~ Crest Of A Knave ~



An introduction to "Crest Of A Knave"

In September 1987, three years after the release of the innovative yet controversial "Under Wraps", a new album that would put Jethro Tull back in the spotlight again, saw daylight: "Crest Of A Knave". The title played on the phrase "crest of a wave" and was thought of when the artwork of the cover was ready.

Anderson wrote all the songs himself, without the coöperation of the other band members, and most of the album was recorded at his home studio. He explains: "I was very, very selfish about making this one. I really just didn't want anybody else to have any creative input on it all, other than playing the final parts in the studio. The last few albums involved the other guys quite a lot, in the arranging and in writing bits of music, and I felt this time that I wanted to get away from having input from other people - not because I thought I could do it better, but just because I wanted to be very selfish about it and take total charge" (1, p. 137).

This quote doesn't however give a motivation for what Ian here calls his selfishness. I'm under the impression, that Ian realised that the next album would be a "go or no go" for Jethro Tull. If he would not be able to stop the process of alienation between the band and its fan-base - that started after the big split in 1979 and increased through the keyboard dominated albums that followed, in spite of their ingenuity - there would be no future for Jethro Tull at all. He had to embark on a new course that would make it possible to write innovative music on one hand, while on the other hand the music would by the fans be recognisable as the "Tull music" they loved.

Looking back from todays viewpoint I tend to consider the early eighties as a hazardous period for Tull in which Anderson went through a musical identity crisis. He must have noticed that Jethro Tull at that time couldn't keep up with the fast technical and musical developments in popular music, the decreasing fan-base and the lack of appeal with regard to a new generation of youngsters. And on top of that he must have felt insecure about the musical future of the band now that the Stormwatch album turned out to be the final station of the course the band had chosen in the mid-seventies.

With the exception of the "Broadsword" album we subsequently see an overreaction in the form of three keyboard dominated albums ("A", "Walk Into Light", "Under Wraps"), brimmed with new technology like samplers, sequencers and drum-machines, a lot of experimenting - almost desperately - as to pave new paths to the future. In this process Peter-John Vettese played an important role. And though these albums were/are deserving in their own right - since they contain some of Ian's finest work - they exhausted both band and fans. The concerts of those days reflected this, showing a band stumbling over their own ambition and complexity.... Or to put it in the words of a Dutch newspaper in those days: "Jethro loses grip for wanting too much" (Elly de Waard in De Volkskrant).

For most former very popular and lasting bands this situation was the breaking point in their career eventually leading to their demise - we know what this did for Led Zeppeling and Deep Purple. Not for Tull though, as we will see.

So it was time "for something completely different" and yet all too familiar. All those years of experimenting had made Ian familiar with using samplers and sequencers. He now mastered the new technologies to an extent where he could apply them in his music in a more well-balanced manner, thus creating room for both Martin's guitar and his own flute playing as well.. Since Peter-Jon Vettese was not available, Ian decided to play all the keyboard parts himself. The songs were cast in lower keys to meet Ian's limited vocal range - an unpleasant souvenir of the "Under Wraps" tour - and to make them "performable" on stage.
The outcome was a collection of ripe, warm, melodious and transparant songs, new in their musical shaping yet familiar in the overall sound: sturdy rock songs like "Steel Monkey", "Farm On The Freeway", "Jump Start", delicate songs like "Said She Was A Dancer" and "The Waking Edge". And than of course the virtuosity of "Budapest" that outclasses all the other songs on the album. They all featured Martin's beautiful guitar work, Ian's expanding fluteplaying abilities and his warm vocals. At last, Jethro Tull had a winner at their hands.

Apart from Ian Anderson and Dave Pegg, Fairport Convention violist Rick Sanders guested on the Album. Gerry Conway made his last appearance with Tull on this album playing drums on four tracks, while Doane Perry drummed on two tracks. Nor Doane, Gerry or Ric were credited on the album cover though. Peter-John Vettese left the band before the tour, being replaced by Don Airey, who within a year was followed up by Maart Allcock, another Fairport Convention member!

Before the definite release, a pre-release listening party for "Crest Of A Knave" was organised in Denver. About 300 fans had won the chance to participate from a KBCO, a Colorado radio station. As Russo states: "Ian Anderson wanted to make sure that the tracks that he wanted to include on the album were somewhat in agreement with what the fans wanted. This group of people was asked to listen to each track to determine whether it was of high enough quality to include on the album. If not it would either be considered a bomus track on the CD, or the song would remained unissued" (1; p.137). That is why the tracks "Dogs In The Midwinter" and "The Waking Edge" were not included in the original vinyl-version of the album but did actually on the CD.

Two weeks before the official release of "Crest Of A Knave", the album was aired at the annual Cropredy Festival in England. This folkfestival, where folk bands from all over Western-Europe come to perform, is organised by Fairport's bassplayer Dave Pegg and friends and the 1987 edition was to commemorate the 20th birthday of Fairport Convention's founding. As invited guests, Anderson and Barre joined Pegg during the Fairport set and they played a series of Tull classics. Due to the favorable reaction of the audience Ian asked Dave what he thought about Fairport as Tull's supporting act for the American tour. It was decided that Fairport Convention would start off each night, giving them the opportunity to present their new album "In Real Time" to the American audience and that Dave Pegg would play his bass in both bands.

