As prog rockers Jethro Tull prepare to hit Perth Concert Hall next week, frontman Ian Anderson seems more role model than rock ‘n’ roll.
After 18 months without gigs and an awful lot of rigorous Covid safety planning on the part of the lead singer and band manager, Anderson pronounces: “Ultimately I’m the captain of the ship – if the ship goes down, I’m the last one to get off.
“It’s the same thing with the Covid scenario.”
A noble sentiment indeed, and it’s clear Anderson’s put his money where his mouth is.
Where one might imagine a world-famous rock band having people to liaise with venues and deal with safety measures, Jethro Tull is no such outfit. Anderson, who at the time of our call has just flown back from Germany the night before and has been up since 4.30am organising the UK tour, does it himself.
“I’m not one of those people who is happy having other folk do all this organisation for me. I’m a hands-on guy,” he explains.
“We’re confident things have been looked at very carefully, and we’re trying to make sure we minimise the risk to people.
“You can never get rid of it completely – whether you’re going to Tesco to get the shopping in or whether you’re going to sit in a concert hall. But we do all have to try to take care, and that’s going to be uppermost in my mind for the months to come.”
‘Couple of suicides, both during a drum solo’
It’s no wonder he’s so safety conscious. It might seem grim, but as we chat, flute player Anderson reveals that even before the pandemic, the safety of his audience members weighed heavily on his mind – and the few times that people have been harmed at Jethro Tull gigs have stuck with him.
“Across over 5,000 concerts and 50 years performing around the world, you know, we’ve had a few cardiac arrests, a couple of suicides – both during a drum solo!” he chuckles drily.
“So I would warn the good people of Perth to avoid making it a hat-trick. If you do feel like doing something terrible to yourself during the course of the concert, try not to do it during the drum solo.
“Take your pills! Leave objects of self abuse at home!”
He’s joking, but it’s clear there is a sense of guilt under the humour, and perhaps an apprehension about the heightened risk in current times.
“I am joking,” Anderson says, “because we always joke about things that are so difficult to talk about.”
Nevertheless, the band are raring to lift Perth people’s spirits on Monday – and the long break from performing means this tour is sure to be special.
‘Slip off my mask and smell the Covid’
“I think all the band and crew are really happy to be on stage,” grins Anderson. “We haven’t seen each other for one and a half years! So it is a joyful and happy return to something we’ve done for, in my case, 53 years of my life.”
Mind you, self-isolation isn’t a new concept for self-described “lone wolf” Anderson. He even travels by train on each tour, avoiding crowds and the close quarters of a tour bus.
“I’m a public transport guy. The other guys are on a bus – the tour bus. But I tend to travel by train because I can’t sleep on a bus.
“For me, every UK tour is a great British train journey, visiting different towns and getting off at the station and walking to my hotel, sniffing the air and the kebab shops on the way.
“And,” he adds mischievously, “if the laws in Scotland are less onerous on some train journey, I could even slip off my mask and smell the Covid!”
‘My third choice was to be an international rockstar’
This Jethro Tull – The Prog Years tour marks almost 55 years on the road, with the Blackpool band’s music first being described as “progressive rock” in 1969.
But though Anderson, along with many, may reckon it’s “the hip hop American lady” Lizzo‘s world and we’re just living in it, but he is still known as the dude with the flute. So, I wonder, is being a rockstar still the dream job?
Turns out it never was!
“As a child,” explains Anderson, “I settled on three directions – journalism, being a police officer, and if those things failed, my third choice was to be an international rock star.
“They wouldn’t let me through the door at the Blackpool Evening Gazette offices, and a recruiting inspector at the local police force gave me some sound advice, saying: ‘Go back to school, finish your A Levels, get a university degree in law, and then come back and see me and we’ll give you a really good job in the police force’.
“Which was not what I wanted to hear, age 17, but nonetheless, it was good that he did that. Otherwise I probably wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today!”
‘We’d like to die with our boots on’
But when I mention retirement, the rock stalwart once again circles round to seriousness – and, once again, to death.
“We in the theatrical professions, the entertainment world… I guess we all have a little romantic streak that suggests to us that we’d like to die with our boots on,” he smiles.
“Like the shoot-out at the OK Corral – we want to go honourably.
“I just hope that if that’s how it happens for me, it happens during the encore, not at the beginning of the show – otherwise I’m going to have to give all the money back!
“And as a Scotsman, you can understand how much that would hurt my sporran!”