The Jethro Tull Group – Martin,Thanks taking the time out of what is a busy schedule to do this.
Martin Barre - That’s alright, it’s sort of overdue.
TJTG – Well, obviously at the moment you’re very high on the agenda what with the tours and the new album.
MB – Well, l’ve kept sort of a low profile with the Tull crowd, mainly because I’ve felt it more important that I sort of established myself as a solitary item and you know I’m quite sort of a house proud if you like, I want my own fan base and I don’t really want to, it’s just you know, it’s the way I want to do things and I haven’t taken the easy way. I’ve gone back to zero and rebuilt my musical career, if you like.
TJTG - I think that’s perfectly understandable and I think the good thing about it is the fact that a lot of the fans who’ve aired a view see it more of about Martin Barre the musician, rather than Martin Barre “Ex of Jethro Tull”. I mean a lot of people have grown up with you as a musician and I know a lot of people felt that they’re quite keen to see your solo career progress. If you’ve referenced Tull in your musical presence, than that’s great. But, I think most people are just good to see the solo career developing, very clearly, from what you’ve posted online, you’re enjoying it.
MB – Yeah, I mean that, it’s important, but the word Ex-Jethro Tull doesn’t exist, because the only thing that’s Ex-Jethro Tull is the band, because it’s important that people are aware that there is no band that’s called Jethro Tull…You know it’s a subtle difference, but I’m quite sort of adamant that the actual name of the band will never exist again in its proper form unless it is essentially, you know there’s a quorum for everything and I don’t think one’s enough. (Laughs) So, I don’t think I will ever have a band that’s called Jethro Tull and I don’t think Ian will. You know, it’s one thing to call a band by that name, but you virtually become one step removed from a tribute band if there’s only one member that’s part of that band. It seems to me that preserving that name, which is a very proud name and deserves a sort of reverence and it’s proper…what would be that word?
TJTG - Regard?
MB - Regard would be a good word, and yes, it’s very valuable and it must never be devalued or diluted in any way, so I’ll always keep that reference well away from me and so you know, Jethro Tull - it hasn’t been finished officially. So, that name is still in the archives, and maybe in ten years time, there might be enough people alive to reform it and it might happen again and as much as I doubt it, I think it’s nice for it to be that way rather than for everyone to say well, actually it’s finished and that’s the end of it. It’s a difficult territory and that’s the way I look at it, so, my band is the Martin Barre band and obviously we play Jethro Tull material because that’s who I am and that’s the music, that’s my history which I have a great respect for, but, I’m also on the other hand, fifty percent, I’m developing myself as a songwriter and a band leader, and as a solo artist, so there’s a really important balance to be had.
TJTG - I think most fans appreciate that and respect it. A lot of questions I have only lightly touch on Tull and then only in relation to your influence.
MB - I’m happy to talk about it, but I always think, you know, whenever I see an advert and if it says ‘Jethro Tull’s, Martin Barre’ that I think, “Yeah that’s ok”, but there’s been a couple where it’s like ‘Formally of Jethro Tull’ or ‘Ex-Jethro Tull’ and… NO, because I haven’t quit the band, I haven’t finished, so I’m opened ended, I’ve never said anything about finishing anything, so, officially in my book it isn’t, even though emotionally and musically, it probably is finished (laughs). It’s hardly unlikely that it will ever happen again, but I haven’t closed that door. The door has been closed elsewhere, but not by me. So it’s a very sort of important thing to me that it doesn’t come across like that. I’m still an active musician and really, I haven’t changed internally, but externally I have a lot of independence and I’ve used that to my advantage in the only ways that I could.
TJTG - I think, given the way it has developed it sounds like the perfect philosophy, I think most fans have great respect for the whole of the Tull catalogue. I mean it’s a huge cannon of work and it’s the sum of the parts of the people that formed the band.
