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ME & JETHRO TULL - I 'AINT PULLING YOUR LEG!

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19.01.2005 (31.12.2007)

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Having a wee browse through the Ciao Café I came across the chance to write about my 15 minutes of fame. Well, it's fame of sorts …

The opportunity came 14 years ago when I called in at my local library one evening and got chatting to the new librarian This extremely enthusistic lady published a local magazine called 'The Lochalsh Link'. I had never heard of this magazine but when she showed me the first copy I was most impressed. We got chatting and I said that I loved to write - mainly for personal pleasure and occasionally for gain.

"Oh! How wonderful!" she enthused. "We're looking for someone to do an interview with Ian Anderson." I looked blank. "You know, that fellow who plays the flute with that band, Jethro Tull. He also owns the fish farm at Strathaird and we're interested in hearing his story about his fish farming business - and some gossip about his music, of course!" Ah! That Ian Anderson! Of course, I said yes. Who wouldn't?

The interview was set for the following month which gave me ample time to start fretting. I'd never interviewed anybody before, never mind someone famous. Someone who had been interviewed many times before and by professional journalists to boot. Was I mad? No, rather excited really. After all, how many middle-aged housewives whose days were spent looking after her family and trying to earn a crust by holding down 5 jobs at the same time (I kid you not), get the chance to do something totally different, something that would be a challenge, and perhaps start her on the road to her writing dream?

The teatime of the evening when the interview was to take place, found me standing at the kitchen sink peeling potatoes thinking, "In 2 hours time I shall be talking to Jethro Tull! Me! I remembered seeing him on the tele in the 60's, he was practically an institution. Oh my!

So, when I read the item "My 15 Minutes of Fame" in the Ciao Café, in the true spirit of showing off, I found the magazine in which my article appeared and I reproduce it for you here. Just a small note - when I mention Skye, this is the Isle of Skye in the Highlands of Scotland. Because the interview was for a local magazine, obviously it wasn't necessary to name the island in full. I've learned that one should never assume other readers know exactly the location you're referring to, so I just thought I'd mention it!

It's a long piece, feel free to yawn and scratch yourself, but if you do get to the end, let me know what you think. But remember, it was written 14 years ago and it was my first attempt at an interview:

PART 1 - IAN ANDERSON - JETHRO TULL

When I was asked to interview Ian Anderson I had difficulty in placing the name because he is probably best known as Jethro Tull. Or, to people in this area, "Yon fishfarm fella..".

After a deep grope in my memory, I recalled the 1970s and seeing a skinny, wild haired, straggly bearded fella on the TV one night. Two things that distinguished him from all the other skinny, wild haired, straggly bearded pop stars of that era was that this one played the flute whilst balancing on one leg. This image still flashes before my eyes whenever the name "Jethro Tull"is mentioned, just as the words "Rolling Stones"or "Purple Haze"recreate the image of Mick Jagger's rubber lips or Jimi Hendrix kneeling over his guitar with a box of Swan Vestas. Perhaps that is the secret of those pop stars who have remained popular - alive or dead - over the last twenty years or so? Secondary to their superb music, they have a specially created gimmick or a natural quirk which endears them to a fickle public.

I decided to ask Mr Anderson about his one-legged flute playing at the earliest opportunity.

I have to admit, I half expected Mr Anderson to appear dressed in stripey tights and paisley doublet twirling his flute like a cheerleader's baton; and so when I met him at his Skye home, Kilmarie House on the Strathaird Estate, I was not prepared for the ordinary looking man of medium height who came striding into the warm, cosy kitchen where Neil the photographer and I sat with cups of coffee. Divesting himself of his foul-weather gear (he had been inspecting fish cages) he gave us each a strong, friendly handshake, offered more coffee and then sat down to light his Sherlock Holmes-style pipe. It became obvious in the few minutes prior to the interview 'proper', that here was a highly intelligent, articulate man, who must have given hundreds of interviews over the past 20 years and probably knew exactly what
Pictures of My Fifteen Minutes of Fame
My Fifteen Minutes of Fame Picture 80140 tb
IAN ANDERSON OF JETHRO TULL
I was going to ask him. I decided not to open with that question about one-legged flute playing - yet.

