By Thomas S. Orwat Jr.
Guitarist Martin Barre is currently enjoying the second phrase of his extensive music career. After being a member of one of Rock Music’s most legendary bands – Jethro Tull from 1969 to 2014, Barre has re-emerged as a dynamic solo artist. Although a bit of uncertainly followed after Jethro Tull’s leader Ian Anderson decided to end Tull, Barre pulled together and recruited three amazing musicians: Dan Crisp – vocals, Alan Thomson- bass and George Lindsay -drums.
Martin Barre and band will embark on a North American tour, starting on April 10th at B.B. Kings Blues Club in New York City. Barre will be performiong a good mix of classic Tull, plus tracks from his groundbreaking 2015 release – ‘Back To The Steel.’ If you love rock guitar, this is a show you must see.
What follows is an exclusive Rock Music Star interview with one and only – Martin Barre.
Rock Music Star: Recently, it was announced that you were going to tour the United States, commencing on April 10th in New York City. How exciting is it, to come back to the United States with this amazing band that you have, and do a run here, at this point in your career?
Martin Barre: Well, over the past five years, I’ve fought really, really hard to get the band back into America. The last time we came was last November-December. But, it was so important to me. We’ve done European tours, and we’ve done UK tours – we were just really waiting to get back into the States, and when we did, it was just fantastic. The fans were great – the audiences were really amazing. It was worth the wait. It was very frustrating, so I’m very happy to be coming back there.
RMS: You’ve been in the United States countless times. What are your favorite cities to play in?
MB: (Laughs) That’s a very difficult question. I like being in the States, and it would be so unkind to pick out one city as being more special than another. So, I’ll have to say, musically, they’re all the same, because when we play, we have a great time, and we give it exactly the same amount of energy and dedication. But, I have a soft spot for Chicago, San Francisco, New York, Seattle, New Orleans (laughs). The list would be so long, I’d be naming almost every city in America. I just love the diversity, and the fact that you have so many different climates. People are slightly different wherever you go. It’s a great place, to have so many different changes under the same roof.
RMS: Well, you’re not messing around. You’re starting the tour right in New York City.
MB: Well, I think that’s a great place to start.
RMS: I’m really impressed with your solo band – especially your vocalist, Dan Crisp. He really is a great front man and a dynamic performer.
MB: I’m so happy that me and Dan hooked together in this band, because I knew Dan before, and I made the mistake of going with a singer who was more “high profile.” But, essentially it was wrong, because the person that was perfect was Dan. He hadn’t been in a band, particularly before he joined my band. So, his dedication is just so intense. So, we’ve sort of started new music- a new program. Over the last few years, we’ve built on the way we present music. Dan plays a lovely guitar, as well. He’s really a big, big part of the band, and I take a lot of pride in saying that everybody has an equal role in playing in the band. We’ve got a great drummer- he hasn’t done enough to be called a young English drummer George Lindsay. And then, Alan Thomson, who has played in a lot of bands- he’s a bit more like me, where he has more experience on the road. He’s just rock solid. He’s got a great feet-firmly-on-the-ground attitude. He’s a great person to have, for all of us. We just come together really, really perfectly.
RMS: Also, I was really impressed – and I’ve always thought that you were a great guitar player – but I was watching a video that you did at Jazz Festival, that you did in 2015 in Spain, and man, your band was on fire. Your guitar tone is just unbelievable.
MB: I remember the festival that was in Spain. I haven’t watched it, because I’m not a big fan of watching myself.
RMS: Oh, you should watch it. You would love it. You were on fire that night.
MB: Yeah, I remember the night. It was good; everything came together. But, you know, the more we play – every night within the last year has been a great night. I can’t remember having a night were we just didn’t steam along and raise the roof. People will say, “Oh, I wasn’t that great,” but you know, you can’t tell. When you can’t tell the difference at that level, you know it’s really, really good. When there isn’t a night that you’re not at 100%, it just means that you’re at 95%, at the worst. Back in the old days, we had nights where we were terrible; we were really bad in the early days. We would have nights where we were great, but it was never predictable, and I just like the sort that, wherever we play, we’re going to have a great gig. It just gives you a lot of comfort.
RMS: In regards to Jethro Tull being unpredictable, why do you think you guys were unpredictable back then?
MB: Well, I think a lot of the things were out of our control. Sound systems were pretty basic. Some of the places we played didn’t have air conditioning, so the conditions that you played in weren’t always great. Gear broke down. Certainly, in the 70s, we were learning our craft; we were learning how to be a better band, and how to be better musicians, because we needed to. All the other bands were learning as they progressed. It’s good that we did. The bands that just didn’t care and just wanted to have a good time, and didn’t worry about the future at all never made it. But, the bands that really worked hard on their music – they had the longevity like Jethro Tull – 43 years is a testament to how much work we put into the band, more than anything else. The fans made the band, and they gave us everything. We returned that by putting everything we could into the music and into our work.
