Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson on Covid, doorknobs, Brexit and hanging up his touring boots.
Having played his last show on February 29, 2020 in Madrid, Ian Anderson is looking forward to his UK tour, which spans September and October, but is considerably more cautious about the prospect of shows internationally. “I’m most optimistic about the UK tour. There are dates in other parts of the world like Russia and Brazil, places I can do without going to any time soon.
“UK provincial theatres are great,” he enthuses. “I love getting on the train and going to towns that you otherwise might not have a good reason to visit. For many years I’ve travelled on trains to shows in the UK and Europe. I’m not a bus guy; I’m a loner. I remember sitting alone on trains with a face mask on many years ago.”
Having done a tour almost two decades ago billed as Rubbing Elbows With Ian Anderson, the singer has been ahead of the crowd with his own precautions. “It was an inside joke that I’d rub elbows with people rather than shaking hands. There are men who never wash their hands after using the toilet. I don’t feel good about having that on my hand. And I feel guilty when I shake hands crosscontaminating the next person. I’ve been cleaning door knobs in my dressing rooms and had a face mask and hand sanitisers in my luggage for years. Playing the flute, the last thing you want is sticky fingers from door knobs and elevator buttons.”
Anderson is bearish about the live scene and the world generally returning to its pre-pandemic state. “The moment we think the pandemic is over and we can go back to doing whatever we did before, we’re letting our guard down to everybody’s detriment. It will be at least the end of 2022 before we get most of the world vaccinated, if they’ll agree to it and we’ve got the vaccines to them. But even then there will be further variants. We have to realise times have changed. We won’t go back to the way things were, unless we’re foolish.”
Musing on vaccination certificates or Covid tests being requirements to enter venues, Anderson believes there may be a permanent impact on his audience. “I’ve had both shots and don’t have a problem with those conditions but I understand why other people do. For some older fans particularly, it may be goodbye because they may not feel safe in the months and years to come. It will be sad not to see them again, but their safety is paramount.”
Despite enormous experience of playing live, Anderson admits some nervousness about treading the boards anew. “Having spent so long away from performing, the passage of time poses the threat that you may have forgotten how to ride that particular bicycle and will fall off, having taken out a couple of old ladies and a Labrador. It is all a bit frightening.”
Additionally, Anderson has some financial nervousness about future live shows with any ongoing audience capacity restrictions. “As a promoter, at 50 per cent capacity
I’m going to lose at least 10-grand a night because I still have to pay for sound, lights, buses, trucks, band, crew, hotel etc. We really need at least 80 per cent capacity.”
He is also deeply frustrated by Brexit issues. With visas and carnets on the agenda for UK musicians, there are significant fears for the future viability of touring the EU. Anderson sent an open letter last year to the UK’s Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Oliver Dowden, but never received a reply.
“The UK government has done a worse than rotten job; they did not grasp the reality of what was being proposed. Britain didn’t do anything to make it easy for musicians to work abroad. These bloody forms are a hornet’s nest of complications, and carnets are potentially a nightmare. But I’ve a little bit of sympathy for people who voted for Brexit because the behaviour of some of the EU bigwigs has been disgraceful.”
Less established UK bands will feel the greatest Brexit impact of touring continental Europe in Anderson’s opinion. “The minnows will suffer and come off worst because they can’t afford the resources for carnets, work permits and getting Covid tested in exotic places. With such high income, the ‘super’ groups like Coldplay and the Rolling Stones will just hire more people to deal with the hassle.
“The middle ranking, perhaps us, down to the minnows will find that touring the EU isn’t workable anymore. That’s sad.
They never had the chance to be superstars and they may never get it. Having been a minnow, the stuffing would be knocked out of me if I was back at that point again. I’d think my mum was right that I should have been a doctor. At least I’d still be in work!”
With the double whammy of Covid and Brexit, Anderson has pondered whether to cease touring, particularly internationally. “If ever there was a time when you felt you needed an excuse to hand in your cards and take up golf, the pandemic would be it.”
However, he acknowledges it would be a sad way to go out and not to have another final fling. “My American agent just called me about availability for Carnegie Hall in 2023. I’m going to be 75 or 76 by then, so I said that we need to get our skates on. If we’re going to get out and assault audiences with a very loud flute, it had better be sooner than later.” NS