Interview: Jethro Tull’s Martin Barre riffs with Nippertown prior to local June 23rd gig

HUDSON FALLS – The famed Martin Barre is coming to the Strand Theatre on June 23rd. Known primarily for his hugely influential work in Jethro Tull, Barre has spent his six decades in the industry crafting a sound all of his own, achieving success along the way. Despite the work he’s done and path he’s lived, Barre remains extremely humble to this day and still holds on to that magic of music that he felt all those years ago.

I had a chance to sit down and speak with Martin this past week. What follows is our conversation.

To acquire your tickets for the show at Strand Theater on June 23rd, please click here. Tickets are $50.00 for the 8:00 pm show.

Lucas Garrett: Martin, I want to thank you so much for taking time out of your afternoon to sit down and talk with us. How are you doing?

Martin Barre: I’m good!

LG: We met each other when you were at the Strand (Theater) in Hudson Falls after the performance.

MB: I’m glad we’ve reintroduced ourselves.

LG: I’ll be honest with you when I began playing guitar all those years ago, I never thought I’d have a chance to speak with you! I began playing guitar after I heard The Beatles, and then I heard Jethro Tull and was like, “What is that?!” You’re a huge influence on me and countless others.

MB: Are you coming to the Hudson Falls show?

LG: I’m going to be there!

MB: Good! It’s going to be a great show.

LG: How did you get started with music? What made you want to go into that?

MB: Really, it was the cool thing to do back in the early 1960s. The Beatles had just become a band and The Rolling Stones. The cool kids played guitar and I didn’t like anything else; I didn’t like what kids were doing other than that. There weren’t many people playing and I just wanted to be different. I don’t know, it just suited me. Sometimes, in life, you’re looking for something and then something comes along and you think, “That is what I’ve been looking for.” You give it a try, and hopefully it works!

It worked for me; it took me away from the people I didn’t like at school, and bullies. A lot of people I really didn’t have anything in common with. I found myself, in a sense – a bit dramatic. I found a path in life that was fresh and different and leveled the playing field with everybody.

LG: When you began down that path, did you have any inkling that it would take you to where it has taken you?

MB: No, it was a hobby. It started as nothing, you know? It meant a lot, but it essentially was something that I did in the evening rather than go and drink beer down at the local club – which I never wanted to do. I never had ambitions of success; I love the guitar and I didn’t think, “Wow, I’m going to be amazing one day.” I was like everybody else. I was struggling to learn to play – I didn’t find it easy. I was struggling to find information off records, and there was a trickle of records coming in from America at the time. We pounced at the time, you know, every time Eddie Cochran, or Buddy Holly, or Jerry Lee Lewis would release a new record. We bought it and shared it – me and my friends – and would try to learn how to play it. It was such a small trickle of information. And it grew from nothing to doing full clubs and playing to twenty or thirty people twice a week. And, then, a year or two later, I’m playing four or five nights a week and my schoolwork goes to pot. Eventually, I had to give up one, and you can guess which one I gave up.

LG: I have an idea what one you gave up.

MB: Hahaha.

LG: At what point in your career did you stop and look around and say, “Oh my god.”

MB: I don’t know if I ever did. Maybe when I joined Tull… was the really big step. Taking small steps all the time, but I knew I wanted to be in Tull. I knew it was the band that was perfect for me. It was a big, big step up – very intimidating. It wasn’t anything to do with money or success – success on the musical level. Jethro Tull in ’68 was one of the most important blues-band in England. That was a moment where I had to pinch myself and think “Am I really doing this? Good enough to do it?” But I never give up – I’m very resilient. I’ll never give up on anything.

LG: As you know, guitar is one of the most versatile instruments out there. No one plays it the same way. How did you develop your own style? Did you do it naturally, or did you work really hard at it?