RMS: Doing this as long as you have, do you still need to practice often to keep up your chops?
MB: Yeah. Well, you know, there’s many different facets of that. Basically, if I don’t play, my fingers my fingers get stiff. That’s rarely the case. Nearly every day, I warm up and play my guitar. I play because I’m trying to come up with new ideas for the stage. I’m always working on new material, and I’m looking for things to bring into the show. I like doing that, because I’ll like an old Blues standard, and I’ll rewrite it to make it more my own music. That’s why the arranging and reconstruction of music is so much fun. I have sat down and played my guitar all day writing parts and arranging music. Sometimes, when I’ve got a couple of hours to relax, I’ll just go and put a CD on, and I’ll play along to it. I’ll turn the volume up, and turn my amp up, and just have a jam to somebody’s CD. All those things, I guess, are work, in one way or another. But, for me, it’s not work, it’s just what I do every day and every night of my life.
RMS: In the last few years, you’ve been very prolific. You just put out a bunch of records in the last few years, ‘Back to Steel,’ being your most recent one. That’s a great CD. How gratifying was it, to get that one out?
MB: It was really, really gratifying. It was a project that I had in mind to do for a long time. When Tull stopped, I had a six-month period where I got to really sort my life out, as a musician, and in other ways. I had nothing, absolutely nothing at all. It was a perfect opportunity to do an acoustic album, because it was just me and an engineer. I just sat and wrote music. It was probably a two-month period of sitting down and working on the music and recording. It was good for me, because it was a big project. It was very, very satisfying. It didn’t entail a lot of organization, because basically, it was just me. When that came out, people would come and see us live, and they’d say, “We’d love to buy the music you’re playing live on a CD.” I said, “Right, okay. I’ll fix it.” So, we did the second album, which was more of a live album. Then, the third and more important one, was my own music – sitting down and writing songs, and recording them as a band. It’s more of a balanced CD, with the writing and the lyrics of the songs are just as important as the performance. It was an all-around project.
RMS: How devastating was it, to you, when Ian Anderson decided to stop touring with Jethro Tull?
MB: It was completely devastating, because I had no idea it was going to happen. I had a month from when I found out, to when it actually stopped. Jethro Tull had already planned tours for the next two years. But, of course, I didn’t know that. It’s a typical thing amongst musicians. The one thing musicians are bad at are people skills (laughs). I was just talking about Jethro Tull; I’ve seen it elsewhere. They don’t know how to deal with people. I’ve learned lessons of how people shouldn’t do things, and I’m really, really careful. The relationship I have with my band is very professional. It’s very intimate, too – they know everything. We sit down and talk; we talk about the future, how they feel – every subject. It’s about their lives, as well as mine. You’re in other’s lives in a big way. My band relies on me to keep going, and to keep the flag flying, and to get better and play better music, play more music. It’s not something that I take lightly. It’s a responsibility, but I love it. I love it, mainly, because I learned how to do it by fault. You look around, and you see how people are so inadequate, dealing with their employees; in a band, they’re not employees. It’s a partnership. It was good for me, because in retrospect, I was hardly playing any guitar, their music was getting very, very stagnant; there was no change, and no progression in Jethro Tull. Probably, the last three years Tull toured in America, the set list was the same, other than maybe one or two different songs. There was no show; there was no silver production, yet we were playing huge concerts. The whole thing needed to be completely shaken up – a real kick in the backside. We finished, and I realized how little I was playing, and now, it’s great, because I’m playing lots of guitar, and I’m doing lots of arranging. I really love it, because the more I have to do, the happier I am as a person. You just become a different person with what you do in life, and I think the human matrix is very accepting of that situation. You sort of become numb to what you do. Whatever it is, and however you do it becomes normal, and that’s a danger. You can step back and take a look at what you do in life, and people will think, “I’m not doing the right thing. This is not what I should be doing.” It’s good that I ended up a very happy person.
RMS: Do you still have a relationship with Ian Anderson? Do you guys speak occasionally?
MB: No. You know, I don’t, because my life has changed completely. I’m so engrossed with what I’m doing. It’s a 24-hour-a-day job. Me and my wife do pretty well everything, from booking hotels for concert touring, booking flights. And, of course, on top of that, I’m doing everything, musically, as well. The guys are fantastic. I throw six pieces of music at them, and the next day, they’ve learned them. They’re great. It’s a full-time job for me. I don’t really have any time in my life to interact with any other people, other than my band and my family. Ian is probably happy, doing what he’s doing; he’s got his own life, but we’re so far apart, musically, and just the people that we are. We’re just very, very far apart. It’s a shame, but you have to accept that and get on with your life, and make the most of it that you can.
RMS: You mentioned, earlier in the interview, that towards the end, Jethro Tull was musically stagnating. What was the last record of Jethro Tull that you feel was a solid release that you are proud of?
