Cup Of Wonder
The Annotated Jethro Tull Lyrics Page

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~ Minstrel in the gallery ~

 

An introduction to
"A Minstrel In The Gallery"

The successful Warchild tour of 1975 was briefly interrupted for two months to record 'The Minstrel In The Gallery'. It was recorded in Monte Carlo in the band's newly purchased mobile studio. According to Rees (1; 68) the songs were written by Ian Anderson around Chrismas 1975 during a month of isolation, in contradistinction to all previous Tull albums. He had given up his appartment in Baker Street to live in hotels for about a year, where he felt he could be more productive as a songwriter. Ian recalls that "Technically, it was a very good album, one of the better ones. We managed to get a great sound, having had the luxury of being able to set up the studio exactly the way we wanted it. But again, it's a bit humourless, a bit too introverted. It didn't have the input from the band that the three previous albums had. I think the band was suffering at the time of 'Minstrel' (...) The band was still playing well, but it lacked real harmony" (1; 68-69).

We have seen how with 'Warchild' Ian Anderson continued to elaborate his ideas on human nature. On this album however, 'Minstrel In The Gallery', we see the wit who has slyly commented upon modern society and human nature turned on itself. The resulting material was a wonderful, versatile collection of deeply personal reflections, of anger and sadness. At the time he was divorcing his first wife Jennie. Anderson has remarked that he thought the album became "too introspective". The mood of the album is captured quite well by a photo on the album's inner sleeve. It shows Anderson seated with his guitar on a balconey. Because the photo was taken at a low angle, the railing looks like prison bars. Anderson himself looks quite drained and somber with bags under his eyes.

In spite of Ian's recollections and self-critique the album received a warm welcome by the fans, regarding it as one of the finest Tull-albums. It seems that the different types of Tull-fans were catered for, since the album contained rocksongs, acoustic songs, classical elements (David Palmer's string arrangements) and Ian's famous mix of rock and acoustics within songs like 'Black Satin Dancer' and the title track. It even contained a mini-concept in the tradition of 'Thick As A Brick' and 'A Passion Play': 'Baker Street Muse'! And for the poetry-lovers among the fans: once again refractory and imaginative lyrics were offered, as well as tender and simple ones ('Mother England', 'Requiem', 'Grace').
* John Benninghouse, Jan Voorbij

The UK single 'Minstrel In The Gallery/Summerday Sands', released in September 1975.

Annotations

Minstrel In The Gallery

  • In the title track Anderson seems to be refering to himself as a minstrel who plies his trade in recording studions and theaters rather than in courts of kings. Even if the critics didn't care for him and his music, the loyalty of the fans has been unswerving:
    "Then he called the band down to the stage
    and he looked at all the friends he'd made."
    * John Benninghouse

  • It's interesting to see how Ian describes in this song what a minstrel is actually doing in performing his art and what it does to himself in the end. At the start of his performance the minstrel looks down upon his audience, looks them in their eyes, observes them and gauges the atmosphere. Then he chooses a suitable song full of humour, critique and innuendoes. He waits to make sure it has effect on the audience and watches how it takes place. Then the effect is worded in: "he polarized (...),he titillated (...), he pacified (...)".
    The minstrel not only looks down in a literal sense (being on stage). In fact he does not like what he sees at all: the description of people in his audience, both their behaviour and the condition they are in, is far from flattering: old men's cackle (...), factory-cheatres salaried and collar-scrubbing (...), hands still rubbing on the parts they never mention (...), overfed (...), family-scared and women-haters, etc.
    Once he becomes aware of this, he realizes that he in fact does not differ from them in any way
    . Now that is has become clear that he is no better or worse, it is not up to him to criticize: "And he threw away his looking-glass, saw his face in everyone".
    Since this album is so introvert, I wonder if this portrays Ian's reflections on his art, his stage personae, his severe criticizing lyrics of the previous three albums and the Château d'Isastre tapes. Is there a glimpse of feelings of uncertainty (partly caused by being subdued to severe hammering himself for e.g. 'A Passion Play'), of being confused as how to go on and give new form, meaning and content to his art?

