m travelling a lot.

Your show is called A Celebration Of 50 Years Of Jethro Tull. You joined after the first album. What was the band like for which you auditioned in 1968?

It was a famous Blues band in England, one of the biggest emerging bands. So it was very intimidating because I was never a blues guitar player. I was nervous because their first guitarist Mick Abrahams was a great player. People went to see Jethro Tull because of Mick more than Ian Anderson in those days. Ian was the front man but musically they went to hear Mick play. I had big shoes to fill, so it’s good that the music changed. We started from nothing again when I joined. It was a great relief for all of us because it was a new direction to take.

By what kind of music were you inspired then? What was your idea of where the band’s music could or should develop from there?

I’m a fan of melody and harmony and dynamics and power and beauty in music and you can find that anywhere. I can find it in Bluegrass, in Irish Folk, in Brahms and Beethoven and Haydn and Bach, I can find it in the Blues of Willy Dixon or Freddy King or in the Beatles. Everything you listen to influences you about what you want to do or not. I don’t listen to airplays and think: “I’m gonna play that phrase, I wanna learn how to play that.” I’ve never done that. I just want to play on guitar what I hear in my head. I always tried to follow a very harmonic, very listenable style of guitar playing – in any genre of music that’s available.

For a very short time Tony Iommi had been chosen before you got a second chance. Did you ever talk to him about what Jethro Tull could have been with his guitar play – or Black Sabbath with yours?

I am very well with Tony, he’s a very nice person. And he isn’t too disappointed that he wasn’t Jethro Tull’s guitar player. I think everybody finds his own niche, their own part of the music. So Black Sabbath is perfect for him. He’s a very happy person. I don’t know where music would have gone otherwise. Everyone says that Jethro Tull has changed music into a slightly different direction. So something else would have happened. In music you don’t know what you’ll be doing next year.

The first Tull album on which you were part of the band was Stand Up. Its opener A New Day Yesterday is right away dominated by a Hard Rock style guitar before it transforms into an early glimpse of Progressive Rock. Later on, Bouree is quite jazzy. And there’s still a lot of Blues influences on the album. Did you know where the journey was going to go – and was it the same direction for all members of the band?

We realized that the Blues in those days wasn’t going to elevate the band into some special area. So we had to write our own music for an individual band. That was dangerous. Some bands which did so like Family, Spooky Tooth and King Crimson were really successful. But with other bands nothing happened. So it was a big risk. The easy way would have been to be a Rock’n’Roll band or a Blues band. You just take your genre and play that music and you’ll always be popular. But you’ll never be groundbreaking. If you go your own way the musical rewards can be immense.

So you deliberately didn’t want to stick to a certain genre?

No, we were always our own people. We sort of kept apart from other bands socially and musically. In the early days we never played with other people. So we were very isolated and it worked for many years because nobody played like Jethro Tull. But nowadays I like playing with other musicians and in other bands with other styles of music. The world has changed. The important years of Jethro Tull were the 70s and the 80s. Now we’re in a different age of music and it’s more flexible. People have a broader taste, it’s a different market place.

The following eight albums were an important part of shaping Progressive Rock – many of them were concept albums, often playing with taboos and challenging norms of British society like christianity or not talking about sex. Did you consider yourself being rebels?

We probably were rebels. But not in the way that Punk music was a rebellion. The Sex Pistols hated Prog music and Punk was their message to all the pomposity. With Jethro Tull we were in an era where bands wore wide trousers and had hair down to their ankles. It was a bit silly, this sort of Prog Rock star era. We never wanted to be Rock stars, we laughed at that. We looked at ourselves and said: “Look, we’re just musicians, we’re quite ugly.” So we laughed at ourselves and we presented our music in a very different way.

Who suggested the topics? Was it Ian Anderson? Or did you all have fun in being different?

Well, obviously Ian was the lyricist. But we factually lived together 365 days a year. So we did everything together. We loved Monty Python and Benny Hill, the English sense of humour. It was silly. We took that humour into music and we entertained people. But I think we were very normal and other things happening in the world influenced us just like anybody else. Probably other bands took a more mainstream route with lyrics and music. We were always the kind of people who wondered what they were going to do next. The next album could go into a completely different direction. The fans were always amazing, they were patient and would sit and listen to new stuff and mostly they really loved what we did.

Ian Anderson always appeared as a key figure of the band – as its lyricist and singer, an extrovert performer and a flute player. You were beside him but often seemed to stand in his shadow, despite the music press praising your guitar play, despite long, impressive and innovative solos like on Minstrel In The Gallery. Were you happy with your position in the band?

I never wanted to be a Rock star or have a profile as a solo guitar player. I love playing music. And sometimes I like to stand at the back and just play rhythm, listen and enjoy anybody else play. I don’t necessarily feel a need being in the spotlight. Now with my own band I get to play a lot more music, a lot more guitar, more solos. I think I become a better player just because I play more. But I just enjoy anything musically. I love the guitar. With a band in England I just play mandolin. And I enjoy it because it’s different. I played huge stadiums and festivals as a Rock guitar player. But sometimes I just want to be the mandolin player in a Folk band, because it’s just that much fun. I don’t need to be adored or idolized, spotlighted. I quite like the fact that people sort of know who I am. But I’m not famous.