MB - It’s very important and I don’t want to talk about… Ian. It’s very important that everybody remembers that each of those albums, when they were made, be it ‘Thick as a Brick’, ‘Benefit’, ‘Stand Up’, ‘This Was’, ‘Passion Play’, ‘Rock Island’, ‘Crest of a Knave’, that it was a ‘band’ making those records. And, in every way that was a band sitting in a studio, writing arrangements as a band, writing parts based on Ian’s songs as a band and recording and touring as a band, that must never be forgotten. I’m not just talking about me, but all the people involved, the John Glasscock’s, the Barrie Barlow’s, the John Evans’, the David Palmer’s, the Eddie Jobson’s, I mean there’s a huge list. Those people were vital in their period, they were a really important part of Jethro Tull, of the whole history, and the whole history and those names must never be made smaller.
Obviously, there’s a figurehead and that’s very, very obvious and understandable, but of course that figurehead was sort of made more of a figurehead really by the record label more than anywhere else and that sort of put it into a funnel that intensified that image, where most of the PR was aimed at Ian and in the end, you know, he really wanted to do it all. You know, he likes talking, he’s good at talking, he’s got a lot to say, but essentially the record label only dealt with him, certainly in the last twenty, twenty five years, which made it a lot more difficult to recognise exactly what the ingredients of Jethro Tull were because it was a very biased viewpoint, which is a shame. But, it is the way record labels operate, you can’t really go against the grain. I think that if I was to put anybody on the spot and say “This really wasn’t the way it should have been done”, than I would certainly point the finger at the record labels and still now, that they are virtually ignoring the facts, not personally, but they are ignoring everybody that is or has been in Jethro Tull.
Copyright TJTG Ltd
TJTG – That seems a great shame, because it is a huge cannon of work, which always from my perspective as a fan had been greatly the work of a collective of musicians.
MB - Yeah, I think that’s why we’ll never get into places like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and all those sort of things, because there is no identifiable band. It’s a shame that all these changes were never for the better. They probably were in some respect, but when I look back at the composition of Jethro Tull, I could find a lineup of say, when we did Bursting Out, I was just thinking that was a definitive Jethro Tull. Nothing ever needed changing (laughs) and I think that’s where things went wrong, where it became a habitual thing to change the band and it devalues the product. Every time you change a product, it devalues it. Which is a shame as the identity disappears.
Copyright TJTG Ltd
TJTG – Do you think in any fans view there’s ought to be any issue over the two bands touring?
MB - No…..I don’t, because you know its two bands and you could go to see me one night and Ian the next and you get two totally different shows. And you don’t even need to compare them. It doesn’t matter, it did, but now it absolutely doesn’t matter. I don’t look at what they’re doing, I have no interest. Generally I don’t, not because emotionally I don’t; musically I have no interest, I’d rather go see Joe Bonamassa or Snarky Puppy. That’s my sort of gig.
TJTG - I’m conscious that we’re talking about Tull and you have a lot more going on now.
MB - That was just me talking, talking, talking,….. talking. It’s me that’s instigating it, but I’ll shut up (laughs).
TJTG - (laughs)Please don’t.
TJTG - We’ve put some questions together quickly knowing you’re about to leave the UK to start on “Cruise to the edge” and then immediately onto the U.S. leg of your ‘Back to steel’ tour.
MB - The whole nature of the game nowadays is Facebook and I’ve sort of famously turned my back on technology, you know, I’m just an analogue person and really it’s like sticking your head in the sand. It’s very obvious, that’s how people communicate now. They don’t use the phone, they don’t meet in a pub. Everybody’s on Facebook and if you’re not part of it, you are going to be a fucking lonely person. That’s just not in music, but it is in any media at all, and you have to embrace it. I mean, it is a great tool, but, I’ve had to recognise and work hard to embrace it really.
TJTG- Yes, we’re the same, we have a chat forum, but it seems to be that most people want instant access and communication and Facebook provides that.
MB - You know, I’d be a very dishonest person to say that I’m just talking because I like talking. But at the end of the day, everybody has a reason. You might be selling your book down the line and I’m selling my band here and now, but it’s not as cold as that, but of course I want to be around for a long time doing what I’m doing and I want to develop it and you know, everybody needs help. If you’re Rod Stewart or the band that plays at the pub around the corner, you sort of still need to work the system. You need help, you need a fan base, because they’re buying the tickets and they pay your mortgage and, put petrol in your car. I’m not motivated by money, but, money enables me to do what I want and more money will enable me to progress along the route of things I want. It’s a very practical thing. I’m not looking at big amounts of money. It’s not necessarily looking at profits and balance sheets. It’s all about the practicality that everything needs funding, however small or big it is.
