15 April, 2009
Ian Scott Anderson is a Scottish singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, best known for his work as the head of British rock band Jethro Tull.
Ian Anderson's father ran the RSA Boiler Fluid Company in East Port, Dunfermline. He spent the first part of his childhood in Edinburgh, where he went to Roseburn Primary School from 1953 to 1958. Edinburgh was an influence that has dominated his artistic output ever since. He would return much later in life to live in Scotland for several years.
His family moved to Blackpool in the North West of England in 1959, where he gained a traditional education at Blackpool Grammar School, before going on to study fine art at Blackpool College of Art from 1964 to 1966. Much of his work referring to this period suggests a somewhat turbulent upbringing.
While a teenager, Anderson took a job as a sales assistant at Lewis' department store in Blackpool, then as a vendor on a newsstand. He later said it was reading copies of Melody Maker and the New Musical Express during his lunch breaks that gave him the inspiration to play in a band.
In 1963, he formed The Blades from among school friends: Barriemore Barlow (drums), John Evan (keyboards), Jeffrey Hammond (bass) and Michael Stephens (guitar). This was a soul and blues band, with Anderson on vocals and harmonica - he had yet to take up the flute.
By 1965, the group had turned into the John Evan Smash, comprising a larger line-up. It broke up within a couple of years, by which time Anderson had moved to Luton. There he met drummer Clive Bunker and guitarist and fellow vocalist Mick Abrahams from fellow blues band McGregor's Engine. Along with Glenn Cornick, a bassist he had met through John Evan, he created the first incarnation of the band with which he was to stay for over 40 years: Jethro Tull.
Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull at London's Hammersmith Odeon, March 1978At this time Anderson abandoned his ambition to play electric guitar, allegedly because he felt he would never be "as good as Eric Clapton". As he himself tells it in the introduction to the video "Live at the Isle of Wight", he traded his electric guitar in for a flute which, after some weeks of practice, he found he could play fairly well in a rock and blues style. According to the sleeve notes for the first Tull album, "This Was", he had been playing the flute only a few months when the album was recorded. His guitar practice was not wasted either, as he continued to play acoustic guitar, using it as a melodic as well as rhythmic instrument. As his career progressed, he added soprano saxophone, mandolin, keyboards and other instruments to his arsenal.
His famous tendency to stand on one leg while playing the flute came about by accident. As related in the "Isle of Wight" video, he had been inclined to stand on one leg while playing the harmonica, holding the microphone stand for balance. During the long stint at the Marquee Club, a journalist described him, wrongly, as standing on one leg to play the flute. He decided to live up to the reputation, albeit with some difficulty. His early attempts are visible in the "Rock and Roll Circus" film appearance of Jethro Tull. In later life he was surprised to learn of iconic portrayals of various flute playing divinities, particularly Krishna and Kokopelli, which show them standing on one leg.
While Anderson has recorded a small number of critically-acclaimed projects under his own name, and frequently makes guest appearances in other artists' work, he has been identified in the public eye as the frontman of Jethro Tull for 40 years.
This is undoubtedly because a signature motif of Anderson's career has been a highly distinctive stage image, which has often been counter to the prevailing rock music culture. While he has habitually drawn inspiration from British folklore - at different times deploying stylistic elements of Medieval jester, Elizabethan minstrel, English country squire and Scottish laird - at other times he has appeared as astronaut, biker, pirate and vagrant. His personae often involve a large degree of self-parody.
As a flautist, Anderson is self-taught; his style, which often includes a good deal of flutter tonguing and occasionally singing or humming (or even snorting) while playing, was influenced by Roland Kirk. In 2003 he recorded a composition called Griminelli's Lament in honour of his friend, the Italian flautist Andrea Griminelli. In the 1990s he began working with simple bamboo flutes. He uses techniques such as over-blowing and hole-shading to produce note-slurring and other expressive techniques on this otherwise simple instrument.
Anderson plays several other musical instruments, including acoustic and electric guitar, bass, bouzouki, balalaika, saxophone, harmonica, and a variety of whistles.
He has recorded several songs on which he plays all the instruments as well as carrying out all the engineering and production (such as 1988's "Another Christmas Song"). His earliest foray into one-man recording was apparently on the popular Tull piece "Locomotive Breath". Unable to get his ideas across to the rest of the band verbally, he laid down percussion and guitar tracks himself before adding vocals and then bringing in the others, at a time when tracks were usually recorded with all band members in the studio. Ironically this is one of the most vital pieces on the 1971 Aqualung album and is a mainstay of Tull's stage show.
Anderson's music blends styles such as folk, jazz, blues, rock and pop. His lyrics are frequently complex, (mostly) tongue-in-cheek criticism of the absurd rules of society and/or religion ("Sossity, You're a Woman"; "Hymn 43"; "Thick as a Brick"). He often combines lyrics with other leitmotifs such as folk, mythological, fantastic ("The Minstrel in the Gallery", "Jack-in-the-Green", "Broadsword and the Beast"). In the 1990s and 2000s, Anderson's songs often capture 'snapshots' of his daily life ("Old Black Cat", "Rocks on the Road").
In recognition of his life-long contribution to popular music, Anderson received two honours in 2006: the Ivor Novello Award for International Achievement and an honorary Doctorate of Literature at Heriot-Watt University, on 11 July 2006.
He remains widely regarded as the man who introduced the flute to rock music, and the only one who uses it as his main instrument. He is also considered the first rock musician to utilize a a classical orchestral instrument and develop music to use it as a lead instrument. Other flute players to gain recognition now include Walter Parazaider of Chicago, Burton Cummings of The Guess Who, Ian McDonald of King Crimson, Ray Thomas of the Moody Blues, Thijs van Leer of Focus, Chris Wood of Traffic, Andrew Latimer of Camel, Jerry Eubanks of The Marshall Tucker Band and Peter Gabriel during his years with Genesis, however none but Gabriel and Wood gained anything close to the amount of recognition utilizing the instrument.