Interview by Danny Coleman
“Music is always being fine tuned. I think that’s the way we want it to be, we never sit back and think we’re happy with everything we do. We think it’s a necessity to always examine and try to improve, it’s a musician’s job, you never want to sit still; you’re always looking ahead.”
Martin Barre is back at it once again. This legendary guitarist of Jethro Tull fame is better than ever with a new album, radio airplay and a current U.S. tour underway which stops at The Sellersville Theater in Sellersville, PA on Friday October 5.
“Yeah we’ve got, “Roads Less Travelled” which will be generally released October 12 but I’m selling it at the gigs and it has been getting a fantastic reaction so far from the fans in the UK and amazingly I’m getting radio play which is pretty unheard of,” he said sounding somewhat shocked. “I am so amazed because I never would’ve been able to plan anything like that.”
What makes it even more surprising for Barre is that it’s coming from his native country where he didn’t think it likely.”In the UK, most of the radio stations play ’70’s or ’80’s music and much of it is really boring (laughs) and I just wonder who the demographic is there and who actually likes that music and makes it the popular choice; it’s very strange but who am I?”
So he and the band are on the road here in the States after wrapping up an earlier European tour. This portion of the tour is heavy on East Coast dates and wraps up November 3 in the mid-west.
“This tour is about six weeks, about 36 gigs; I couldn’t imagine it so I’m not even going to look at that,” he chuckled.”We’re gathering a fan base night after night and it’s hard work but they’re great fans and every one fan we make is a real fan, it’s not like somebody who sees us once and then we never see again. These people keep coming back to lots of shows, they come see us every year and they’re the really good fans to have and they’re nice which people makes it all worth while.”
Martin is very appreciative of his past and understands that his fan base is also. Weaving his former band’s material with his own like a fine tapestry, he’s struck the right chord for himself, his band mates and the audiences.
“It’s a nice legacy and we’re playing a lot of the old Tull tracks on this tour that we literally just learned and some stuff from, “Stand Up” and it sounds really strong and the audiences are just loving it, they are really loving it. It’s timeless really because the guys have never played it before so it’s like learning a new piece of music for them and for me I try to make it a little bit different so that it’s fresher and up to date but it all works really, really well.”
“The Guys,” as he calls them are a finely tuned machine which gels seamlessly on stage, in part due to a new addition behind the drum kit.”Our new drummer Darby Todd is from the UK; he did the album and then from that joined the band. He did our European tour and he’s done festivals with us so he’s very established within the band. We have Dan Crisp on vocals, Alan Thompson on bass, the same guys who’ve been around for the last three or four years; they’re a very tight band and they’ve just gotten better and better. The band has this element of discovery; it sounds a bit pretentious but there’s a freshness about the band and it’s always very obvious when we play live; you just can’t fake it. When the band is into the music the performance improves and just gets better and the audiences really can see that. I’ve heard of bands, not that I’ve seen them but I’ve heard that at their concerts they’ve looked like they really didn’t want to be there and I can’t even imagine that; it’s a concept beyond me that any band could be like that because it’s such a commitment. When you’re on the road it’s such hard work that you just have to have that reward at the end of the day.”
The band has meshed but how does he go about deciding what to do from both his current and former catalogs to keep things that way? According to Barre it’s not always easy.
“I’m doing a lot of my own material but throwing in some old classic Tull material and stuff off my new album so there’s always a balance there and that’s what makes this band work really well; that balance between the old and new. There’s not too much Tull and just enough of my material and there’s lots of options and that keeps the band pretty fresh. There are times it can be a difficult balance but I’m always working at it and bringing in new Tull tracks so that the sets are not the same old same old, so that nothing is predictable for the fans and a lot of them relay that to me; they say it’s so nice to go see a band more than once a year and not get the same show. That’s what I would expect when I go see a concert I don’t want to see the same show I saw a year ago, I want to see something different. Sometimes it’s difficult because there are people who like a routine and we have done a tour in the past where we only changed a couple of songs a night. What that does is make the shows go very smooth and you’re not always looking at your set list to see what’s next, so from that point routine is good but we don’t let it rule us.”
Unlike most classic rockers and bands today, Barre’s shows run about two hours in length and every now and then he and the band will change things up.
“We usually do two hour sets, we like to give good value so we do two one hour sets. We’ve been doing an occasional acoustic set; one acoustic, one electric which we were originally doing as a fill in at some rock clubs on their hard nights to sell or ones that they don’t book because traditionally the business isn’t there. We found a fancy little small place and did an acoustic show and it was really good fun so we’ve got that option on the road. We’ve got maybe three of those planned on this tour and it keeps us on our toes (laughs). It’s a different show, a bit challenging but the fans love it; it’s a much more intimate show.”
Social media, downloads and an industry in turmoil have all affected the way recording artists do business but a savvy performer such as Barre has learned how to adapt.
“The rules have changed and you’ve got to go with them,” he explained. “I’m in it for the long run. You know it’s like the way that books all went to Kindle and now they’re coming back to good old fashioned paperback books that you can shove in your bag and then lend it to your mate and then put it on your bookshelf and take it down and read it again in a couple of years; I think music will be like that. I think it will ebb and flow through all these fashions but the good thing is that my music is more accessible and out to a bigger market. I have people following me on Facebook and Instagram and all these mediums, people are getting to hear the music that they normally wouldn’t so that’s the upside of it.”
Given all of that; what can we expect from Martin Barre when we pass through the turnstiles? “A dynamic show, a show that’s fun and we want it to be an evening of really enjoyable entertainment. This is the way I want it to be if you’re buying a ticket, this is what music should be; a really great form of entertainment. You buy a ticket, maybe a CD or a beer and the music should be an all around experience, it’s got to be, that’s how I like it.”
To discover more about Martin Barre, please visit www.martinbarre.com.
Danny Coleman (Danny Coleman is a veteran musician and writer from central New Jersey. He hosts a weekly radio program entitled “Rock On Radio” airing Sunday evenings at 10 p.m. EST on multiple internet radio outlets where he features indie/original bands and solo artists.)