October 12, 2017 Interview – Jethro Tull’s Martin Barre
Great English Poet Geoffrey Chaucer once wrote, “Time and tide wait for no man.” Proving itself to be the truth through the ages, he who stands still can miss out on so much. Assuring this not to be the case, guitar great Martin Barre has been extensively active in the years gone by, releasing a total of three albums since 2013, with more on the way.
What has inspired this creative outburst? Well, Barre has always looked to challenge himself as a multi-instrument talent, collaborating with others whenever possible outside his career with Jethro Tull. Spending over four decades as a key component to Jethro Tull’s legacy, now approaching 71 years of age, Barre has a fire burning to craft music in a new light. Busy touring North America through the end of October, before visiting Europe through early 2018, Barre took the time to sit down and talk his time with Jethro Tull, the work behind the band, his solo career, future plans, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – You have been engulfed in the world of Rock-n-Roll for over fifty years now. From your time with Jethro Tull to your solo career, what has this journey been like for you?
Martin Barre – Immense. It’s hard to answer in one question. I’ve been doing this since I was 14. I’ll be 71 in November…that’s a lot of years, almost a lifetime in music. I’m grateful, I love it, I’ve had a great career. In fact, I’m having a great career. I’m very lucky to have been able to do it and have wonderful experiences. I’ve traveled around the world and met incredible people. That’s the up side.
The other side is that it has been my life – I’ve hopefully got a lot to go – it pretty much takes over your life. It is sort of unforgiving, but in general, I’ve had an amazing journey.
CrypticRock.com – You take the good with the bad, though there seems to be more good than bad. You joined up with Jethro Tull back in 1969 and spent 45 years with the band over the course of twenty albums. Gifting multi-instrumentation to the band, what was your experience like as a part of Jethro Tull?
Martin Barre – It was exciting! When Jethro Tull started in ’68, I was in another Blues band and I played flute in the same style as Roland Kirk, so we had a lot in common. Maybe it was just meant to be that I would come together with the band at some point. We had some common ground, and then musically I was moving forward, that always continued. We grew together, me and Ian were always the two guys that were Jethro Tull. Other people sort of came and went, they left their mark and influences, but it was sort of an ever-changing band. In some ways, that was bad because we never really had an identity. In other ways, it was good. It kept the music fresh and it kept the ideas changing.
As you said earlier, we had good times, we had bad times. All our families have grown up alongside what we did. We always tried to be good at what we do and good with people. We enjoyed it and spread the word that music is a wonderful thing.
CrypticRock.com – It certainly was a fantastic, long run. In your time with Jethro Tull, you also collaborated with a long list of artists including Paul McCartney and Phil Collins, among others. What have you learned from these various collaborations with others through the years?
Martin Barre – I think Jethro Tull were very insular in the early days. I think in retrospect, being that insulated is not a good thing.
We didn’t mix with other bands. We didn’t particularly have much in common in the early days. Later on, I wanted to work with other musicians. I think when I started doing my own solo albums, and I had other musicians come into play on it, I enjoyed mixing and getting something from other players. You get inspiration, you can sort of feed off other musicians. I think it’s a very important part of being a musician that you can work with other players. You can adapt, you need to listen, you need to communicate—it’s a vital part of what you do.
I really enjoyed working with other people. At first it was intimidating because I was out of my comfort zone, but I realized being out of your comfort zone is a good thing as as musician. You learn a lot from it.
CrypticRock.com – Certainly. That is true with anything in life. Sometimes you need a challenge, and obviously it worked very well for you.
Martin Barre – Yeah. As you say, it works with other people, as well. My son is a good example. He is just looking for something in life. He hasn’t found it, but he just goes out on a limb. He’ll phone me up and say, “Dad, I’m going down to Florida and help with loss adjustments for all the people down there that are in trouble.” I thought, “Wow.” It was out of the blue and what a great thing to do! I think everybody needs to know that they’ve got something they do that helps people. That’s a very positive thing in a lot of people’s lives. You give something as well as take something from life.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely. You had launched a solo career back in the early 1990s and, in 2015, released Back to Steel. Your third album in three years, was the work like behind this new album?