September finally saw the release of the album Tull-fans worldwide had been waiting for for so long. Though ignored or wiped away by the music press and radio stations, "Crest Of A Knave" had an immediate impact, hitting the charts in the UK, Germany and the USA. For the first time since 1979 Jethro Tull once again had a gold album!

The "Crest Of A Knave" tour programme (1987).
By kind permission of Pete McHugh
Electrocutas - The Jethro Tull Archive).

On the 4th of October 1987 a very successful and productive tour started in Edinburgh, leading the band through Western Europe and the USA. The combination Fairport Convention / Jethro Tull worked very well, most venues were sold out and the reaction of the audience to the songs from the new album were very enthusiastic. The Crest-tour ended on December 16 in Los Angeles.

Here the story of this great album would come to an end, were it not that to the surpise of both band and fans it was nominated for the 1989 Grammy Awards in the category "Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance, Vocal or Instrumental". It was not just the nomination itself, but also the categorisation that caused feelings of confusion: Jethro Tull - a heavy metal band? Since Metallica, Alice Cooper and AC/DC were also nomitated and were considered to have a far better chance for obtaining this award, Chrysalis talked Tull out of showing up. Metallica was most likely to win the award for their album ".... And Justice For All".

To the amazement of audience and press, the Grammy was granted to Jethro Tull, years after they should have received this recognition in the first place for their versatile contribution to rock music. At last .... justice for all, albeit that they still are not inducted in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame....
* Jan Voorbij

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The Crest Of A Knave Tour: photograph taken during the concert at the Hempstead Nassau Coliseum, NY, November 13 1987.
By kind permission of © Bruce Mironov


Steel Monkey

  • Implicitely this songs contains Anderson's critique with regard to the "overdevelopment" of cities, industrial areas and rural regions with a favorable infrastructure: "Well, I won't rest before the world is made", a theme he works out more specific in the following song.
    * Jan Voorbij
  • At the time when this album was released, the 'New Man' idea was fairly fashionable - the concept of a man who was caring, in touch with his feminine side, faithful, etc. This idea fell out of fashion fairly rapidly (my own theory is because while the 'New Men' were trying to impress the women with their caring, feminine side, the women were getting off with blokes who didn't even know they had a feminine side, and didn't much care) and gave rise to the 'New Lad' culture - basically men who refused to grow up and have any sort of responsibility at all.
    This is brilliantly summarized and anticipated in 'Steel Monkey', which paints the world view of someone who's not a 'New Man' and has no intention of becoming one. The narrator, a scaffolder, has a high opinion of himself and what he does
    ("I'm a high rise jockey, and I'm heaven-bound" ... "arm in arm the angels fly, keep me from falling out the sky"). He's proud of being an old-fashioned, tough guy who doesn't use his brain any more than he has to ("Loose brains from brawn" ... "I work at my drinking and feel no pain"), and has a low opinion of those who do - or indeed anybody who can't do his job ("Now some men hustle, and some just think, and some go running before you blink, and some look up, and some look down from three hundred feet above the ground"). This was nicely summarised on the cover of the UK 12-inch single, which had a photo of the 3 wise monkeys - little brass statues in the poses of 'see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil', and next to them, a steel monkey with a hard hat on, arms raised in a gesture of victory, and a big grin on its face. Some of these themes resurface in the gloriously lecherous 'Raising Steam' - ('Left a lady with a heart all in pieces, come apart').
    "The lid is on": 'Lid' is a slang term for a helmet - in this case his construction worker's hard hat.
    * Julian Burnell

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The Crest Of A Knave Tour: photograph taken during the concert at the Hempstead Nassau Coliseum, NY, November 13 1987.
By kind permission of © Bruce Mironov

Farm On The Freeway

Jump Start

  • 'Jump Start' is a song about someone wanting a part of all the eighties materialism which is passing him by. He's looking at all the images which swirl around him - police fighting the miners, Margaret Thatcher, the Yorkshire Ripper, and thinking they seem to be part of a culture which he can't take part in - he's not rich enough, or clever enough - he's headed for the scrapheap unless he can somehow absorb a part of the magical energy these figures seem to posess ("Hook me up to the powerlines of your love").
    * Julian Burnell
  • In the seemingly simple lyrics, Anderson touches on a common experience of our times: like in "Farm On The Freeway" the subject of alienation comes once more to the fore. In the turmoil of post-modern Western society, where individuality and anonimity rule and local communities tend to desintegrate, people feel more and more disconnected. The little criminal, the factory worker, the men who build ships: it could be anyone of us; it applies to us all. If it is impossible to feel committed and connected to other people ("Hook me up to the powerlines of your love"), our identity is negatively affected, live loses its meaning, comes to seem useless and will eventually make us give it all up (".... or tow me away"). A fine example of how an artist observes and criticizes the times and the society he is living in.
    * Jan Voorbij

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1. Greg Russo: Flying Colours, The Jethro Tull Reference Manual (Floral Park, N.Y., 2000)
2. Karl Schramm (ed.), Gerard J. Burns: Jethro Tull Songbook (Heidelberg, Germany, 1997)


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© Jan Voorbij (1998-2009)