Stepping ever further out from the shadow of Jethro Tull, Martin Barre talks to Prog about the challenges and rewards of starting over from scratch, avoiding complexity for the sake of it, and why his life is
more musically satisfying than ever before.
It developed like slow cooking,” says Martin Barre about his solo career. After more than 40 years playing guitar in Jethro Tull, Barre has steadily established his own distinct musical identity with the Martin Barre Band, who return with Barre’s seventh album as leader on Roads Less Travelled.
Since the dissolution of Jethro Tull six years ago, the solo side of Barre's career has taken on a new importance now that it’s his bread and butter.
“I had music in me that wasn’t coming out in Jethro Tull,” Barre says. “I needed an outlet, but they were purely for fun. There was no need for them to have a worldwide release or tour behind them, although I was very much behind them.
“For me, the benchmark was Jethro Tull, so when I was writing music and the odd song, in my mind it had to match up to that high level.” The early solo records arrived in fits and starts – there was a seven-year gap between The Meeting and Stage Left – but since Away With Words in 2013, Barre has stayed impressively productive, releasing Order Of Play in 2014 and Back To Steel the following year, all leading up to the new record. However, it’s been a battle.
“Jethro Tull finished and I had to drag myself out of the mess that was left and to really start from
“Jethro Tull finished and I had to drag myself out of the mess that was left and to really start
from absolute zero.”
absolute zero,” explains Barre. “That was where it was difficult to stay focused, to know what I wanted to do and to be strong-minded, but it slowly, slowly gathered impetus and strength and now it’s wonderful. We’ve got great gigs everywhere, I’m really happy with the new CD and Back To Steel gave me a good foothold in my songwriting as well. We played a lot of that album live and it worked really well, so I am really on a springboard at the moment.”
As a writer, Barre says he’s not someone who can grab half an hour in a hotel room to whip up a tune while on tour. Instead, he needs a situation without interruptions or intrusions, so he settles down to compose in his home studio.
“Every morning I go into my studio and write,” he says. “It’s so much fun, but I need that environment. I want no distractions, I want a pot of coffee within arm’s reach and I just want to be in control of the situation.
“When I’m writing, it’s a very concentrated process,” he explains. “Every day I’m getting ideas formulated, revisiting them and hopefully fine-tuning them. I love writing, so in some ways I could make more albums than I do and would enjoy it. Back To Steel was almost three years ago and I can’t believe it’s that long. In my mind it feels like a year because things happen so quickly around the Martin Barre Band.”
Starting his career from scratch in a post-Tull world, Barre had to prove that he could be a draw without the brand behind him. “I think it’s the same for anybody in a big band who goes out on their own. People are slightly sceptical and cynical about what you’d be like away from the main event and probably think, ‘Well, is he just going to go out with a bunch of his mates and play twelve-bar blues and get drunk?’” he says. “They’re not going to take it for granted that you’re going to fill a theatre full of people.
“You’ve got to work for that audience and because Jethro Tull had the logo, it had such a catchment within the name, I really had to start from zero on every front.”
However, he believes that the challenge revitalised him as a songwriter and player. “I was lethargic, very frustrated musically,” he says. “Suddenly the floor opened up underneath me and I had to come up with something. I had to say, ‘What are you going to do? Are you going to sink or are you going to swim?’ And I wanted to swim very badly so it gave me that strength, and the end product has made me a much happier and, I hope, a much more musical person.”
The last thing he wants is to be a Tull clone or to rely on that cache of music to attract people to the Martin Barre Band. “I don’t play Aqualung onstage because it’s a cheap way of getting the audience on your side,” he explains. “I want to win them over with music where they go, ‘Wow, I wouldn’t think he’d play that one.’ I just want it to be on my terms. I think I know what works really well for an audience because I’ve been doing it for
BARRE IS BACK WITH NEW ALBUM ROADS LESS TRAVELLED.