JETHRO TULL’S MARTIN BARRE
August 18, 2005 | Author: Greg Phillips
“Number 25 of all time is my claim to fame!” offers Jethro Tull guitarist Martin Barre quite proudly, referring to a poll which rated ‘Aqualung’ as the 25th best guitar solo of all time. That piece of contemporary music treasure from 1971 was recorded in trying conditions in a Paris studio the band fondly remember as “Chateau Disaster”. On this crisp Melbourne afternoon however, thirty four years down a well travelled road, Martin feels none of that tension or pressure as he relaxes back stage at Melbourne’s Palais Theatre. Australian Musician’s Greg Phillips sat down for a casual chat with the amiable and generous Mr Barre about Tull, touring and his recently released solo album ‘Stage Left’. Pics Marty Williams
Those with a keen trivial eye may have noticed that the guitarist playing with Jethro Tull in the famous 1968 Rolling Stones’ “Rock n’ roll Circus” movie was not Mick Abrahams. It was in fact soon-to- be Black Sabbath legend Tony Iommi. But the Tony and Tull connection ended there, resulting in the need for singer Ian Anderson to audition for a new guitar player. Martin Barre, the successful applicant recalls the events of the day that his, and Jethro Tull’s name became synonymous.
“Tony had damaged his fingers in a machine accident. He had restrictions with his technique, which luckily haven’t stopped him being a great guitar player in a great band. But it did interfere with a certain chord thing that Ian was trying to do. This is the story that Ian has told me. The audition was horrendous. It was just this room full of bloody boring guitar players that were ten-a-penny. They were all just sitting a round in this room and it was very tense, waiting for their ten minutes. The band knew me as a flute player and because I played in the style of Roland Kirk, which is why I came to their notice. I’d actually supported Jethro Tull with my band Gethsemane.”
Do recall receiving any flack when you joined the band?
A lot of the Tull fans loved Mick Abrahams’ playing, he was a big part of the show. A lot of people were disappointed that I wasn’t a big blues guitar player in the same way he was. But Ian had in his mind a direction he wanted the band to go in with his music. There were a lot of bands treading that fairly weary blues path at the time and Ian wanted to get away from that.
Aqualung features what is recognised as one of the greatest rock solos ever … were there many variations on it prior to recording?
No, with the recording in those days, it was either take one or two. There was never the luxury to do more. It was like keep one take, try another, choose, drop in … you just did it.
On an Aqualung re-issue Ian talks about the poor quality of the studio.
The studio in Paris was dreadful. We called it the Chateau Disaster! It was always breaking down. We’d be in the middle of this intense recording, and the whole thing would be down for hours. It was difficult and quite tense.
I also read that you weren’t all that happy with the guitar on Locomotive Breath?
I have never knowingly said that. In general I don’t listen to music of ours from that era because I just hear the faults and naivete, and to me it was just a bunch of people learning their job and reminds me of things that weren’t a hundred percent. If the same thing was done today, none of that stuff would come anywhere near a tape machine because the quality wouldn’t be good enough. But obviously it was the same for all the bands of the time.
As much as Tull has stood the test of time, the most famous albums were from the early seventies. But were they necessarily your favourite albums too?
No they are not. I suppose the ones that had the most impact on me were the early ones. I say ‘Benefit’, because ‘Stand Up’ was a very nervous pressured album to do, we didn’t know how it would turn out. It was quite tense. The next one was a real positive one, a bit more relaxed, we were over the first hurdle. But then ‘Under Wraps’ (1984) was another great one for me. It wasn’t particularly a well received album, but for me it was good fun and challenging. It was really just me Peter (keyboardist-Peter-John Vettese), Ian and Dave Pegg (bass) stuck in a studio for months with no outside contact at all. I mean using a drum machine… which is now horribly unfashionable… and it sounds so dated because it was an early model of one. Maybe it was a mistake to lock ourselves in and not get opinions from outside. It was a bit intense that one, but I loved it.
Skipping ahead quite a bit, Tull won a Grammy in the heavy metal category. What was the reaction in the band when you first heard of the nomination?
Nobody believed that we would win it. We got the notification that we were nominated and that was very exciting. We had this sheet of paper that we could put on our wall saying you have been nominated for a Grammy. So that was fantastic. Beyond it, nobody thought it could possibly go any further including the record company who wouldn’t even fly us over there. Metallica was the band everyone thought would win it. They were due to play there on the night. Their fans were there and were sure that they were going to win. So when they didn’t, it was very unpopular. And everyone said ‘where are they?’ with no explanation. And some token person, I think Alice Cooper received the award on our behalf. It was a shame. I was in England and somebody called and said you have won the Grammy. I thought well how about that! It was ten at night. Then my wife came in and told me too, and I thought there you go, time to go to bed. In the meantime she got on the phone to everyone we knew and said we’d won the Grammy, come over, this is a big deal we must at least have a drink. So someone turned up and it’s half ten, and I’m thinking that’s a bit late. By the time three or four car loads had showed up I realised she’d called people and it was great really, because otherwise it would have meant nothing. It was important to make something of it. Continued over page
Let’s talk about your gear. You have an impressive collection of guitars, there’s a great rundown of them on the inner sleeve of your solo album ‘Stage Left’. I imagine they’re too valuable to take on tour. What are your main stage guitars now?
