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Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson talks touring, reimagining the past

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Jethro Tull’s eloquent and agile frontman Ian Anderson says that he is “in fine fettle” and is exhibiting no signs of slowing down a half-century after forming the band and relocating from Blackpool to Luton located one hour outside of London.

Jethro Tull has seen myriad musical genres attached to their name at various times – blues, folk, pop, rock, progressive rock, symphonic rock and even hard rock/metal (according to the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences in 1989, when Jethro Tull snatched the Grammy in that category over Metallica and AC/DC).

After stating that he planned to release music under his own name (“for the most part”) in a 2014 interview, pointing out that Jethro Tull had “more or less kind of come to an end” over the previous decade, Anderson last month announced that a true golden anniversary for the band will unfold over the next year, marking 50 years since the release of their first album “This Was.”

“This is a celebration of all the 33 band members who graced our ranks – musicians who brought their talents, their skills and styles to bear on the performances live and in the studio,” Anderson wrote on his website, www.JethroTull.com.

Earlier this year, Anderson involved himself in an interesting musical experiment which saw the vocalist and flutist reimagining a dozen Jethro Tull nuggets through a classical music lens with the album “Jethro Tull – The String Quartets.”

“It isn’t really an album for the mainstream rock Jethro Tull fans,” Anderson said last week during a phone interview from his office in west London. “Unless they hanker for a rather quiet afternoon, sipping single malt Scotch, closing their eyes and drifting away to the sound of familiar tunes.”

Anderson credits longtime Jethro Tull keyboardist John O’Hara for devising most of the new album’s arrangements. O’Hara had previously conducted The Neue Philharmonie Frankfurt symphony orchestra for the 2005 album “Ian Anderson Plays The Orchestral Jethro Tull.”

Anderson has worked with assorted classical ensembles in the past, but this was the first time that he has recorded a full album of Jethro Tull material featuring just two violins, a viola, a cello, O’Hara’s piano and celesta and his own guitar, mandolin, flute and vocals.

“We’re living in an age where we not only look at different ways of examining a lot of our old material as it was originally recorded, through remixes and boxed sets and special collector’s editions, but on this occasion, it involved taking some of those familiar songs and dressing them up in a new set of musical clothes with a traditional classical string quartet, and a bit of flute and vocals from me.”

Anderson said the album was recorded fairly quickly outside the usual confines of a recording studio.

“We recorded with the quartet over a period of three days in one of our great English medieval cathedrals (the crypt at Worcester Cathedral), and also a disused modest country church (St. Kenelms, Sapperton) in the middle of nowhere,” he said of the sessions.

The current model of Jethro Tull is in the midst of a global tour which will take in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Poland, Denmark, Finland, Russia, France, England, and the United States over the next 12 months.

A show is scheduled for Foxwoods Grand Theatre in Mashantucket, CT on November 4 of this year, while a dozen 50th anniversary tour dates have been announced for 2018. Further show dates are expected to be released soon.

Aside from the tedium of renewing American work visas every three years and the extra time required for a timely check-in at the airport, Anderson says that he finds touring to be a more enjoyable experience these days.

“It might sound a little trite or unbelievable, but the reality is that I enjoy touring now more than I did back in the 1970s,” Anderson said. “In the middle ‘70s, touring was beginning to get to me. I found it all quite demanding. These days it’s an easier job. It’s like being on vacation and getting paid for it.”

Anderson credits improved technology with making the touring experience better for artist and audience alike.

“A lot of the things that used to be stressful about touring have lessened somewhat with the relative ease that we can travel from A to B, and organize ourselves, and prepare music, and play a concert,” he said. “The technology has gotten better. The internet has opened up far quicker ways of organizing tours.”

A new Jethro Tull studio album is expected to be released in 2018 to coincide with the band’s 50th anniversary tour.

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