Ian Anderson @ Symphony Hall, Birmingham – Saturday 3rd May 2014


Review by Paul H Birch

Tonight’s show started promptly, part old school British work ethic and partly so that the musical performance would work in time with the films projected on stage behind the band. The show will also come in two halves, the first a full recital of Ian Anderson’s new album Homo Erraticus and the second a collection of Jethro Tull’s greatest hits.

Sloppy sixties tabloid journalism might have mislead the public back then into thinking Anderson himself was Jethro Tull, rather than its prime architect, however unlikely in proceeding decades. But even with Tull now put to bed the singer/flautist has himself set up another foil to misdirect his faithful audience by reintroducing the character of Gerald Bostock (first introduced on Thick As A Brick) as proscribed narrator of his recent albums.

The premise behind Homo Erraticus is that a middle-aged Bostock has uncovered an unpublished manuscript by an amateur historian called Ernest T. Parritt and thereafter adapts the tome to music and we are offered the opportunity to hear about the various comings and goings of folk on this Blessed Isle, from our first footsteps as Neolithic hunter-gatherers to our excursions back out as we sought to build an empire, fast forwarding to our growing sense of isolation upon the world’s theatre, and the xenophobic or real fears that we may have for our future. Not having heard the album itself yet, I am reliably informed that the live show with its various projections aid in clarifying and extrapolating on the recorded themes. Certainly we get a vast array of visuals, including animations and films encompassing Celtic crosses, Queen Victoria, Jim Fitzpatrick’s iconic Che Guevara poster and Billy Bunter illustrations from The Magnet boys’ story paper of yesteryear, among scenes of war and green belt landscapes being devastated. While I also might not have picked up on the political and philosophical nuances being espoused purely by the music alone, I must say I found it quite charming, veering between prog, folk and rock, much as one might expect, but generally flowing as a harmonious piece of work, the exception being those parts narrated where if you didn’t hear what was said clearly it tended to leave you blank.

Ian Anderson
Ian Anderson

Anderson did not narrate the work complete himself, a large part was left to Ryan O’Donnell who also dressed up, acted out parts, sang some of the higher pitched lines (including Tull numbers later), and banged a tambourine. Personally, I was never quite sure if I was comfortable with him on stage save for the singing. The band however were exceptionally cohesive and played with a light touch, adding atmosphere and leaving spaces for Anderson himself to be more extrovert during his flute solos.

The Symphony Hall was the perfect venue as the first few numbers filtered through intermixing rock theatrics and unexpected sensuality, then after a shred of fuzzed guitar feedback from Florian Opahle, the lady sitting beside me is tapping her feet thunderously along with the drums as the uptempo rock of ‘The Turnpike Inn’ ensues and Anderson recites the tale of highway men and pistols at dawn even as John O’Hara switches from keyboards to accordion for themes reminiscent of military jigs, fairground carnivals, classical scores and Welsh mining songs to mesh through the next couple of numbers. As Opahle sets up a soft funky guitar sound Anderson takes to his flute once more for a long melodic solo of questioning notes creating a dichotomy as horrible scenes of bloodshed and war are expressed visually on screen. ‘In For A Pound’ begins as a heavy guitar shuffle and progressive flute excursion moving onto a bouncy rocker as Opahle plays a tasty distorted wah-wah solo with O’Hara’s synthesiser lines playing in and around the tune. On screen what looks to be Dan Dare’s arch-nemesis The Mekon takes over Homo Erraticus’ narration, my mind then seems to recall scientists, John Merrick the Elephant Man being in space, then Anderson himself, before we return to the film’s recurring theme of feet seen walking (perhaps inferred literally from William Blake’s Jerusalem) and this time as if on Mars, the red planet of war as heavy drums and loud guitar chords issue forth for the concluding song of the first set, ‘Cold Dead Reckoning’.

