I have to admit that I really wasn’t over the moon to be going to see Jethro Tull’s 50th Anniversary Tour. It was the husband who was excited. The band, led by the charismatic and erudite Ian Anderson, have never really been my cup of tea. But knowing how incredibly famous they are and always interested in widening my musical horizons, I was rather looking forward to it when it came around..
By the end of the evening at the Cambridge Corn Exchange 11 April, I found myself almost blinking and wondering where I was – so taken in was I by the spectacle: As a piece of performance art, this was absolutely at the top of the game.
The venue was totally packed and the stage dwarfed by a massive backdrop, with, at the beginning of the evening a huge picture of a television set on it. Just before the band came on, the set burst into life with a montage of world events form 1968, when they first started, onwards – to the music of this progrock/jazz/heavy/folk group in the background.
I have never really been sure what genre they fit into. Anderson himself said ‘Jethro Tull, I think, is one of the very few bands in the history of pop and rock music who covered so many different musical styles and so many different musical levels of intensity. Some of the songs that we do would fit within the genre of rock music but there’s also quite a substantial body of work which you might more properly call acoustic music’. So I was ready to hear all sorts of sounds.
This was a piece of outstanding visual theatre set to music:From the very beginning, when Anderson, the still elfish piper hopped around the stage with his flute; through the classical piece ‘Buree’ to the finale – ‘Locomotive Breath’, this was absolutely gripping stuff. I may not be keen on the music, but the showmanship and style of the performance took my breath away. On the big screen accompanying the music were various pieces of film, including one particularly amazing shot of Ian singing firstly as a young man, then maybe 20 years later whilst onstage he sang the same song – all in perfect synchronicity.
Since the first incarnation of the group in 1968, there have been 38 members, with this line up comprising: Florian Ophale - lead guitar; Scott Hammond on drums and percussion; John O Hara, keyboards and David Goodier on bass guitar. Various ‘guests’ popped up on the screen – ex band members Jeffrey Hammond and John Evan interestingly dressed as a daffodil and artists, such as Tony Iommi from Black Sabbath congratulating them on their 50 years - a sort of Rock and Roll This Is Your Life.
Andersons voice may not be as powerful and robust as it was all those years ago, but his energy and raw talent on flute, guitar and harmonica certainly are. He flitted across the stage from band member to band member, ending each song in a perfect different pose and told some wryly amusing stories of their times and music, all of which were funny, moving and well recited.
The lighting was incredible, spot on all the way through and the sound just perfect, I am still not keen on the music, it must be said, but I'd had quite spectacular night out.