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Jethro Tull – Nothing is Easy (The Swingin Pig TSP-CD- 013)

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Nothing is Easy (The Swingin Pig TSP-CD- 013)

Konzerthuset, Stockholm, Sweden – January 9th, 1969

Tracklisting: My Sunday Feeling/ Martin´s Tune/ To be Sad is a Mad Way to Be/ Back to the Family/ Dharma for One/ Nothing is Easy/ Song for Jeffrey

This CD was originally released as a vinyl LP in 1989, in the times when the german Swingin´Pig company ruled the roost in the field of bootleg releases. I still remember the thrill of amazement with which we young fans (and some not so young) received these nicely presented records, professionally produced and containing concerts and BBC sessions by a wide variety of bands (Beatles, Stones, Zeppelin, Tull); bands which seemed to have no intention of releasing all that material themselves. Many other bootleg companies have appeared since then, and have produced better-sounding and better-looking LPs and CDs;  yet the historical significance of the Swingin´Pig cannot be denied, and some of the items they produced still deserve to be listened to and fully enjoyed today. A good example of this is this fine Jethro Tull document, which reproduces on silver CD the original LP of the same name and content.

This specific concert corresponds to Jethro Tull´s first tour with Martin Barre as a lead guitarist; it was recorded on the 9th of January 1969 at the Konserthuset in Stockholm, in the afternoon performance (there would be a further one in the evening). What we hear here, then, is the first incarnation of what is going to be the basic Jethro Tull kernel over the years: Ian Anderson on voice, flute and other instruments, and Martin Barre on lead electric guitar. This is indeed the duo that  has sustained the band until today, depite all the comings and goings of countless other musicians. At that point, Martin Barre had very recently assumed the role of lead guitarist, which had initially been in the hands of Mick Abrahams and then (for a very brief period) of Tony Iommi. In this concert, the rhythm section consists of two other founding Tull members, Glenn Cornick on bass and the extraordinary Clive Bunker on drums, who has always been seen as a great percussionist, but who unfortunately did not stay with the Tull for long enough to get the full recognition he deserved.

The opening of the CD is extraordinarily funny in itself. The first thing that is heard is the voice of a roadie shouting “JETHRO TULL!!” enthusiastically. But then Ian Anderson comes in, sounding strangely detached and almost out of place as he delivers the following introductory speech: “Well. We´ve just come off this aeroplane thing…and we don´t really know what´s going on, because all this big amplifier stuff back here, is very, very weird…We´re gonna start anyway, or attempt to, with one from our Lp thing, called This Was, this is a song called “My Sunday Feeling”, it’s a nice bullshit one to start with…all right?”;  The audience may have been surprised at Ian´s cavalier detachment from the situation, but as soon as the first song starts, everything falls into place: the mighty rhyhtm section leads the piece onwards at an accelerated blues pace, Martin Barre riffs  with fluidity and Ian Anderson blows furiously on his flute and sings like his very life depended on it. It is clear that we are listening to the most bluesy incarantion of Tull; it is also clear that the eccentric, extreme personality of the band must have made them stand out even at at that early stage. It is particularly nice to hear the young Ian Anderson improvising on the flute, moving effortlessly between folk-influenced tunes and more complex, almost baroque figures. The only problem is the mix, that seems to privilege the bass over all other instruments except for the flute, often clearly superseding the guitar; there seems even to be a sudden power loss at 3: 04-05, just as the opening song is reaching its climax. The whole is chaotically glorious.

