WITH harpsichord, timpani, trumpets, saxophone and a narrative written from a precocious schoolboy, Jethro Tull’s Thick as brick was bona fide progressive rock.
But while it ticked all the boxes of the genre – the ambitious concept, the elaborate artwork and multi instrumentalism – it was, in fact, written in a manner that satirised the already saturated prog genre of the early 70s, as Ian Anderson explains.
“With Thick as a Brick we were having a little dig at our peers like Yes and Emerson Lake and Palmer and early Genesis.
“We were having a little fun with the genre, knowing that it would be in part understood and in part taken seriously and the whole trick of it back in 1972 was to get it somewhere down the middle so that most people here and in Australia would get the joke, the Americans wouldn’t quite get it and the Japanese would definitely assume that we were from Mars.”
The two-disc album, which was written by Ian Anderson, was based on the tales of a bright schoolboy called Gerald Bostock. The album’s cover depicts a local news story about how the Society for Literary Advancement and Gestation (SLAG) disqualified Gerald from its poetry competition. The detail of the story – considering it is superflous to the record itself – is quite extraordinary.
But, as Anderson has admitted in interviews, the artwork for the gate-fold album took longer to create than the album itself.
And now, 40 years since Thick as a Brick – Jethro Tull’s fifth studio album – was released, Ian Anderson is touring the album again, only this time he has updated the theme with new material under the title TAAB2 – Whatever Happened To Gerald Bostock? along with an interactive website for fans.
The site – St Cleve.com – is based on original local news artwork of Thick as a Brick and allows fans to post tales, fictitious or otherwise, about life in parochial Britain.
“Yes the original Thick as a Brick artwork was done by three of us in the band and the press guy for Chrysalis Records in the early days and we took quite seriously as our model a lot of small town local newspapers.
“Some things were lifted more or less unaltered and others were completely fictitious and written in the style of that very parochial journalism. And of course 40 years on we’re inviting our fans to log on to St Cleve.com and post their own fictitious stories.”
Jethro Tull’s mickey-taking and shrewd, tongue in cheek observations about British life was a reflection of the massive surge in surreal humour during that era.
“Comedy probably influenced a lot of musicians in their quiet off-stage moments in the Seventies, I think everyone could recite the Parrot Sketch from memory after having seen it once or twice and I think they were landmark moments for the development of surreal British humour.
“I prefer the awkward moments of Python rather than big belly laughs of other comedy acts and I incorporated some of that in the Thick as a Brick tour in 1972, and some of those have been suitably modified for the tour coming up this year.”
Thick as a Brick’s title also pokes fun at British snobbery.
“It is fairly cruel to call someone as ‘thick as a brick’ – not deliberate stupidity but not terribly bright. But pre-pubescent boys can be very cruel.”
In the follow-up to Thick as a Brick, TAAB 2, Anderson takes this idea further. “I think there is that calm acceptance of life below the radar which is suggested that is perfectly okay and I go a little further to that on TAAB 2 with a track named Gerald the Most Ordinary Man, who has not been a high flyer but has owned a corner shop ‘in service of plain townfolk’ and has a rather boring wife who treats him to a Fray Bentos pie. I am saying that we don’t all have to be rocket scientists, there is nothing wrong with being an ordinary man and enjoying life for what it is and having an acceptance without question, anxiety and too much ambition.”
Anderson – the frontman of one of the most successful progressive bands whose life has been far from ‘ordinary’ – says: “I don’t want to be seen as thinking in elitist terms in that people have to be successful. The whole point of TAAB 2 is about those interventions, those things that just happen to us, we don’t always make on step of life to the next, sometimes it just seems to happen.”
Ian Anderson plays the City Hall on April 19.