Martin Barre will celebrate 50 years of Jethro Tull on upcoming tour

Martin Barre interview


“I never had a eureka moment,” said legendary guitarist Martin Barre, discussing his many years with the band Jethro Tull. While Barre is now recording and touring with his own band, he will play only Tull music on his upcoming tour, in celebration of the band’s 50th anniversary.

“The band never had something happen that changed our lives overnight,” Barre continued. “We just worked really, really hard every week of every month of every year for a long, long time and it developed a career.

“We had good albums. We had albums that weren’t so strong, but it was always the touring that was really good. We were always known to be a live act … and it just grew. It was a really slow development, like being on the back burner of a cooker: The flavor is rich and intense. but it’s well seasoned.

“I enjoyed everything. I loved the tiny clubs, the huge festivals. Live music can be really varied and it brings the same sort of joy in whatever format it is … We never had a year where we were flying around in private jets and staying in five-star penthouse hotel suites. … We were comfortable, we were successful, but it was always the music came first and the work came first. We worked hard and I think that brings a different reward.”

Jethro Tull frontman Ian Anderson dissolved the band in 2011, and didn’t invite Barre back when he began touring as Jethro Tull by Ian Anderson in 2017. Jethro Tull by Ian Anderson is still out on the road celebrating five decades of some of the most memorable rock music ever created.

“In retrospect it wasn’t an un-amicable split; is that a word?” said Barre, with a laugh. “It was just badly handled, and sort of left a scar. … It was a PR exercise, if you’d like, that was just badly managed when it could’ve been a lot easier and a lot softer.

“I have no problem with the history of me and Ian or any of the guys who have been in Tull. I endorse the product and have … for the last seven years. I’m keeping Tull’s music alive and, as a self-promotion, I tell people they have a choice, but if you want to see the most Tull band that you can in 2019 it’s going to be my band because we’ve got three members of Tull.”

Martin Barre in action.

Among the musicians joining Barre on his upcoming tour are his former Tull bandmates Clive Bunker, on drums, and Dee Palmer, on keyboards.

“We do a really strong cross-section of music, all in the original keys,” said Barre. “We’ve picked out the best pieces of music and we’re going to play them really, really well. That’s what I do. What other people do, I don’t know, and I guess it doesn’t really matter because we’re all out there playing music and making a living and trying to make the best music we can and give the audiences the best show that we can.

“I have to be very careful with the wording, and that suits me. I do say it’s ‘Jethro Tull’s Martin Barre’ and it’s not ‘Martin Barre’s Jethro Tull,’ and the difference is, in the latter version I’m saying I’m Jethro Tull and I’m not and never will be. I just tell people that really, there isn’t a Jethro Tull because, certainly in my mind, and maybe in Ian’s mind, the only true version of Jethro Tull would have the two of us in it. If that will ever happen, I don’t know, but I’ve got a great band who play the music really, really well, and I would never turn my back on what I’ve built up over the last seven years. I’ve got a great bunch of guy and my job is to feed them (laughs), musically and financially, and I enjoy doing it.”

The Martin Barre Celebrates 50 Years of Jethro Tull Tour kicks off in the United States April 12-13 at the Strand Theatre in Hudson Falls, N.Y., and will also include shows at The Iridium in Manhattan, April 15 and 25; the Levoy Theatre in Millville, April 16; the Sellersville Theater in Sellersville, Pa., April 21; the YMCA Boulton Center for the Performing Arts in Bay Shore, N.Y., April 26; and the Newton Theatre, April 27.

“There will be none of my (solo) music involved in it at all,” Barre said. “It’s more like a theatrical production in that it adheres to a very strict format of the music right through Tull’s career. There are video backdrops, voiceovers and an eight-piece band that includes Clive Bunker and Dee Palmer. I’ve got two girl singers. It’s a big production … completely different from normal.

“The girls will do some of the acoustic songs from Tull. I’ve recorded a double CD which is only available at the gigs, and one of the CDs is them singing some re-recorded acoustic songs from Tull, and it brings something extra and something different to the table. They’ve got amazing voices.”

When asked why he chose to go this route instead of doing perhaps just one set of Tull to pay homage to his past, he said: “It’s a progression, because we’re getting into the theaters and I want to get a step up from the bigger clubs and some of the gigs that I’ve been doing. I just want to up my game and I think this will be a nice way of doing it. It’s a bigger show. …

“We’ve played a lot in The States. I believe the last tour was No. 7 and we’ve been to the East Coast a lot … I just felt that to come back to the east side of America again, we needed something really off the wall, something that people would make a really special effort to come and see.”

Jethro Tull in an early ’90s publicity photo (from left, Dave Mattacks, Dave Pegg, Andy Giddings, Ian Anderson and Martin Barre).

With a catalog as vast as Tull’s, how does he choose the material to perform?

“I’m just picking the hits,” Barre said. “I could play a three- or four-hour set but most promoters don’t want more than 2 ½ hours. So it’s difficult. We’re doing a segment from Thick as a Brick, a segment from Passion Play, most of Heavy Horses, half of Songs From the Wood, but nothing suffers because of it. It’s concise and I hope slick, very musical, and I hope people will enjoy it. I don’t want to be tied down by constraints like that, I just want a show that works really well and I think I’ve got it.

“As I said earlier, I don’t want to come back with the same format and I won’t. I always change the music as much as I possibly can. It’s almost a side project of what we do, and I hope it grows and it might sit side by side with the Martin Barre Band tours.”

Most bands these days have issues getting to a 10th anniversary, let alone a 50th. So what does he do in year number 51 and beyond?

“I’ve got it in mind to come back and do just an acoustic tour,” he said. “Occasionally we do an acoustic show and they work really, really well. They’re a lot of work because it’s a whole set of music. One night we’re electric with a set we know, and then the next night we’re acoustic with a completely new set and it really is hard work to do both, but it’s rewarding, and the people love it. I’d like to do a dedicated tour of acoustic shows. Maybe next year …

“I don’t like the idea that it’s a normal show played on acoustic guitar because that’s a different beast. It’s not ‘Unplugged.’ It’s different music, completely different and that’s where we’re maybe different from other bands because certainly I’m not interested in playing the same set with no drums or a cajón and everybody strumming on guitar. I’m not taking anything away from bands that do that, because I’m sure that they do it really well. It’s just not my cup of tea.

“Again, this would be a new project, and essentially, if I had three nights in one theater, I could do all three shows and they’d be completely different.”

Later in the year, the Martin Barre Band will perform at Parker Press Park in Woodbridge, June 19; the New Hope Winery in New Hope, Pa., on June 20; and the Somers Point Beach Concert Series, June 21.

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