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Ian Anderson on Jethro Tull’s A – A La Mode: 40th Anniversary Edition Box-set, remixed by Steven Wilson

Membership of Jethro Tull has constantly evolved with ever-changing line-ups playing alongside the band’s legendary founder Ian Anderson. The most radical changes came late in 1979 and Ian Anderson saw 1980 as an opportunity for all to look at independent projects and to return to the fold rejuvenated.

Things did not go to plan and, under record company pressure, his own solo project, known as A, was ultimately released as the next Jethro Tull album, inadvertently putting an end to any possibility of reforming the previous line-up. When it appeared in 1980 A was well received by the fans but less so by the critics who had polarised opinions.

Now, to mark the 40th anniversary, Jethro Tull are releasing A – A La Mode, a 3CD/3DVD celebration box-set with Steven Wilson’s stereo remix of the original album plus previously unreleased material and live concert recordings from the A tour, together with DVDs with Steven Wilson’s remixed 5.1 audio of the album, live concert and the Slipstream video compilation. The whole set comes in a hardback book with extensive background information, interviews, Ian’s track-by-track guide and exclusive photographs. The A – A La Mode 40th Anniversary Edition will be released through Rhino Records on 16th April 2021.

Jethro Tull - A La Mode Box-set

Things began to fall apart for the late-’70s Tull line-up when bass player John Glascock’s health deteriorated. He was unable to complete the 1978 Heavy Horses US tour and the recording of 1979’s Stormwatch album, and died shortly after the album’s release from a heart condition. Former Fairport Convention bass player Dave Pegg would stand in for the tour.

And so, as the 1980s dawned, Ian Anderson saw this as a good time to step away, temporarily, from the relative safety of the Jethro Tull umbrella and make his debut solo album. The album’s single-letter title refers to the studio tapes, which were marked “A” for Anderson. I spoke to Ian recently and he takes up the story.

“What set out to be a solo album, for me, turned into a Jethro Tull release because I, with regret, allowed my arm to be twisted behind my back by the good forces of Chrysalis Records. They were really acting, they thought, in my interests and their interests in trying to sell more records by making it a Jethro Tull album. They said that an Ian Anderson solo album is going to be a hard sell. So, I allowed myself to be pushed. I’ve always felt awkward, not consumed by, but tarnished by a degree of regret, that the album turned out to be marked by that scenario. That wasn’t, in my mind, the way it should have gone at the time. It just was my own folly, I suppose, in not sticking to my guns and saying ‘No, no, this is a solo project outside the orbit of Jethro Tull.’

“It was an album that I had a great fondness for, in terms of the music and the performances, but the problem, for me on a very personal level, existed very much before it was released. It marked a break-up in the band. It was never intended to be that way. It was a hiatus, a little gap in the historical sequence of Jethro Tull’s activities at the end of 1979 and everyone went off to do other stuff. Barrie Barlow, our drummer at the time, has subsequently said that he was leaving anyway, he wasn’t coming back. John Evan (keyboards) subsequently said he had had enough after ten years on the road and he wasn’t enjoying that lifestyle any more.

“In retrospect, they claimed that they were going anyway but it was always in my mind that we take a year off, do some other stuff, and then see how we felt after that.”

Jethro Tull - A photos

For this ‘solo’ project, Ian engaged Dave Pegg from the Stormwatch tour along with Eddie Jobson. Keyboard and violin virtuoso Jobson, formerly with Curved Air and Roxy Music, had recently left the band UK after they had supported Tull on the Stormwatch tour. On Jobson’s recommendation, American drummer Mark Craney was added.

“Perhaps my other mistake came after the first week of rehearsals and recording of a couple of tracks. With Eddie Jobson, Mark Craney and Dave Pegg, who had never recorded with Jethro Tull at that point, we had finished a couple of songs, rehearsed and arranged ready to roll, and I said ‘It would be really nice to hear some guitar in this bit’, I know Eddie Jobson was feeling the same way otherwise it would all be keyboards. I thought about other people but ended up calling (long-time Jethro Tull guitarist) Martin (Barre) and asking him to come and play on a couple of tracks.

