Laying it bare with Martin Barre and keeping the music alive

Martin Barre will be playing Preston

There's few artists who can claim such a rich and varied career as Martin Barre.

He was the guitarist of Jethro Tull for 43 years, his sound and playing having been a major factor in their success. But as well as working on numerous Jethro Tull albums, he has worked with many other illustrious artists including Paul McCartney, Phil Collins, Gary Moore, Jo Bonamassa and Chris Thompson, and has shared a stage with such legends as Jimi Hendrix, Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin.

I caught up with Martin as he was busy touring America, before his return to the UK last week to play a string of shows up and down the country, including a stop off in Preston. And despite his extremely unrelenting and hectic schedule, he was willing to chew the fat on a number of different things.

It was the day after the death of rock icon Tom Petty at the age of 66, and also the horrific attack on a music festival in Las Vegas.

"It's really tragic because that's just far too young to pass away. But unfortunately it happens.

"People like Moon, Keith Emerson and Greg Lake. There's so many people who have passed away. David Bowie. It's just a long list. It's just horrible.

Martin Barre in action

"All I can do is stay as fit, mentally and physically, as I can. You know, I run five miles every other day and I play tennis and table tennis and try and keep really fit. And mentally very active. That's all I can do.

"But I just hate it that people are taken away so early in their lives, with so much talent.

"But you know the tragedy today in America is the Las Vegas massacre and Tom Petty has hardly been mentioned on the news media because obviously that's the overbearing news.

"And that again because it is related to music.

Martin Barre

"It is just dreadful that music and violence are now being linked because these twisted people find it an easy target.

"There's no religious or political agenda to music at all. It's for people to love and enjoy.

"It's horrible the thought that safety is now an issue at a music concert. The ramifications of what has happened is just truly awful."

With thoughts of the early deaths of many music stars, I broached the subject of Jethro Tull ever re-forming. The answer was a resounding no.

"It won't happen because I am so committed with the other guys that I work with. We are obviously on the road so much and when we are not on the road we are writing and recording.

"I can't turn my back on that commitment and I am fiercely loyal to the guys that are giving their career to me and visa versa.

"It's a total commitment. It's a great band. The best band I have ever played with - including all the line-ups with Tull, and there's no room for anything else in my life I'm afraid.

"Jethro Tull needs to be laid to rest.

"It's best left in history and for people to enjoy what I do, and enjoy what Ian (Anderson) does. And to bring back a version of Jethro Tull - it wouldn't be as good, it wouldn't be the same. And I don't think it would be fair to fans."

The band that Martin will be bringing to Preston will play the "classic" music from the Tull catalogue. It's a total commitment from them to give the Tull fans, and a broader audience, the chance to hear tracks not performed for many years.

The guys he is now so fiercely loyal to are Dan Crisp, who was born in Bournemouth, but honed his craft in Somerset; he plays acoustic guitar, bouzouki and provides the vocals; bass player Alan Thomson, a long-term member of John Martyn’s Band plus an accomplished songwriter; and drummer Dave Schoepke, who is based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

They take music from the earlier Tull albums, going at material like Songs from the Wood and Heavy Horses.

He says: "We are more sort of rock/blues. We do a real cross section of the songs, the more heavier, rockier Jethro Tull songs, like Teacher, Minstrel in the Gallery and Hunting Girl. So it's more of a blues rock band than anything else.

"We've got a great singer, Dan Crisp, who comes from Somerset. He's got such a great voice. He can pretty well do anything from the Tull catalogue and it sounds great.

"We are in a very fortunate position in that we can pick and choose our set list and change it on the run. But obviously we swap songs round every show so that it keeps things turning round."

There is also a sprinkling of Martin's own solo music and old blues standards.

"It's more of a rock show. It's not Jethro Tull, it's just me!

"But I've got a great band of musicians and we do a great interpretation of Jethro Tull music because the guitar, certainly in those older songs, like Teacher, Minstrel in Gallery, and To Cry You a Song, they are very guitar focused. And then any keyboard parts or flute parts, we have two guitars that cover between them all these parts and it sounds great."

