Ian Anderson talks about reinventing Jethro Tull’s namesake for rock opera

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For decades, Ian Anderson has been known as Jethro Tull, and it is not surprising as he is the singer, songwriter and producer of their impressive catalogue.

However, Jethro Tull was a real person and he invented the seed-drill, so he made a big contribution to the pastoral history of this country back in the 18th century.

In recent years, Ian Anderson has been recording and touring more and more using his own name rather than that of the band, but he can’t escape Jethro. His latest project is to tell the life-story of Jethro in ‘Jethro Tull – The Rock Opera’ which he will be bringing to UK theatres in September.

“There was a moment when I was travelling in Europe,” says Anderson, “and I thought that I hadn’t paid too much attention to Jethro Tull and to be honest, at the start I was embarrassed that we’d been named after the guy who invented the seed-drill.”

He added: “There were many accounts of his life and there were many instances in his life that echoed the things I’d been writing about in Jethro Tull songs, such as ‘Heavy Horses’ and ‘Aqualung’.”

So Ian decided to write his Tull Rock Opera, but as with most of his projects, he added a slight twist. “I didn’t want to do it as a staged period piece, so I decided to extrapolate his life-story and place him slightly in the future.”

So he isn’t the inventor of the seed drill this time? “No – he’s a high-tech biochemist dealing in cloning plants to feed an ever-growing humanity.”

There appears to be a message about how we are treating our world.

“Things have changed on Earth and we have to start to take care of our food and water.

“We talk about these issues, but I’m not trying to lecture or sour the enjoyment of the show, you have to make it a bit fun.

“The important thing is to get people talking but they need guidance in asking the right questions.”

As well as his backing band, Ian will be dropping in a few surprises with what he calls his ‘virtual guests’.

“Yes, I like to surprise people, but you can’t take people on tour for just a couple of lines, so we’ll have them on a screen.

“We’re playing the music for real and they’re getting paid for not being there.”

As for the music itself, he is setting the story to some classic Jethro Tull songs. “There are five new short pieces but 85% of the show is classic Tuill tracks to serve the storyline.”

“Many people – and I’m amongst them – say it’s like a ‘best of Jethro Tull’ but in a new context.”

Backing Ian will be his usual cohorts in David Goodier, John O’Hara, Florian Opahle and Scott Hammond.

Ian Anderson and his band will perform ‘Jethro Tull – The Rock Opera’ at the Lowry Theatre, Salford on September 14.

Tickets £28 and £32 (subject to booking fee), available from 0843 208 6000 and all the usual agencies.