MB: I didn’t work on it, but I listened to other players to get a style. What I was left with was me – for better or for worse. Hahaha. I just think it’s like a game of chess that’s got billions of computations, which, as you say, it’s an infinite instrument of possibilities. As long as you didn’t listen and copy other guitar players, music and the guitar – or any instrument – will take you where you want to go. Step carefully, one little step at a time.

I never tried to be different for the sake of it; I just didn’t like the blues – Albert King; Freddie King; B.B. King; Buddy Guy. Every guitar player wanted to play exactly [plays blues riff], or other blues licks. But I didn’t want to do them; everybody else was doing them.

I’ve always been a solitary person, but not in a sad way. I’m very happy with my own company, my own ideas. I know they’re not the best, but they’re mine.

LG: Exactly. You mentioned Eddie Cochran and Buddy Holly and getting together with your friends, listening to music. I think a lot of players start out their way, listening to the vinyl over and over again, figuring out what the heck they just did. In my opinion, that’s part of the magic of music. All these years later, do you still find that magic?

MB: I find magic in music, but I don’t find it in the obvious places – sometimes I do. I bought the last Snarky Puppy CD, and I was in heaven. I listen to classical music. I just love the great composers – beautiful pieces of music. A lot I’m familiar with. I’ve got a big catalog of go-to symphonies and concertos that I will listen to over and over again. Occasionally, I’ll hear something new that really grabs me. Yeah, there’s magic, but it’s hard to find. There’s a lot of repetition, and I don’t like it. I don’t like anything that sounds like it doesn’t belong to the person… I’m always inspired by music, but very often, I can’t find it. When I hear something I really like, it’s like a precious gem – it’s something very special and rare.

LG: How do you find new music?

MB: I don’t. I couldn’t look for it. It’d take me most of my daytime and nighttime hours. I love playing too much to try and find new music. But it finds me. It might be bluegrass; it might be a mandolin player, and I’ll just hear about them. Probably by the time I’ve heard of them, everybody on the planet has heard of them. Hahaha. I love Billy Strings.

LG: He’s fantastic.

MB: Yeah, he’s lovely. It was lovely to find a new artist that I really enjoyed. I’m sure there’ll be other people along the way, but I’m not actively looking – they’ll find me.

LG: I think that’s the way to do it. Let that all happen organically.

MB: I think so. The older I get, the more comfortable I’ve become with what I can’t do. I’m comfortable with what I’ll never be able to do and proud of what I can do. I don’t think it’s amazing, I don’t think it’s special or great, but it’s me. I’ve spent all my life doing it, and I don’t regret a minute of it. In that respect, I fully support what I do, whether other people do or don’t. You’ve got to self-believe, but be careful that that self-belief doesn’t become ego.

LG: I know exactly what you’re saying: you need to believe in yourself but you also can’t let it run amuck. How do you navigate that? How did you tame that so it didn’t run away?

MB: It’s easy: you let others do it. I’ll meet somebody – it might be my hero; a guitar player – and I’ll go and say hello. A half-hour later, I’ll go “I really don’t like him. I don’t like this person.” I’ll analyze what I don’t like about him. Usually, if someone’s full of themselves, I can’t stand them. I can’t stand to be anywhere near them. And, on the opposite, with people in general, they’ll be really nice. And that’s so inspiring.

I love old cars, and I met somebody who’s got an old car the other day. He likes music, and he’s got a vineyard. He’s just a really nice, happy, positive person. It did a lot for me. I try to avoid musicians because in general, musicians are not nice people.

Ian Anderson, left, and Martin Barre of Jethro Tull perform onstage at the Rosemont Horizon in Rosemont, Illinois, October 19, 1980. (Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

LG: Why do you think there is so much attraction for that type of behavior in music?

