Martin Barre portrait with album

The BIG Über Rock Interview – Martin Barre 

Written by DJ Astrocreep
Saturday, 27 October 2018 04:00

On one of a spate of London trips within a couple of weeks’ timeframe, I caught up with the renowned ex-Jethro Tull guitar player Martin Barre, to discuss his new solo album, ‘Roads Less Travelled’, his influences and eating Pink Floyd’s food rider!


We started with the business end, with Martin telling me a little bit about said new album:


Yeah it’s 11 pieces of music, ten songs and one instrumental. I’ve written all of it as I thought it was important for me to have an album that was all my own composition. Just in my own mind I just thought I had a bit more to offer as a songwriter. It was a pleasure to make from beginning to end. I love making music and I love writing music, and the more I do it the more I love it. It’s a labour of love and I love playing live in my career as a live musician. In the early days, the studio was somewhere where people who loved playing live went very begrudgingly to make very sterile sounding ghost copies of what they did on stage. In studios it’s a very weird place. I mean for no reason I hated studios and it wasn’t until I had a big enough space to put my own studio in that I realised why they were so awful – because they had nothing to do with musicians. They weren’t built for musicians. So I started enjoying the process of recording and then writing. So for me, the CD, playing live, writing, it’s one big world of pleasure.


It struck me, when I listened through it several times, it’s quite a personal thing, a bit introspective at times?


Yeah, I guess so. I guess by virtue all music is you; everything inside of you is coming out. I guess you have to be aware if it’s any good, because if it’s a load of crap, it sort of says a bit about you! You’re laying your soul bare in many ways, in the lyrics certainly, but also with the music. You put your neck on the line; you say this is my music. It’s a statement and there’s nothing protecting you. It’s either you like it or I hope you like it. If you don’t like it, it’s a shame. I’d be quite unhappy, but you know I’m laying my neck on the line.


So it’s your seventh solo album now, the fourth in the last five years though, since the end of Tull: is that what has spurred you on to being more productive solo?


Yeah, I’ve always written music but not in very big quantities. I’ve never been needed to. Ian was always the main songwriter in the band, obviously, so there was never a need for songs. Nobody would say “oh we need a bunch of songs for the next album” like probably most bands do. Ian would say “right I’ve got the next album written here”, and we’d be like “oh ok”. He would have just very basic songs, and all the studio time was adding all the extra music and arranging it, which is a huge job. So, yeah, it’s changed but it brought out something in me that maybe I thought wasn’t there. It was a good time for me because it gave me the space to do anything I wanted to do. I found I had a lot I wanted to do rather than be a bit lost and feel very lonely in solitary not knowing what to do or what to play but I suddenly found that I had a lot that I wanted to do and I knew what it was. So, it was great.


I caught you live at your Preston Guild Hall gig last year and I was actually quite struck by the guy you’ve got doing vocals for you now. He does have a slight passing resemblance to a certain other frontman…


Martin Barre landscape


Yeah. I mean I don’t want him to go there – but he’s singing songs from Tull. I want Dan to have his own personality, his own dynamics, so there’s no agenda – but I definitely wouldn’t have to say anything. There’s going to be a similarity because he’s singing Jethro Tull songs and the melody and the inflection in the lyrics is there written in stone. But I always say to Dan if you want to interpret it in a different way you really ought to because at the end of the day it’s you. People are coming here to hear you sing.


Yeah, one thing I’ve noticed is, despite as you said you’ve written everything for the new album, it’s not as guitar heavy as Jethro Tull was. Is that a deliberate thing?


No, not really. *laughs* I’ve got what I think is a lot more. I love the layering up of mandolins and I love the sort of light and shade that the instruments bring. I guess it’s because guitar albums bore me you know, they tend to be very one dimensional with loads of riffs and solos; it’s like an onslaught. Some people love it, but I don’t like it particularly so I can’t do it, I’m afraid. I just like the dynamics of having other instruments. For me, there’s enough guitar on it to make me happy: it’s understated maybe, and so when we play it live, the bits that aren’t obvious will come out. Obviously I play through all of these songs, but yeah, I’m happy with the amount there is; if there isn’t enough, I’d rather leave an audience wanting more rather than saying I’ve had enough of that. Cos that would be the worst thing…


When I spoke to you last year you had mentioned that you were also looking at doing a reimagined version of some Jethro Tull songs.


Yeah. Next year I’m going to do a 50th anniversary tour of mine, as Jethro Tull. We’re gonna tour it with Clive Bunker and Jonathon Noyce ,and then I’m going to do a double CD of 50 song. That’s the idea. I know it’s being done elsewhere, but I thought of this a long time ago. Some of them will be re-written and some will be very similar. I don’t know, I’m just going to construct them as I want and as we come to do them. I’ll be building up the recording in the next few months and then that CD will come out next year.


As you’ve said it’s the 50th year anniversary which is some goal for any band whatsoever. Obviously there’s been so many changes whether that’s in terms of technology or the internet and things like that. What do you think have been the most positive external things upon music in that time?


