Jethro Tull: The band, the man… and the rock opera

By MIKE CHAIKEN
EDITIONS EDITOR
On Jethro Tull’s website (JethroTull.com), there is message directed toward reporters interested in interviewing the band.
The web page is labeled “All Too Frequently Asked Questions.”
And leading that list is: “How did you get the name Jethro Tull?”
For fans of the band, it’s a poorly kept secret that there is no one in the band actually called Jethro Tull. Sometimes the clueless will mistake lead singer Ian Anderson as the band’s namesake “Jethro Tull.”
But those in the know know band’s name was lifted from a historic figure—an 18th century agrarian.
As Anderson explained it in a phone interview from the Southwest of the U.K., the band’s name is a bit of “identity theft.”
Explaining this time around how the band got its name, Anderson said, the band had been tapped for a residency at the renowned Marquee Club back in the group’s infancy in the 1960s. At the time, the group needed a name, so—with the help of their agent, who was a bit of a scholar— they “purloined” one from the history books.
Anderson said the group really didn’t know much about Jethro Tull when they took his name as their own. It wasn’t until later they did a little research and found out who Jethro Tull was.
Then the band just forged ahead with the name, periodically swatting about questions about its name… noting that it’s all been explained plenty of times before.
However, decades later, Anderson said he had some spare time as he was being driven through Europe. Blessed with an internet connection in his vehicle, Anderson said he did some web surfing. In time, he just decided to do a little digging about the band’s namesake.
“There was not a huge amount of detail,” said Anderson of Jethro Tull, the man. “What there was—elements of his life—struck a chord.”
And as Anderson read up on the original Tull, he began to realize there were many songs recorded by his band that reverbated with the story of Jethro Tull the man. For instance, “Farm on the Freeway,” from “Crest of the Knave,” (which is about the disappearance of farm life in the U.K.) and “Heavy Horses,” from the album of the same name, which spoke about how large horses such as the Clydesdale were losing their place as work animals on a farm.
Anderson said he began to assign different songs from the band’s catalogue to appropriate places to illustrate the Tull’s life. And he began writing new music to fill things in where the catalogue could not.
In time, Anderson pulled together “Jethro Tull, The Rock Opera,” which comes to Foxwoods Resort Casino on Nov. 8. (Anderson will be accompanied by David Goodier on bass, John O’Hara on keyboards, Florian Opahle on guitar, and Scott Hammond on drums. 
“It’s a glorious opportunity to present, yet again, the best of Jethro Tull put into the context of a story about a real person set in a near future,” said Anderson.
Anderson said he calls the work a rock opera with some chagrin. “It’s such a cheesy term.” But, he said the piece does work as an opera in the traditional sense because there is a through story line with a connecting narrative to hold it all together.
Rather than cast Jethro Tull as a historic figure, and risk the piece becoming a musical “Downton Abbey,” complete with period costumes, Anderson said he decided to make Tull a man of the present day.
Anderson said he pondered Tull’s place in the world, circa 2015. Anderson figured Tull would be a biochemist, working on GMO (genetically modified organisms) and cloning. Tull also would be working to increase productivity of agriculture to help to feed the world. Additionally, given his background, Anderson said Tull would be someone concerned about the potential of global warming.
And in the course of the interview, Anderson made it clear that the character Tull’s interests also were the interests of Anderson the musician.
“The subject is something rather unusual in the context of rock music,” said Anderson of Tull’s concern about climate change.
As for the production of “Jethro Tull, The Rock Opera,” Anderson said it will be a multimedia affair. There are no actors on stage accompanying the musicians on tour with Anderson. Instead, he explained, the characters will be played by virtual guests, who are prerecorded and projected on screens at the appropriate moment. There also will be illustrated videos to provide context to the story.
The music, said Anderson, will be played live.
Although this is labeled a rock opera, Anderson said he has no expectations of it becoming a stage production like The Who’s “Tommy (which he notes is more concept album rather than rock opera since there are no connective elements to tell the story on that album). For “Jethro Tull ,The Rock Musical” to move to a Broadway or West End stage, he said there would need to be more appeal to the piece than simply the music of Jethro Tull.
Anderson also said fans should not expect a DVD of the production any time soon. He said it’s just not financially feasible these days. There was a time when DVDs sold well. In 2000, a DVD might sell 100,000 copies and be considered a success. These days, he said, DVD sales tend to plateau at 2000 copies.
And beyond “Jethro Tull, The Rock Opera,” fans shouldn’t worry that Anderson or his band, Jethro Tull, will be disappearing any time soon.
“I’m like an old bear dancing,” said Anderson. “People love me… I’m doing my tricks. As long as I’m having fun, there’s no need to stop me.”
“Jethro Tull, The Rock Opera” performed by Ian Anderson comes to Foxwoods Resort Casino’s Grand Theater on Sunday, Nov. 8 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $40 and $60.
For more information, go to Foxwoods.com or JethroTull.com
Comments? Email mchaiken@BristolObserver.com.

A scene from ‘Jethro Tull, The Rock Opera,’ which is coming to Foxwoods Nov. 8.

A scene from ‘Jethro Tull, The Rock Opera,’ which is coming to Foxwoods Nov. 8.

Ian Anderson performs in ‘Jethro Tull, The Rock Opera,’ which comes to Foxwoods Resort Casino’s Grand Theater on Sunday.

Ian Anderson performs in ‘Jethro Tull, The Rock Opera,’ which comes to Foxwoods Resort Casino’s Grand Theater on Sunday.

Ian Anderson performs in ‘Jethro Tull, The Rock Opera,’ which comes to Foxwoods Resort Casino’s Grand Theater on Sunday.

Ian Anderson performs in ‘Jethro Tull, The Rock Opera,’ which comes to Foxwoods Resort Casino’s Grand Theater on Sunday.

Leave a Reply