Ian Anderson
Ian Anderson

During the interval I’m sure TV chef and Hairy Biker Si Williams walks by me, and if so I trust the excitement of the second half wasn’t what caused him to end up in hospital shortly after. With the band’s return Anderson informs us that the digital clock on the screen behind him will be spinning chronologically back through time to when the Tull songs due to be played were first recorded, and include vintage TV and film footage along with new pieces. Fittingly they begin with a well received ‘Living In The Past’ briskly reaching its climax with heavy metal styled solo from Opahle, supported by drummer Scott Hammond sitting at his kit side-on stage left, always seeming to hit the minimum amount of percussion required for each song but always effect the right sound. They then change pace for the instrumental ‘Bourée’ as Anderson’s flute takes the Bach tune on a mellow jazz journey, underpinned by David Goodier’s walking bass line before he himself takes a solo. Back to the rocking past with hit single ‘Sweet Dreams’, the singer picking up an acoustic guitar and relating how he used a 12 string owned by Fleetwood Mac’s Peter Green on the original recording. A tad slower and more orchestrated, Opahle still poses legs astride soloing as both Godzilla and a nun romp around on the screen behind him, before they move they move into the less strident blues rock with a hippy bent that is ‘Teacher’.

Progressive rock classics follow before Anderson once more takes up his acoustic to play the beginning of ‘Too Old To Rock ‘n’ Roll (Too Young To Die)’ and it’s worth noting here that Mr Anderson no longer resembles the manic long-haired tramp we recall him as, rather – save for the trim beard – the casually dressed spectacled man on stage looks surprisingly similar to fellow vintage rocker Roger Daltrey. However, while his famous standing-on-one-leg minstrel pose was not much in evidence during the first half of the show, it is during the Tull section as he prowls and prances about the stage delivering an impressive musical performance.

Harmonies abound on the folk rocking ‘Songs From The Wood’, propelled by Hammond’s rim shots. Cool jazz gives way to rhythm & blues with Cornish vocals over the top building up to stadium rock epics then shifting into bluesy prog-heavy rock beats as I sit back to enjoy the show. Then loud cheers go up for ‘Aqualung’ and the guys who’ve been sitting clapping along in the front rows can take it no more and want to get up for a little bop, only for security to make them sit down again. The mind boggles at what harm blokes wavering round the sixty years of age mark are going to do, apart from to themselves. It spoils the moment for those watching, whereas those keeping an eye on the stage watch it culminate as Anderson and band jumping forward collectively before swiftly exiting the stage.

Applause ensues and Anderson’s voice is heard over the PA reintroducing each member of the band as they return to the stage. I didn’t turn round to look back at the circles, but pretty much the whole of the stalls are standing now as the music played moves from jazz chord textures to a brief classical overture and they then ride out the show with ‘Locomotive Breath’ and again folk move to the aisles intent on doing their daddy-dance only to be rebuked by security. I remain perplexed by such overreactions, and they tend to mar what’s been a very pleasant, musically diverse and entertaining evening. One once more where I’ve stepped outside my comfort zone to listen to a musical artist I’ve rarely paid much attention to previously, but will fill in the gaps in my aural experiences accordingly during the ensuing years, hoping never to be too old to rock ‘n’ roll.

Set List (First Half)

  1. Doggerland
  2. Heavy Metals
  3. Enter The Uninvited
  4. Puer Ferox Adventus
  5. Meliora Sequamur
  6. The Turnpike Inn
  7. The Engineer
  8. The Pax Britannica
  9. Tripudum Ad Beilum
  10. After These Wars
  11. New Blood, Old Veins
  12. In For A Pound
  13. The Browning Of The Green
  14. Per Errationes Ad Astra
  15. Cold Dead Reckoning

Set List (Second Half)

  1. Living In The Past
  2. Bourée
  3. Sweet Dream
  4. Teacher
  5. With You There To Help Me
  6. A Passion Play
  7. Too Old To Rock ‘n’ Roll (Too Young To Die)
  8. Songs From The Wood
  9. Farm On The Freeway
  10. My God
  11. Aqualung


  1. Locomotive Breath