Ian was born in Dunfermline, Fife, but at about three years old, he and his family moved to Murrayfield in Edinburgh, where his parents ran a small hotel. Around aged twelve, Ian passed exams to enter Edinburgh's Royal High School. He had everything necessary to equip him for the start of term including the smart Royal High blazer and tie. It came as something of a surprise over the summer holidays that his father sold the hotel to his brother, and Ian found himself starting the new term at Blackpool Grammar School in Lytham St Annes, Lancashire, the place where his parents met.

It's as well he was a clever child for he found himself far behind his English peers at Grammar School: they had the beginnings of French and Latin and were way ahead in Maths. He had a lot of catching up to do and when he was fourteen, having taken the GCE 'O' Level a year early, he amassed eight 'O' levels and was top of the class. Aged sixteen he staged his own little rebellion: he ran away to London and entered Art School because he had lofty ideas about being a painter.

"I wasn't sufficiently dedicated enough to starve the rest of my life and I certainly didn't want to be a teacher nor a commercial graphic artist in advertising or book jacket design. I spent a lot of time reading the 'Melody Maker' and from the ages of sixteen to eighteen I began to play the guitar and decided I'd like to have a go at that."

The rest is history. From his first band 'The Blades' in the mid-60s, then playing with an ever-changing line-up of musicians performing under various names, the first Jethro Tull band (named after the 18th century agriculturalist who invented the seed drill) was successful in obtaining a residency at the Marquee Club in London.

The band's first album 'This Was', released in October 1968, was most successful, no doubt due in part to a growing reputation on the live music scene. But it was the classic single 'Living in the Past' that brought the band to the notice of the general record buying public and earned an appearance on 'Top of the Pops'. Jethro Tull has released 24 albums (including compilations) and sales of these have topped the 28 million mark. The biggest market is currently in the United States where sales of the album 'Aqualung' have reached 3.5 million.

Believe I or not, the band nearly gave it all up in 1972. Members became disenchanted trying to make themselves heard over the sound of 75,000 people screaming and yelling. Their kind of music did not flourish under those conditions and they felt they were letting their true fans down. However, they decided to do one more tour and things just carried on that way; one record at a time; one tour at a time on an ad hoc basis. They just never got round to stopping! Just as well, because in 1989 the band was awarded a Grammy at a ceremony in Los Angeles for the album 'Crest of a Knave'.

The band is not long back from another world tour, and Ian is happy to report audiences these days are much easier to play to! In Los Angeles, the audience has whittled down to a nice comfortable 20,000 and in New York the band played to 25,000 as opposed to the 55,000 in the Shea Stadium in 1974.

"Time are hard!" says he, good humouredly.

The tour started in September in Inverness and finished on December 14th in San Francisco. In between were a few UK dates then off round Germany (where the album was number 5 in the national charts), Switzerland followed, and some Italian dates … to USA … and Canada.

Sitting back to re-light his pipe, Ian reflected that he had not been in Kilmarie House since August 10th 1989 - his birthday. He had only two days rest during the entire tour: one day in America, one in England with his wife and children on a free day squeezed between Europe and America.

The Ian Anderson Group of companies has its Head Office in Inverness and so he has spent a lot of time there recently sorting the backlog of mail and attending to his Skye commitments.

Were there any more tours this year? Might we even see Jethro Tull play a gig on Skye one day?

"A fun tour of the UK is planned for May. We're playing places we haven't played for fifteen years and places we don't normally play in Britain. Brighton, Bournemouth, Portsmouth, Reading, Hull, Bradford, Leeds and Birmingham Town Hall. As regards Skye …? To tell the truth, I'd be rather embarrassed to play here. I'd feel people would think I was being flash! Though the more serious answer is that the cost of putting on a show would be prohibitive. Sure, I could play in the local village hall, but I'd only get a maximum of 200 people to come, and quite rightly those people would expect a good, professional performance. It has to sound good, look good, so not only do I need the guys in the band and all our equipment, I'd need at least four or five people on the road as stage crew members, sound man and lights man. In wages, crew costs, sound and lights it'd cost me about £10,000."