TJTG – You were writing a book at one time?
MB - I started writing a book about ten years ago and stopped writing nine years ago. You know, I had like 200 pages and another 400 to go but, you know, I mean basically, the reason I did it is because Dave Pegg showed me a book he’d written about his dad’s life. And his dad was a caretaker at a kid’s school in Birmingham and basically that was his life. It was a life, that shouldn’t be forgotten, I think no life should be forgotten and he printed 30 copies or so and gave them to all the family so the family & grand-children would know who their grand-father, great grand-father, etc was. Who he was. And I think that is the motivation on any level, because everybody has some importance to somebody and I’ll always regret that I know so little about my family and my parents and then you know, maybe look at musicians and you go back to Robert Johnson or Willie Dixon and all these people and there’s never going to be enough written about them, and there should, which is a shame, there should be huge amounts of information about everybody.
TJTG – That’s the shame about the disposable nature of things these days, like Facebook, particularly the fact that people who have parts of their life that should have been recorded being forgotten. It all becomes a bit of the moment and superfluous these days.
MB – It is disposable, but then if you’re writing a book, I’m writing a book, thankfully the book will never disappear and people with all these Kindles and whatever will hopefully think ‘you know what?’ There was nothing wrong with books in the first place. I like to sit down with a book in my hand and turn the page. That’s the real experience and I’m the same way with music. It might go to digital or it might stream but there will always be somebody who wants to open a CD, look at the booklet, and actually handle an entity. I personally don’t think that will ever go away.
TJTG - Is it ok to ask you where things are now with you, the tour, the album?
MB - Yeah.
TJTG - You’re flying out to embark on ‘Cruise to the Edge’.
MB - Yeah.
TJTG - Is that something you’re looking forward to, being involved with other bands?
MB - The ‘Cruise’, it’s just the beginning of a really important part of what I’m doing and that’s just playing in America. I’ve been playing in England quite a lot for the past four years, but England’s a very stable place, nothing really changes, nothing’s wrong with that, but I think it’s a lot harder to develop a career in England than it is playing in New York or America where’s there’s a far, far bigger audience, and although we’ll always play in England, I think to develop the band I need to play a lot more in Europe and get a bigger name in Europe. Definitely, I need to open the door in America. For the last four years, I’ve been recieving emails. ‘When are you going to play?’ ‘ When are you going come and see us in Canada?’ ‘When are you going to play in San Francisco?’ ‘When are you going to play in New York?’ I answered them, but after the first year I just gave up. And I tried, I mean it’s taken me four years to get this first American tour in place, and a lot of this had to do with promoters saying, “If you don’t have a big Facebook following, we’re not interested”. Because Facebook translates to fans, to ticket sales, to viability. So, it goes back to what I was talking about earlier. But, anyway, it’s a really important tour and ‘The Cruise to the Edge’ is a bit of fun leading up to that and yeah, there’s a lot of people I know on the cruise and it’s going to be really, really good fun. And, then the tour happens and that’s more harder work. And that’s where I’m really playing to people who are coming to see my band play. It’s a very direct thing you know. I think ‘Cruise to the Edge’, may have a lot of journalists on it and I might get a lot of promotion though that, which would really be good. So you know it might open a few doors to meet some people on the cruise, maybe some promoters which I don’t know really, promoters from South America and Australia would be great and another paged turned. The tour itself is really important.
As for the dates there’s a sort of definitive date sheet, I think that it’s sort of more or less written in stone with what we’re doing. It’s the first tour, and this afternoon I’m talking to an English promoter, getting periods in the diary for work here.
It’s all ongoing and I’ve got a great band, a really, really great band. Now, the four of us are really very, very tight, very close. We are very into what we do and I’ve got the two girls singers who work really, really well, we did a two week tour in Europe with them and it went so well that we’re going to repeat that formula in England next year and Europe next year. They sort of bring a little bit of colour to the show.
