Ahead of his show in Dallas, Martin Barre talks about his aversion to most music
Of the nearly 55 years that Jethro Tull has existed as a rock ‘n’ roll ambassador of English flute-based folk music, 45 of those years have been carried by the muscular guitar drumming of Martin Barre. With a breath of fresh air into his own career and the relationship with the band that made him famous, the former Jethro Tull guitarist is set to bring his solo band to Arlington Music Hall.
At 8 p.m. on Thursday, January 27, Barre et co. celebrate the 50th anniversary of Tull’s historic album Scuba diving suit featuring a special guest appearance from former Jethro Tull drummer Clive Bunker and a performance of the iconic album in its entirety as well as other Tull favorites and selections from Barre’s recent solo triumphs.
Barre and Jethro Tull parted ways in 2012, when Ian Anderson, the band’s jester-like flautist frontman, decided to reconfigure the band as a solo effort. Over the next decade, Barre focused on songwriting and composing, something he had little opportunity to do in Jethro Tull.
“There was no availability because Ian was so prolific,” Barre said on the phone before a show in snowy Michigan. “Now I have a lot of space to do that. I’m always up for the challenge and very determined to become a better songwriter, arranger and music producer. I always try to improve what I have, as opposed to everyone’s “conclusions.” Everyone draws “conclusions” about music and what’s right and wrong, but I prefer mine for better or worse.
Surprisingly, despite the varied styles he’s covered with and without Jethro Tull, Barre says his own appetite for outside music is rather specific.
“Ninety-nine percent of the music I hear I don’t like,” he says. “I don’t like other guitarists, I don’t like the saxophone. If there’s one music I love, it’s classical music. I’ve always liked that, that’s what I listen to for fun.
Barre has said in the past that he avoids listening to other guitarists to preserve his own style of playing.
“I’ve been listening to great players for 50 years, and I admire what they do, but I don’t relate to it,” he says, “I don’t hear a guitarist and I think ‘I wish I could do that’ ‘, because I’m happy with what I can do. I’m not interested. I’m just trying to be a better music writer. In terms of acting, I think I’ve found my niche and I have no intention of leaving soon.
Whether this method of “conservation” is more or less effective than others, Barre says each person should have their own methods.
“I think you’re coming to the same place,” he said. “You can learn guitar by taking lessons or watching YouTube videos or by doing it yourself, but you end up in the same place.”
That being said, the remaining 1% that Barre enjoys is somewhat surprising.
“I love virtuoso bluegrass,” he says. “The banjo and mandolin music is fabulous. Folk music too, Scottish and Irish folk music. A tiny bit of blues. But classical music gives me everything I want. It contains all these genres, you just have to find them.
Since fully committing to his solo work, Barre has released four albums over the past decade and has more material on the way, a creative explosion from someone whose first songwriting credit (the song 1975 title Minstrel in the gallery, a credit shared with Anderson) entered six years into his tenure with the band and whose first credited single track came three years later (“Quatrain” from Tull’s live album To burst).
“I’ve done it more in the last few years because I had the motivation to do it,” Barre says. “I love writing music as a beginner. There’s a lot of room for improvement. If I have any aspirations in my career, it’s to be a better music writer.
Barre says he has no qualms that his new found love for songwriting may be overshadowed by the towering legacy of his life’s work.
“I use one to feed the other,” he says. “If I play Jethro Tull’s music to 5,000 people and I can play four of my own songs, that’s great. I’m happy to do that. I have no pretensions about why I’m here and why my audience is here, but deep down my music will always be more important to me. It will always be there under the surface. Writing a song that everyone knows, or bringing in a band and saying, “We’re playing one of your songs on stage,” would be the best thing that could happen to me. The rest is bread and butter.
As to whether he feels like his recent burst of creativity may lead to artistic burnout, Barre says he’s confident that won’t happen soon.
