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Published on March 5th, 2000 | by Gerry Galipault


On Music, Birds and Toilets: A Q&A with Ian Anderson

Seven months after the release of Jethro Tull’s 25th album, “J-Tull Dot Com,” Ian Anderson is back March 7 with his third solo effort, “The Secret Language of Birds” (Fuel 2000). (The U.K. release, on Papillon Records, is out March 6.)From his home perch in the tranquil English countryside, the legendary lead singer-flutist discusses the new album and other things via e-mail.

Pause & Play – The songs on this album are much more personal and raw. Why wouldn’t these work in the context of Jethro Tull?

Anderson – “Tull is a rock band with five musicians. When I write for the band, I am writing for the other guys and tend to make music which offers them more scope for contribution. The more personal stuff seems to make more sense in the Ian Anderson solo context. Back in the early ’70s, I used to slip some of the acoustic solo pieces into the Tull albums, but I always felt that the other band members might slightly resent not being included.”

P&P – Do you feel more comfortable in this setting?

Anderson – “It’s not a question of being more comfortable. It’s another conduit for my musical urges, but it is a more personal one. I think I will always love upbeat rock music as much as all the other kinds of music which I play.”

P&P – How’s life in pastoral southwest England? It must be a welcome change of pace after touring the world’s biggest cities.

Anderson – “I have lived in the countryside since 1975, and I love to come home to the tranquility of rural life. I spend about half of my time in the cities, hotels airports, taxis and trains of the world so the contrast is much appreciated.”

P&P – Speaking of “The Secret Language of Birds,” what is your favorite bird? (Ours is the cardinal, with its sweet chirp and the way the male and the female travel together and look out for each other.)

Anderson – “My favourite bird is the chaffinch. The really pretty, colourful birds don’t sound as nice. The plain brownish, nondescript little guys are the ones with the beautiful voices. A bit like me really. Just kidding.”

P&P – Since the last time we spoke with you for Jethro Tull’s last Chrysalis album (1995’s “Roots to Branches”), didn’t you have some kind of health scare? Did it give you a new perspective on life?

Anderson – “I developed a serious blood clot in my leg following an injury in Peru in 1996. Any brush with death causes reflection, evaluation and appreciation. It also pushes up the insurance premiums.”

P&P – Maybe this is urban legend, but when you first moved to London in the 1960s, didn’t you used to clean toilets for a living and kept one as a souvenir of your lean years?

Anderson – “I did clean the toilets in the Ritz Cinema in Luton, Bedfordshire, briefly in 1968, and I did liberate a urinal from a storeroom of redundant and damaged equipment. I did not take it with me through the journey of life on account of its size, weight and male orientation. Not the sort of thing to impress the girls.”

P&P – What was the first record you ever bought?

Anderson – “Johnny Duncan and the Bluegrass Boys’ ‘Last Train To San Fernando,’ in about 1957. This made a great impression on me when I realised that they received a royalty from each record sold. All for having fun and going twangy-wangy on those silly guitars.”

P&P – What was the first concert you ever went to?

Anderson – “Cliff Richard and the Shadows at the ABC Theatre in Blackpool, around 1961. I was too embarrassed to ask for Cliff’s autograph. But I finally got one 38 years later when Cliff had his most recent No. 1 hit and heard that I was a fan!”

P&P – What was the last CD you bought?

Anderson – “A foreign import of a Tull compilation, ‘Journeyman,’ so I could complain to EMI about releasing two CDs under different names but with the same tracks, thus confusing the audience and me, to boot.”

BWF (before we forget): Ian Anderson is living in the past, present and future on the Web @

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Gerry Galipault debuted Pause & Play online in October 1997. Since then, it has become the definitive place for CD-release dates — with a worldwide audience.

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