He continued: "I've been following a solo career for the last five years now and I've really built it up.

"It's difficult. You really go back to absolutely zero because people don't know what to expect, they don't know what sort of music I'm going to be playing, or the quality of it.

"You make new fans. So that quite slowly, but very, very surely, every time you go back to a country or an area, you've got a lot more new fans and you sort of build-up your fan base. It's taken us a long time but the people that like us make for a really amazing following. You begin to see the front rows have all got Martin Barre band t-shirts and it's a very satisfying thing to do, to win over your fans."

But what led Martin to start touring again after the Jethro Tull split?

"It's in my blood. It's what I do every day of my life - I get up and play guitar. I'm either writing music and rehearsing, recording.

"I'm just determined. I'm highly motivated to playing music. I love playing guitar and now I'm on my own I'm playing so much more.

"I'm sort of going back to the vitality and dynamics of Tull during the 1970s and early 80s, where it's [now] a really strong, exciting, vibrant bunch of guys that are making great music.

"And now I'm able to do that, it's like I'm reborn!

"I just see me starting out again and I'm prepared to take it as far as it will go - essentially a young man inside an older man's body.

"I'm playing better than I've ever played , in my opinion. And I love playing more than I've ever played before. It's all very positive."

One thing I was burning to ask Martin involved a story about him laying down a solo in the studio during his Jethro Tull days, only to end up having Jimmy Page sit in and watch him!

Martin laughed and said: "We were recording the album Aqualung in London and they (Led Zeppelin) were in the other studio. In fact we didn't see them for probably a month while we were both recording because of our crazy schedules. And the first time he came into the studio to say hello, he was in the control room while I was doing the solo. He was sort of waving at me and I just smiled as I thought, 'If I wave back I will have to finish the solo and do it again!'

"They are a great band and one of many friends who we made over the years."

Our conversation then moved on to the present prog rock revival, and I asked what he thought about some of the newest guys on the block, artists like Steven Wilson and Big Big Train.

"Steven Wilson is exceptionally good, exceptionally talented. And I love Porcupine Tree as well.

"I listen and I hear things I like. And I hear things I've sort of heard before and I hear things I don't like.

"It's been my menu musically ever since I started playing. I keep my ears open and try and listen to everything. And draw inspiration or whatever you can from everything you hear, whether it is old music or new music.

"There's nothing groundbreaking, for me, at the moment. But there will be, I'm sure.

"There are a lot of young kids out there who are very determined and very musical. As long as music turns over and creates a big mass audience, it's all good. There's no bad music as long as it keeps music alive."

And the schoolgirl question I just had to ask: What's your favourite Jethro Tull song?

His answer, pretty much straight away, was Sossity You're a Woman.

He added: "I could have said several songs but that was a nice track to record. Both me and Ian played acoustic guitars. It was a very musical part and a very challenging piece of music. There's beautiful lyrics and it's just a great piece of music. One of many.

"In fact, all my favourite Tull tracks we play live! So if you see one of my gigs, you will find out which ones I really like!"

Looking to the future, Martin has been working on some music, and this album should be out next spring. He is also planning an anniversary CD of Jethro Tull music, with "very, very special guests - some famous, some not". That will be out at the end of next year and will celebrate his 50th anniversary of Jethro Tull, which started in spring of 1969.

Until then you can catch Martin Barre and his band at Preston's LiVe venue at Preston Guild Hall on Monday, November 6. Doors open at 7pm and tickets are £13. Book your tickets online at https://prestonguildhall.co.uk/shows/martin-barre-jethro-tull/ or call the box office on 01772 804440.

If you are unable to get along to the Preston gig, he is also performing at The Citadel in St Helens on Friday, April 6, 2018. Tickets for this event are £18. Support on the night comes from This Winter Machine. Visit http://www.citadel.org.uk/event/martin-barre-band/ to book tickets or call the box office on 01744 735436.

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