TJTG - I couldn’t get to any of the latest UK shows this year unfortunately, but I’ve seen the videos and a lot of the British and European shows looked and sounded really good.
MB - Yeah, they are great, that vocal side to the music is… sort of.. overlooked and with Jethro Tull, it was always overlooked. There wasn’t really a second voice in the band, but in my music, on the record there’s part, it’s a very important part.
TJTG - On the cruise you’ve got bands like Yes and Marillion playing. Do you think you’d be likely to play with them if asked or will you just work with your band?
MB - I don’t think there’s any talk about the bands mixing. I mean they’ll have a jam session every night. And maybe I’ll put my toe in the water and see what happens. You know, I’ve talked about doing something with John Noyce and maybe one of the jam sessions, I’ll get with maybe John and a couple of the guys with my band and do two or three numbers. Yeah, I’m intending on mixing in and I won’t lock myself in my cabin and I quite like the sort of camaraderie between bands, So yeah, I’m looking forward to meeting all those people some I’ll know, some I’ll get to know.
TJTG - You are a very respected musician and guitarist, I’ve read interviews with people like Steve Vai and others in the past where they cite you as a great influence. Do you ever get tempted by any sort of guest appearances with other bands or anyone you’d jump at working with?
MB - Well, I rarely say no and I do get lots of offers to play on other people’s albums and the only ones I have avoided are where musically I just thought this is on a different planet. So, if I like the music, I’ll play on their album, you know, not judged by who they are but what they’re doing and what the music’s like. So, I’m happy to play on a Tommy Justice album about as much as I’d be happy to play on a Jackson Browne album, or a Don Henley album. It’s highly unlikely, but you know I don’t turn down things unless I’ve got very good reasons to. But yeah, I love playing anything. Anything and everything.
Copyright Chris Fenger.
TJTG - You’ve covered Beatles songs before. On ‘Back to Steel’ you cover ‘Eleanor Rigby’, A good interpretation I think. I’m a huge Beatles fan and I would that thought that if McCartney ever got to hear it he’d probably think it’s one of the more interesting interpretataions.
MB - Interesting, you know, who knows? I’d love to know what he thinks. He might hate it. You just don’t know.
It’s fun and I love the Beatles and I love their songs and their music and I think because it’s a part of everybody’s life I think it justifies playing it on an album and live because it appears as relevant as playing a Muddy Water’s song. All that music is written in history.
TJTG - When you did the stint with McCartney, back, when was it in 86 -87, How did you find that?
MB - It was really good for me, it was a fantastic experience. He was my hero in my teenage years when I started in music, so just to end up playing with him was beyond a dream. So, it was a fantastic fantastic, opportunity and he was really nice, the music was great. It was probably one of the most, not important , but it’s one of the most memorable weeks ever essentially, so it was a really great experience.
TJTG - Dwelling on your influences for a moment, you are quoted as saying once,and I don’t know how true the quote was, that you never had any early influences, purely because you wanted to develop your own style.
MB - Yeah, well I didn’t really but I still listened to a lot of music but I didn’t let it soak in.
I mean I love R&B, I love Tamla, I like some of the soul music we used to play in the early days. I like the Beatles, I like Albert King and Muddy Waters and Freddy King. And, I love Jackson Browne, I love Don Henley, Stevie Winwood. I actually just like really good songs and good songwriting. I’m not particularly crazy on many guitar players, although, I do enjoy good playing, but I think you take it for granted. I listen to a lot of playing, but when I hear great guitar playing, these days, I’m like “Wow, who’s that?” and it’s usually Joe Bonamassa, you know, there’s a few who I think are playing really great, but, you know I’m happy for them and I enjoy listening to them, but I’m not gonna sit down and learn their licks or try and emulate them. I’m just sort of gonna go down my own little road, I mean I play every day, so I develop on a daily basis as a musician, I hope, and also as a guitar player.