    * Jan Voorbij

  • The album and track title is a literal reference to the recording location. The studio was placed in a gallery, as pictured on the back of the album. In a literally sense the band members were 'minstrels in the gallery'. Since Anderson did all the songwriting and recorded most of the album, there is a singular minstrel in the title. It seems that Ian for the next tour exchanged his court jester stage persona for that of the minstrel.
    * Jan Voorbij

Cold Wind To Valhalla

  • The song contains several pagan connotations and offers a foretaste of things to come on later albums.In this case Ian derives elements from Norse/Germanic mythology. The Valhalla was the elysium of heroes, fallen in battle. The souls of these heroes were collected and brought to the Valhalla by the Valkyries, which in Old Norse means 'chooser of slain'. These Valkyries (compare the German Walküre) were war-godesses and "Thor's trusty hand-maidens", who under his command directed the battles and selected the warriors, who were to fall in battle. Thor was the god of thunder, the son of Odin (Wodan) - the main god of the Germanic nations - and his wife Frigga. The verse lines "We're getting a bit short on heroes lately" (and) "Valkyrie maidens ride empty handed on the cold wind to Valhalla" might contain a bit of Ian's tongue in cheek criticism: are they returning empty handed because there are no more true heroes to be found?
    * Jan Voorbij

Black Satin Dancer

  • After 'Cold Wind To Valhalla' come three songs that, however obliquely, express Ian's troubled life. 'Black Satin Dancer' would seem to be a tribute to his ex wife and the better days they shared. In it is a line that seems quite familiar: compare "In all your giving, given is the answer" of this song to "and it's only the giving that makes you what you are" from 'Wond'ring Aloud'.
    * John Benninghouse

  • It has been suggested (unfortunately, I forget where, and by whom) that this song is about a couple's last sexual contact. Intellectually, and in their daily lives, they have moved on, and in the morning, they will separate forever, but they can satisfy their physical and deeper emotional needs just once more. The relationship is over; should they be doing this?: "... shedding right unreason". They are isolating what they know to be realistic and sensible ('...life...') from what they want on a more basic level ('... limb...'). In addition to the sexual imagery, there are undertones of desperation ('tearing... begging... fly... fleeting... mercy... desperate...') to capture this last shared enjoyment and make the most of every moment: "Bending the minutes, the hours ever turning". In doing so, they see each other anew, and appreciate what they're losing: "...and looking sweeter than the brightest flower in my garden."
    In a sense, they don't want the night to end and everyday, practical concerns to intrude again, but time presses on:
    "Over sensation fly the fleeting seasons... the hours ever turning...". The penultimate line (really the last, as that is a paraphrase of the first), perhaps returns the abstract concept back to Ian's own situation: "Your fast river flowing, your northern fire fed.": Jennie is (a southerner, from London) life had moved on and her need for Ian (the northerner) was no more. The line "Thin wind whispering on broken mandolin" encapsulates the whole song for me; the relationship may be broken, but there's still some music in it. To this point, the song is a wistful, semi-acoustic piece, but following the line "Come, black satin dancer, come softly to bed". Martin's guitar takes over, and the music builds to a climax - in both senses of the word.
    * Neil R. Thomasson

Requiem

  • By the time this album was recorded Ian was going through divorce. He and his first wife Jennie broke up. This beautiful acoustic song is a requiem for a relation that came to an end. In the first verse he draws images from nature as metaphores to describe how tender, vulnerable creatures cannot cope with 'nature's violence'. Both the blown away bird and the sun burned butterfly symbolize the tender relation that could not sustain life's pressure. The second verse describes the definite parting and the grief that goes with it - masterfully worded between the lines. The last verseline "Well I saw a bird today, I looked aside and walked away along the Strand" is a reprise, but here the bird stands for another woman he meets. He keeps his distance, afraid to get hurt again ("it's the same old story").
    The "Strand" is a shopping street in London.
    * Jan Voorbij
  • This was published in A New Day # 50 (August/September 1995): Ian's hand-written first draft of 'Requiem'. Possibly the only song we'll ever see in its formative stages, and a nice insight into the writing process.  Transcribed below -- words in [square brackets] are ones that have been crossed-out.

