Martin Barre is back at it once again. This legendary guitarist of Jethro Tull fame is better than ever with a new album, radio airplay and a United States tour that stops at The Sellersville Theater in Sellersville, Pa., Oct. 5 at 8 p.m.
“Music is always being fine-tuned,” he says. “We never sit back and think we’re happy with everything we do. We think it’s a necessity to always examine and try to improve.”
He’s got a new album, Roads Less Travelled, coming out soon. “But I’m selling it at the gigs and it has been getting a fantastic reaction so far from the fans in the U.K. and, amazingly, I’m getting radio play, which is pretty unheard of,” he said, sounding somewhat shocked. “I am so amazed because I never would’ve been able to plan anything like that.”
What makes it even more surprising for Barre is that it’s coming from his native country. “In the U.K., most of the radio stations play ’70s or ’80s music and much of it is really boring (laughs), and I just wonder who the demographic is there and who actually likes that music and makes it the popular choice. It’s very strange. But who am I?”
His current tour includes 36 gigs in about six weeks. “I couldn’t imagine it so I’m not even going to look at that,” he said, with a chuckle. “We’re gathering a fanbase night after night and it’s hard work, but they’re great fans, and every one fan we make is a real fan. It’s not like somebody who sees us once and then we never see again. These people keep coming back to lots of shows … and they’re nice, which people make it all worthwhile.”
Martin is very appreciative of his past and understands that his fanbase is, also. Weaving his former band’s material with his own like a fine tapestry, he’s struck the right chord for himself, his bandmates and the audiences.
“It’s a nice legacy and we’re playing a lot of the old Tull tracks on this tour that we literally just learned, and some stuff from (the 1969 Jethro Tull album) Stand Up, and it sounds really strong and the audiences are just loving it. It’s timeless, really, because the guys have never played it before, so it’s like learning a new piece of music for them. And for me, I try to make it a little bit different so that it’s fresher and up to date, but it all works really, really well.”
“The Guys,” as he calls them, are a finely tuned machine that gels seamlessly onstage, in part due to a new addition behind the drum kit.
“Our new drummer Darby Todd is from the U.K.; he did the album and then from that joined the band. He did our European tour and he’s done festivals with us, so he’s very established within the band. We have Dan Crisp on vocals, Alan Thompson on bass — the same guys who’ve been around for the last three or four years. They’re a very tight band, and they’ve just gotten better and better.
“The band has this element of discovery. It sounds a bit pretentious, but there’s freshness about the band and it’s always very obvious when we play live. You just can’t fake it. When the band is into the music, the performance improves and just gets better, and the audiences really can see that. I’ve heard of bands … not that I’ve seen them, but I’ve heard that at their concerts they’ve looked like they really didn’t want to be there, and I can’t even imagine that. It’s a concept beyond me that any band could be like that, because it’s such a commitment. When you’re on the road, it’s such hard work that you just have to have that reward at the end of the day.”
The band has meshed, but how does he go about deciding what to do from both his current and former catalogs to keep things that way? According to Barre, it’s not always easy.
“I’m doing a lot of my own material but throwing in some old classic Tull material and stuff of of my new album, so there’s always a balance there, and that’s what makes this band work really well. There’s not too much Tull and just enough of my material, and there’s lots of options and that keeps the band pretty fresh. There are times it can be a difficult balance, but I’m always working at it and bringing in new Tull tracks so that the sets are not the same old same old, so that nothing is predictable for the fans. And a lot of them relay that to me: They say it’s so nice to go see a band more than once a year and not get the same show.
“That’s what I would expect when I go see a concert. I don’t want to see the same show I saw a year ago. I want to see something different. Sometimes it’s difficult because there are people who like a routine, and we have done a tour in the past where we only changed a couple of songs a night. What that does is make the shows go very smooth and you’re not always looking at your setlist to see what’s next. So from that point of view, routine is good, but we don’t let it rule us.”
Social media, downloads and an industry in turmoil have all affected the way recording artists do business. But a savvy performer such as Barre has learned how to adapt.
“The rules have changed and you’ve got to go with them,” he said. “I’m in it for the long run.
“You know, it’s like the way that books all went to Kindle and now they’re coming back to good old-fashioned paperback books that you can shove in your bag and then lend it to your mate and then put it on your bookshelf and take it down and read it again in a couple of years. I think music will be like that. I think it will ebb and flow through all these fashions, but the good thing is that my music is more accessible and out to a bigger market. I have people following me on Facebook and Instagram and all these mediums. People are getting to hear the music that they normally wouldn’t, so that’s the upside of it.”
For more about Martin Barre, visit martinbarre.com.
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