Legendary Jethro Tull guitarist Martin Barre discusses new music and playing live

Martin BarreMartin Barre’s name tops the list of the very best rock guitarists…ever. At times subtle, at times heavy, at times blues, folksy, and whatever else is needed (and not just playing guitar but mandolin, bouzouki, banjo, flute and keys). For decades Barre was the singular axman presence in Jethro Tull. You’ve heard him on classic riff-tastic tunes like “Aqualung,” “Hunting Girl,” “Teacher,” strumming madness down the tracks on “Locomotive Breath” and plucking many pastoral moments of intricate picking on more songs than can be named here.

Mr. Barre is presently on a solo tour of the states (Martin and his band will be in NYC at Rockwood Music Hall, Saturday December 19th) behind his just released 3rd solo album, Back To Steel (see here). The gentleman (and a true gentleman Barre is) found some time from his busy schedule to have a sit down with shortandsweet.

How has the tour been so far?

It’s amazing, exhausting, exhilarating; a truly positive experience every night. We’re meeting old friends, making new ones, finding new fans and old, it’s truly been overwhelming in the best sense. It’s just been such a positive full-on experience really.

I’ve read you’re messing around quite a bit with the set list night to night, moving things around, adding different songs, etc.

Yes, we do manage that, move things around a bit. We seem to have gone back to a set list we were playing in European shows earlier in the year. It was a very strong set, a few songs from the new album obviously, and other songs. Basically we seem to like the flexibility as much as having a routine, something you know you are going to do, but then again being able to throw things in as the show dictates. Last night we played two and half hours and I have no idea how that happened, as normally the show is two hours. We just love playing really.

On stage and on Back To Steel you have quite a mix of stuff, from covers to some truly stellar originals, and also the odd Jethro Tull song thrown in like “Slow Marching Band” and “Skating “Away.” How do you come to choose what songs to include on an album, or to play live?

In the case of “Slow Marching Band” we recorded that version eighteen months ago, but at the time it didn’t fit on Back To Steel. I really like that song alot and took to changing the orchestration this time to include mandolin and bouzouki. But as I had a full album I figured if I don’t use the track I could include it as a bonus track, but then I thought it sounded so great, why not give people better value for their money and indeed include it on the album.

On stage I like taking songs like “Fat Man,” “Sweet Dreams,” all those great Tull tunes and turning them on their head, deconstruct them when I can. In the case of some Tull songs like “Minstrel In The Gallery” you have to play them verbatim, with others you can have fun with them, change them around.

From the time we met years ago backstage at a Tull show, and in speaking to you now, I know you to be a very humble person, but at the end of the day, and seeing that this year celebrates your 50th anniversary in the music business, can you sit back and get a perspective of who you are in the pantheon of rock, what your contribution has meant?

I don’t come off stage and think, “Wow I was great,” no that’s never been me. I come off and think, wow we had a great show, or wow that was fun, that’s about as far as I go thinking about my playing. But I will say this time out I feel a sense of projecting, a ‘this is me attitude’, this is what I do, will do and have to do. I’m playing a lot of guitar, I have the freedom and space to do what I want, but at the same time it’s hard work, we have no element of luxury here. But it’s a great band, a great crew, we all work really hard, six pieces of four musicians in the band, two in the crew, and it feels good working this project, committing to the four years of hard work to get this band where we are, getting a foothold in the states.

And you’ll be back here in the new year?

Oh yes in April, it’s being planned now. We’ll hit the central states, the west coast, come back twice in fact. Right now we are sowing the seeds, building interest.

Get out to see Mr. Barre sow those seeds with his stellar band at Rockwood, first show sold out, the later one you can still get tickets for here: http://www.ticketfly.com/event/956673

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