The CD’s I take on the road are either Mozart, Bach, , Beethoven, Hayden, Brahms. There’s not a lot of Rock & Roll but, it doesn’t mean to say I don’t love it, I just love melody. As pretentious as it sounds, I learn more about music by listening to classical music then anything else. Because you learn about dynamics, bass, harmony and just a range of everything’s in there. Power, energy, but in a very sophisticated way. And then, you know, you listen to the X-Factor and you’ll hear the opposite, there’s nothing subtle, it’s just sort of in your face pop music. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I’m never going to learn anything from watching the X-Factor.
TJTG - I don’t think anyone is.
MB –(laughs) I don’t think anybody is. But, I don’t knock it because there’s little kids singing their hearts out, god bless them. They need to be doing it and a lot of them are really good, but they’re not putting anything into music in a general way, they’re just sort of treading hollow ground and they’re not groundbreaking.
TJTG - I just think it’s a crying shame, you know generations now are missing out on music at a very intimate level.
MB - It’ll come around, you know. For everyone that watches the X-Factor and listens to Radio One, Radio Two and it’s a sort of musical diarrhea, there’s another one, a kid, who will come up and go. You know, I got recognised in Waterstones by a kid who must have been 19. A really nice kid, working in the store. He said, “You know, I recognise you from a CD, I really love the music. I’ve been listening to Genesis and Hendrix and Led Zeppelin”. And, I thought,”Wow that’s really, really cool”, because he was a trendy young kid and he was looking back into that era to get some sort of inspiration and he enjoyed it. So, there are people like that and there always will be.
TJTG - With ‘Back to Steel’, I’ve got sort of a car test. I often play a CD in the car to judge it ‘staying power’. ‘Back to Steel’ has been in the player for weeks now and every time I hear it I keep hearing something new, it’s a really good album.
MB - Well, thank you. You do what we do, we do a mix and then I drive my wife’s car and then my car and see what it sounds like, because unless you’re driving down the motorway doing seventy, the sort of vrooooooom (car noise), from the engine, that’s how most people are going to listen to music. So, if it doesn’t sound good, I mean you can’t mix it to sound good in the car, particularly, because then you put it in a stereo it will sound rubbish, I mean, I’m very aware of that.
When I had the studio at the old house, there was a band, like a heavy metal band in there, and they were hilarious. There were like 6 cars parked outside and I’d be in the garden, and they all would run out of the studio and jump in the car’s and start them up and I thought, ‘what on earth are they doing?’ But, they were doing mixes and they all went in their car to play it to listen to the mix back, it was hilarious. And I laughed and I thought, ‘You know, they’re actually right’. It’s a really sensible thing to do.
But yeah, we’ve spent a lot of time mixing and I’ve got a great engineer, a really, really great engineer, a young kid, and he’s got great ears and he always makes me laugh because if we’re recording, we’ll be working on a song for about an hour and I’ll say to James. ‘In that sort of lead instrumental bit, there’s a note I’m not very happy with’ and he’ll say “yeah, I know”. He’ll go to the note without me telling him which one it is. You know, he’s heard it but he won’t say anything until I do. He’s just an amazing guy to work with. But, I think probably if I left it, he would tell me eventually, but he’s just got this amazing ear and a great attitude. He’s a real pleasure to work with.
TJTG - Have you found this particular album easy to record?
MB - I find them all easy to record because I love writing music. I love working with positive people and I love working with people with who want to have a good time in the studio and make great music and you can’t take that for granted anywhere. And, it’s down to the studio being a nice environment, a nice cup of coffee. It’s so simple, the formula , the workplace, it’s so easy to make it a really good place to be. It’s not just the coffee, it’s your work schedule, the people you work with and the attitude. So I love it. I’d spend a month in the studio with James Bragg, the engineer, and my band, I’d do any month, of any year, at any time and would absolutely love it.
TJTG - It comes across that you seem absolutely happy in what you’re doing.
MB - Yeah, well that’s what it’s all about and we’re really, really behind everything we do a hundred percent and it’s very much a band where everybody has a lot to do musically. I give them a lot of freedom, a lot of leeway, and I want them to be involved a lot.
TJTG - What’s the process for your songwriting? Do you produce demos?