This document also gives a very clear idea of where the young Tull were at musically. Ian was very much into jazz at thid point and this becomes evident already in the second song. He announces that “;some people have accused us of being sort of jazzy, whatever that means; this is one to prove that we´re not”;, and of course what follows is precisely the most jazzy piece in the entire performance, “Martin’s Tune” (unrecorded in the studio, as far as I know), with a beautiful flute melody that is soon replaced by Martin Barre´s guitar improvisations, flute and guitar alternating from then on. From the sixth minute of the piece onwards, Martin Barre begins to display the  combination of strength and melodic flair that, with the years, would turn him into the master we all know; that style is still not fully distinctive here, but the incipient virtuosity certainly is. Again here it is evident that the bass is far too strong, while in the ensemble parts the guitar seems sometimes to slip out of the mix. At one point in the set, Anderson himself attributes part of the sound problems to the fact to the equipment for the concert does not belong to the group and has been lent to them.

It is also interesting to see how Anderson´s singing, his flute playing and his distinctive personality can colour remarkably some pieces which would otherwise be rather commonplace: “To be Sad is a Mad Way to Be”, for instance, is in itself nothing more than a traditional blues, but the strength of its performance here lies in Ian´s passionate, expressive singing, complemented by some very dextrous use of the harmonica. “;Back to the Family”; is a piece that might remind us much of Cream, with smooth melodic passages being replaced by an epic chorus; Anderson delivers an equally energic, expressive interpretation of it here. Immediately after that song, the show reaches its pinnacle in terms of virtuosity with “Dharma for One” (almost the signature tune for the Jethro Tull of the late 60s), in which  Clive Bunker offers a magnificent drum solo, inevitably reminiscent of Ginger Baker, but which shows how extraordinarly resourceful, imaginative and entertaining Clive could be on the drums. At the end of that piece, Ian addresses some young lady in the audience in the following terms: “Hello, love…She´s smiling, that´s nice…First time I´ve had a girl smile at me. Usually…they usually spit , they go thwap!” (makes spitting sound). The singer sounds positively stoned at this point (he has not developed yet into the super-professional Ian Anderson of later years); still, with comments like this, it is not strange that Ian should have been able, over the years, to joke about the absence of a female fan base for Jethro Tull.

One of the clear highlights of the set is an almost thirteen-minute version of “Nothing is Easy”, perhaps the strongest tune of this early incarnation of Tull, which showcases a strong rhythm and blues rhythm, and a dramatic alternation of the vocal passages with spiralling flute figures; the central section includes an amazing improvisation by Ian, first on harmonica and then on flute again. This song is still being performed (although in a shorter, more self-contained version)  by the present version of the band today, nearly forty years after this concert. The final piece is the well-known “Song for Jeffrey”, that many Stones fans will remember from the Rock and Roll Circus special of late 1968, where Tull performed it with Tony Iommi on guitar.

For those who might be interested (and they probably should be), there is a curious double CD-R version of this same CD circulating, which in its second part includes the second of the two shows that Tull played on January 8th, 1969, at the Konserthuset. The repertoire is the same for the evening show, but it is very interesting to compare the executions. In the evening, the sound problems had still not been solved, and Ian Anderson seemed positively annoyed both by the equipment and the acoustics in the venue (“Bring back the concert halls!”, he screamed at one point,even though he was in one). On the positive side, some of the performances (especially “Back to the Family” were, arguably, even more focused and powerful than in the afternoon set. I do not think that the complete evening performance has ever been printed in silver, at least as a whole.

The material on this CD is imperfect and ragged, even infuriating at times, but it is also spontaneous, energetic and full of life. This concert has been reprinted and re-packaged on several occasions  through the years, though only a couple of its pieces have appeared in full official form: “To be Sad is a Mad Way to Be” and “Back to the Family” appeared at the beggining of the fourth CD in the 25th-anniversary Tull box released by Chrysalis. The whole concert has been bootlegged on several occasions through the years, often with a different song order or in incomplete form. But if we speak in terms of sheer historical significance and of simple, austere elegance in the presentation, surely this Swingin’ Pig CD must retain a privileged place in any good Jethro Tull collection.    

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Jethro Tull - Nothing is Easy (The Swingin Pig TSP-CD- 013), 2.5 out of 5 based on 1 rating

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