After all these years, Martin Barre gets a case of the blues

EDITIONS EDITORWhen Martin Barre hits the stage in Hamden this weekend, fans of the former Jethro Tull guitarist will get a taste of the blues (as well as tracks from his new album and Tull).
But, although, Barre is getting his blues licks in as a solo artist (Jethro Tull is no more), the guitarist was an anomaly in the 1960s.
In the 1960s, it seemed like every young lead guitarist was playing the blues.
And Barre said it made sense. In the U.K. at the time, there were few other musical influences for young musicians to draw from.
The young men who made up Jethro Tull for the group’s first album were no exception.
The band had been eyed by fans and the press as a new Cream—the blues rock super group manned by guitarist Eric Clapton, bassist Jack Bruce, and drummer Ginger Baker.
However, Barre—who stepped in for the band’s second album after original guitarist Mick Abrahams departed— said he was never one to play the blues. In fact, Barre was brought in to Jethro Tull specifically because the band wanted to break away from that blues-rock sound and wanted to pull in other influences that Barre could bring them.
That said, although he didn’t play the blues, Barre said he loved listening to them.
When Jethro Tull finally called it a day four years ago, Barre said the time was now right to pick up the guitar and play the blues.
Although Barre’s guitar was integral to Jethro Tull—the riff from “Aqualung” is a classic rock favorite– the guitar was never the central focus for that band led by singer-songwriter Ian Anderson. When Tull called it a day, Barre figured now was a chance to venture into a world where his guitar was the raison d’etre for his live shows and recordings.
Initially as a solo artist, Barre wasn’t quite certain about giving his guitar playing the spotlight. He panicked, he said. He figured fans wanted something similar to Jethro Tull from him. He was afraid he wouldn’t meet fans’ expectations. So he pulled out a six piece band with a full sound akin to his previous entity. And the stage show was a democracy.
However, Barre said fans told him they were a bit disappointed about those earlier solo effort. Where he thought they would want the guitars to take a backseat, the fans said they wanted to hear Barre’s playing front and center.
Barre eventually pared the band down to a four-piece. And within that structure, he said he left more musical space for his guitar to shine through.
Besides the opportunity to put his guitar playing front and center, Barre also was able to do something as a solo artist that he couldn’t do in his time with Ian Anderson.
He could be a songwriter.
“It’s been a really exciting section of my career,” said Barre. “I do enjoy writing.”
He said he also had the best of both worlds in music. Having played for 50 years, he said he has learned what works and doesn’t work for a song. And since he’s new to the process, there is a freshness to his writing, he said.
Asked about what inspires his songwriting, Barre said he is not the type of songwriter who waits for something to strike him. He said it could take up to a year to have that aha moment that causes you to take up pen in hand.
Instead, Barre said makes a point of sitting down regularly to come up with new music. Sometimes, the songs don’t come. Some days, he said, you strike gold.
However, Barre said he never frets if he doesn’t end the day with a song. He said he is more than happy simply to have had a chance to play his guitar.
In addition to writing his own material for “Back to Steel,” Barre also turned a classic bit of 1960s psychedelia on its head.
The album finds Barre tackling the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby.” Rather than a version that echoes the string quartet arranged by Paul McCartney, Barre offers up crunching guitars and a blues feel to the Fab Four’s hit.
It’s always tricky for a band to cover the Beatles. And “Eleanor Rigby” is one of those idiosyncratic tracks that would seem to be impossible for an artist to give its proper due.
So why did Barre even try?
“Because it was fun,” he replied
He said he always thought “Eleanor Rigby” was a great song. And he said he found a way to turn it sideways and upside down.
When he brought the arrangement to his band, Barre said they were bit skeptical. But he said, “Let’s give it a try.” And it worked.
Barre said he’s never been afraid to take on a cover song if it’s fun. He said he’d perform a Britney Spears song if he thought he could have fun doing so.
“I’m not worried about genre or what kind of label is put on it,” said Barre. “I just want absolute freedom.”
With Jethro Tull, Barre had played festivals, arenas, and large theaters. For this particular tour, Barre is playing smaller venues—mostly club dates.
“The atmosphere is amazing” in these intimate shows, said Barre. “It’s a really hand’s on experience. I love that.”
That said, Barre’s ambition in mark II of his career is to return to bigger venues such as the ones Jethro Tull used to play.
“I want to be more successful,” said Barre, and “I want more income” to hire more musicians, back up singers, and offer more production value for the fans.
“There’s so much I want to do,” said Barre.
But, Barre is realistic. He knows post-Jethro Tull, “We’re starting at the bottom.” He recognizes he has one advantage, people know him from his days with his previous band. However, Barre said, he has no pretenses. “I’m starting my career again,” said Barre.
This is Barre’s first solo tour of America. Barre said once Tull was done, he knew he had to get back to America to play. He said many fans would query him on social media asking when he was going to come over.
But, the band was a risk for promoters, said Barre. Bringing in an artist from the U.K., and an artist where it was uncertain how audiences would respond, was a definite concern.
However, earlier this year, Barre was invited to the states to take part in the Cruise to the Edge, which sailed out of Miami, Fla. The cruise ship featured a variety of bands from the progressive side of rock such as Yes, Marillion, Spock’s Beard, and more.
Being part of that venture in November offered him the opportunity he needed to tour America. He said he called promoters and said he would already be in America for Cruise to the Edge. He then asked if they could set up a tour that followed.
The response to the tour from the fans has been “amazing,” said Barre (he joked he would say that even if it wasn’t the case).
“It’s like banging into an old friend,” said Barre of touring America, where Jethro Tull essentially had a second home. “It’s just such a lovely feeling… It’s really so gratifying when people are so positive about what I’m doing,” said Barre.
When fans come out to The Ballroom at the Outer Space on Sunday night, Barre said they can expect a set list that is 50 percent drawn from the catalogue of Jethro Tull. However, he said, even though it is Tull, he said it will be stuff fans haven’t heard live in a long time. Additionally, he said the Tull songs have been re-arranged and re-presented to put the focus on his guitar.
Barre said fans also will hear tracks from the new album.
And, yes, he said, there will be a good amount of the blues.
“It’s a really good show, with lots of energy,” said Barre, who is hoping to put on a show akin to the rock shows of the 1970s. “Dynamic and powerful.”
Martin Barre will perform at The Ballroom at the Outerspace, 295 Treadwell Ave., Hamden on Sunday, Dec. 20 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door.
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Comments? Email mchaiken@BristolObserver. com.

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