I use a Fender Fat Strat on the road. I just bought a PRS 513, a new one with the 5 single coils and I almost brought it with me, but when we do tours a long way from England I just bring an amp. I mean we just bring the basic gear we need to work with. In John’s case it might be the bass guitar, Hi Watt amps and cabs for him. All of Doane’s gear except for his pedals and maybe a snare is hired … and I bring an amp, which has to be my amp. I’m not happy with anything else but that, that’s the Soldano Decatone with Marshall cab. That’s the vital part of my sound. If I could take just one thing it would be the amp, because I can just find a guitar in a shop. Guitars are very much just a tool for me. I don’t endorse them. I like to chop and change, I’ve used Hamer, Gibson, Tom Anderson, Ibanez, Mansons and Fenders for quite a while, and the PRS. I’m not tied to using any one guitar. I could bring my amp, go to a music shop, pick one off the wall. It could be a $500 Epiphone, which I have and it’s great, it wouldn’t matter.
You have a fairly clean sound. Do you use any pedals?
Nothing. The complete set up I use in Europe and America is two Decatones. one Decatone runs a couple of 2x12s. I like the Marshall 2x12s, the smaller ones. Then the other runs two 1x12s at the front… monitors… then the send and return go into a multi effects rack for a bit of reverb, a tiny bit of repeat, and you can hardly hear it but it broadens the sound. I do have a Tube Screamer in the rack but I’m not using it here.
You have already mentioned that you have tried many different guitar brands and amps, in fact you seem to like to try different things in life … wake boarding, running, … what is it about experiencing so many different things that you enjoy? I hear it’s inflatable boats now?
It’s a rigid inflatable. The tubes are for stability but never need inflating, I don’t need to blow it up or anything like that. We spent 37 years touring and doing music and now I love music, it’s my life, but I have decided it is not going to rule my life like it used to. That’s just the way I am at the moment. It won’t change me as a player. I’m totally dedicated to improving and whatever being a musician is, but I want to do other things while I can still enjoy doing them. I snowboard, which is crazy, because one fall and I’m in trouble. When I was a kid there was just rugby and cricket and I hate both. I hated that male, competitiveness. I’ve never been down the pub with the boys or wanted to play the hard sports, why get the shit beaten out of you. There was nothing else. I was a slob but now there are so many fun things to do. I got fat and unfit and I started running and that’s so important to me, it clears my brain and cleanses you. The travel, the bullshit, the hotels, the running counters all of that. Especially here, it’s so beautiful.
‘Stage Left’ is your current solo release … when you release a solo album, what do you hope it achieves?
Just availability. That’s all I ask, so that if someone wants it, they can get it. It’s so hard for someone like me to get a CD into record store these days.
You did a support slot for Tull with your solo material didn’t you?
That was just a phase. I didn’t get paid. It was just a bit of fun really. It was my idea. I thought it was a nice way to play my new album. Me playing my music and it was me and if anything that goes wrong it’s me. I admire Ian for the burden he has. You have to learn that. I was petrified but I wanted to learn how to do it. The playing is the easy part, it’s the projection. You don’t have time to tune up or go and have a beer, you have to talk between tracks. I loved it though. I’d love to do it here but the economics are dreadful.
What kind of music do you listen to around home?
I don’t like very much. I listen to a lot of classical music. That’s what I love. I’m not crazy on noise, I’ve had a lot of years of noise and music and I’m getting quite grumpy. My wife and kids buy all of the music in our house. My wife has an obsession that the radio has to be on. If I’m in the car I like to look out the window. If I want to listen to music, I want to sit down and specifically do that, I don’t want it at the supermarket combating with something else I am trying to do. I’m very critical.
Will there be another Jethro Tull studio album soon?
I don’t know to be honest, one is due but I’m going to put some live material together that I did with Willy Porter. I have live versions of tracks off my first two albums, ‘Trick of Memory’ and ‘The Meeting’. That will be the next thing I will do. Ian might be planning to another solo album, I don’t know.
Martin Barre’s ‘Stage Left’ is available through Riot distribution.
JETHRO TULL’S MARTIN BARRE