Martin Barre – It was great because when Jethro Tull finished—Ian was the perpetrator of that move—and he had plans for himself, but I didn’t know about it, I had literally nothing. The carpet was ripped from under my feet. I’m not one to go down easily, if at all. I’ve always wanted to do a pretty, subtle, melodic acoustic album. That was the first thing I did. I got in the studio and I really got stuck into working hard on Away with Words. It really gave me something to focus on. Then, of course, I started pulling a band together, doing a few live gigs in the UK and Europe. Then, from that came Order of Play. We went into the studio and recorded it live, and then the first studio album for my band is Back to Steel, and now we’re working on the next one. We’re going to finish off when we get back to the UK.
It’s now my career, and Jethro Tull is finished and will never happen again. I’m out there keeping the music alive, just playing the really great Tull tracks. We’re doing incredibly well—we’ve got a great thing and a great band. Hand in hand to that, people are getting to know my own writing and my own solo material. It’s been great having gigs where people call out, “Play ‘Minstrel in the Gallery,’” or “Play ‘Teacher.’” Now that they’re saying, “Play ‘Back to Steel,’” I go, “Wow, that’s great!” It’s such a nice feeling, People obviously want to hear it. I’m so happy that that’s been the response.
CrypticRock.com – That is exciting to see that people recognize the new material. As mentioned, this was in fact your third studio record in three years, following 2013’s Away with Words and 2014’s Order of Play. That is a lot of material in a short span of time. Was this a culmination of years of ideas built up?
Martin Barre – Yeah, I think so. I like writing. I can sit down and write music; it’s such a pleasure, it’s never a chore. I don’t find it difficult. I’m not saying I find it easy, but it’s something I do pretty well on a daily basis. I might think of an idea, I’ll try and write it down, remember it, then it sort of goes into the reservoir of ideas and things that I want to do.
There’s always something happening musically in my mind. To be able to write songs and instrumental music is the culmination of just enjoying playing and being a guitar player, and hopefully learning to be a better music writer and lyricist. There’s a whole world out there I haven’t dipped my toe into. It’s new to me. I’m not particularly known as a songwriter, but I’d like to be.
CrypticRock.com – It is definitely exciting that you have found continued inspiration. You remain very active touring and you have dates lined up through October here in North America before visiting England in November, before continuing touring in 2018. At this point in your career, do you find the live show to be the most inspiring aspect of being a musician?
Martin Barre – Yeah, I think it’s the center of everything that I do. Without playing live, it wouldn’t be CDs. Studio albums are fine. Like doing Away with Words, even that we play live when we’re doing acoustic shows, that’s the sort of cream on the cake. You go through all that work writing and recording, but the reward is when you play it live and it works! That is the biggest reward you can have, knowing that it is actually complete as a musical entity. The live performance, whatever it is, Classical, Jazz, Blues music, it has to reach that finality of being played live and hopefully sounding great.
CrypticRock.com – You also have the instant reaction from the crowd, which is a nice thing to have.
Martin Barre – Yeah, absolutely. Obviously, in the studio you sort of get lost in yourself. That happened in Jethro Tull. We would lock ourselves away and think how great we were being, and then the album would be released and people wouldn’t like it (laughs). Nobody’s infallible, but there again, nobody wants to be criticized or guided. Sometimes you need an element of it. You need to step back and be careful in what you’re doing.
CrypticRock.com – Agreed. You mentioned you would like to be known for your solo material. Being that you have so much new material at your disposal, along with older material and Jethro Tull songs, what can fans expect from an evening out seeing your show?
