Ian Anderson talks travelling, Jethro Tull and Indian food

Ian Anderson, frontman of the 60-million album-selling Jethro Tull juggernaut, is on his way to New Zealand.
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Ian Anderson, frontman of the 60-million album-selling Jethro Tull juggernaut, is on his way to New Zealand.

Even in an era packed with famous and distinctive frontmen, Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson stood out.

With his giant beard, ever-present flute and, of course, that codpiece, he guided the band from enthusiastic blues fans to rock heavyweights.

Albums like Aqualung and Thick as a Brick cemented Jethro Tull's status as one of the most popular bands of the 1970s. Through the years, Anderson has stayed the course, and now the band's back on its way here with him at the helm.

Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull have been performing for more than four decades.
NIKOLA SOLIC/REUTERS

Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull have been performing for more than four decades.

But, hang on a minute. According to widespread media reports – and even Wikipedia – Jethro Tull were reported to have broken up in 2014. Is this a resurgence, say, or a reformation?

READ MORE: Jethro Tull juggernaut hits Christchurch

When asked, Anderson sighs. It was a misunderstanding, apparently sparked by a confused journalist at British newspaper The Guardian.

"What I was saying was that I didn't really see there being the likelihood of there being a regrouping of the original members of Jethro Tull," he says. "But to portray that as [the band being] over, as all gone ... no.

"There have been 26 members of Jethro Tull over the years, so I can't any longer think of Jethro Tull as a big group of viable performing musicians because we've never really been that. We've been maybe more in the tradition of band leaders, like John Mayall, or James Brown, or whoever it might be."

When Anderson arrives with the current line-up behind him, he says it'll be the fourth or fifth time he's visited New Zealand.

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The first time he set foot in the country was in 1972, with Jethro Tull at the height of its prog-rock fame. Back then, coming to New Zealand felt like stepping back in time.

"There was a feeling we were dealing with a bit of a throwback culture at the time," he recalls. "It was a bit retired-squadron-leader, you know – heading out to the boondocks and starting a vineyard. 

"To me, though, I much preferred New Zealand at that point to my experiences in Australia, which was a little more Americanized, a bit more thrusting in terms of the social and cultural interface between newcomers such as us and them.

"New Zealand was a little easier. Things have certainly changed – that was then, this is now – and it's very much a different place with its own culture and identity. It doesn't necessarily require you to be a squadron leader from the post-war years."

Among much else, he's impressed with the multi-culturalism now found throughout the country. "As a troubadour, as a minstrel arriving in another town, you want a little bit of familiarity," he says. "One of my comforts is Indian and Chinese food, and I'm sure I can find a damn good prawn vindaloo whenever I venture out from the hotel in Auckland."

Anderson is 69 now. He's still touring constantly, propelled by a never-ending curiosity and love of music.

"In some ways travelling is rather easier than it used to be," he says.

"But what drives me is I get bored easily. I love the idea of the unpredictable – seeing what's around the next corner. Playing different countries, different venues, different places ... it's all a challenge, so as long as I can meet that challenge then why would I want to quit? As long as I can do it, I will."

But, he warns, only as long as he's enjoying himself.

"If I'm having fun, you're going to have fun," he says. "I don't do this in order to please audiences or make people happy, I do it to make me happy. If I'm not enjoying it, you're going to have a very miserable and wasteful evening."

Given his enthusiasm – and recent track record – there shouldn't be much chance of that happening. 

Jethro Tull will perform at Dunedin's Regent Theatre (April 18), Christchurch's Isaac Theatre Royal (April 19), Wellington's Michael Fowler Centre (April 20) and Auckland's The Civic (April 22).  For more information, see jethrotull.com
 

 - Stuff

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