So it must have been a good combination for you with the extrovert Ian Anderson and you being able to play in his shadow. How did it feel when about five years ago Ian suddenly decided to end Jethro Tull?

It was quite upsetting because I had nothing to do with the decision. I thought it was a bad decision and I still think so. Now so many bands are going back on the road and doing celebration tours. And I do believe that the celebration of 50 years of Jethro Tull is very incomplete. There isn’t a Jethro Tull anymore. I’m sad but then I’m liberated. I now can play songs that Ian would never want to play. He hates songs like Teacher and Minstrel In The Gallery. Hes voice doesn’t have the range it used to have so he can’t perform these songs any more, whereas I can do anything from the Jethro Tull catalogue. I’m liberated musically but Jethro Tull as a brand will never ever happen again. That’s very sad.

After phases of Folk and Electronic Rock Tull entered a phase of rather Hard Rock beginning with Crest Of A Knave, on which your guitar play became even more important for the band sound – and even harder and more distorted. Were you the one to guarantee that Tull would always be a Rock band? Did you ever consider yourself not to be a Rock musician?

I’m an electric guitar player and I like playing heavy dynamic guitars. That was always my part in the band. It was a balance to Ian’s acoustic guitar and flute playing, the contrast that made this music work. And I always believed that I upheld the heavy side of Jethro Tull. It made for a good combination. I like music in which totally different things meet. Sometimes it doesn’t work. But the delicate flute playing and the heavy guitar riff were our signature that made Jethro Tull identifyable.

What versions or phases of Jethro Tull will you be celebrating in the gig? And in what way?

I will be playing a lot of different Tull tracks. Some of them go back to the very early Blues ones. And then we play Steel Monkey and songs like that. The Crest Of A Knave album sort of signals the end of the really great Tull albums. I don’t mean it in an unkind way but anything after Crest Of A Knave isn’t sort of as important musically. But essentially we play what we want to play. We play anything we think will sound great. We play dynamic, powerful music.

I suppose you will play the songs a bit harder than fans are being used to? With a lot of guitar and no flutes? Will the sound rather resemble your latest solo albums?

I played flute before I met Ian, I love the flute. I’m finishing my new album now and there’s a bit of flutes, not very much. But lots of guitar. I hope it will be another good album. I love writing music, I love arranging. I learned how to do that with Jethro Tull. I got all the years of experience. And I’m still learning how to be a better songwriter and a better lyricist. The standard is high. The nice thing is I’m new at it so for me it’s very fresh. But it’s important to me to always play my music live, not just Jethro Tull and nothing else because there’ll always be more than that. I like the fact that we can have a very broad spectrum of music at the gigs we play. The songs have to be a mixture of own and Tull songs. I have my own identity. I’m not Jethro Tull. And neither is Ian Anderson. It’s always incomplete. If I play Jethro Tull people will ask: “Where is the flute?” And if Ian plays Jethro Tull they might ask: “Where was Martin’s guitar?” I’m Martine Barre. But you’re going to hear Jethro Tull songs.

So you’re not going to play the flute on stage?

I have done. But again there’s no reason to. I would need to have a very good reason to play. In most of the things we play we cover the flute lines with two guitars. We also don’t have a keyboard and again we cover the keyboard lines with two guitars and it works really well.

What is it like to perform Tull songs with a new singer who’s just a part of the Martin Barre Band? Does Dan Crisp try to sound like Ian Anderson or does he add new aspects to Tull’s songs?

I don’t think he wants to sound like Ian. I’ve always said to him: Make the songs your own. We’re not a tribute band, you need to have your own personality. But he has great respect for the songs. I think he does an amazing job, he sounds really good and he enjoys playing the songs.

What will the future bring? When will the new solo album be in the stores?

I think in a few months. It’s almost finished but I’m only 99,9 per cent happy with it. When I come back from the tour I’ll finish it. I’m a perfectionist. But in some ways music is never perfect because you can always come back and change it and make it a bit better. But it’s gonna be a great album for my sake. And after that I’m gonna think about doing a 50th anniversary CD. Of course my 50th anniversary is next year because I joined around Christmas in 1968. So Martin Barres 50 years will be in 2019. There will be some amazing guests playing and singing on it, some old members of Jethro Tull for example. I want that to be really special.

Any chance of having Ian as a guest?

There’s no chance of a Tull reunion. I have my own flutes. And I’m a lot cheaper.

Will you ever feel like being too old to Rock’n’Roll?

My age is inescapable. There’s no getting around the fact that I am 71 years old. But I could put on my running shoes now and I could run 10 Kilometers. So in some ways I’m very young. My brain is active. I love my job. In those aspects I’m a young person. But my body is 71 and I have to respect it and look after myself a lot more than I used to. But I will play until I drop.

The question was rather about Rock’n’Roll. The things Ian does lately seem to lead away from it. Will it always be Rock’n’Roll for you?

I’m a Rock musician. That’s what I do. That’s my job. When I get up in the morning I plug in my guitar and I play Rock music. And that will happen every further day.

What bands do you listen to nowadays? What new bands do you like?

The last album I bought that I thought was great was by Chris Cornell. I like Porcupine Tree and Nine Inch Nails. There are bands I think are good. But I mostly hear one track I like. I never found bands that are consistently good. It’s often just one good song. And then I find the rest very disappointing.


  • 31048413_10211681382329949_260147367414595584_n: Pressefoto / Lappen Enterprises