Martin Barre – They’ll get a good balance of all of those elements. They’ll get a big chunk of Tull. They’ll hear some Tull tracks that they’ll be really amazed to hear things that Tull never played, but that were really important songs, and very well know songs. We can play anything we choose to, so we’ve got a great choice out there. We change the set.
It’s probably 60% Tull, 30% my solo material, and we change that as well from day to day. Then we have other songs that we do, Beatles songs or Porcupine Tree. Anything that tickles our fancy. If it sounds great, and it works well live, then we’re going to do it. I don’t really care who wrote it (laughs). If it’s a great piece of music, then it deserves to be played! It’s a nice mixture, and it enables us to really control the dynamics of the gig.
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like an exciting show and a great mix of music. You mentioned Beatles tracks. You did a cover of “Eleanor Rigby” on Back to Steel. What inspired that?
Martin Barre – I saw Jeff Beck play “A Day In The Life,” and thought it was amazing how melodic it was. There aren’t many that you can play as an instrumental and they work beautifully, melodically, and harmonically. This was twenty years ago, and I started thinking about what things would work. I did a demo of an instrumental version of “Eleanor Rigby” for playing on stage with Tull, which I never got around to doing. I’d re-written the chords, so I took that idea and developed it for Back to Steel.
I didn’t think it would work, and when we rehearsed, it sounded really good. We do a version of “She’s So Heavy” and the crowd loves it! It’s entertainment. I don’t want to be restricted in any way in what we do, so if I wanted to play a song by Abba—not that I do, but if I did want to, I’d go ahead an do it.
CrypticRock.com – You do not want to limit yourself. You said you were going to be working on another record. Back to Steel has a mix of Blues and Rock, it has heavy and light moments. What can fans expect from this new record?
Martin Barre – I think it’ll have those elements ome. Well, it does, because I’ve done eight tracks. It is just the way I write. I couldn’t write a Blues album. I could, but I wouldn’t be satisfied. I just like to write lots of different elements into a CD. It’ll be a mix. What I’ve done so far works really well. It is a similar formula; a bit of Blues and bit of Rock. I always want it to end up being something that can be played live. As I said earlier, that makes it a very complete project.
CrypticRock.com – It will be exciting to hear the new material and to catch you live in the coming months for all those attending the shows. It will be interesting to see where you go next. My last question for you is pertaining to movies, particularly Horror and Sci-Fi. If you are a fan, what are some of your favorite Horror or Sci-Fi films?
Martin Barre – I’m not a Horror movie person. I’m not a Star Wars person either, although the rest of the band stay up all night watching every film. They’re huge fans. I’d say my favorite is Alien (1979).
I have a piece of H.R. Giger’s art. He was an incredible person. I heard he lived in a house that was painted black inside. He was a very dark person. Just the fact that all those ideas came from this distinctive mind is amazing to me. It makes it very much more personable as an idea, as a concept. Rather than having a bunch of Hollywood people sit round coming up with idea for a Sci-Fi movie, this was one person’s vision of a nightmare. Incredible. The Alien films are really great movies.
CrypticRock.com – They are wonderful and Alien has elements of Horror and Sci-Fi.
Martin Barre – Yes. I think as movie moments go, people talk about Jaws (1975) or some Stephen King movies like Carrie (1976). These were movies that brought a genre, a take on Horror and Sci-Fi, that were so new. The impact was immense. The visual impact was amazing. I just think the very first Alien—I remember watching it and the impact was just incredible. Not knowing what was going to happen, the tension, it’s a real piece of movie history. After the first one’s done, you know what the monster looks like, so it reduces that impact.
They made Alien at Pinewood in England when we were rehearsing in a different studio block, but the security on that movie was immense. They had a guard outside the studio building, and we talked to him, and he said that—his job was to watch where they kept all the monsters. He was supposed to sit inside with the door locked, and he couldn’t do it. He had to sit outside because they were just so intimidating. We never saw it, but it was this whole build-up for something that is so enormously horrific.