~ Catfish Rising ~

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An introduction to "Catfish Rising"

In December 1990, three months after the last leg of the Rock Island tour, Jethro Tull started recording a set of new songs. Anderson had been working on several acoustic oriented songs, based on mandoline, acoustic and electric guitars, rather than on the keyboards, that had dominated the previous Rock Island and Crest Of A Knave: "What interests me more at this moment is to get back to music that grows on trees - instruments that you actually have to play, as opposed to sitting down and reading some 200-page manual in order to play a part" (1; p. 150).

Anderson's aim was to write and record a set of entertaining, lighthearted songs, with humour and warmth. Acoustic instruments were more suitable to obtain this than synthesised sounds. The result was a set of rustic, organic songs with an overall bluesy mood, though it definitely was not revisiting the blues. No '1990 This Was upgrade', as Anderson explains: "I love doing acoustic music that's got an attack to it, and that's what I tried to do on Catfish. To make basically acoustic songs, but a bit more agressive and pushy. Most of the songs were written on open tuning mandolins, so therefore they have a kind of bluesy feel about them, although they are not 'the blues' as such. I've taken those ideas and feelings and tried to go somewhere else with it, both muically and lyrically. I've made it a bit less Louisiana, and a bit more Surrey!" (2; p. 139).

That may be the case, but we do have on this album at least two evident blues songs at our hands: "Sleeping With The Dog" and "Still Loving You Tonight". And than there is the odd album title "Catfish Rising". The catfish is an image applied by many black American country blues singers, like Muddy Waters. Julie Hankinson hits the nail on the head when she states: "There is a logical connection there. The Mississippi Delta is a natural environment for catfish. They're a large component of Cajun/Creole cooking. Perhaps "rising" could be an allusion to the fact that the blues influence in Tull's music is once again rising" (3), as does Pamela: "The contents of Catfish Rising are not just blues, they are about turning again. Catfish are bottom feeders, so a catfish rising would be a fish coming up to the surface from the dark"(3).
(For more information on this subject, see below: "Night In The Wilderness")

The lyrics reflect the entertaining lightness Anderson sought for. No complex or incomprehensible verses this time. Never before were so many "boy/girl" songs recorded on one Tull-abum, some of them dealing with - as Espinoza calls it - marital discord and disillusionment: "This Is Not Love", "Doctor To My Disease", "Still Loving You Tonight", "Sleeping With The Dog", "Night In The Wilderness" (4; p. 93).
Other songs seem to deal with the discomfort of life on the road: "Roll Yer Own", "Rocks On The Road", "Like A Tall Thin Girl", "White Innocence", "Gold-tipped Boots, Black Jacket And Tie" and finally "When Jesus Came To Play". Though I wouldn't want to state that the lyrics to these songs are autobiographical, it is evident that Anderson's imagery was inspired by decades of touring the world.

The songs were recorded by the nucleus of Jethro Tull in those days: Anderson, Pegg, Perry and Barre and 3 different keyboard players: John Bundrick, Foss Paterson and Andrew Giddings, who would join Tull one year later when Maart Allcock was dismissed. On three tracks Matt Pegg took up the bass work for his dad Dave, who was unable to participate due to his involvement with Fairport Convention at the time.

Apart from the 13 songs on this album 5 more were recorded: "Night In The Wilderness" which was released on the "This Is Not Love"-single and "Truck Stop Runner", "Rosa On The Factory Floor", "Piece Of Cake", "Silver River Turning", released on "Nightcap" in 1993.

Judged by the standard set by the band in the two decades before, this album can be considered as a good yet not at all remarkable one.
"Catfish Rising" was released in September 1991.

* Jan Voorbij

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The "Catfish" tour programme (1992).
By kind permission of Pete McHugh
(
Electrocutas - The Jethro Tull Archive).

