Thursday, 21 July 2011
Martin Barre Stage left Archive Interview 2003
Interview with Martin Barre:
9th September 2003
Martin Barre is the longest serving member of Jethro Tull other than Ian Anderson. Martin joined the band in late 1968 and remains an integral art of Jethro Tull to this day. Stage Left is Martin’s third album away from Jethro Tull and Martin discusses the album and possible solo tour dates, which will fit in around the busy Jethro Tull schedule for 2004.
Jon Kirkman Most people will probably know you from your day job as it were with Jethro Tull who are pretty busy so how long did it take you to put this album together?
Martin Barre It was about three months in the making. I write more or less all of the time but once I find a window of time to do a solo album then I do about eighty per cent of the writing within the period of making the album so I generally jot ideas down and refer back to them and work them into bits of music at the time of making the album.
JK This is your third solo album so the question is, does it get any easier three albums in to put together a solo album?
MB Well the putting together is great. It’s not easy but it’s fun. It’s really hard work and I love every second of it and I think I’ve learnt so much from the first two of where I went I went wrong really, well hopefully I’ve learned and I’ve tried to make it a bit more direct, bit more listenable and a bit more ear friendly if you like. My criticism of the first two is that they meandered a bit musically so I’ve tried to trim this one up and make it a more appealing album across the board and I’m not aiming at Tull fans God bless them, they keep me going but hopefully I’m looking at people beyond that.
JK I suppose it’s natural to expect that with you being a part of Jethro Tull for so long that an awful lot of Jethro Tull fans would be interested in a solo album from you but as an artist you would want to look beyond that.
MB Well you cater for the converts and as I said before if it wasn’t for them we really wouldn’t exist but you have to look beyond that because it’s an investment in the future. You’re looking for new fans as old ones get into the age bracket where they don’t want to go to concerts anymore and you’ve just got to expand. It’s not good just sitting and letting things carry on the way they always have done. Yeah! I’m looking for my own audience in many ways because I see it as a separate issue to Jethro Tull.
JK Presumably then it must be a completely different experience recording a solo album as opposed to recording a Jethro Tull album?
MB Oh absolutely, well I just do everything and love doing everything. I think the fact that you can really focus on the parts of the music that I choose to make it a lot more satisfying. A typical Jethro Tull record there’s a lot of work in the arranging and rehearsing and I think the recording is very pressured where you get a solo and you’ve got a couple of hours to get it and that’s it really. There’s no question of going back to it another day. You go into the studio in the morning to do guitar work on a couple of tracks and by lunch time they need to be finished because the next guy is waiting for you to be finished. So it’s different and I’m not slower doing my stuff but that pressure’s not there; it just makes it a lot more satisfying.
JK You say you enjoy doing all the work but do you have a favourite track on this album?
MB Well I think the second one’s my favourite. It’s called As Told By and it was just because I wrote it in a day and I wanted to do a bluesy piece of music. (Laughs) It didn’t really turn out very bluesy, it developed in other directions but I recorded it in a day and everything about it turned out the way I wanted it to. It’s one of those things that just got better. I’m not a glib self-satisfied person but I smile to myself and think, “Yeah! I’ve enjoyed doing that,” so I suppose I was a bit glib (Laughs)
JK I really like two tracks at the moment, A French Connection and also Winter Snowscape. I like the acoustic sound. It’s a very well recorded album particularly the acoustic sound.
MB Well I tend to lean towards the acoustic tracks as well. I didn’t intend it to be that way but I love playing acoustic instruments. I think probably because in the early days with Tull I didn’t really get to play hardly any acoustic at all because traditionally I was electric and all the acoustic parts Ian had written songs on the acoustic guitar so he did all those bits and it’s only in the last ten years - ish that I’ve really picked up the acoustic and written music on it and got to enjoy playing it more so I do lean that way and I find it more satisfying sound wise. They are very pure instruments. I still enjoy the electric. I don’t know what it is about the electric guitar but there’s so many people out there bashing away on them and I think a lot of it leaves me cold whereas acoustic playing…
JK I think it’s a more human sound isn’t it?
