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A conversation with Martin Barre

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Guitar legend Martin Barre is set to mark the 50th anniversary of his decision to join the lineup of Jethro Tull with a double disc set showcasing two sides of the music he helped create as a member of that iconic progressive rock band.

On November 6, Barre will release “MLB: 50 years of Jethro Tull,” featuring Martin and his band performing live in-studio acoustic and electric performances of Jethro Tull classics and deep cuts, along with four bonus tracks recorded live last year.

Barre joined Jethro Tull in 1969 as the group prepared to record their second album, “Stand Up,” a top 20 LP in the US and a chart topper for the group in their native United Kingdom.

Cited for his fluent, melodic lead guitar style, Barre’s chops graced 20 Tull studio albums and were always a guaranteed highlight during the band’s powerful and theatrical live shows.

Barre formed his own band when Jethro Tull ceased touring in 2012. He saw most of his 2020 tour schedule quickly evaporate due to Covid-19, and says he’s practically bursting at the seams to get back onstage with his band. The group’s next series of shows, tentatively set to begin in March 2021, will be a celebration of Jethro Tull’s biggest seller. Barre and his band will perform the 1971 album “Aqualung” in its entirety, along with a set of Jethro Tull classics and fan favorites.

The Maine Edge: How did you decide which songs to include on your “50 Years of Jethro Tull” double disc set?

Martin Barre: It’s an easy choice because it’s such a huge repertoire to pick from. It’s a mixture of my favorite songs through that history, songs that are very focused on the guitar parts, and tracks that we’ve played onstage that go over very well live. Everything that I do centers around going onstage and playing live shows. It’s impossible to do a fair representation of 50 years, but hopefully there’s something there for everybody.

The Maine Edge: You had to cancel a lot of concerts this year but I see that you have dates booked for next spring, fingers crossed. Where were you when the pandemic brought everything to a halt?

Martin Barre: We’d just been to Australia and we were in South America when it all happened, and quickly headed back to the UK. It breaks my heart to even postpone gigs, I don’t cancel anything. There’s a huge backlog of shows we missed this year and I want to do all of them. I’m ready to go as soon as people give me the green light, and my heart is in that next gig that we’ll do as soon as we can.

The Maine Edge: You’re always working on something. Was it challenging for you to suddenly find yourself with nothing to do this year?

Martin Barre: (laughs) No, and I’m only laughing only because I have my grandkids around me as I’m talking to you, and they make sure I never have a minute when I’m bored. I’ve written a huge amount of music this year and I’ve been working on this presentation of the “50 years” CD, and there’s a DVD (“Live at the Wildey”) coming out at Christmas that has been a lot of work to put together. That’s where the four bonus tracks on this collection come from. I play every day, I practice and I’m taking my music exams. That’s pretty crazy, right?

The Maine Edge: Did I hear you correctly? Martin Barre is taking music exams?

Martin Barre: Yeah, I bought an alto flute and I’m going back to my music exams and picking up where I left off 50 years ago (laughs) just for something to do to keep my brain occupied. I just need to play music.

The Maine Edge: When I was a kid, taking guitar lessons from one of my teachers at school, he tried to teach me how to play barre chords. I asked him why they were called barre chords and he said you invented them! (Martin laughs). It was years before I got the joke. You’re a self-taught guitarist, you’ve never took formal lessons, is that right?

Martin Barre: No, they weren’t available. I think I had one or maybe two guitar lessons early on but the guy I saw for lessons certainly never had a sense of humor and that’s so important with music. Nothing should be taken that seriously. There’s so much information available today for people who want to learn music and the people teaching it make it fun.

The Maine Edge: I’ve seen you play live a number of times and you’ve always managed to play something I’ve never heard you do before.

Martin Barre: Chances are they were mistakes (laughs).

The Maine Edge: (laughs) After all this time, do you still discover things on guitar that you didn’t know were there?

Martin Barre: Oh sure, music is infinite. It’s a bottomless pit of information of which I’ve only managed to scrape the surface, and that’s why playing the guitar is still so exciting for me. You would think its simplicity would be very restricting but I’ve never found a restriction and I play every day. I have fun and I enjoy doing it, and occasionally, I’ll think ‘Oh, I’ve never played that before.’ Since I was 14 years old, that’s how I’ve approached the guitar, always looking for new things I didn’t know were there.

The Maine Edge: You said you have your grandkids with you today. You must be one of the coolest granddads ever. Do they ever ask you to play a song for them?

Martin Barre: Not yet, they’re ages 6 and 4. I’ve just shown them a YouTube video that I put up called ‘Palladio.’ (Martin is joined by drummer Darby Todd on a track from Welsh composer and multi-instrumentalist Karl Jenkins. Thanks to digital video editing, we see multiple Martin Barres, each performing a different guitar part).

The kids are watching it and they’re saying ‘Oh no, there’s four granddads, now there’s five granddads! (laughs)’ It was hilarious but I don’t think they really understand what’s going on. When they’re older, they’ll either be really embarrassed, because a lot of my music is from the ‘60s and ‘70s, or they’ll think I’m super-cool, I’m not sure which.

The Maine Edge: We lost a guitar great when Eddie Van Halen passed away. Did you know Eddie or had you met him in your travels, Martin?

Martin Barre: I was such a huge admirer of his playing. Jethro Tull was checking into a hotel somewhere when the whole Van Halen band came in and I saw them headed towards the elevator and thought ‘Oh, it’s Eddie Van Halen! I’d like to talk to him but I don’t know what I would say,’ so I just bottled out of introducing myself. I hated doing that and I still do. It makes me uncomfortable to walk up to someone I admire and introduce myself.

So Eddie went into the elevator and he was gone. I remember thinking ‘I should have just done it, I should have said ‘Hi, I’m Martin Barre, I play for Jethro Tull, I love you’ but I never did. Eddie was such a great player and he did so much for music.

The Maine Edge: I noticed you have some autographed items available on your website, including the new ’MLB Celebrates 50 years of Jethro Tull’ set.

Martin Barre: Yes, and for Christmas, I’m thinking of putting some crazy items on there for the person who has everything (laughs) if they’re looking for something a bit weird.

The Maine Edge: What do you mean, like one of Martin Barre’s kidneys?

Martin Barre: Ha! That would be a one-off! (laughing). I’d want a lot of money for that, good idea, though. I’ll give it some consideration. I have an attic of memorabilia, and I’m going up there soon to find some crazy things from the past that people might enjoy.

The Maine Edge: What can you tell me about the new DVD “Live at the Wildey” coming out at around Christmas time?

Martin Barre: The Wildey is a gorgeous early 1900s theatre in Edwardsville, near St. Louis, but actually in Illinois. We played two nights there in May 2019, and this is one of the nights. Former Jethro Tull members Clive Bunker and Dee Palmer were with me, along with the two girls from my band. It’s sort of similar in design to the CD but with a bigger band, and it’s got almost every song in the book in there.

Last modified on Wednesday, 04 November 2020 07:17


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