A bit of history to start – over the years there have been 36 band members with Ian (now 70) the sole remaining member of the original 1968 line-up. Their first gig was 2nd Feb 1968 at the Marquee Club in Wardour Street. Prog rock royalty, playing at the Royal Albert Hall – ‘last night of the proms’ anyone? So here we are on the 50th Anniversary tour.
Stage left keyboards and bass, stage right drums and lead guitar, yes you guessed it Ian in the middle! The backdrop was the biggest damn video screen I’ve seen (covering the full stage) – take note other artists! The gig started promptly at 19:30 with a mock TV screen showing clips of world and music events from 1968. Tull in their youth were undoubtedly a hairy and crazy eyed bunch if ever there was one. Think bad backcomb dragged through hedge backward look with beard housing various hedgerow creatures. It was a two-set affair 19:30 – 21:45pm (with a 15 minute interval).
The band comprised – David Goodier (bass), John O’Hara (keyboards), Florian Opahle (guitar), Scott Hammond (drums) and surprise virtual guests courtesy of the video screen. But the star is Anderson, a consummate professional with towering stage presence. All eyes are drawn to him like magnets.
I must go on about the video screen it was bloody great. Easy to view from all angles and heights and constantly in use with great videos depicting the songs; Tull performing in front of screen footage of their younger hairier selves playing the same songs (Ian syncing the lyrics to the background vocals – obviously been practicing that until perfect!); guest vocalists singing part of songs and various R’n’R celebs popping by to say Hi and introduce their favourite songs. Really, they have thought this through to perfection – none of these fancy graphics just floating around the screen. It all really added to the spectacle, stunning – well done chaps! A nice touch and very 21st century as opposed to the 18th – best check out who Jethro Tull really was (blame their agent for the name)!
Ian was on top form with his amusing anecdotes, song introductions, flute/guitar playing and general prancing about only in the way he can on stage. His energy, stage presence and wacky sense of humour is just perfect for a well-spoken country gentleman. His only let down is his own distinctive voice as many of the lyrics are lost and not every note is clearly audible, which wasn’t helped by the voice mix being below that of the other instruments. But you can’t complain at 70 it’s not going to be the same as many years before. Even he knows not to try to reach certain notes, and for the tricky ones he uses guest singers on the video screen.
We start off right at the beginning with 5 songs from 1968 including the first 4 songs from the ‘This Was’ LP. Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond popped up on the big screen to say hello and introduce ‘A Song for Jeffrey’. Then Ian goes into ‘Dharma For One’, previously a Clive Bunker mega drum solo, that had a much briefer workout from Scott Hammond thank god (from someone that had to sit through a Ian Paice one recently!).
Then the oft-told tale of how manager Terry Ellis asked him to write a hit single to keep the home fires burning back in Blighty whilst on their American tour. So off he goes to his hotel room thinking sod this I’ll write something totally uncommercial in 5/4 time. As Ian said “well bugger me senseless with a red hot poker” when it went to no. 3 in the UK charts – yes folks ‘Living in the Past’. He also recalls when Tull became unlikely targets of middle America bible-bashers, who took a dim view of My God. “It wasn’t intended to give offence,” he insists, “maybe I wrote it wrong”.
Joe Bonamassa introduced ‘A New Day Yesterday’; Tony Iommi ‘Bourree’; Steve Harris ‘A Passion Play’; Joe Elliott ‘Ring Out, Solstice Bells’; John Evans ‘Heavy Horses’ and Slash ‘Aqualung’. Conspicuous by their absence the colourful Dee (formerly David) Palmer, and second longest-serving member Martin Barre.
Now being a total bore I did an Excel Pivot table and these are the results 75% of songs were from their first 6 years. The first set spanning only 3 years. The band has an extensive back catalogue but Ian obviously thinks their best stuff was clearly done early on.
Set 2 starts with an abridged version of Thick as a Brick (i.e. the best bits). At 70, he is still sprightly and can still stand on one leg and play the flute like no other! The set gets heavier (and in my humble opinion much better) as it progresses, with ‘Heavy Horses’, ‘Farm on the Freeway’ and ‘Aqualung’ where young sprog Florian Opahle can show of his guitar solos.
Finally, the encore, the screen shows old American and UK steam trains thundering down tracks and yes you guessed it ‘Locomotive Breath’.
Set 1: (Click on links to view video!)
- My Sunday Feeling – (This Was, 1968)
- Love Story – (Living in the Past, 1972 – 1968 Single)
- A Song for Jeffrey – (This Was, 1968)
- Some Day the Sun Won’t Shine for You – (This Was, 1968)
- Dharma for One – (This Was, 1968)
- Living in the Past – (Living in the Past, 1972 – 1969 Single)
- A New Day Yesterday – (Stand Up, 1969)
- Bourrée in E minor – (Stand Up, 1969)
- With You There to Help Me (Benefit 1970) / The Witch’s Promise (Benefit 2001 version)
- My God – (Aqualung, 1970)
- Cross-Eyed Mary – (Aqualung, 1970)
- Thick as a Brick excerpt – (Thick as a Brick, 1972)
- A Passion Play – excerpt (A Passion Play, 1973)
- Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll, Too Young to Die – (Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die!, 1976)
- Songs From the Wood – (Songs from the Wood, 1977)
- Ring Out, Solstice Bells – (Songs from the Wood, 1977)
- Heavy Horses – (Heavy Horses, 1978)
- Farm on the Freeway – (Crest of a Knave, 1987)
- Aqualung – (Aqualung, 1970)
- Locomotive Breath – (Aqualung, 1970)
The packed out RAH audience was mainly people of a certain age (grey hair or bald diehard Tull fans) with a healthy spattering of ladies. All pretty much knew all the words to the songs which were all greeted with affection and much applause. The audience responded with a well-deserved standing ovation and were talking very fondly about it all the way to the tube!
Marko – 18 April 2018