MB - I spend lot of time developing an idea and I don’t really present it to the band until I’m very confident that what I’ve got is going to work. I like to be very, very prepared in the studio. I don’t really want to go with a bunch of chords and say, “Right guys, G for eight bars, D for two bars, C for two bars, and then we’ll do a chorus in A”. And they’ll go ‘Uuuh, OK’, that could be anything. I like to have a feel, a lot more content, because that’s what music writing is. I’ve had experiences where people have come into the studio and give you a page with chords written on it, and that’s a song? I go, ‘No, no that’s not a song, that’s not writing music’. So, it is.. but I haven’t written the drum part, I haven’t written a bass part, but I have definitely written all the guitar parts and I’ve definitely written the song and I haven’t written a melody’, So Dan as a singer has a lot to do, just to sort of insert my lyrics and phrase them and pitch them and develop my lyrics and change them where necessary. Alan comes up with a bass part and that’s the song.
TJTG - So, for you it’s very much a collaborative approach?
MB - Yeah, because I’ve written the music, one hundred percent written the music, but I’ve written what I’m going to do. So, I don’t have to think about my ingredients, I can just enjoy playing it and developing it as a piece of music to be played by four people. I’m quite thorough, so the preparation is really stellar.
TJTG - Did you develop ‘Back to Steel’ with the view that it was going to be played live?
MB - Oh yeah.
Well I do that now. I haven’t always, I’ve just written music as it comes. I’ll sit down and pick up the guitar, mandolin or bouzouki or whatever, and I might just write a piece of music and then at the end of it, it might be very quiet and thoughtful piece that will never ever get played live or it might be an up tempo instrumental that might work, that might need a second guitar part, or a song that maybe stops and starts. I’ve learned to be doing all of that, essentially music has got to be really direct, it’s got to work on every level. At the moment it does.
’Away With Words’, was really enjoyable to do. As a fact, we did play it live, we did one gig in England, as an acoustic gig and we played most of the album really and it really, really worked well. It’s very complex to play.
TJTG - It’s a really nice album to listen to.
MB - Thank you, yeah, that’s why I did it. I think I just wanted something that was really a pleasure to the ears, and I don’t mean from my playing but from a sonic point of view it was a …something you could put on… maybe background music while you having dinner and people will go ‘Oh, what’s that you’re playing? I quite like that’. It’s just a textural thing, but anyway it was a sort of a project, a tangent, but with the new one, I really wanted music to play on stage. I really wanted to start playing a lot more of my music and keep the Jethro Tull element rolling over and changing it and developing it, but it will never be exactly the same. I want to feel that people come and see the band because of my music as well, and when we started playing it live, the CD wasn’t even released and people were hearing music that they’ve never heard before and that’s the real test because when you finish the song you go, “uhuh, ok”, and yeah, it’s great that people really like it and that was the result I wanted, I wanted something that played live really well.
TJTG - You mentioned, that with ‘Away with Words’ you did one acoustic gig. Would you ever consider doing more acoustic shows?
MB - Yeah, well, it’s in my little black book and we tried one and it was so successful. We just did one little gig down in Cornwall, but it was packed out. And the people, everybody really, really enjoyed it. It was percussion and three acoustic guitars. And yes, I would like to do it.
TJTG - You’ve always displayed a great sense of melody and harmony in the way you play. Around the time of ‘Crest of a Knave’, your acoustic technique had a really extra smoothness to it. A real elegance.
MB - Oh good.. yeah. I mean my acoustic playing sort of developed later than my electric, traditionally Ian covered all the acoustic parts because that’s what he wrote the songs on and I played all the electric and there was rarely a crossover, you know, maybe once or twice. But then, from the first solo album I did I obviously played a lot more acoustic and I really had so much fun, but it’s sort of opened up my ears and my mind to writing more acoustic music. And that’s been a big part of what I do.
TJTG - Have there been periods in your musical life where you’ve made noticeable changes? And if there has been, what were the influences on that? I’ve picked ‘Crest of a Knave’ again, because there seemed to be, and even with ‘Under Wraps’, noticeable changes in your style of playing. Was that something intentional?