“I haven’t found it harder yet, but I know a lot of people whose songwriting has deteriorated,” he laughs. “I just hope it doesn’t happen to me for a long time and when it does, I’ll stop writing. It’s very hard to be honest with yourself, and it’s very hard to let go of something you’ve done all your life, but I’m very critical of what I do. I hope it stays that way.”
Barre says the postponement of live performances for the past two years has given her a break and allowed her to recharge creatively.
“I had a great two years at home because I was writing music, playing a lot of guitar, playing the flute, kind of catching up with life,” he says. “It didn’t bother me – financially it was a pig, but mentally it was quite refreshing. It’s a good thing to do at my age, just stop and take stock of everything. I’m fine The band is back, the four of us played in Florida for a few weeks, and now we have the girls and Clive with us, so it’s really great.
“I don’t hear a guitar player and I think ‘I wish I could do that’, because I’m happy with what I can do.” – Martin Barre
Barre’s current band includes vocalist/guitarist Dan Crisp, bassist Alan Thompson, drummer Darby Todd, and vocalists Alex Hart and Becca Langsford providing vocals and additional instrumental backing.
“I’m just trying to give the audience what they paid to come see and hear,” Barre says. “If someone said to me, ‘I really like the way you do Tull’s stuff, but I’m not sure about your stuff’, I wouldn’t mind the least bit. I have no expectations of the If for 10 people who say there’s one person who says they’d like to know more about me, then that’s a great balance.
Although the past decade has been Barre’s first as a solo performer and writer, it’s not the first time he’s made music outside of Jethro Tull. He played guitar on a number of records over the years, including notable turns on solo albums by Ten Years After keyboardist Chick Churchill in 1973 and King Crimson bassist (and then-future Asian singer) John Wetton in 1980.
“I like working with other people,” Barre says. “Especially people I know nothing about, because it puts you in a very open position where you have to work hard and find something that works for them rather than for yourself. I think musicians who don’t get involved not in a challenge like this miss what music is.
Luckily for Barre, this creative mission and a bit of snow in the Midwest seem to be her only challenges in life at the moment. He greatly appreciates the camaraderie of his new group, and life on the road is something he’s been used to all his life.
“I make my home wherever I am,” he says. “I’ve done this all my life. It’s not particularly ideal, but wherever I lay my head, I call home. It is part of the nomadic way of life. For 50 years, I got used to it. It gets a bit sad, but basically it works for me. I love my things – my guitars, my car, my garden, my collection of steam engines – but other than that, I don’t miss them at all. They mean next to nothing, which is a healthy contrast. Nothing should matter so much from a materialistic point of view, so I can live without them.
Despite her inner peace without material possessions, Barre appreciates the presence of a kettle on the road. “With real milk,” he laughs.
Barre says he’s learned to appreciate the little things in life at this point – the privacy, the company of his family and bandmates, and the ability to stop and smell the roses once in a while. on the road. Every day, he runs for an hour in the city where he is.
“You see things other people don’t see when they’re just sitting in a hotel room; it’s the last thing I want to do,” Barre said. “I want to walk around and see what a place is. Most of the places I’ve been to so I know them, but I’m interested in where I am.
The nature of life on the road taught Barre a lot about life.
“People always say, ‘You’ve traveled everywhere,’ but not really, I just worked in lots of different places,” Barre explains. “We’ve played in India before, but I can’t really say I’ve ‘been’ to India. I’ve only been to the Sheraton in Mumbai, and that’s not India. It’s just America in India So I’m not a real traveler, but I do my best with what I have.
“Either you fight your situation or you accept it and enjoy it. We stop for a nice homemade breakfast if we can find a family restaurant. These are the things that make life easier, and they become more important than they normally would.”
As Barre is called in for what is sure to be a chilling soundcheck, he ends the conversation on a high note.
“I’m just happy with what I have,” he says. “Music keeps me busy. It’s my life, it doesn’t own me, but I certainly own it.