Interviews — June 11, 2013 at 3:23 pm

An Evening with Ian Anderson Part II


You have hosted a classic rock radio show in the UK. Tell me about it.

I don’t do a radio show as a matter of regularity. If somebody offered me a job in live broadcasting, I might well be tempted to do that.  But I’m not particularly enamored of sitting in a studio and doing a broadcast for later transmission. The excitement is truly live and I like the edge of the seat sense and the tension of live broadcasting. I appear in lots of live things. I have to say that I always enjoy that feeling of things being real. You have to be on your best behavior and to some degree an entertainer. Whether you are fronting a heavyweight political affairs program or a talk show, it has to have an entertainment value. It’s a real talent. I have a few folks that I like and am friends with (mentions names from BBC and CNN) in the world of broadcasting and politics. It interests me and interests them because we are from opposite backgrounds.

Now apparently, you have written a recipe book based on Indian food that you published online. True?

I did a small amount of stuff about Indian food that I mentioned on our website. Some people know me in that context. It’s just a little write up about the basics for people who are paying their first visit to an Indian restaurant. It’s helpful to have a few pointers, but I am by no means an expert. 

Your lyrics and colorful musical history would seem to lend itself to an autobiography. So, do you have plans to write one?

I don’t have plans because I don’t think it’s right and proper. However humorously and anecdotally you would write about your friends or even enemies, I don’t think it’s right to capitalize on your professional relationships in order to sell a book—which would be read by everyone. I’m both too private and I respect the privacy of others. There are lots of glorious and vibrant and hugely amusing stories that I have picked up. It’s just not something that I should do. What happens on the tour bus stays on the tour bus. And that encapsulates my experience. I just don’t feel right about telling tales. I’m a very enthusiastic tale teller. But it would be a dull book because I just won’t capitalize on others. Having said that, it’s all going to be in my movie in which I play myself. And is there a rapturous following for the TV series “The Walking Dead” in Hong Kong? Well, my son in law is officer Rick Grimes.

So many of your rock colleagues like Robert Plant and The Stones, for example, continue playing today. What’s the appeal? And how has it changed for you over the years? Is it more gratifying?

I probably share some of the same views as some of the people you just mentioned. There are hopefully some things that we do better—and even technically we can do things better. We have to work harder to maintain that performance that we had when we were in our twenties. If you’re a singer, your voice is going to age. If you are poor old Pavarotti and expecting to get a high B, it’s a torturous moment. It’s pretty scary for guys who have a set repertoire, but if you’re Robert Plant you can get by changing the key or modifying the melody line. You can learn to economize. I’m a flute player, guitar player—I never thought I was a singer. I’m a guy that bashes it out and sings my own songs. I work within my means. I suppose I’ve improved the depth and strength of my baritone range because you can develop a bigger voice.

What’s it like when you go out onstage now?

It’s not a state of nervous excitement. I’ve got so much to fall back on. I may get tense. I don’t have that sort of spine tingling thing just before I go onstage. If you ever watched Michael Schumacher, before the warm up grid, you see those seemingly emotionless concentrated eyes. You know he is going through every little turn. I think I am more of that persuasion. I’m your steely-eyed Grand Prix driver before you go into battle. I’m focused. Different people do it different ways. There are those who do it goofing and joking. I’m afraid I’m the other kind of guy. My dressing room is locked. I do a warm up to make sure my fingers move properly. You find the thing that works for you that prepares you best. I don’t get to do a warm up lap or knock about a few balls before a Wimbledon final. I have to come in from the wings and do a 100 mph go. I’m more of an astronaut. When it goes bang, I’ve got to be ready. It’s two hours of aerobics, working out in the gym for which I get paid. 

Away from music, I read about your struggles with the salmon farms. What did you learn from that whole experience and how does that relate to your concern about global warming?