MB: I think it’s because they’re not guided by rules. If you’re in a workplace, you obey rules, and if you don’t obey them, you don’t work. But there are no guidelines; there’s no body of people. It’s very lax, even up to the point where people can be so demanding. They might want a fluffy white puppy backstage at every show. Or a cat. Or a case of champagne. As soon as you let people behave like that, you’re setting a standard that is very unwise. I think there’s a presumption that musicians have their own set of rules. And, maybe they do. They live or die by them. If you’re an asshole, and you’re a musician, one-day people will know. “What do you think of him?” “Oh, he’s an asshole.” “Yeah, he is, isn’t he?” Suddenly, you can’t get any work anymore. It’s a sad way of getting it because I know a lot of great musicians that could be nice people.

I think if you’ve got talent, you should share it. You should be proud of it. You should be a very happy, positive, nice good person because you’ve got every reason to be nice. Why would you be negative? I find it a very alien concept. I’ve been around musicians for around sixty years and am still surprised by how awful they are.

LG: Hahaha.

MB: Really, it’s amazing. After all these years, I’ll still get kicks up the backside and think, “Wow, really? I should’ve known that was coming.”

LG: It seems like almost everyone that’s involved in the industry, I think we’ve all had that experience.

MB: It can be a minority. I’ve met a lot of really nice musicians, and they want to know, “How did you do that? Why did you do that?” Like you, they want to know what I’ve done, how I’ve done it, and what I think. I like that. They come with respect, and respect is the keyword. Everybody should respect everybody – there’s no demarcation in life. At all. Everybody in life’s an equal, and everybody should treat the next person with respect as if you were talking to yourself. I hate anything that doesn’t obey that rule. That’s me. Now, I’ll shut up.

LG: I completely agree. I’d like to talk to you about your upcoming show at the Strand on the 23rd of June. Who’s going to be playing with you that night?

MB: Dan Crisp is still the vocalist and second guitarist. He’s as good as he ever is – even better. Alan Thomson is a real stalwart on the bass; rock solid, great musician. Alan’ll be playing keyboards, as well as bass. Dan’ll be playing keyboards and acoustic guitars. I’ll be playing flutes, keyboards, and mandolin. We have a drummer from John Paul Jones and Peter Gabriel, Terl Bryant. He brings a lot more to the band. He’s a much broader musician than we’ve had before and a great drummer. There are four people, but there’s a lot more going on. We have a whole range of instruments: acoustic guitars; mandolins; flutes; pianos; Hammond; electric guitars. It’s everything with a video backdrop storyline. It’s almost a theatrical show. And no, there’s nothing predictable going to happen.

 LG: How have you managed to keep it fresh for you? I have songs that I’ve written eight years ago, and we’ll get asked to play them out now, and I’m kind of over them.

MB: Hahaha, right.

LG: How do you hold on to that magic?

MB: I think it’s a moment in time. I’ll listen to music from the 1970s, and it’s not always good. There are things in it that aren’t very good playing; not a very good solo, “I should’ve done that.” But it’s a historical moment in time. It’s sort of a snapshot. I’ve got a Polaroid photo from Woodstock, and you go, “That’s not a very good photo, is it?” That’s not the point. It’s a moment in time that’s important to me, and maybe somebody else. You make a statement, and you stick with it. You don’t go back and revisit it, improve it, and change it. It is what it is. Some people won’t like it – maybe I won’t like it – but I stand by it. You can’t disown something you’ve done because at the time you did it, you made a decision. “This is me and I want everyone to hear it whether they like it or not.”

Music’s always fresh for me because you’ve never played any piece of music the best you can. If I’m in an orchestra, and I’m playing Elgar Symphony No. 1 every night for three years, at the end of the three years, I’ll still won’t have given my best performance. Neither will the orchestra. People say, “Which is your favorite show?” And I’ll say I haven’t done it yet.

LG: That’s a really interesting take on that. I’ve never heard that type of mentality about it. Have you always felt that way, or did you grow into it?

MB: Yeah, I have. I’ll be happy and think “Oh, I had a good night tonight” in the full knowledge that the next night might be awful. Hahaha. I don’t get carried away by anything; there are no presumptions going on. I work hard; I’ve worked for three months on this show. Three months every day of the week and the weekend.

