18th November 2001
For a period in the mid-Eighties, it appeared that Jethro Tull were in trouble. Sometime around 1984 vocalist Ian Anderson had developed what was vaguely reported as “throat problems”. Problems which would prevent the band from either recording or touring for almost three years. The exact nature of these health issues were never made clear (no reason why they should, of course), and even the dreaded C word was whispered on occasions. Whatever the issue, there certainly was at the time, some speculation as to whether Anderson would ever be able to perform live again.
Well ultimately what transpired, as we all know, is that Anderson re-emerged in 1987 with a new deeper register to his singing (his Mark Knopfler voice, it has rather lazily been referred to), whilst Jethro Tull released the Crest of a Knave album: their biggest selling release for some time. Although ever since, Anderson’s voice, I am sure even the most dedicated Tull fan would agree, has appeared during live performances to be a fickle and fragile thing.
I preface this entry with this potted history as a means of introducing the fact this gig was one of those where Ian’s voice failed him, I am afraid to relate.
After prefacing the show with a brief snippet of Aqualung, the band commenced the set proper with what had been the opening song on their debut album some thirty plus years earlier: Someday The Sun Won’t Shine for You. Anderson just about managed a decent rendition of this ‘un but with the next Cross Eyed Mary, he came unstuck. This song relies on quite a harsh, rasping vocal to carry it off, but Anderson’s almost spoken croak emasculated the piece, with Barre’s excellent guitar work unable to salvage things.
The Thick as a Brick excerpt suffered the same fate, although the clutch of instrumental pieces midway through the set (not a coincidence, I am sure) did allow Anderson’s voice a respite, and Budapest (the first time I had heard it live) really was excellent. But by the time of the encores the voice had gone again, and Living in the Past was painful to listen to.
Time for Ian to perhaps employ a bassist who could sing a bit, to share the load? Or maybe even draft a second singer into the band, a la Van Morrison/Brian Kennedy arrangement? I certainly thought so at the time, although it took some 11 years for Anderson to finally take me up on my suggestion, as witnessed on the Thick as a Brick 2 tour.
Support act for the evening had been an American guitarist/singer called Willy Porter. Porter began his short set with a selection of rather witty and insightful songs, the musical complexity of which (he accompanied himself on guitar); I noted increased with each song.
For his final number (which if memory serves he dedicated to all those critters who had tried to cross a road but failed to make it), he suddenly pulled out all the stops and began playing faster and faster, some remarkably complex stuff. And I could see folks around me thinking “Wow, where did all this come from?”
It almost seemed as if Porter was slightly afraid his remarkable guitar dexterity would detract from his songwriting, so had kept this talent hidden until the close of his set.
Rarely have I witnessed any support act leave the stage to such acclaim.
Aqualung (intro)/My Sunday Feeling
Cross Eyed Mary
Roots to Branches
Thick as a Brick
Hunt By Numbers
The Water Carrier
The Habanero Reel
Pibroch (instrumental version)
A New Day Yesterday
In The Grip of Stronger Stuff
Locomotive Breath/Living in the Past/Protect and Survive