MB - Not intentional. You know, I just think on ‘Under Wraps’ working with Peter Vetesse changed everybody’s lives. He was such great, a huge, musical influence, just a huge character, personality. You know I go the way my nose takes me I’m not making a conscious effort to do one thing or another. I’m having fun and I’m hoping that I do things in the right way, but you can’t guarantee that. I listen to the audience, I listen to what people say and I take it all on board. I’m not one to make a formula on paper and then put it into play. I’d rather just sort of see where I go and let’s say it might be the wrong place, it might be the right place, but I think in the old days that’s what Jethro Tull did, sort of go in one direction and then we’d do an about turn and hope the fans go with it because they go ‘Wow, What are Tull doing now?’ suddenly you’ve gone folky or gone quite sort of Prog or it’s.. classical…
TJTG - But, that’s what I’ve always like about you as a guitarist, not trying to use one of Ian’s quotes, but in the day he said Tull could never be categorised, it could never be pigeonholed. And your approach seems exactly that.
MB - I personally don’t like the word Prog because it just doesn’t mean anything to me. It’s all Prog music, I mean what on earth is that? It’s pointless, music is music and anyone who is a fan of the blues and doesn’t listen to folk music, or loves country music and won’t listen to classical, you know I think that’s just a bit sad, just listen to everything, it’s music. I just think your not doing yourself any favour’s by narrowing your taste. And even if you don’t listen to a lot of….You know, I don’t listen to a lot of country for instance, but what I do listen to, like Brad Paisley and Keith Urban is just mega. It’s just fantastic playing. There are phenomenal players in country music and you really need, if you are a musician, you really need to listen to it, even if you don’t like it, to just be aware of what people are doing and what people can do musically, there is so much to listen to.
TJTG - One thing that comes across in a number of your albums, is that the mix of music is really eclectic. I mean that in a good way. I can always remember picking up the ‘Summer Band’ album when it first came out and was totally impressed that you were putting out blues stuff but in a really soulful way. I have a background of growing up with Tamla and Ska, before I got into more heavier music, but, the ‘Summer Band’ album, I thought, was just a superb collection of songs.
MB – (Laughs) Really, it was purely for a bit of fun, but yeah, it’s always there I think. I have always thought, say, Hank Marvin, and I’m sure this isn’t true, but if someone told me that they saw Hank Marvin play in a pub in Perth in Australia, and he was doing some B.B. King stuff and it was unbelievable, than I would think, ‘Wow that is really cool’ and I just think that people have things that they do and they’re well known for that, it can only be the tip of the iceberg. If it isn’t then it’s a bit sad if Hank Marvin could only play what he plays with ‘The Shadows’, then that’s a bit of a shame. I’m sure, he’s probably an amazing player and maybe he can play some sort of jazz things that are pretty cool. I just think there’s always a lot more when you scratch the surface and that’s what I’ve always believed and I’d be very disappointed in any musician if there wasn’t something below.
TJTG - One of my colleagues,Erin Ward, is a big fan and quite an accomplished guitarist himself asked me to ask you this; He felt your guitar style has always been based from the blues, but your modal work is also brilliant. Did you have a grasp of music theory right from the start?
MB - No, none at all.
No, I taught myself, I just think that it’s just more fun. I learnt things about music by figuring it out myself, but, because it’s me that’s figured it out it’s sort of more indelible. So, you know, then if I had learned the modes and the scales because I figured it out, it’s more ingrained and also from the very start of going down those routes I’ve adapted them to use them in my own music. So, rather than just learning a scale and thinking, well……you know… I know people who sort of practiced diminished scales, and I just think I have to ask “When are you going use that?” and they said, “Probably never”. I think, ‘Really?’ (laughs) ‘why the hell are you doing it?’ I think you just have to put it into practice, so for me everything I learn, I use, and if I can’t use it, then I sort of learn it and then put it on the bookshelf. It’s all about having a means to an end really, and with music it’s quite nice that you can discover things for yourself and when you do, you’ve got your own take on it. If it’s a slightly different fingering or the way you look at scales, it might be different if somebody just sat you down and taught you them parrot fashion; you would inherit the way they look at things and I think that’s wrong, I think you should always have a sort of an individual take on music.
