Martin Barre (Jethro Tull) Credits McCartney, the Nightriders
Martin Barre wants to bring audiences back to the lively concerts of decades ago on his current U.S. spring tour.
“I want to play gigs like they were in the early ’70s and ’80s — full of of energy and full of music,” says the long-time Jethro Tull guitarist who heads to Hartford, Connecticut, Thursday (April 21) with his four-piece band on the fourth date of the 10-date tour.
Barre’s current band consists of Dan Crisp on vocals, acoustic guitar, and bouzouki; George Lindsay on drums; and Alan Thomson on bass. Barre says he hopes the band will stay together for a long time because they have a great working relationship. “Four musicians have a lot of space and opportunity to be heard. I have a great band, and I want people to meet them and hopefully love what we are doing.”
After the U.S. tour ends this month, the band has five shows booked in Europe before beginning a hectic 23-date U.S. tour in September and October. More dates may also be added.
The band plays various Jethro Tull songs, Barre’s solo material, and some pop and blues covers, including the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby,” which is on Barre’s most recent album, Back to Steel.
He tells me that Back to Steel — his seventh solo album — is “more focused” than his previous solo albums, “with most of the music written by myself.”
The aim when recording the album was to play most of it live on stage, “and that has worked really well,” Barre says. “I wanted to have a bias toward songs rather than instrumentals, so the album would have more of a band identity.”
Barre’s identity will always be linked to Jethro Tull, a band he has played in for more than 40 years. His guitar solos on Aqualung and other Tull albums have made a lasting imprint on rock and roll history. Barre’s powerful, screaming lead guitar playing — along with Ian Anderson’s songs, vocals, and flute playing — were the main reasons why Tull’s Crest of a Knave upset Metallica’s … And Justice for All to win a 1989 Grammy award.
What are Barre’s proudest moments with Tull? “I always loved playing live with Tull, because I thought the audience had the true balance of the musicians. To play to such incredible amounts of people was wonderful. I had some great relationships with the various members of the band. We were always best friends and enjoyed our own company and our own music.”
As to whether Jethro Tull left a legacy in rock, pop, and prog music, “That is for journalists to say,” Barre replies. “I have no sense of self-importance. I do my best and can’t do more; the reward is the crowd reaction. We were part of an amazing era of music and had such a great opportunity to play. That is the heritage — with the same energy — I bring to my shows.
Outside of Jethro Tull, Barre says playing with Paul McCartney “was definitely the high point of my career.” Barre played guitar on McCartney’s song, “Atlantic Ocean,” which was recorded in Sussex, England, in 1987 and produced by Phil Ramone. The song was a bonus track on McCartney’s Young Boy #2 single from the album Flaming Pie.
McCartney was “my teenage hero and inspired me to play,” Barre says. “Other great musicians I have played with include Joe Bonamassa, Gary Brooker, John Helliwell [of Supertramp], and many bands and musicians who are not famous but made me feel so welcome and important when I worked with them.”
Barre cites several musicians and bands — including Tom Scott & the L.A. Express at Los Angeles’s famed Whiskey a Go-Go — as the best concerts he has seen as a spectator. “I think it was in the ’90s,” he says. “It was my birthday at the Whiskey, and it was their homecoming gig. They swung — big time!”
Barre also considers a show with Robert Plant and his band at Colston Hall in Bristol, England, three years ago, as one of the best shows he has seen. It was ”inspirational with their fresh approach to the songs,” Barre says. “They played and sounded great!”
His other “best” concerts include Snarky Puppy at O2 Academy in Bristol last October, a Larry Carlton show in Germany, “Robben Ford anywhere,” and Buddy Rich at the Whiskey in the early 1970s.
But it’s another show that was the most influential for him as a musician. “It was at Shirley Annexe in Birmingham [England] in 1963,” he recalls. “It was the first band I ever saw: Mike Sheridan and the Nightriders, whose members would later become members of the Moody Blues and Denny Laine Band. I was dribbling at the mouth and totally mesmerized by the guitarist. I was a bit of an eccentric or misfit at school, so I saw my salvation. I knew who I wanted to be that very night!”