MB Yeah it is really. It’s timeless and my ears have grown tired of sheer volume and all that unsubtlety.
JK Let’s talk guitars for a minute. On the inner sleeve of the album there’s a list of all the songs and the guitars that are featured on the particular tracks. Having read your website I know that for you the Holy Grail of guitars was a Gibson ES 335 and you managed to get another one a while back. Was it everything you expected it to be?
MB Well I have to say it isn’t really my main instrument. It was the very first one I bought that was a proper guitar so it meant a lot to me and I’ve always loved the shape and the way they play. But I have problems volume wise. In the early days we played so loud so I didn’t use it very long and I very quickly switched over to a solid body and played Gibsons for about ten years. But I’ve gone through a lot of different guitars on stage. At the moment I play Fender Strats and in many ways they’re the guitars that I really think are great for me now because one guitar does everything. During the gigs I have one guitar for the whole show and it does everything and anything that can produce that breadth and depth of sound is really good. So all these other guitars are more hobby guitars. I don’t play them very often but I still enjoy them.
JK I can remember the early days of Tull, you played a Gibson Les Paul and then you played Hamers. As a guitarist I guess guitars come and go in and out of fashion for you.
MB Well I pick up the old Hamers and I wonder how I played them, they feel clumsy to me now. Then I went over to Tom Andersons and I played those for three or four years and now looking back on those, the necks are very thin and narrow. I don’t know, I like change; I don’t like to be stuck in a rut gear wise and I like to think that I’m in control of the gear and the gear’s not in control of me and I don’t want to be one of those people that if I break a guitar or an amp I’ve got to find the exact model again. I’d rather be flexible I’ve got my ears open for new things all the time.
JK The title of the album Stage Left presumably refers to the fact that you usually play stage left with Tull. If you go out live in a solo capacity, would you move centre stage?
MB Yeah! (Laughs) Well, I did and it was fine although I suppose stage left is a tradition from when the umbilical cord of guitar leads was the only way to go but now I’m wireless and I quite enjoy going to the other side of the stage as well (Laughs) yeah, it’s a tradition and I think if my gear wasn’t stage left… it’s the way I’ve always played with Tull and I suppose I could switch round in another musical environment but it’s just my side of the stage.
JK When you play solo gigs does it feel a little strange after so long with Tull?
MB Well it did the first time, mainly from the point of having to do all the talking. It’s a weird thing to have to do but I’ve done a lot of gigs with other bands so that doesn’t bother me. I’m quite happy playing on my own or with a bunch of other people. I mean I’ll even go and play with a bunch of people I’ve never met before and I love all that side of music but doing a solo tour, the hardest part was having to play the whole night and in between songs doing the chat. You don’t get a break or anything like ten seconds to have a drink of water. It’s a lot more work.
JK Do you have a little more respect for Ian then these days?
MB Well I did as soon as I tried to do that. It’s amazing the difference. I think I’ve got to appreciate how I get a little sort of break in between each song to re-tune and gather your thoughts and if you’ve made a mistake you put it out of your mind and analyse what you’ve done and think about what you’re about to do. It’s an important little break in the proceedings.
JK I know you’ve played sessions in the past, notably with Paul McCartney, but is there anyone you would like to work with that you haven’t already done so?
MB You know I’d like to work with everybody and anybody. I just love playing. I’ve got a studio here at home that’s commercial and very often if there’s a band in there I get to meet them and like them and like the music then I’ll sit in and play on a track and I just like being thrown in at the deep end and seeing what comes out. I think the predictability of a Jethro Tull gig has to be balanced by doing that sort of thing and I think Ian is the same. I think Ian likes to be thrown into something completely different. I think we need that because it’s obviously doing the same set every night. I mean these days it’s a fairly routine set as well. We don’t change it very much. I mean we might change twenty five per cent of it but the bulk of it has been the same for many, many years.