    'O' Requiem

    Well I saw a leaf today
    falling from a bush
    And the wind blew it away.
    And the black-eyed mother sun
    Scorched it where it lay, velvet-veined.
    I saw it burn
    So the silver sad-lined cloud
    Wept as she spun her misty shroud
    And sharing in the afternoon, we sang O Requiem

     
    Well I saw a child today, crying near the station
    In Camden town
    And I heard the piper play, on a hill not far away
    had no change -- gave him a pound.
    So the rain-blown wintry bird flew on the music that he heard
    And soaring in the afternoon he sang O Requiem.

    Well my lady told me stay, I looked aside and walked away
    Along the Strand.
    But I didn't hear a word and the train timetable blurred
    Close behind the taxi stand.
    Saw her [throw open] the tear-drop black cab [door]
    face in window
    [And taking my time I walked some more]
    fading into the traffic -- watched her go
    And glaring in the morning heard myself singing
    O Requiem -- here I go again -- it's the same old story
    that old gold story

    Interesting to see that he used 'that old gold story' in Black Satin Dancer. This phrase isn't crossed out on the manuscript, just added below - perhaps as a possible option. It looks like he has a good eye for the dud lines as well - the 'sad-lined cloud/misty shroud' (a 'weeping cloud' is an example of the Pathetic Fallacy in poetry - the notion that Nature is expressing human emotions or sympathising with our own. 'Pathetic' as in pathos - milking the scene for emotion). Nice to see 'And taking my time I walked some more' was axed as well! It falls rather flat.

    In both cases the final version is a significant improvement. That's the process - weeding out the dead-wood, keeping the original feeling, and abandoning whole verses even though they work well . . . perhaps to maintain the focus of the song, or maybe a similar image was used elsewhere. Maybe to avoid the associations of 'paying the piper'? Could be a number of reasons. Not enough playing time available on Side One even :-)

    * Andy Jackson
  •  

... and the US release of the same single. Note the misspeling of 'Summerday Sands".

One White Duck / 0/10 = Nothing At All

  • A traditional wall ornament in northern England is/was a set of three porcelain flying ducks, each smaller than the last. They tend to signify a well-established, settled household. If only one remains, "one white duck on your wall", the suggestion is that the household or marriage is has broken up; hence this song.  Whether the white duck is the only duck left, or the pale outline where a duck has been removed from the wall, is something to consider.
    * Neil R.Thomason
  • I have always associated the verseline "So fly away, Peter, and fly away, Paul" with a song by Peter, Paul and Mary from around 1970: "I'm leaving on a jet plane, don't know when I'll be back again", which expresses similar feelings.
    * Jan Voorbij
  • One white duck: 'Fly away Peter and fly away Paul from the fingertip ledge of contentment': This is indeed a game or very simple 'magic' trick which my mother used to play with me when I was VERY young. It works like this: the adult fixes a piece of paper to the tip of each of their index fingers, and holds these against a ledge - usually the edge of the table - so only the tips of the fingers are seen by the child. Then the adult says: "Two little dickie birds sitting on a wall. One named Peter, One named Paul". The adult then lifts their hands up to their head one at a time and brings them back with the middle finger visible, saying "Fly away Peter, Fly away Paul". This creates the illusion the pieces of paper have disappeared. The adult then reverses the process, saying "Come back Peter, come back Paul".
    * Julian Burnell

