CR AWARDS: “Prog Didn’t Exist Before Ian Anderson”
Folk hero Roy Harper pays tribute Ian Anderson, the leader of Jethro Tull, the winner of the Classic Rock Spirit Of Prog Award.
Roy Harper: “It’s all a myth that Ian and I knew each other when we both lived near Blackpool in the ‘60s. I certainly didn’t know him but he might have been aware of me. The first time I really noticed him was at Hyde Park [June 1968]. Jethro Tull were only very small then but they were one of the many in our corner of the revolution.
“That first free Hyde Park concert was Pink Floyd, me, Tyrannosaurus Rex and Jethro Tull, in that order. But the first time they really took off was at the Sunbury Festival [August ‘68]. I heard Jethro Tull go on stage and the level of applause after the first couple of songs made me realise they were never going to look back from this. They’d actually made it, to the point where they’d broken through. It was obviously quite a moment for them. Actually I was stood there thinking, ‘There but for fortune…’
“But you can’t really think those things. Eventually you say to yourself, ‘Come on Roy, you idiot. This is Ian Anderson, who’s managed to get his thing together in such a professional way that he’s cracked through to a big market.’ And that’s because he’s accessible. Not all of his music is, but his image as a showman is very accessible.
“Ian brought a new and different instrument into the musical canon and helped create a fusion that eventually became known as prog rock. It was a different take than the usual guitar-drums-keyboard-voice line-up; Tull were totally unique. That style they brought in just didn’t exist before Ian. And he’s a different kind of showman to someone like David Bowie; he’s more connected to traditional British forces and folk music in particular. He’s like a bridge between prog and Fairport Convention and it’s an important one. Because for some people that was an introduction to a different life brand.
“Jethro Tull were huge in America, where they translated very well. It was sort of what I would have done if I’d have had a band. But I would have been very different anyway, with me being more jazz-influenced. The thing is that Jethro Tull were doing what I should have been doing, in effect, by actually taking a more traditional English feel to things. And they exported that to the USA. For many Americans their music was very exotically English.
“Ian was honest enough to credit me with being an influence. He was the first person to really do that, probably because he wanted to give credit where it’s due. Whereas people like Roger Waters and Bowie preferred to keep that kind of thing hidden. Which leaves a very important point really, in that Ian is basically a very proud and honest man. He’s very careful and private too. And he’s not willing to compromise. He’s very professional and doesn’t allow anything to come between him and his goal, and that in itself keeps him private.
“I think the last time I actually saw him, before the Classic Rock Awards of course, was years ago in Los Angeles. But we’ve spoken on the phone since then and he’s put parts on my records. We do all our correspondence by email now. It really doesn’t matter whether or not we physically see each other again; we’ll still always be friends.
(Interview: Rob Hughes)
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