LG: Walk us through that a little bit. What is your routine for getting ready?

MB: I just work. I’ve got my guitar on. I’m talking to you, but before I spoke to you, I was playing my guitar. I’ve played my flute, and when we finish talking, I’ll play my guitar again. My grandkids are coming down, and I’ll be kicking a football around for four days. Guitar after that. Every second of the day that I’m not doing anything. There’s always time to play, and if it isn’t available, I make it available. There’s a priority.

LG: You say you’ve been playing around musicians for six decades. Has there ever been a time in your career when you just didn’t want to do it anymore?

MB: Yeah, two days ago.

LG: Really?

MB: Yeah, because someone did something really awful to me. I’m seventy-seven this year. I don’t need this sort of behavior at my time of life. I should be enjoying myself. It wouldn’t stop me playing. I run a band, and that’s almost a different qualification than a guitarist or musician.

I’m a musician, and that part is great. No problem. No problem, every night. Running a band and dealing with other people is a business and that drives me to the edge. Not all the time, but quite often. Going back to what I was saying earlier, it’s usually because of somebody’s behavior. I despair in people. I’m polite, and if I’m out walking, I’ll say, “Good morning! Nice day. Good morning.” Occasionally, somebody ignores you, and you’ll go, “What…? Why did you just ignore me?” I can’t understand that at all. I live in a world of manners – I was brought up that way.

I go running a lot, and sometimes you say good morning, but if you’re in Central Park, New York, probably you don’t unless you want to get arrested. Hahaha. I was running in, I think it was in Baltimore, a long time ago, and this beautiful girl came running around the corner in the opposite direction. I didn’t look at her – you don’t want to stare at anybody – but I glanced, and she gave me the most beautiful style. It made my day. I said, “Good morning,” and she had the most beautiful smile. I thought, “How nice.” That cost nothing but had such a great value. If you’re nice to somebody, it has a lot of value – that’s not why I do it. I like to give what I get. I’m a very positive person, I hope.

LG: Apart from, as you said earlier, the despair of others when they treat you a certain way, have you ever had despair of yourself and self-doubt?

MB: Oh, yes. I’ve done probably at least half a dozen, maybe ten things or probably more, that I really, really shouldn’t have done. I felt awful for doing them. I look back on other things and think “Why did I do that or say that?” But I’ve learned from it because I was aware of what I’ve done wrong and how I’ve done something wrong. All I could do was correct it in the future. I’m not Mr. Perfect. Not by a long way. I’m very critical of my own behavior. Sometimes I can’t stop it, I just say things – we all do.

LG: I call that diarrhea of the mouth.

MB: Exactly, diarrhea of the mouth, and you can’t hold it back. You hope that people take it at face value.

LG: Is there any advice you’d give to musicians starting out?

MB: I would just say enjoy what you’re doing. If you’re not enjoying it, change your job.

LG: Is there anything else that you want to discuss before we wrap things up?

MB: I’m really excited about doing shows. Hudson Falls is one of my favorite venues. Mainly because the people are just lovely and it’s a small place. It’s a long journey to get there and a long journey to the next gig, but I do it and look forward to it because I know I’m dealing with really good people. I’m excited.

LG: I never thought that you, of all people, would be coming near my hometown. It’s pretty goddamn surreal.

MB: Well, I’m happy to be there! Where I live in England, it’s not a lot different. It’s a home-from-home.

LG: I’ll never forget one day – it has to be four years now – and I read your name and thought, “That can’t be right.”

MB: It is me. It is me. Alright, Lucas, I’ve enjoyed talking to you. I better go, my daughter’s about to arrive with my grandkids, and I’ll be entertaining them full-time.

LG: It’s been an honor talking with you, Martin and I look forward to seeing you again on the 23rd of June.

MB: Thanks, Lucas. You take care.

LG: Have a wonderful night.

MB: And you. Bye.

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