Baker Street Muse

  • The self-deprecating elements in the lyrics of 'One White Duck' tend to spill over in the song at hand, which in fact is a collection of connected songs, a 16 minute mini-epic. According to Rees, the song suite was based on Ian's time spent living in the Baker Street area of London, with several allusions to his pursuit of a lady, Shona Learoyd, who later became his wife (1; 69). We see here how Ian picks all kinds of images and impressions from what he sees in the streets and uses them to express or illustrate his own emotional condition, in a picturesque way that reminds us of the imagery of 'Mother Goose' and other songs from the 'Aqualung' album.
    * Jan Voorbij
  • Neil Thomason came up with some additional information on the imagery used in this song:
    "I'll be your headline, if you catch me another time": As a rock star, Anderson is usually the subject of newspaper articles, but this time, he's an anonymous observer.
    "Pig-Me And The Whore": Pig-Me" implies a small man (pygmy), but also something animalistic ('pig') and self-centred ('me').
    "Vernacular, verbose: an attempt at getting close to where he came from": Meaning: trying to get into her womb. The two v-words ( vernacular, verbose) imply a third: vagina.
    "In the doorway of the stars between Blandfor Street and Mars...": Could be anywhere; the precose location isn't important, as the scene is repeated all over the world. Incidentally, Blandford Street is in Soho, the area of London associated with sex-shops and strippers.
    "Pulls his eyes over her wool": Rephrasing 'puuling the wool over his eyes'(i.e. deceiving him) to add a second meaning.
    "On a double yellow line": In Britain, a yellow line along the side of the road indicates no parking during office hours. A double yellow line denotes no parking at any time.
    "... his poisoned regret": which could also be understood as 'his poise and regret'.
    "Oh officer, let me send her to a cheap hotel": In this verselines an the next ones, the narrator's one attempt to involve himself in the situation is rebutted, so he returns to passively watching.
    "I have no wish for wishing wells or wishing bones": If 'wishing bones'are dice, the line means that the narrator doesn't rely on luck or chance.
    "I can't get out! ": For all of the song, the narrator is a neutral observer of human life, standing outside the events he witnessed in his walk around London. In the end, however, he finds he is part of the scene himself, and can't hold himself aloof.
    * Neil R.Thomason
  •  
  • You say "Blandford Street is in Soho, the area of London associated with sex-shops and strippers." and in fact, it joins Baker St and Gloucester Place, and is just South of Baker St tube station. I used to live there, and had many a good curry in Blandford Street.
  • *Paul Bradforth
  •  
  • "Dress to the left divulging": an English expression, now not much used, but once upon a time posh tailors would ask 'which side does Sir dress?' when they were measuring you for a pair of trousers. This
    was a polite way of asking which side your penis hung when you were dressed. Most men apparently tend to 'dress to the left', supposedly because most men are right-handed. The line suggests a prominent erection.
    "There was a little boy stood on a burning log (...)or did you light this
    fire under me?"
    : is an obvious reference to Felicia Hemans' poem
    'Casablanca', which tells the story of Casablanca, the 13 year-old son of Vice-Admiral Brueys, commander of the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile in 1798. Casablanca is pictured nobly standing at his post as the flagship, L'Orient, burns underneath him. All his shipmates have abandoned ship and he calls to his father to relieve him of his duty and allow him to follow them, but his father is dying and doesn't answer. Eventually, the powder magazine on the ship blows up, taking Casablanca with it.  This seems to our eyes a monumentally stupid and pointless way to die, but for generations of young British manhood it was held up as a supreme example of devotion to
    duty and patriotism, the mindlessness of which is what Ian attacks in these lines.
    * Julian Burnell

Grace

  • Here are Ian's comments about  'Grace', from 'Mintrel In The Gallery': "My big private goal, my actual composing ideal, is to write a 30-second piece that just totally evokes something.  Everyone will say, 'I know just what he means.'  That's my sort of private thing.  I don't get caught up in that too often, just once in a while.  There's a song on 'Minstrel In The Gallery' called 'Grace'.  It's just a 40-second piece. I literally woke up one morning and looked out the window and just sang words that perfectly evoked for me a feeling, and put it to a sort of quartet arrangement for strings. For me it evoked something that I think countless people will sort of share in and understand. The only twist is in the words:
    "Hello sun,
    Hello bird,
    Hello my lady
    Hello breakfast,"
    and the next line: "May I buy you again tomorrow?" And 'May I buy you' is so ambiguous, whether it applies to the $2.50 breakfast at the airport or the whole thing. I mean, we all pay for this in one way or another. That ambiguity is a consciously put-in thing, but it's not something that anybody will really pick up on, though some people obviously will.  The last line doesn't even need to be there for most people. It's there as an extra twist, an amusement. It's there if you happen to feel, like I do, a certain cynicism about all your pleasures in life.  Because I wake up some mornings and the sun is shining and the birds are twittering and I feel like going out and strangling the little bastards."
    * Neil R.Thomason (from "The Codpiece Chronicles", March 11, 1976) 1.
  •  

Works cited:
1. David Rees: Minstrels In The Gallery, A History Of Jethro Tull, Wembley, UK, 1998;
2.John Benninghouse: Songs From The Wood, The music and lyrics of Ian Anderson", 1994.

 


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March 12 2000