Mention the name Ian Anderson and rock music fans will probably think of the name Jethro Tull a split second later.
The prog rock icon is world-famous for his role as vocalist, guitarist and flautist in the renowned British band.
However, a discussion of Ian’s music often brings up another name besides the one belonging to an 18th century agriculturalist.
I’m talking, of course, about Gerald Bostock.
This figure first appeared on Jethro Tull’s 1972 concept album, Thick As A Brick, as a brilliant but possibly psychologically unstable schoolboy, whose poetry provided the inspiration for the record. He then re-emerged 40 years later for Thick As A Brick 2.
If you’re unfamiliar with Jethro Tull’s music and have never heard of Gerald, that’s understandable – he doesn’t actually exist.
“He’s a writer’s tool,” Ian explains. “He’s a device to divorce me a little bit from sentiment, feelings emotions and views, which, perhaps, I don’t hold but he can. He’s sort of an alter, alter ego really.”
Real or not, Gerald’s back once more, this time writing the lyrics for Ian Anderson’s latest album and basing them on an unpublished manuscript by an amateur historian named Ernest T. Parritt.
Homo Erraticus, released on April 14, looks into events from British history, exploring visions of past lives. These reveal stories about a diverse range of characters, which include a Neolithic settler, a Christian monk, and even Prince Albert.
Ian and his band are set for an extensive UK tour, which comes to the Brighton Dome on April 28.
Audiences will get to hear the new album in its entirety before the band plays a selection of Tull classics.
Ian says that inhabiting different characters on stage gives him the freedom to express ideas that aren’t necessarily his own.
He wryly explains, using Prince Albert as an example: “I am not married to Queen Victoria but if I’m talking from the perspective of Prince Albert in the heyday of the British Empire then I’m going to take on some elements of that character and say things that, in fact, I’m not saying.”
This particular point of view – “fusty, conservative and rather monarchical” – definitely doesn’t fit with Ian’s political outlook.
A self-described “pragmatic socialist”, Ian says: “I’m not a right winger, but I believe in making things work. So, I can have Gerald Bostock who, in a pseudo-retired Labour party political role, can have fairly more radical views than I would espouse. But he’s not a million miles away from me and I can just let him run riot a little bit.”
It’s an unconventional approach to song writing but Ian isn’t keen on “intensely autobiographical” music.
“I prefer people who are observational, who create characters, put them in a context and put them in a scene,” he says. “Let these characters have life, let them interact with other people.”
He continues: “My best songs, I think, are all about other people in other situations. They’re not telling you how I feel about something, which, for the most part, would probably be rather dull.”
Characters aside, what does Ian’s new album offer fans of Jethro Tull?
“I think it’s continuity,” says Ian. “Many people that have heard the album have said ‘right from the first few bars of music you know it’s Jethro Tull’.
“Then, they correct themselves because they remember it’s an Ian Anderson solo album.”
Ian pauses for a moment and continues: “Well, you know, it is and it isn’t. I mean, what is Jethro Tull? To me Jethro Tull is this vast catalogue of music.”
He explains: “It’s this body of work, which I have written. I’ve been the producer, the engineer the singer, the flute player, the manager of the band and I’m even the travel agent. It’s what I do and for me nothing changes. If it says Ian Anderson on the album or concert ticket or Jethro Tull it doesn’t actually register in my internal mechanism of performance or sense of who I am. It’s just what it says on the ticket.
“It’s a way of describing repertoire more than anything else.”
Regardless of the name on the cover, prog rock enthusiasts will certainly be pleased to learn that Homo Erraticus deals with some big, intellectual themes.
Ian says: “The constant topic is about human migration, the movement of peoples across our planet from, not the beginning of time, but at least the last ice age when it becomes impactful in meaningful terms in what makes up the society and the culture of the British Isles today.”
Migration, Ian asserts, is “a constant and ongoing reality” that could become difficult to deal with if climate change makes some areas incapable of supporting their populations.
Whatever your view, the worrying possibilities of our not-too-distant future have given Ian some intriguing scenarios to consider:
“In our cosy little corners of Western Europe we think that we have little to fear other than closing our doors and putting up a sign saying ‘no room at the inn’.
But, it’s not that simple, because, of course, global cooling could be the result of climate change. We might be facing the cessation of the Atlantic conveyor, in which case it will be seventy million Brits hammering on the doors of the holiday home owners in the south coast of Spain.”
“Seventy million Brits heading south is not a pleasant though for anyone in Europe, believe me,” he muses.
“They have enough experience of us trying to pinch the sunbed and blaming the Germans for it.”
l Ian Anderson performs with his band at the Brighton Dome on Monday, April 28, at 7.30pm. Tickets cost £31.50, £27.50 and £23.50. Call 01273 709709 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.