Of course, he is often asked to play 'charitable' gigs and he does what he can where possible. But the notion of a 'free' concert is actually a misnomer because although the band will give its services free, Ian still has to pay the other incidentals - which can run into thousands. It would be more effective to write out a cheque for the amount the band might have taken at the box office but Ian realises that is not the spirit o the occasion!

Important charities such as the Highland Hospice benefit greatly from the advertising resulting from media coverage of a charitable concert - such as Jethro Tull gave last year.

As for Charity Auctions, over the past five years he has given away more than sixteen flutes - no more to give! His stage clothes (including the stripey tights and paisley doublet) are almost all gone, leaving a clang of empty coathangers in his wardrobe. So, with such a depleted stock of potential freebies, obviously he is going to have to come up with some more albums to earn a crust. In the autumn of this year, he will be working on another record with a view to having it released in spring 1991.

How does he get down to the serious business of composing his music? What inspires him to write that particular brand of magical music his fans have come to admire? How does he feel about today's 'push a button then run' computer music? Well, he is not a great lover of that type of music where sounds are entered into a computer in a certain sequence, can be automatically corrected and rearranged into a convenient logical fashion and then the button marked 'Run' is pressed. He believes in playing good, honest to goodness musical instruments and generating music with a much more human approach. When he is in his 'music making' phase of the moon, he retires to his den and hits on inspiration from different angles. Elements of folk, blues or classical modes assert themselves in his compositions, because he deliberately writes his songs using a variety of instruments: the mandolin has a folk appeal; the flute lends a classical structure to a song; the guitar is bluesy or rock orientated. He does use a keyboard with synthesiser and samplers and so he can summon up the sounds of violins, which will create a certain mood. He finds writing songs and music easy and approaches this aspect of his work in a tidy, methodical way. His life over a twelve-month period is broken up into quarterly periods of writing music, recording it, followed by taking it on tour.

I had to ask! "Er, Mr Anderson, can you still stand on one leg - and why?"

Mr Anderson confided that, yes, he can but rarely does so now as he found it embarrassing. "It was seen as being an image. It wasn't, it was something I just did. I stopped doing it after a while but I tend to do it just a couple of places here and there because of the sense of fun and because people expect it ..Y'know, play the flute, stand on one leg, give them a little wink. I say now it's because I've put on weight. You know I used to be very, very thin and I invested heavily in long-lasting underwear so I got bigger but my underpants didn't. They rather constricted me a bit so when I hit the high notes on the flute, it caused an involuntary reaction!"

So now you know.

The success of Jethro Tull has enabled Ian Anderson to plough back a substantial part of his own wealth into creating businesses in the Highlands and the rest of the UK. The charge of 'absentee landlord' that has been levied at him from time to time is one he can live with if it means that by singing for his supper in faraway places 25 percent of the year he can employ 150 people in the Highlands of Scotland.

PART 2 - 'YON FISHFARM FELLA'

The Strathaird Estate near Broadford was purchased in the late 1970s and the first fish farming site at Loch Slapin opened in 1978. Strathaird Farms Ltd has expanded to become one of Scotland's major producers of salmon. Soon, it hopes to grow 1,000 tonnes. Farms have been established in Skye at Loch Greshornish and Loch na Beiste. There is also a hatchery on the Strathaird Estate.

As well as Strathaird Farms Ltd the Ian Anderson Group of Companies comprises Salamanda & Son Music Ltd, Strathaird Ltd and McLean Bros (Smoked Scottish Salmon) Co Ltd. All of the companies are successful. Strathaird Ltd received the Highland Business Award for 1989.

Obviously, Ian Anderson employs a strong management team in all his companies but it would be wrong to assume this man just pokes his nose into a fish cage every now and then and exclaims "Yah! OK! Super!" This fellow displays an astonishing knowledge of his business and cares a great deal about the possible effects on the environment.

What about the use of chemicals?