“As soon as that happened it gelled as a musical unit and Martin stayed, then, until the end. He ended up being on all of the album which, I suppose, at that point it was 40% Jethro Tull anyway. That, again, was part of the argument of the record company.”

Reading the story in detail, in the book that forms the heart of the box-set package, the recording sessions and tour sound like a happy place for the band.

“It was… a challenging place”, says Ian. “Eddie Jobson was one the finest all-round musician in many different genres. Mark Craney was a very technically evolved drummer, so they were a class act to be working with and it meant that Dave Pegg was suddenly confronted with the enormity of having to do very difficult and complicated progressive rock music. Martin and I had to raise our games to match up with the expertise of, particularly, Eddie Jobson. It was a challenging atmosphere and one that produced an exhilaration and everybody got on really well. Eddie was a really great guy to work with, lots of creative arrangement ideas and lots of bonhomie. You couldn’t wish for a better bandmate, but Eddie, of course, had made it very clear that he was a musical guest, he was not part of a new band, and that remains his position today. He was the guest performer and on tour he was the ‘Special Guest: Eddie Jobson.’ It was always going to be a relatively short term arrangement for a year or two.”

Jethro Tull - A photos

Given the array of musical talent on the album, all of whom brought something to the party, A had a quite diverse range of musical styles. The finished product was a very accessible album.

“It had some complex pieces of music and some more straight ahead”, was Ian’s interpretation. “The piece that has survived over the years, in fact from the only two concerts we played in Spain in 2020, is the song Black Sunday. We’ve played it, on and off, over the years but not that often. It’s quite a tough one to do, especially if you’re trying to recreate the sounds and the arrangements that were on the record, it’s a handful.”

For the 40th anniversary box-set A – A La Mode, Steven Wilson has been engaged to breathe his magic on the original album, live concert recording and the Slipstream video collection. Wilson is a veteran of Jethro Tull remixes, having worked his way through all of Tull’s earlier catalogue, and the audio across the whole of this package is superb. Having said that, I have only heard the new stereo mix, I take it on trust that the 5.1 mix hits the spot, too.

“He knows the way I work, or worked”, says Ian, “and I know the way he works. It’s pretty much a well-worn procedure of dealing with the nuances because Steven stays fairly faithful to the original stereo placement and balance of things. It’s really just cleaning up and picking out the detail. The big job is to take these original analogue masters and make them sound pristine and clear and, in many ways, to improve upon the sound quality with the technical wizardry of the digital domain.”

I noted that the live performances really sparkle.

“Yes, they were the ones that needed most cleaning up because it’s all the little gaps between musical phrases and notes and hums and buzzes and clicks and all that stuff you can get rid of. You can end up hearing something far closer to what the audience would have heard on the night – at least if it was a decent PA system and you weren’t sitting half a mile away in the Shea Stadium! You’re trying to present people with clarity and truth, not confound them with a lot of radical new approaches.

“I was, like many people, torn when George Martin’s son supervised the remixing of the Sgt Pepper album. By then George had been quite deaf for years and, so, beyond anything for him to involve himself with.

“It’s a difficult choice. Do you take something that was a classic masterpiece, with all of its technical limitations and try and reproduce it with greater clarity, or do you take a more radical approach and see if you can make it somehow more interesting and dynamic and do what The Beatles and George Martin, perhaps, would have done at the time had they had the technology to do it? A difficult choice, how to find the right balance between radically altering through technology or remaining, perhaps boringly, faithful to the original.

Jethro Tull A - A La Mode

“That’s always the difficulty facing any remix, finding the artistic balance. Steven is world-renowned for being able to do that and, being a music fan and a great fan of that era of progressive and classic rock, he’s the man for the job. He is about to embark on yet another (remix) for us. He always said he would finish at the end of the seventies but he is going to work on the Broadsword album from 1982 as the next project. He will, as always, fire at me some rough fader-up mixes and say ‘What do you think about this?’”

