Q&A: Ian Anderson
Whatever Happened To Gerald Bostock?
It's a fair question, but more than likely one that might be asked by either a hard core prog-rock fan, or at least a casual follower of Jethro Tull.
For those who may need a gentle reminder, the popular rock band led by the wild-eyed flautist, singer and songwriter Ian Anderson released its seminal concept album "Thick As A Brick" in 1972. Despite its decidedly complex and lengthy arrangements, "TAAB" became one of Jethro Tull's best selling and popular releases, topping the Billboard Album Chart.
The lyrical story arc of "Thick As a Brick," as Anderson relates on his website, was credited at the time to the fictitious child character Gerald Bostock. As the story goes, Bostock entered a poetry competition and was subsequently disqualified from his win following an appearance on BBC-TV, where he uttered a profanity.
It was also revealed that his parents had lied about his age. Instead of the eight-year-old his parents claimed him to be, he was actually nine at the time of writing the poem and 10 when he won the competition.
But Bostock's poetry was repurposed for song lyrics that, in reality, eventually became the original "Thick As a Brick" album. So, 40 years on, what would Bostock -- aged 50 in 2012 -- be doing?
After some prodding and serious lobbying by prog-rock vocalist-turned-record exec Derek Shulman of Gentle Giant fame, Anderson, who initially balked, began to warm to the concept of imagining Bostock in adulthood. The idea began generating creative traction and within just a few weeks, a present day sequel, appropriately titled "Thick As a Brick 2," emerged.
Perhaps the greatest joy of listening through "TAAB2" is discovering the subtle and not-so-subtle references to the original work couched in comparably stellar musicianship -- as well as the overlay of ideas and wit that were already well formed in the mind of nine-year-old Bostock (or Anderson) back in '72.
"TAAB2," Anderson said, examines the possible different paths that the precocious young schoolboy might have taken later in life, while at the same time, creating alter-ego characters whose song-section identities illustrate the hugely varied potential twists and turns of fate and opportunity.
"Not just for Gerald, but to echo how our own lives develop, change direction and ultimately conclude through chance encounters and interventions, however tiny and insignificant they might seem at the time," Anderson states.
With "TAAB2" receiving good reviews and overwhelming fan support, and after a well-received tour abroad, Anderson brings the "Thick As a Brick 1 & 2 Tour" to the U.S. The outing kicked off earlier this week in Miami. Plans call for Anderson and his backing band of David Goodier, Scott Hammond, Ryan O'Donnell, John O'Hara and Florian Opahle to perform the entire first and second album back-to-back and in their entirety -- and possibly with a few other select "greatest hits" as an encore -- during the tour.
Anderson spoke to SoundSpike ahead of his arrival in the states, discussing the challenges of reproducing the complexities of these two companion "bookend" creations of "Thick As a Brick" that were conceived nearly 40 years apart.
SoundSpike: Given the hit-oriented manner in which albums are produced today, it's unusual to sit and listen to an entire album front-to-back that is both cohesive and not apparently constructed around a few numbers sanctioned as hopeful hit singles.
Ian Anderson: Well at the time I was writing it in February 2011, I suppose I had some trepidation about taking on a big project of that sort. But within two or three days of starting work on it, I thought the ideas are coming thick and fast, so it's not something that is going to dry up on me halfway through. And indeed the problem became trying to shoehorn in an awful lot of stuff into the physical limitations of making a single project that would just about fit on a vinyl record. In fact, for those who would like the physicality of owning such a thing, I did a special vinyl release of "Thick As a Brick 1 & 2." We cut the thing on copper instead of acetate at Abbey Road studios in London. After so many years of being in a studio and actually cutting a record, I thought it sounded pretty good. Mind you we were using the same equipment and materials used when the Beatles were recording there.
The musical and stylistic similarities between parts one and two are amazing. You really seemed to have nailed down the other bookend here 40 years hence.
If you're writing something like that, you have to find that middle path really between making it too disassociated in terms of style and content and sound -- and not wanting it to be some sort of nostalgic trip into the past. It's a question of trying to find that good balance. And that balance was, for me, trying to make an album for 2012 in terms of subject and material whilst retaining some of the sonic qualities of the original through the use of the same instruments, and generally the same approach to writing and recording -- which was doing it very much like a live performance. Although this was somewhat more efficient because on the original, I let myself get a little ambitious in the studio adding overdubs, extra voices guitar and flute parts that I actually couldn't play live. Once you start putting on two flutes you're in trouble -- or I'm in trouble, especially if I have to play guitar and flute at the same time, which does occur in many of the passages on the original "Thick As a Brick" album.
So how do you manage to replicate the original album live on the current tour?
I have an extra hand on stage on this tour to help cover all the lines that otherwise would be missing because they are impossible to perform with only five people. It is an experience to try and bring these two things side-by-side on a live stage, and the fact there is a 40-year gap between them which is quickly crossed over by the vehicle that is the young Gerald Bostock growing up and becoming an adult, and through the various possibilities of life outcomes of a little boy. Those take us quickly into a series of contemporary songs that cover some of the passages along the way -- sometimes with a degree of humor, and sometimes with a degree of bleakness and harshness, but trying to keep things varied in terms of emotion. It's not a barrel of laughs, but it has its comedic moments, too.
So how is this fusion of two complicated projects shaking out in concert?
