July 12--When Jethro Tull released "Thick as a Brick" in 1972, the intent of its creator, Ian Anderson, was to parody the works of prog-rock bands that then flourished in Great Britain. The record was one song nearly 45 minutes in length; its fictional narrative centered on a concept album about a schoolboy, Gerald Bostock, and his epic poem, "Thick as a Brick."
In 2012, to celebrate the album's 40th anniversary, Anderson composed its sequel, "Thick as a Brick 2," and fused both into a live, theatrical performance. Saturday night, he and his four-piece band will perform at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
Anderson recently spoke to The Star about the original album and giving it the live presentation it deserves.
What was it like to revisit this album after 40 years?
I was a little nervous about how I would find the music to play all the way through and how practical or easy it might be. It turned out to be a lot easier now than it was back in 1972.
In terms of everyone's musical abilities, it's not so hard for me and the guys in the band to do a pretty good job of playing it all that live. I think it's well within their musical scopes. It's easy in the sense of that it's easy if you know how.
But there's a lot of work involved in learning and rehearsing it and keeping it up to standards. If we're off the road for a week or so, I'm sure the others, like I do, have to spend a little while practicing and rehearsing privately before heading back out on tour. It's a lot to remember.
It has been enjoyable to do, and it feels somehow strangely more fitting in this day in age. It's not what people expect -- for any band to play a fairly complex concept album in its entirety, let alone two, back-to-back.
I don't think many groups would risk doing that. Doesn't seem like a good career move, but not only do I get away with it, it seems that we're presenting it in a such a theatrical fashion it works surprisingly well.
We just got back from Japan last night. We played "Thick as a Brick" in Japan in 1972, and it was really hard work back then. The audience didn't get it. I think they still don't get it, but they enjoy it because there's more entertainment value because of the videos and the other performers and the way it's presented. It has more theatricality, which, I suppose, makes it easier to swallow.
What did you rediscover about the music when you got back into it?
What was rediscovered was the musicality was a struggle, as I remember it, back then. When we played it (live) in 1972, I think we left a few bits out that were awkward and difficult to play. Now, we pretty much do it note-for-note.
Different musicians have different scopes. The guys who played it on the record, it was a little bit rough in places but it was good. It was all done by repetition, by overdubs and repairs and fixes. There are still quite a few wrong notes on the album.
But playing it now live, the musicians are just a different generation with more expertise with their instruments. You have to remember, "Thick as a Brick" was recorded when Jeffrey Hammond had been playing bass guitar for just over a year. That was his second recording. For a guy who had picked up the bass guitar only a year before, that was pretty amazing.
Barry Barlow had joined the band just before we started "Thick as a Brick," so it was his first album. He was a good technical drummer, but this was beyond anything he'd played before. And John Evan and Martin Barre had played in Jethro Tull for a couple of years and were a bit more experienced but still developing.
These days, the guys I'm playing with have all been playing for 20, 30 or 40 years. They're all guys who are very experienced, so you'd expect it to be better musically: a bit more rhythmic and a bit more relaxed in the right places, more aggressive in others. That comes with age and experience.
What was your intent when you composed "Thick as a Brick"?
When "Aqualung" was reviewed, the large majority of music critics saw it as a concept album. I always maintained it was not a concept album. It was a collection of songs. Although three or four of those songs had a relationship to each other, the rest did not. They were literally singer/songwriter songs.
It was packaged to give it a bit of a theme, but it was never meant to be a concept album. But no one paid attention to me when I said, "No, it's not a concept album," they insisted it was.
The following year, I thought, 'Well, if they thought "Aqualung" was a concept album, we'll show them what a concept album is really about. We'll go one or two steps further than Yes or Genesis or King Crimson or Emerson Lake & Palmer and do the mother of all concept albums,' It was really an exaggerated, almost a parody, of the concept album and the prog-rock genre.
But like all parodies or entities with a comedic sense ... I think the comedy makes it easier to access, but the message behind it can be quite serious and perhaps more intimidating. "Thick as a Brick" employed that surreal comedy spirit that was rampant in the U.K. in the late '60s and early '70s as epitomized by Monty Python. I was trying to get that spirit into "Thick as a Brick."
Do you think most people got it?
Fifty percent got it, the rest didn't. I suppose that's what I was aiming for. I didn't want it to be too obvious. I didn't want slapstick, not Benny Hill. I wanted "Monty Python," something more cerebral and little bit more weird.
There were two different comedy camps going on the the U.K.: the humor derived from the old music-hall days, and the new humor, which was more satirical and surreal, like "Round the Home" and "Monty Python" and "The Goon Show." That was humor that drew the college generation for its underlying substance.
How long had it been since you played the album in its entirety before this tour?
November 1972. Japan may have been our last stop. We played two U.S. tours. Unwisely, we played them in arenas, and it wasn't an arena show. The audience just whistled and shouted and wanted to hear "Aqualung." It was not successful as a live performance in the USA. We took it to the wrong venues.
Our manager thought bigger was better, but it was a theatrical show that was always going to be better in theaters. Maybe 30 or 40 times, tops. Since April of last year, we've done about 120 shows.
As you composed "Thick as a Brick 2," what were your designs?
It started off simply as the answer to the question, "Whatever happened to Gerald Bostock?" I wanted to explore what this little boy might have turned out to become 40 years later.
Had you planned from the start to integrate it with "Thick as a Brick" in a live performance?
Well, I hoped to play both. The starting point was to have the same classic rock instruments: the Hammond organ, the Gibson Les Paul guitar, the Fender bass and, in my case, the flute and acoustic guitar. I wanted the same instrumental, sonic quality of the original.
But musically, I wanted it to be its own creation. I chose to put in some references musically to the original album. So there are five or six little motifs that are taken from the first album and developed for the second album, and I think the more listening fans will spot them and have a little fun with it. It's there to create that echo of a previous age. That was deliberate.
And how do you think they dovetail as two parts of one performance?
Well, to perform it live onstage, you have to draw it together into something cohesive. The theatricality and the production, the use of video, the use of other performers onstage -- a guy who is my alter-ego sings and dances and mimes. So we try to create a link between to rather long sets, and it hangs together pretty well. No one leaves at halftime.
To reach Timothy Finn, call 816-234-4781 or send email to email@example.com.
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