MB: I mean, personally, I don’t really want to say anythink negative about our work. But, back in the 80s, we did an album called, ‘Under Wraps,’ and I loved it, but our fans didn’t like it. So, it’s sort of noted as being one of our worst albums. I just let other people judge the quality of what bands do. Same as it is with my music. If people hate my new CD, I have to accept that, and then I want to know why. Obviously, I’d want to change it. You have to listen to people around you. I might think a song I’ve written is the best thing in the world, and it should sell a billion copies. But, essentially, that’s not going to happen. That’s not what my songs are about. Jethro Tull lost it’s passion; it became less of a band in the latter years. I think that reflected in the live performances, and in the records, as well. I just think that spark, that fire, was really all but gone.
RMS: In 1987, you released a record with Jethro Tull called, ‘Crest of a Knave.’ That record was the Grammy Award winning Best Metal Record of the Year, and it was very controversial. How do you look at that? Do you think that it was worthy of that particular category?
MB: I don’t look at the categories at all. I just think music is a category. To be sub-divided is a very personable thing. You might say country music, or country rock, is its own category. But then, from country rock, there’s rock and blues. They all mold together, and there’s elements in all three of those styles that cross over. It’s a misleading category, and I think they made an error. They put heavy metal and hard rock together. But, essentially, I feel very proud of that record; I think it’s a great record. I think we worked really hard, and it came out in the performances. There were great songs. If Jethro Tull was going to have an album that had an award once in it’s careers, that’s a good album to have been chosen. And, it was our time to be recognized, and it hasn’t happened since. So, I’m really happy that it happened then, because it happened. I think, somewhere in the career of Jethro Tull, when you look at people winning Grammys, and how many they win, you have to think that Jethro Tull was worthy of at least one, two, or three Grammys over the 43 years. So, the fact that we got one is great, and I’m very happy for that. Essentially, the album is worthy of an award, and the rest is not important.
RMS: In reading your bio, I was surprised to read this – I did not realized that you performed with Paul McCartney. What project did you work on with him?
MB: On recordings, it was around the time of ‘Flowers in the Dirt.’ I’m on a couple of tracks, but they were released in Japan, because Paul McCartney was working with different producers at the time, so it had a different producer, and a different band in the studio. Unfortunately, the producer that worked with the band that I was in, he didn’t like the end results, production-wise. So, the producer that he did like working with, obviously, he continued with that band. But, it was a wonderful week. I will remember it for the rest of my life. It is a fantastic thing for anybody to be in, and I was so in awe in being able to do that. It was just a wonderful thing to do.
RMS: Absolutely, he is the king.
MB: He really is an incredible, incredible musician. In every way; not just from what he’s done, but from what he is, and working with him in the studio – he’s amazing. He’s incredible. Every day, every hour. That’s when you find out what people are like. When I was working with him, he was saying the same thing about Michael Jackson. He even said how in awe he was at Michael Jackson. I was thinking, “Yeah, I know the feeling.” It’s incredible. I just think somebody who listens to other people, and takes that information – whatever their own abilities are – I think that means a lot. I try to be the same, and I’ll never stop listening, and I’ll never stop learning, because I’ll never know more than I need to know.
RMS: My last question for you, Martin, during your career with Jethro Tull, or at any point in your career, was there ever any time that you were recruited by another band, or was there another band trying to steal you away to join their band?
MB: (Laughs) That’s interesting, because if I had been in the band that Paul McCartney used for his album, I wonder what would have happened. It didn’t happen, but that would have been a very, very interesting scenario. The answer is no, because Jethro Tull was very much a (niche) music, so there was no sort of crossover, where you’d be a blues-rock guitar player in a whole genre of music, because there’s so many different artists and bands. You’d sort of go from one to another without even blinking. But, the presumption was, Jethro Tull was niche. Definitely, from my point of view, I’ve never been niche. I play every style of music. I love challenges, and I’ve played on lots of people’s records. I do other projects now; I do a big rock opera called, “Excalibur,” and it plays in big stadiums in Europe. I like to think I could play anything anybody asks me to do, with the possible exception of jazz and classical music. I love playing with other musicians. I think, to answer your question, I wish I had have been asked. I just had a few offers here and there, and I knew some people who expected the answer to be no. And I said, “Of course the answer would be yes,” and they’d say, “Oh, wow! But you’ve been so busy!” And I said, “No, I really want to work with other musicians. It’s a really important thing for me.” It would have been good, and it still is. I still have an email, and a phone, and a website. I get a lot of people that contact me, and they just put on their records. I can’t do many of them because of time restraints, but I do as many as I can.
For more on Martin Barre, please visit www.martinbarre.com
A big thank you to Anne Leighton for setting up this interview. Also, Dana Kaiser for transcribing it.