Well, I think communication and Facebook. You know, when it started people from my generation sort of looked down at as being sort of being a thing “for the kids”. The internet and YouTube are very cynical, but it is such a powerful tool: it brings music to the world, obviously, so it’s a really important thing. It’s a great way of communicating, for finding people that might like my music and bringing them to my music; so it’s really, really important.


Do you listen to many new artists or anything like that, or do you not have much of a chance outside of writing and touring?


Martin Barre landscape 1


You know I listen to a lot, there’s not a lot I like… I probably shouldn’t name the ones that I don’t like, It would be very unfair


Is there anyone that you do particularly like?


I like Snarky Puppy, I like Vulfpeck. I like odd things from different artists. I like… oh, I’ve forgotten his name now… he committed suicide, did a solo album before…


Chris Cornell?


MB: Yes, thank you…my brain. But that last CD was phenomenal. The first track on it is one of the best songs I’ve ever heard – but, you know, it’s rare. I hear a lot of stuff that I really think is rubbish, but that’s me and it doesn’t mean to say that it is rubbish: I’m just old and miserable *laughs* and I’m hard to impress. I hear a lot of stuff I’ve heard before: people say “oh he’s an amazing guitar player, it’s incredible”. Oh really? Gary Moore, you know, Stevie Ray…. I’ve been there. I’m always ready to be impressed because I like the feeling that there’s a resurgence of good music.


When you were growing up, who were your main influences? Who made you feel like playing the guitar?


Playing the guitar? I mean in the early days, nobody because I was brought up in rock and roll where the singers were more important. Tamla Motown, RnB, soul music where the guitar had very little prominence. I went to see ‘Motown The Musical’ and not only were the band out of this world but there were all those songs that I was brought up on: The Temptations, The Impressions, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett…


Martha and the Vandellas…


It would go on and on: Marvin Gaye, Ben E. King, great music you know. I don’t know if there was guitar in there or not but there are great melodies, it’s great music and that inspires all musicians. It’s not very often that it’s the guitar that attracts me to music and if it does, you know… I like good guitar players, but sort of leave them alone; like Joe Bonamassa is a great player: leave him alone because he’s great at what he does and nobodies doing it better than he does it so leave him alone. Find your own niche. Robin Ford, same story. A lot of great players, but I don’t want to emulate them because it’s pointless… I just do my own thing.


One thing I’ve noticed is you’re from Broad Heath, on the outskirts of Birmingham and around the same time you came joined Tull, we had Black Sabbath and there was Judas Priest a few years later and Deep Purple about the same time. Is there something in the water or something special in the diet?


I think of Stevie Winwood, The Moody Blues and Roy Wood as more my era – but of course I do, because I’m a Brummie. You know, you’re Liverpool and let’s face it, quite a lot came out of Liverpool. But I’ve worked with a lot of musicians from Plymouth and I was so surprised at how much talent there is in Plymouth. But, why shouldn’t there be? If you take any town, Norwich for example, and examine all the musicians that lived in Norwich… I just think that it’s a romantic image about the Liverpool sound: it was amazing, but there was a London sound, the Manchester sound, you know Oasis, Britpop and such. It could be anywhere in the world – the Seattle sound – it’s there everywhere but it’s just they’ve romanticised it and made it a product.


One of the stories that you told, when I saw you at Preston Guild Hall last year, was about inventing prog to annoy people who could dance, which I found it quite funny. You seem to have kept that sense of humour and fun when you’re on stage…


Martin Barre mono


Yeah, if you can’t laugh at yourself, that’s a bit sad. I hate people who take themselves seriously. I really don’t like people like that. Yeah, there’s humour in everything and you’re entertainers, you know. I’m not a musician, I’m an entertainer. People in the Royal Philharmonic are musicians, they don’t entertain cause they just play, but they are musicians. So, I’m not purely that. I see humour in all of it, whether it’s meant to be there or not. I really like the very rare comedians that see comedy in everyday things in life. You know, I hate that the guttural comedy that just uses shock, bad language, I really don’t like it: but somebody who’s clever, like a Billy Connolly maybe, they just see life, you know from something seen in the daytime and you go “ooo” but somebody else will see it and they will see the humorous side. It’s clever and I think that makes life so much nicer, if you can find that humour.


As you have been performing for so many years now, you must have come across some strange rider requests, whether it’s your own or people you work with. Is there anything that stands out for you?


The only one that stands out for me was we went to say hello to Pink Floyd. They were playing in America, and we went backstage to say hello and that… we were chatting away and they were like “oh we’re on stage we better go; if you’re hungry go through there, we’ve got outside catering and we never bother with it”. We went to the catering room and it was like a banquet for the gods! Dom Perignon, 50-year old cognac, lobsters, steaks. We never watched any of the music, we just sat and ate their rider. But, it was just the fact that they never touched it. With Tull, it was so modest it was embarrassing. People ask “what’s your rider?” I just email them with a zero and that’s it, nothing else. If I want to have a glass of prosecco or a glass of chardonnay I’ll go and buy one. I’m not bothered by all that!


‘Roads Less Travelled’ is out now.


Martin Barre is currently touring the US, and returns to the UK to play Warehouse 23 in Wigan on Friday 16 November and the Citadel in St Helen’s on Friday 25 January.


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