Sunday, May 15, 2016

Raising the Barre- a Conversation with Solo Artist and former Jethro Tull Guitarist Martin Barre

Martin Barre, after 43 years as the lead guitarist for rock legends Jethro Tull, is on his own.  His solo tour finished up at the Blue Ocean Music Hall in Salisbury, Massachusetts on April 30.

In addition to playing several Tull pieces, he and his band mostly perform the music that Barre has written; a hard-edged, blues tinged, rock repertoire. Barre compares this effort with his work in Tull.

When I joined Tull, they were a blues band.  I thought that would be the main agenda, which troubled me a little. I wasn’t really a blues guitarist at all. I started playing their old set, the one they developed with the original guitar player Mick Abrahams, who was a great blues player. I didn't want to try to fill his shoes.  It was a great relief when the music of Tull completely changed.  It was like we started from zero, scratch; and moved in a completely new direction.  It was good to have a part in that from the very beginning. I spent the last 40 years writing a lot of music.”

“The solo stuff is nice thing to take up at this stage in my career.  I’ve got great motivation to play better, and the band, who art all young guys, pushed me a bit.  Until now, I didn't realize how enjoyable writing is.”

Barre, whose fretwork was a major element in the music of Tull, also enjoys working with his new band as a leader.  He noted differences with his earlier experience.

“I love that none of us were really anonymous in Tull, but there was a way in which that band was presented. We weren’t given much of a choice. Ian Anderson (lead singer and flautist of Tull) was such a strong personality.  He loved the limelight, and the more he could do the better.  Sometimes he didn’t want to share it. I loved it when he and I used to do TV together. I sort of thought we had that Mick Jagger/Keith Richards thing going, that big connection. I guess he didn’t se it that way. Ian liked the spotlight.  He has such a strong image. It was his character that really became the ‘brand’ for the band. “

“I really enjoy it now, running the band. We work very hard; I like the fact everyone shares in all the aspects of being a band- music, rehearsal, performing. “

The tour supports his most recent solo album, Back to Steel. Barre has put a lot of thought into his music since Jethro Tull stopped touring. The album features some of the strongest playing in Barre’s career, and is comprised of strong, blues-tinged hard rock.

“This is an important album for me, I took a lot of consideration about what it should be; I wanted to create music that I could take to a gig and would sound really, really strong; and could be played hand in hand with the Tull materiel. I never stopped playing Tull, but this is important because this is my own music. I hope this album is a stepping stone, the beginning of more songwriting and more solo albums.  I would describe it as strong power rock blues.  I’ll go wherever it takes me. It feels more focused.”

Still, he feels equally excited about playing some of the old Jethro Tull materiel in concert.

“With the Tull stuff, I want to reinvent it and mix it up a bit. I want the music to be sparkling, new and energetic. I'd rather win fans over in a more subtle way by giving them something that they don't expect. Some of the Tull songs I completely reconstruct- for example, "Fat Man", is now a rock piece- straight ahead, and heavy.  It’s got a whole new face. The song is essentially intact but we've pushed into a different area, and it works.”

Barre wants all of the music to be taken at face value.

“I don't want to be associated with the thought we are a cover band.  That would just destroy me, because it’s so far from what we do.  One thing we are not is a cover band. Only a few of the songs end up getting played the same as the record.  I want people to come away realizing that this is the Martin Barre Band, and we are unique. With the Tull stuff, we’re not trying to be clever with it.  For example, “Locomotive Breath isn’t done the way Tull used to do it.  It’s completely changed- the tempo and feel.  There is no flute in the band, so we needed to refocus the ‘color’ of the song.“

Barre feels very at home and welcome touring the United States.

“America is been a huge part of my life.  I’ve been coming here 45 years.  Over that time, I’ve seen huge changes in the U.S. Politically, I couldn't even dare to offer opinions- it’s none of my business. I’m mindful I’m a guest and try to be respectful. I love America. I’m married to an American, my son lives here, and I’ve spent a lot of my life here. I’m grateful for that opportunity.  America is a big stage for music; the listening public is huge, loyal and intelligent and broad in their tastes.”

“When I play a gig, i think basically it should be good fun, great night out.  I love it when people come up to me after a typical Barre gig, and say "I didn't know what to expect what you've done far exceeded it." Things that in theory they wouldn't like, they really like when we do it. They go away feeling positive, and come back and see it again. And we just try to improve on that. That's my mission. I’m getting on in years, but I have a young band.  I love what I do; and I've found that over time, my playing has gotten stronger. I’ll be honest- the day I need to stop, when it’s time to call it a day, I'll do it.  I'd rather not have it said about me that I hung on too long. This is a big opportunity to play more than I used to.  Over time, my part in Tull diminished.  So I’m happy playing a supportive role in a band-again, playing solo, I realized how little I was doing with Tull, at the end- so playing out solo has really opened the floodgates.”

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