Copyright Chris Fenger
TJTG - In terms of your equipment that you use, again these are from Erin, so excuse me if I’m a bit vague on this, I’m just a wannabe guitarist. Your main guitar these days is a Paul Reed Smith, but it’s been nice to see you use the Les Paul again. You’ve relied on Hamer for such a long period of time. Do you ever still use Hamer?
MB - Paul’s building me a guitar but he dosen’t actually build Hamer guitars, um, I think his guitars sport just the initial ‘H’. He hasn’t been building guitars for probably 25 years, and he’s just started again. I think he’s in America, I’d be very interested to know what it’s like.
I mean I keep a sort of opened mind on guitars. I’ve been playing a Fender Strat this year, and I haven’t played the Les Paul, but I’m not sort of tied down to one product or one manufacturer. If I find something I like I stick to it. Like the amp, Soldano, I’ve used those for a long time. I’ve adapted to them and they’ve adapted to me, so, it’s quite sort of a good combination. Again, I just like to be opened minded and pick up an old Tele, I got an old Telecaster, it’s just slightly a different sound and it’s just nice to play around. And again with the bouzouki and mandolin’s, I really do enjoy writing music with those instruments because it could be different because of what they are.
TJTG- On your website, you have a list of your guitars. There’s no mention of the Gibson SG that you had around 1975?
MB - I don’t have it anymore.
TJTG –As an SG owner I’d be really interested in your view of it?
MB - I just have phases of liking things and not liking things. They’re lovely guitars, but I buy one and sell one. I see a guitar I like, I’d usually sell. Rather than pay for it I’ll sell another one to pay for it. I just have a turnover of instruments and all the vintage one’s I used for Tull I think are nearly all gone. But, you know, sometimes one day of the year, I regret it, but the other 360 odd days, I’ll just think, I’m a musician and the instruments are the tools of my trade and I like to try different tools , I like to update them, I like to swap and change, it’s what I do.
TJTG - With the tour, what has been the most challenging part of putting this North American tour together for you?
MB - The Admin, which is immense, and the fact that most days I wake up early, and my wife is the same, doing the same things on the computer and we’re doing admin, flights, hotels, itineries, visas, It’s just horrible. (laughs)
I enjoy it occasionally, but on the scale of America, I’d say the visas as being the worst. It’s been so much work, so much stress, but you know I’m learning as well. I’m learning, not about flights and hotels, I’ve been doing that forever and I’m very good at planning a tour and putting a tour together, but the sheer amount of admin means I don’t get to walk into the studio and pick up my guitar and sit down and fiddle, practice and write, which, you know, I’d like to do every day. So, it’s an intrusion into what I really should be doing. If I had a whole office full of secretaries it would be wonderful (laughs) because I really don’t want to do it, I’d rather somebody else do it, so I could just play my guitar.
TJTG - Since the announcement of your dates in America, one of the things we do get a lot fans asking is, will the tour be extended? When are you going to do the west coast? When are you going to do Central America? Are there likely to be more gigs in 2016?
MB - Yes! In April and September, two tours, and one will be west coast and one will be the central states.
TJTG - That’s good news. And I’m sure a lot of people will be pleased to see those dates materialise.
MB - Well I hope so, I want to reconnect with all these people that I’ve known for a long time and they mean a lot to me… and that’s why I’m working hard.. on my computer and admin to make it possible! (laughs)
TJTG – Well I know you’re preparing to fly out to embark on ‘Cruise to the Edge’ tomorrow so I’ll let you get away. Thanks for taking time out to talk to us, it is greatly appreciated. We hope the tour goes well.
MB – Thanks, I have to go into Plymouth to get a few things before leaving!
TJTG – Martin, thanks again, it’s been a pleasure talking with you.
TJTG - Huge thanks to Martin for his time and best wishes to him and his band for his 'Cruise to the Edge' shows and the band’s upcoming U.S. dates.
Thanks to all involved in putting the interview together, Erin and Charlie, and especially Angella for transcribing the tape so efficiently, accurately and quickly
Copyright TJTG Ltd 2015.
Martin's website, www.martinbarre.com/index.cfm/events