The first 15 or 20 shows were a big learning curve for band and crew. But during the latter part of the first tour, I think we began settling in and beginning to enjoy the little moments that come from the improvisational passages. To begin with, it's an enormous amount of stuff to learn and remember. To begin with it was a full-on feat of memory and concentration, but now enough of it is routine in terms of the arrangements that we can settle back a bit and kind of enjoy those flights of fancy moments which make every night a little different than the one before. And it keeps the Alzheimer's at bay by pushing the brain to that degree of concentration -- that's no joke by the way. I'm much happier stretching my mind doing this than I would going off somewhere fishing, or God forbid, taking up golf...(laughing).
Is the live show just TAAB 1 & 2, or do you encore with a few more 'greatest hits'?
Well the whole (TAAB) takes two hours, but there are occasions where we are forced to play a somewhat irrelevant encore of past material. For the most part we look at it as a theatrical musical presentation, and hope we can get away without playing "Aqualung" or "Locomotive Breath," which is just like finishing an eight-course meal and somebody brings out another chunk of steak and says "eat this." Asking for people's time and concentration as an audience, you'd think most people would want to run screaming for the exit doors by the time we finish part two. But sadly, that's not the case much of the time. So we get caught up in the inevitable encores once in awhile.
Before you were prodded into considering this new project, had you spent any substantial amount of time thinking about Gerald Bostock previously -- back when he was 40 or 25?
The material of "Thick As a Brick" was never far from my consciousness because we'd play 10 or 15 minutes of the album quite frequently in concert over the years. But to play the whole thing in its entirety was never something I gave any serious consideration to, until about three years ago when it crossed my mind. So I listened to the album and tried to play most of the way through it just to see, out of curiosity really, how difficult it was. And I figured I could learn to play it all again over the period of a few days. But as soon as I started analyzing the arrangements, I knew there would have to be lines of music dropped and lines of vocals dropped. It was only when I started working on "Thick As a Brick 2" that I thought I could find another performer who could play the flute or sing. So I tried out a young actor who worked on Pete Townsend's musical "Quadrophenia." And we booked Ryan O'Donnell to do these upcoming tours. He's sort of an alter-ego for me although he's in his late 20s. As an actor he's able to bring a dramatic interpretation to whatever he might be asked to do -- and it's an interesting dimension to have. We gave him lots of parts to play in both pieces.
Much of the electric guitar work is reminiscent of Martin Barre's contributions on the original album and the old-school Jethro Tull material. How much did you work with Florian and the production team to craft the electric guitar contributions? And have you had any reaction from Martin about TAAB2?
Well, not directly. But I did have a talk with Martin about this year and the plans I had. And it was determined that this year would be a time for the other [Jethro Tull] musicians to go and do other projects. You know, all of the musicians in the Ian Anderson band except for Ryan have been part of Jethro Tull in recent years. It's probably most difficult for young Florian to have to step into the shoes of someone who has played most of the Jethro Tull shows since 1969 when Martin joined. But Florian understands quite well to what degree he must recreate some of the style of Martin Barre's contributions.
And he seems to do it quite well, no disrespect to Martin.
Of course on TAAB2 he is doing his own thing -- we actually sat down and made demos of most of the material in March of 2011. But for the original "Thick As a Brick" in concert, the musicians have to take as their starting point the musical notation of those people who did it in 1972, and it was mostly written and arranged by me. A band is a band to some degree -- they are given the parts they are expected to play. I'm not embarrassed to say that Jeffrey Hammond was taught the bass part note-for-note, and he did a great job playing it. But when David, our bass player today, learns those parts, he's learning the parts I gave to Jeffrey back in the day. It's when contemporary band members have to find that improvisational moment, when I think you take a couple of elements from previous performers' inventions. But you have to put your own stamp of nuances and adventure into it. It would be really silly to copy things note-for-note, but you can pay homage to your predecessors -- create something based on the previous model.
18 - Miami Beach, FL - The Fillmore Miami Beach at The Jackie Gleason Theater
19 - West Palm Beach, FL - Kravis Center for the Performing Arts - Dreyfoos Hall
21 - St Augustine, FL - St. Augustine Amphitheatre
22 - Orlando, FL - Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre
23 - Clearwater, FL - Ruth Eckerd Hall
24 - Fort Myers. FL - Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall
25 - Fort Pierce, FL - Sunrise Theatre
27 - Atlanta, GA - Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre
28 - Asheville, NC - Thomas Wolfe Auditorium
29 - Durham, NC - Durham Performing Arts Center
30 - Richmond, VA - Richmond CenterStage - Carpenter Theatre
1 - Newport News, VA - Ferguson Center For the Arts
3 - Lynn, MA - Lynn Auditorium
4 - Uncasville, CT - Mohegan Sun Arena
5 - New York, NY - Beacon Theatre
6 - Atlantic City, NJ - Caesar's Circus Maximus
7 - Newark, NJ - NJ Performing Arts Center-Prudential Hall
17 - San Diego, CA - Balboa Theatre
18 - Santa Ynez, CA - Chumash Casino
19 - Rancho Mirage, CA - Agua Caliente Casino - The Show
20 - Long Beach, CA - Terrance Theater, Long Beach Performing Arts center
22 - Salt Lake City, UT - Abravanel Hall
23 - Denver, CO - Temple Hoyne Buell Theatre
25 - Catoosa, OK - Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Tulsa - The Joint
26 - Grand Praire, TX - Verizon Theatre
27 - Houston, TX - Bayou Music Center
28 - Austin, TX - Paramount Theatre
30 - Nashville, TN - Ryman Auditorium
1 - Milwaukee, WI - Pabst Theater
2 - Chicago, IL - Chicago Theatre
3 - Detroit, MI - Fox Theatre
4 - Akron, OH - Akron Civic Theatre
5 - Newark, OH - Midland Theatre