The audio is crisp and pristine on the Slipstream video, although the visuals highlight what a real period piece this is. It mixes the ‘new’ A tracks Black Sunday, Batteries Not Included and Uniform with some with older hits like Aqualung, Heavy Horses and Songs From The Wood. The film includes concert footage from A tour along with staged videos in the style that was, at the time, becoming popular with the advent of music videos. The film, directed by David Mallet, was the brainchild of Chrysalis Records’ Terry Ellis and taken to the Cannes Film Festival in the hope of the record company breaking into this new market.

It was not to be but the film remains both entertaining and a lesson in why some of the visual effects are no longer used. While Ian has always been a great performer on stage, I was greatly amused by some of the staged videos, particularly Ian’s performance on Fylingdale Flyer.

The accompanying hard-back book sheds more light, in detail, on the production of the Slipstream video and of the whole of the A album project, referencing contemporary reports and interviews along with retrospective reflections of Ian and other band members. All in all, a most interesting read.

Also available later in the year (date to be advised) is Ian’s all-inclusive lyric book Silent Singing: The Complete Lyrics of Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull, published by Rocket 88. This brings together the song lyrics from the entire Jethro Tull and Ian Anderson solo back catalogues, along with Ian’s annotated notes for each album. The book is illustrated with new photographs taken by Ian especially for this project.

“There are three different level editions of the lyric book of which I’m really very proud”, Ian explains, “because it’s the first time I’ve ever put all of that into one corrected, authentic, guaranteed accurately transcribed and laid out set of work. It includes all of the recorded work from 1968 including the, as yet unreleased, new album. Something there for everybody and”, he laughs, “possibly something for nobody!”

Disc One: Original Album & Associated Tracks
(Steven Wilson Stereo Remix)
01. Crossfire
02. Fylingdale Flyer
03. Working John, Working Joe
04. Black Sunday
05. Protect and Survive
06. Batteries Not Included
07. Uniform
08. 4.W.D. (Low Ratio)
09. The Pine Marten’s Jig
10. And Further On
Associated Tracks:
11. Crossfire (Extended Version)
12. Working John, Working Joe (Take 4)
13. Cheerio (Early Version)
14. Coruisk
15. Slipstream Intro

Disc Two: Live at the LA Sports Arena 1980 (Part 1) (Steven Wilson Stereo Remix)
01. Slipstream Intro
02. Black Sunday
03. Crossfire
04. Songs From the Wood
05. Hunting Girl
06. The Pine Marten’s Jig
07. Working John, Working Joe
08. Heavy Horses
09. Band Instrumental Intro
10. Skating Away on the Thin Ice of the New Day
11. Instrumental (including flute solo)

Disc Three: Live at the LA Sports Arena 1980 (Part 2) (Steven Wilson Stereo Remix)
01. Trio Instrumental
02. Keyboard solo
03. Batteries Not Included
04. Uniform (including drum solo instrumental)
05. Protect and Survive (including violin solo)
06. Bungle in the Jungle
07. Guitar Solo/Bass solo intro to encore
08. Aqualung
09. Locomotive Breath/Instrumental/Black Sunday (reprise)

DVD One: Original Album and Associated Tracks (Audio Only)
Contains Steven Wilson’s 2020 remix of the album and 5 associated tracks in DTS and Dolby AC 3, 5.1 surround, and stereo 96/24 LPCM. Flat transfers of the original LP master in 96/24 LPCM

DVD Two: Live At The LA Sports Arena November 1980 (Audio Only)
Contains Steven Wilson’s 2020 mix of the concert in DTS and Dolby AC 3, 5.1 surround and stereo 96/24 LPCM

DVD Three: Slipstream Video (Video)
With audio tracks remixed by Steven Wilson in DTS and Dolby AC 3, 5.1 surround and stereo 96/24 LPCM

Ian Anderson – Vocals, Flute
Martin Barre – Guitar
Dave Pegg – Bass, Mandolin
Mark Craney – Drums
~ with Special Guest:
Eddie Jobson – Keyboards, Electric Violin, Synthesiser

Record Label: Rhino
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 16th April 2021

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TPA wishes to thank Pete Flatt from PPR Publicity for his assistance in arranging this interview.