Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



UK rock band formed '68 in Blackpool from various local bands, named after the 18th-century inventor of the seed drill, later tending towards folk-rock. Original lineup: Ian Anderson (b 10 August 1947, Edinburgh), vocals, flute; Mick Abrahams (b 7 April 1943, Luton), guitar; Glenn Cornick (b 24 April 1947, Barrow-in-Furness; d 28 August 2014), bass; Clive Bunker (b 12 December 1946), drums. From the start, the Dickensian figure Anderson was the focal point, pirouetting as he piped; Abrahams was also important as Tull accrued underground following: This Was '68 was a strong debut, Abrahams's playing and Anderson's dexterity highlighted on Roland Kirk's 'Serenade To A Cuckoo'. Abrahams left to form the much-loved Blodwyn Pig, which recorded Ahead Rings Out '69, Getting To This '70, then solo Mick Abrahams '71, At Last '72, tutor LP Learning To Play With '75. From Tull's Stand Up '69 Abrahams was replaced by Martin Barre (b 17 November 1946).

Tull went from strength to strength, with 'Living In The Past', 'Sweet Dream' and 'Witch's Promise' all top ten '69-70. Benefit '70 assured Tull's standing with 'progressive' fans and broke the band in the USA, also marking the debut of Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond on bass, a longtime friend and influence on Anderson who'd inspired 'Song For Jeffrey' on the first album. Cornick had left to form Wild Turkey (Battle Hymn '71, Turkey '72). Tull's Aqualung '71 is still regarded by many as their finest hour: an ambitious semi-concept dominated by Anderson's fascination with tramps, it seemed seamless (no. 7 LP in USA, where 19 LPs charted altogether). Thick As A Brick '72 was lavishly packaged, a balanced set of songs (no. 1 USA); two-disc Living In The Past '72 was a compilation of singles etc, side three live from Carnegie Hall (no. 3 USA); then A Passion Play '73, another concept, was heavily panned (but no. 1 in USA): Anderson was so annoyed by the reviews that he announced Tull would cease touring and kept the promise for a year, and War Child '74 was a more coherent work (no. 2 USA). MU: The Best Of Jethro Tull '75 kept fans happy; Minstrel In The Gallery '75 was a first step towards English folk-rock (no. 7 LP USA): Anderson had been working with Steeleye Span, and the influence was two-way. He pursued that direction to great effect on Songs From The Wood '77 (the last top ten entry USA at no. 8) and Heavy Horses '78; Too Old To Rock'n'Roll, Too Young To Die '76 was harder; Repeat '77 was another best-of; two-disc Bursting Out '78 was an obligatory live set (later on one CD with fewer tracks).

Stormwatch '79 introduced former Fairport Convention bassist Dave Pegg (replaced ex-Gods John Glascock, who died following surgery), a good foil for Anderson's fascination with folk tunes. ''A'' '80 was harshly received; Broadsword And The Beast '82 and Under Wraps '84 seemed aimed solely at long-term fans (the cassette edition of latter included extra tracks); Anderson's long-awaited solo album Walk Into Light '83 showed little of the originality that had made Tull a success in the late '60s; neither did Tull's Crest Of A Knave '87, though it won a Grammy. Anderson became a frontman, Tull his backing group, but they retain a world-wide following after nearly three decades. Anderson played on LSO album A Classic Case '85; more Tull albums have been Rock Island and Catfish Rising; his solo Divinities '95 was a classical concept album based on the world's religions, switching from Chrysalis (his label for 25 years) to EMI. He still goes on the road because it's fun; he was promoting Tull's Roots To Branches '95, though his voice is not what it was. He ran a successful salmon fish-farm in Scotland, but stepped down '96 as Chairman of his Inverness-based Ian Anderson Group to devote more time to music: the old fans are all still there. A two-CD Jethro Tull: 25th Anniversary Box Set compiled live sets and remixes of hits.

The Secret Language of Birds 2000 was an Anderson solo set. He played a sold-out show in Pennsylvania in October 2010, still hopping on one foot while playing the flute, backed by a quartet including Florian Ophale on guitar, making fans happy with mostly Tull songs, many of them imaginatively rearranged.