Nobody joins a rock band for career stability, with a very few notable exceptions, this is a ‘make the most of it ‘cos it won’t last’ world so to manage a forty plus year stint as the guitarist in Jethro Tull, one the best loved bands in the UK, is no small feat (especially given front-man Ian Andersons revolving door policy in relation to every other section of the band). Dig a little deeper however and you find a musician increasingly frustrated by the direction of his band so when, in 2011 after an American Tour, he suddenly found himself no-longer part of said band the original shock soon turned to a newly discovered positivity, motivation and freedom to address these frustrations. What followed was an outpouring of live shows and recorded material. In fact, as we find out later, Martin Barre hasn’t felt this excited about the future in eons, which we reckoned was just about the right time to have a chat with him, beginning with a question about his
Martin Barre: “my grandfather was a professional violinist and was a chef as well, he was an orchestra leader in Paris. My Dad wanted to play clarinet, but was forced by circumstances to work in a factory. He supported me in my music so much and I'm sure it was because he was unable to do so.”
Total Music: Were you in any other bands before Jethro Tull?
Martin Barre: “Only one other band professionally, we were a soul band, a pop band, a hippy band and finally a blues band changing with the fashion of the day, the last name was Gethsemane.”
Total Music: How did you get the Tull gig and can you remember the first time you played with them?
Martin Barre: “I met Tull when we surported them in Plymouth in mid-1968. Because I played the flute as well as guitar we all chatted and got on well. The first Tull gig after I joined was in Penzance [and] it wasn't very good!”
Total Music: It must have been tremendously exciting to be in such a hugely successful band, what was it like playing to such enormous enthusiastic crowds?
Martin Barre: “Well when I joined we started in the bigger clubs and it slowly grew into larger venues [but yes] t was all an immensely exciting time.”
Total Music: A quick straw poll around the office plumped for the Anderson, Barre, Evan, Hammond & Barlow line up as the ‘classic line up, what do you think?
Martin Barre: “The classic line was as you say [but] I think after the live album at Madison Square Gardens the line up changes diluted the charisma of Tull until, in the 2000's no-one knew who would turn up on tours!”
Total Music: The list of classic Jethro Tull albums is a lengthy one but what’s your favourite and why??
Martin Barre: “My favourite album is Benefit [because] it was the most pleasurable and confident studio atmosphere. Stand Up had been a success and it relaxed our outlook and playing so going back in the studio was really exciting.”
Total Music: Did there ever come a point where you felt Jethro Tull were no longer doing the sort of material that you wanted to do?
Martin Barre: “In the latter days of Tull we were severely restricted in our song choice by Ian's voice problems. There was more flute instrumentals and less guitar based music. I didn't realise the imbalance until I started my own band and repertoire. It was a breath of fresh air.”
Having been told by Anderson that he no longer wanted to do any more Jethro Tull shows in 2011 it must have come as something of a shock when Thick As A Brick 2 (admittedly released as by Jethro Tulls' Ian Anderson) surfaced followed by a tour, but for the record what did actually happen?
Martin Barre: “Ian announced that he was tired of the 'Tull' shows and 'Tull audiences', particularly in the States. He didn't enjoy the 'big' stage with all the enthusiastic noise from a large crowd [and] that was it! You will have to wait for my book for the rest.”
Total Music: You have made guest appearances on many albums over the years - notably the Excaliber 'Celtic Rock Opera' series overseen by Alan Simon - but there seems to be some confusion about what, if any, tracks you played on Paul McCartney’s Flaming Pie album, can you clear this up for us?
Martin Barre: “The session was very nerve-racking but just an amazing experience, Paul McCartney was charming and incredible. The product of that week is confusing though, there is a track on the Japanese version of Flowers in the Dirt, ' PS Love Me Do' which I play on. I'm not sure what happened to the rest?”
Total Music: Last year’s Away With Words was very well received, did you feel your performance on some of those old songs needed fixing or was it more about reinterpreting them?
Martin Barre: “ was a project long waiting in the wings. I started the idea off about 10 years ago, but needed the opportunity to spend a long period arranging and writing my own contributions. I was very pleased with the results and it was a lot of fun to record, just me and an engineer.”
Total Music: On the new album It must have been difficult keeping the balance between the desire to develop your old material against the need to keep it as authentic as possible for fans who are so attached to the songs they revere?
Martin Barre: “All the arrangements of the Tull songs were done with great attention to the original versions. I wanted my own 'take' on them but they had to retain the essence of the song. Mostly the attention towards the guitar dictated the change. Live these tracks are a great success. Was it a conscious decision to not use flute on the material?
Total Music: Is it enjoyable getting back to a grass roots level, almost starting over?
Martin Barre: “I love having my own band and the ability to make decisions with the music and policy. The whole band is always involved and they will have a voice and an ear in all that happens. I learnt both from the good and the bad things that took place in Tull”
Total Music: What do you have planned next?
Martin Barre: “I want to write and record an album of totally original songs that I will write. Establishing my own 'brand' is really important to me, I want to play more shows in more territories with an ever changing set. I'm very happy where I am.”
Martin Barre’s new album Order of Play is out now – you can catch him live in December see for full info