Jethro Tull Also Played Guitar
We can put the blame on Leslie West. After a personal meeting with the guitarist for Mountain in 1970, a young admirer decided to buy himself a '58 Les Paul Junior for the recording of the new album by his band, Jethro Tull, a promising young group on the London scene fronted by a wildman who played flute. Months later, they presented the world with one of the masterpieces of rock, Aqualung, an album that needs no introduction, and the same goes for the Gibson of Martin Lancelot Barre.
The shadow of Ian Anderson is long but so is the one cast by Martin Barre. Jethro Tull is the sum total of both musicians, and individually neither one has come close to reaching the level of one of the most important recording legacies of the 20th century. With one foot in the folk camp and the other in rock, they created their own individual style whose influence can still be heard today.
Martin Barre was buried by the huge personality of Anderson, whose prancing about hypnotized the audience while Barre laid down his well-crafted solos or made them move to the rhythm of his deep, heavy riffs, disguised under the meticulous arrangements of David Palmer. A wolf in sheep's clothing who preferred to steer clear of the spotlights. Tony Iommi lasted all of one week.
Aqualung is without a doubt Jethro Tull’s signature album. Obviously, it also has Barre's most well-known playing on it, but it’s not the one that best shows us his abilities whether plugged in or strumming one of his Manson acoustics manufactured in Exeter.
Minstrel in the Gallery (1975) and Heavy Horses (1978) contain some of the finest examples of the guitarist electrified to the max. The acoustic playing was a job he shared with Anderson - another multi-instrumentalist like Barre- and left a multitude of tiny jewels sprinkled throughout all of their albums. Full of magic moments like the ones found on Thick as a Brick (1971), another one of their masterpieces.
On the verge of turning 70 (Birmingham, November 17, 1946), Martin Barre has left behind his better half, and his experimenting with new age, in order to refocus on his solo career. He prefers touring with his own band now, just after the 50th anniversary of his first chord. He celebrated that milestone in 2015 with Back to Steel, his seventh studio album.
After a 10-year hiatus following Stage Left (2003), he returned in 2013 with a renewed desire to play guitar that was evident to everyone. He released three new albums and a double live CD, plus numerous collaborations with his old colleagues. Now he plays for himself, including when he went back to the Jethro Tull songbook for Skating Away and cut his own version.
He is perfect in the studio and a maestro live on stage, capable of sounding exactly the same or even better, and unfairly ignored in the current lists of the best "axeslingers". But that's their problem. What inspired and motivated Martin Lancelot Barre was to fulfil his first dream: a lovely cherry red Gibson ES-335 that stayed in the store in 1964 because it was so expensive (175 pounds sterling in those days). He had to settle for the ES-330, a slightly less expensive model.
Now he owns both.
Listen on Spotify:
- Minstrel in the Gallery
- Back to Steel