With a solo career in full swing, countless sessions to his credit, plus 43 years as the guitarist for the legendary Jethro Tull, Martin Barre possesses one of the deepest and richest catalogues in progressive, folk and hard rock history. He also can boast of selling over 60 million records with the British band, racking up eleven gold and five platinum plaques, alongside the rare distinction of beating Metallica out of a coveted Grammy Award. These days, Barre and his longtime band are touring behind the new studio project “Back To Steel,” but as the English rocker tells Chicago Concert Reviews, he also promises some Tull tunes, a few surprises and possibly even a jog along the lakefront when he swings through Martyrs on April 26th.
This is your first time coming to town since “Back To Steel” was released. How would you describe the project for those who’ve yet to hear it?
The early years with Tull were so amazing for a young musician to be involved with. Coming to America changed our lives forever, and the changes in culture were quite educating!
Martin Barre: “Back To Steel” is the first band album to feature my own songs. They all translate to playing live perfectly and I think the energy is in both the CD and live versions.
What were you hoping to accomplish on this album and where do you feel it fits within your solo cannon thus far?
Barre: “Back To Steel” is a starting point for where I want to go in my writing. The next CD will reflect the band’s performance and abilities.
To what extent will the show be comprised of new songs, Jethro Tull tunes and other material?
Barre: We play around 40% Tull—a lot of it re-arranged and re-energised—40% my songs and 10% surprises.
What does getting to playing in intimate venues allow you to accomplish that wasn’t as feasible during a massive Jethro Tull tour?
Barre: Smaller venues always give you a great sense of audience reaction and it is really important to me to gauge the way the crowd responds. I always look and listen to my fans.
What are your memories of playing stadiums with the band throughout the ‘70s?
Barre: The stadiums where a whirlwind of madness and chaos, but we all loved every minute. The excitement generated by so many people is a special experience.
Your guitar tones are some of the most iconic in rock history, especially “Aqualung.” In your opinion, what are the qualities that have caused it to continue resonating with new generations after all these years?
Barre: My guitar playing continues to develop in all ways. As I love listening to all styles of music, I draw my inspiration from a lot of different sources.What period of Jethro Tull’s vast history was your favorite?
Barre: The early years with Tull were so amazing for a young musician to be involved with. Coming to America changed our lives forever, and the changes in culture were quite educating!
Are you still in touch with Ian Anderson and would you ever consider collaborating with him again?
Barre: I love the band as it is now and we all have invested so much emotion and effort and passion into the band, I would never turn my back on that!
Beyond the band and your solo career, which of your collaborations and sessions have been the most meaningful to you?
Barre: I’ve had so many great opportunities, playing with other musicians and I love to delve into unknown territory! The more challenging the better and that’s when you find out more about yourself and your capabilities! High points would be working with Elton John, Paul McCartney and many, many more.
What comes to mind when you think of Chicago and touring through town on so many occasions?
Barre: I have favourite towns. Mostly it’s unfair to highlight them to be fair to lesser destinations. Fortunately, Chicago has always been at the top of my list. As a runner, the lakeshore is a very special pace to be and what a backdrop! I love it!