JK And yet as someone who goes to the gigs I don’t necessarily notice that.
MB Yeah! I suppose not. It changes enough for the audience but then Locomotive Breath and Aqualung do tend to have to be in there but it’s ok and it works well. There’s nothing wrong with routine and it doesn’t mean that it’s stale but I do enjoy being thrown into a different environment.
JK As you know Ian has a solo album out at the moment. Do you take an interest in each other’s solo releases?
MB Well Ian is very, very supportive and very enthusiastic about my albums and he’s been really positive and when I give a little note of thanks to them on the album cover it’s very important to me that they take an interest and I get a lot of support from them. I think vice versa we play a lot of Ian’s solo album material on stage so all these things are tending to run parallel and cross over, so the track you mentioned earlier, Winter Snowscape is on the Jethro Tull Christmas album. But it’s nice and the cross over is important and ultimately they’re all interchangeable.
JK It must benefit the band as well.
MB Well I think it does. I think mentally it’s good for me to do my own thing and it’s good for Ian to do his stuff. I think you come back refreshed from that.
JK There’s a Jethro Tull Christmas album on the way and Ian is touring in America and there will be Jethro Tull tour dates in the UK in the New Year. What do you have lined up between now and the Tull dates?
MB Well I have to say I’m fighting the record stores at the moment. I’m trying to get my record into the stores and it’s heart breaking when you go up to Birmingham for the day for instance and you go in Virgin or HMV and it’s not in there. It’s difficult you know and I’m fighting the profile of Jethro Tull is Ian Anderson and I’ve been fighting that for thirty five years and I always will and of course the answers to all the questions that I’m putting to the record label and shops is that Ian’s name is high profile and my name is low profile, why? I think there are a lot of reasons why. I think in the seventies and eighties the record labels EMI and Chrysalis completely focussed on Ian at the expense of having a band identity so I think we’ll never get over that and as I say it hurts badly but then it is getting in some shops and people are buying it. I get a lot of feed back emails. It’s just an uphill battle and as you said does it get any easier to do solo albums as you get on with them and the answer is it’s easier to do them but harder to sell them.
JK How about the Internet, you have your own website.
MB It’s still a tiny proportion of record sales. I don’t have a figure for this year but I know I think that last year you’re talking between five and ten per cent of over all record sales are Internet sales. It’s very important to me because most people like me are bought from Amazon (and thank God for that) and my website and the Jethro Tull website but you have to look beyond that at the moment because most punters go in the store and if it’s not in the racks they don’t want to wait a month to get a CD. They’ll buy someone else’s.
JK Do you have anything lined up for live work?
MB Well I was going to go and do a tour in America in Borders Stores unfortunately I’m sure you have heard the news about the price drop in America and because of that Borders are considering dropping all their artists’ appearances so that’s great news! You know, I can’t believe it. I might go and do a bit of P.R. Now there’s an English Jethro Tull tour that would be good for me to promote the album then and I think in April, I’ve put April back as a month to do dates in Europe and England.
JK So for fans of Martin Barre, there’s plenty to look forward to?
MB Well I will go on the road with a band. I think it’s a bit late for the end of this year so I’m looking at April which is the first opportunity I get with the Tull dates being in January, February and March but I have every intention of touring. I’ve only done this one tour of Germany after I did The Meeting album and it was so good and I’ve got live CDs of it and obviously it meant a lot to me but listening to the live CD I can sit back and think on the strength of that I can get a really good band and really good evening’s music out on the road.
Martin would go on to support Jethro Tull on their subsequent tour and the band played a selection of material from his solo albums including Stage Left which went down incredibly well with the audience. As of this date (July 2011)Martin is also still a member of Jethro Tull
© Jon Kirkman 2003.