They are related in the sense that they are environmental  issues. I’m careful to say climate change. In Europe we’re seeing more volatile weather for sure. So yes, there are obviously climate change patterns that are man made. We’re due for another ice age, for sure. But there have been so many ice ages in the past. Back in 1974, I wrote my first song about climate change. In 1971, I wrote “Locomotive Breath” about overpopulation and greed. These things have long been with me. They have been invigorating me for a long time. It’s stuff that became a source of lyrical and musical material. So when I got into agriculture in 1978, it wasn’t with a wide eyed state of mind. We knew what we were doing, but there was a belief that farming would be a part of the food production industry that would on balance be a positive one. There are certain areas of the world—where 51 percent is from farmed species. Of course, it’s how you fish them. After 20 years I decided I wasn’t happy continuing with the farms because I decided we didn’t have the fish species to continue feeding the salmon. It’s an inefficient way of producing food. You’re feeding fish to the fish. Nonetheless, the principle of wasteful food production is something we have to think about. I have principles and employing 400 people was not as important as supporting more sustainable ways of producing food. I decided to opt out. I didn’t lose money. I didn’t make money. I just didn’t want to be part of it in the future.

How has social media helped sustain the longevity of Jethro Tull’s music and your career?

It helps me enormously when I am looking at things for research that are music based. I use YouTube quite a lot. I know a lot of it is copyright infringement and illegal. Same thing with Wikipedia. People can usually access it and perform intellectual graffiti by creating falsehoods, just because it amuses them. These have their dangers. It’s best summed up by what a young Israeli girl told me when I did some shows there. One of the students who was 14 or 15 went to a joint Palestinian/Israeli school. I asked her about social media. She said, “What you old people have to understand is that we kids—when we go online—we’re not as stupid as you think we are. You don’t have to worry about us kids getting run over with an internet truck. We filter the bad stuff out as we go along.” This was at a time when there was some controversy in Gaza. “Some of our students were saying things online that we really regretted,” she continued. “We have to work it out amongst ourselves. So don’t worry too much about us because we grew up with the internet highway.” It struck me as a very rewarding and adult view to be hearing, from someone who could easily have gone the other way and hated her Palestinian classmates. If you can reach out to younger people before they become contaminated with ideological views, there is a chance that you can change the world within two or three generations.

Final question for you. You’ve dined with presidents and received the MBE. What do you consider to be your finest professional achievement to date?

It’s really more of a sense of who you are. It’s building up all those elements. It’s not about people you’ve worked with or met. It’s more the big picture. I’m self-critical about who I am. I’m not a villain. I’m kind of a relatively okay guy who does a good job and works hard at it. It’s about being a survivor in a world of people who fall prey to those stereotypical lifestyle issues in arts and entertainment. Being a survivor is my first sense of achievement. I’ll be 66 years old in August. It’s good that you know when you go on stage or write a song that you have a sense of getting to that place in your life where there’s not too much time left, where you can turn the wick up a bit higher. To be able to do that is a huge achievement. But you work at it. It’s not for free. Life is not always evenhanded that it gives to some people and takes from others. In my case I still have good health and hence a feeling and distinct reward of being able to do this for a few more years. That’s the lifetime achievement. It’s not having lunch with Gorbachev. Those things pale in comparison to who you are, what you’ve done and how lucky you are to still be doing that. If you ever see me with a golf club, shoot me. And to sum up my show in Hong Kong, I’m looking forward to being there. And I expect my reaction to be, “Wow, haven’t you grown taller?” And the second one will be, “Wow…there’s actually some people in the audience tonight, which I hope will be the case…”

Ian Anderson will be performing a full concert in Hong Kong at the Asia-World Expo Hall 10 on Monday, June 24th at 8pm. Ticket prices range from $HK380-$980 and are available via HKTicketing and Tom Lee Music Outlets (Meet and Greet packages are available). For further details visit the website.


By Scott Murphy


Scott Murphy is Head Writer at SIREN FILMS – a HK based independent production and creative house. Find him on Twitter: @scottkmurphy.