"By the word 'chemicals' I suppose you are referring to that bogey-man NUVAN, or AQUAGUARD as they've now called it in an attempt to give it a cleaner face to the environmentalists. (A pointless exercise in my opinion but there you go). Nuvan, (dichlorovos), is a very efficient pesticide in the treatment of sea lice. It's completely bio-degradable, dissolving within hours of use. There's not a single shred of evidence to support any lingering tendencies to residual build-up in organisms. Questions were asked in Parliament about it recently - there is no answer. No one can find a single thing wrong to say about it but people still try! Sea lice are a naturally occurring phenomena found particularly in wild salmon and which, through carrier fish, would infect farmed salmon stocks. There are strict controls within the industry about the time that must elapse following a Nuvan treatment before fish are harvested and sold. Same applies to antibiotics. They're prescribed for use under strict veterinary control. These vets are specialists who can advise on the whole health and treatment regimen for your livestock. We are very careful about it. We don't have any reason at the moment to doubt the safety of what we are doing in environmental terms".

What about sea-bed disturbance?

"It causes a short term problem immediately under the cages where you've probably got a few inches of detritus. If you're concerned about that particular patch of sand or mud not containing a few crabs or crustaceans or works or whatever - OK, they ain't there. But they will come back! When the cages are moved two years later, and that bit recovers (all the evidence is there: divers going down, photographs taken, core samples from the bottom taken) all these things suggest that the recovery time is as we all hoped - relatively short, and the whole procedure is not producing a long term problem. So I'm happy with that one."

"They spoil the look of the place" is a cry often heard about fish farm cages. What were his views on those charges?

"I'll be blunt! I've just come from visiting several of our sites today which I haven't been round for some months and I'm very pleased with what I'm seeing - for once, operations conducted without the usual wrecked cars, abandoned ploughs, bedsteads etc in the vicinity. You're looking at neat, tidy, fairly low-key and fairly small-to-medium-scale operations which I'm personally quite proud to have set up. On some of those sites, I've found the site, done all the plans, planning applications, plumbing, technical drawings .. done everything but dig the holes! They're my creation. I feel very pleased to see those on the ground, complete with a couple of small wooden houses which I have designed. As accommodation they fit reasonably in the West Highland landscape - as opposed to portacabins or something, though regrettably we do use one or two of them."

After Mr Anderson saw Neil and Iout and we crunched our way over the immaculately combed gravel of Kilmarie House, I felt certain of one thing - 'Yon fishfarm fella' certainly knew his stuff!

Interview with Louise Saunders with Ian Anderson - 1991©

••••

So there you have it Ciao members. My interview from 14 years ago which afforded me my 15 minutes of fame - in my eyes anyway.

For the record: In November 1994, Ian Anderson sold his 15,000 acre Strathaird estate to the John Muir Trust. Apparently, it was his " continuing desire to perform and to be near a studio that finally ended his lairdship of the isles." (quote from The Scotsman 11 Nov 1994).

Was it something I said?!

Since our interview, he has released many albums (seem to be a lot of compilation albums), but his latest, from what I can find out, was in 1999 entitled Dot Com and his solo album in 2003 called 'Stage Left'. I'm sure if my research is wrong, someone will point it out!

One more thing. There was a fabulous candid photo of Ian accompanying my article but it was far to large for me to scan and download so I took one from a website. (blush!!)

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Comments about this review »

Paul99ine 21.03.2006 16:19

Great interview Lou....was sent on a mission by Sgatach...glad I came. Pauline.

Sgathach 18.03.2006 12:24

Just Fantastic and extremely well written. Sheena

mattygroves 21.11.2005 11:11

OK - I'm officially jealous. Can you arrange another meeting LOL? Cheers

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This review of My Fifteen Minutes of Fame has been rated:

"exceptional" by (22%):

  1. Sgathach
  2. sylviesinc
  3. coledsteel

and 11 other members

"very helpful" by (78%):

  1. Paul99ine
  2. mattygroves
  3. jacpuss

and 48 other members

The overall rating of a review is different from a simple average of all individual ratings.