Annotations

This Is Not Love

Roll Yer Own

  • Another "on-the-road-song", a humoristic one both lyrically and musically. This time the subject is masturbation, as Andy Jackson explains (and with humour too):
    "Don't mean you got no money": doesn't mean you can't afford to pay for it down the local 'bordello' if you so desire. "Only that you got no opportunity to shake it with that friend of mine": you're lonesome, stuck in a hotel room late at night, etc. "When you feel the sudden need to unwind": unwind, hang loose, release pent-up, er, energy.
    "You know what moves you in the wee hours
    when there's nothing on the answerphone"
    : Willie, ain't it?
    "If you don't get enough of that electric love": porno on the TV? Vibrating bed? Electric toothbrush applied vigorously to the old chappie? Who knows . . . . . "Roll yer own" (note 'tremulous' voice) -- DIY. "When there's no one listening": bien sur!
    "When those re-runs play": *still* no porno on the cable channel.
    "Roll yer own, roll it when there's something missing
    and those wild cats howl, running in the moonshine."
    :
    damn, even the animals are doing it.
    "You got to hit that spot": choke the chicken, manipulate the mango, etc etc. "When your hands are hot" -- a chilly hand does not a happy Willie make.
    In other words, you gotta get your rocks off on the road, somehow. Otherwise you'll be sleeping with the dog.
    * Andy Jackson

  • "Roll Yer Own" is certainly not about masturbation in general, but specificly about female masturbation. Back in 1991, the year the album was published, Ian had a guest appearance in an American Radio Show called Upclose. This show has been recorded and is published on CD (limited edition). During the show Ian told that he had been in a very embarrasing position a few weeks before as he was doing a BBC Radio 2 show on a radio channel that is, according to Ian "more aimed at, dare I say -and I hate to say the word- housewives". The host of the show, called Gloria Hunniford, didn't want to play "This Is Not Love". She said this would be a "little too rock" for her show and preferred to play Roll Yer Own. Then she asked Ian "to tell something about it". Ian tried to avoid the subject by making "frantic signs from the other side of the microphone", attempting to communicate: Let's get off this subject, just play the record. But Gloria kept persevering and eventually she was getting quite agitated because Ian wouldn't tell her. Then Ian finally said: "Gloria, I'm sorry, but you give me...I'm desperately searching for every word in my vocabulary to avoid using the words female masturbation live on BBC radio this time of the day". Gloria got mad and cried:"What! Get out of the studio!" So she threw Ian out of the place, in spite of the fact that he was pressed in to it.
    * Fred Greve

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The Catfish Tour. This picture was taken during concert at the Paramount Theater,
New York, November 10, 1991. F.l.t.r. Maart Allcock, Ian Anderson, Dave Pegg.
By kind permission of John LaFazia

Rocks On The Road

Sparrow On The Schoolyard Wall

  • In this song a shy and withdrawn young woman is summoned to break out the state isolation she finds herself in by joining friends and live her life to the full. She is compared to a sparrow, an ordinary, nondescript little bird, so common that it isn't noticed by most people. The central drift of the song is expressed in the verseline:
    "Don't stay forever in your limbo: Fly before you fall".
    It is not exactly clear whether the narrator is addressing a friend or a loved one, or that he is a father encouraging his daughter to get a life. I tend to opt for the last possibility, for Anderson here so well depicts the self-chosen isolation originating from feelings of shyness, uncertainty or being ill at ease, that many young adolescents go through during their teen years.
    * Jan Voorbij

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Continuation

Cited works:

1. Greg Russo: "Flying colours: the Jethro Tull reference manual", Floral Park, N.Y., 2000
2. David Rees: "Minstrels in the gallery, a history of Jethro Tull", Wembley, England, 1998
3. Contributions posted at the
TalkTull mailing list.
4. Barbara Espinoza: "Driving in diverse: a collective profile of Jethro Tull", Kearney N.E., 1999

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Updated: August 22 2002

Jan Voorbij (1998-2009)