Too Old To Rock And Roll But…erm…

Really don’t mind if you sit this one out…

Jethro Tull are back on our shores…again.

I’m not going to see them this time which is a little bit sad. Back in the late 70s I would have been first in line, and I have managed to see them every time they toured since 1984.

But the lustre has long worn off and Ian Anderson, songwriting genius though he may have been, simply can’t sing any more. The laryngeal polyps that cut him down in the early 90s should have been the end but like Monty Python’s Black Knight he struggles on with less of a voice every time and I can’t bear to put myself through it again. It’s like Usain Bolt selling tickets to a foot race after losing his leg in a shark attack – some people might actually go, but only out of pity.

I note that Ticketek were desperately flogging off cut price tickets only two days before their only Sydney show and when I looked at what seats were available they’d barely sold half. It’s awfully sad but someone has tell Ian that it’s over.

In fact, I wanted it to be over in 1980.

Jethro Tull were one of the bands I loved the most growing up: Pink Floyd, David Bowie and Tull. All wrote brilliant songs but (for me) Anderson was head and shoulders the best lyricist. My friends and I, equipped with the very finest mind altering substances, would sit in the dark immersed in Tull’s luscious soundscapes and debate ad nauseum the meaning of the words.

It seemed to us that the albums from Aqualung through Thick as a Brick all the way to Stormwatch were one coherent body of work that told an epically profound tale. We were like a bunch of mediaeval scholars debating angels on a pinhead such was the meaning we discerned and the intensity with which we explored and contended the finer points. Whole new analytical frameworks were established to encompass our work and such was our chutzpah that if Anderson had deigned to show up we would have explained to him what he was saying far more succinctly than he could have done himself.

Two of my friends even went on the most bizarre adventure to get to Scotland and visit him on his estate on the Isle of Skye (no doubt to correct him on any misunderstandings of his own lyrics) but Ian was on tour in America at the time and the door was slammed in their faces…but that’s a story for another time.

And speaking of time, it should have been up in 1980 for Jethro Tull. After putting out the superb Stormwatch in 1979, they should have called it quits on the studio albums because the job was done. Anything else could only spoil the legacy.

But A came out in 1980 – it was OK, although the sudden departure of the main players like Barriemore Barlow, John Evan and David Palmer was disturbing.

Then Broadsword and the Beast landed in 1982 and you really began to sense that the once astonishing Anderson was losing sight of his muse.

After that it really started to go downhill. Under Wraps, Crest of a Knave and Rock Island (good grief!) were just embarrassing. Kissing Willie? Are you kidding? In a last attempt to stay relevant Anderson had turned into a sad parody of himself.

I found myself desperately wanting them to at least give up on the terrible new material. Continue touring by all means but like an embarrassing uncle trying to be cool with the teenagers, Anderson kept trotting out pap so bad I didn’t even consider buying it – which would have been unthinkable only a few years before.

Clearly the Strange Gods of Music agreed because they struck him down in 1993 with a laryngeal condition that made singing impossible. ‘Thank God for that,’ I thought, ‘he has to stop embarrassing himself now.’ But no. Undeterred by his inability to hit any kind of note, Anderson kept touring and putting out the occasional crap album, culminating in the diabolically bad TAAB2 – a sequel to his 1972 masterpiece – Thick as a Brick.


I had no choice but to buy that one but I only played it once. The ongoing adventures of Gerald Bostock were too depressing for words and it even started to make me wonder about the earlier work. Can a man capable of writing such artless drivel truly be the same person who created classics like Aqualung, Warchild, Songs From the Wood, and Heavy Horses?

It was bewildering. What drove him to go on putting out such rubbish and spoiling the memory of his former genius? Did he have any kind of insight into how he’d soured his own legend?

The answer can only lie in the fact that a rock star’s life is fun and he didn’t want to give it up. Unlike David Bowie, he wasn’t able to reinvent himself but that might have been the answer – giving up on Tull after Stormwatch and then doing something different – like farming salmon or herding cats.


So now it’s 2017 and Jethro Tull (if that’s who they really are) are playing one night in a half filled State Theatre where just a few years ago they would have sold out five nights easily.

The fans are trying to tell you something Ian and, for my own part, I feel absolutely dreadful having to say all this. I feel like Chief Broom walking up to McMurphy with a pillow but, like the lobotomised McMurphy, everything that made Jethro Tull unique and dazzling has already died and these sad old puppets trying to breathe life into the show are just making it far, far worse.

And your wise men don’t know how it feels…to be thick as a brick…

Not sure you do either any more, Ian.

1 Comment

  1. Really don’t mind if you sit this one out…

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