~ This Was ~


An introduction to "This Was"

Picture this: one of the many British blues bands of the late sixties is offered the chance, after a period of extensive touring under different names with different band members, to record its first long play album and has the nerve to title it 'This Was'. That is exactly what Jethro Tull did in August 1968 and looking back from this day to that event one could say it marks the start of one of the most peculiar careers of one of the most peculiar bands in the history of rock.

As Jethro Tull emerged from the British blues boom that brought along great bands like Fleetwood Mac, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, Cream, Chicken Shack, Led Zeppelin, Ten Years After, Colosseum a.o., it is no surprise that their first album leaned heavily on the blues, and jazz-influences are clearly present. Despite the fact, that the music is relatively simple compared to later albums (since it sticked so close to the blues idiom), the poverty of the recording itself (due to the state of the analogue recording techniques of those days; all songs were recorded on 4-track) and - like the music - shows traces of amateurism, the album has a certain charm that makes it into a valuable object for every Tull-fan. The same goes for the lyrics, that are mainly love songs and charming in their simplicity: they do not differ much from those of blues songs from other blues and R & B bands in the late sixties. The album reflects very well the atmosphere of the Jethro Tull gigs in late 1968 / early 1969. It was released in Europe in October 1968 after three months of interrupted recording sessions (due to the heavy touring schedule) and sold well immediately.

A very rare picture of Jethro Tull: a still taken from the Rolling Stones Rock & Roll Circus film in December 1968, just after Mick Abrahams left the band. His temporary successor was Tony Iommi, who co-founded Black Sabbath early 1969.

Another important feature of the album, that makes it so interesting is the rivalry between Ian Anderson and Mick Abrahams. One gets the impression that there is a constant duel between flute and guitar for the leading part. The flute was a novum in rock where the guitar since the origin of blues, country & western and rock & roll always was considered to be the 'prima donna'. This rivalry becomes clear when one compares Ian's elaboration of Roland Kirk's "Serenade to a cuckoo" to Mick's blues-rock elaboration of the traditional "Cat's Squirrel". One of the best songs and musically most interesting ones on the album, where this duel is so obviously present, is "Beggar's Farm". Here we get a good impression of both Mick's and Ian's improvisational talents. Both Ian's flute playing and Mick's guitar playing come close to jazz.

They both wrote songs for this album honouring the blues in compositions like the pensive "Someday the sun won't shine for you", the lamenting "It's breaking me up" and the acquiescing "Move on alone". Different opinions regarding the musical course for the future - among others things - led to the departure of Mick Abrahams, who formed the blues band Blodwyn Pig, that still tours today from time to time. In the context of the band's history Jethro Tull from this moment on became more and more Ian's band.

Though this album is primary a blues album it offers ten varied and very interesting songs. They give us insight in the evolution of what lateron would be recognized as "Tull-music", or to put it in the words of those days: the "Tull-sound". Both music and lyrics would dramatically change from that point on when it comes to originality, complexity, imagery and creativity. "This was how we were playing then, but things change, don't they". Indeed they did and still do, definitely.
* Jan Voorbij

(Further reading: The Jethro Tull Print Archive: Jethro Tull - thinking, learning, getting better, Beat Instrumental, October 1968).

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Beggar's Farm

  • The title, "Beggar's Farm", is a metaphore for "in the gutter". This is the only song on the album which Anderson and Abrahams wrote together.

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Serenade To A Cuckoo

  • This piece of music was written by the famous jazz flautist/saxophonist Roland Kirk. Ian stated that this was one of the first pieces he learned to play on flute and acknowledged that his style of flute-playing was a stylistic derivative of Kirk's: e.g. mixing all kinds of vocal sounds with his flute-playing and the 'impure', jazzy flute technique. At the Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island, Jethro Tull and Roland Kirk both performed on the 4th of July 1969, where Roland thanked Ian for doing "Serenade To A Cuckoo", because it made him famous by acquinting him to new audiences.

Rahsaan Roland Kirk (1936 -1977)

  • Casswel suggests that Ian also derived aspects of his later stage persona from Roland Kirk as well: "Kirk is described by Lipsitz in his book Time Passages. Lipsitz speaks of Kirk's unusual stage attire and behavior as subversive and unconventional. He also makes note of Kirk's aggressive sense of humor, citing his satirical rendition of hymns and his "mischievous wordplay". Lipsitz calls attention to these characteristics to identify Kirk as a performer who is deriving his power from a sense of history. He explains that Roland Kirk presents an art that can be interpreted at many levels - an art that makes reference to the past through oblique and coded messages. These messages arise as eccentricities in Roland Kirk's music and stage presence. All of these are important aspects to bear in mind in the analysis of Ian Anderson's art."
    * Judson C.Caswell (SCC, vol. 4, issue 32, December 1993) ; adaptation Jan Voorbij

  • Real Player video clip of
    "Serenade to A Cuckoo",
    performed live at the Pistoia Blues Festival, Italy,
    July 18, 1999. By kind permission of
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Dharma For One

  • An instrumental with a vaguely "Eastern" feel, which features a (Clive Bunker) drum solo. The title is something of a piss take on the hippy / eastern philosophy thing which was a fad at the time. The whole  Maharishi / Beatles / higher level of consciousness (i.e. drugs) trip which followed the psychedelic culture of the mid '60's and which Anderson detested. He could have called it Instant Dharma, thinking about it. Dharma, in the Buddhist sense, means the journey to enlightenment (Nirvana). In England in the old Tea Rooms or Caffs you asked for tea for one, if you were on your own, or tea for two. The joke is at the expense of those that thought enlightenment etc was as easy as ordering a cup of tea. Picture a Monty Pythonish old lady entering a tea room: looks at the blackboard menu, "Dharma, the path to enlightenment. Coo that sounds nice, think I'll 'ave some - Dharma for One, please luv. And an eccles cake". It also a piss take at Clive Bunkers expense, really, Clive being in seventh heaven having had a song specifically written for him to take centre stage for once. A couple of years later, Anderson wrote some lyrics for the song which appear to be about the need for selflessness as opposed to selfishness if. The live performance of this song was recorded in 1970 in New York and released on the Living In The Past album.
    * Matthew Korn

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Cat's Squirrel

  • This instrumental blues was originally created and developed as a vocal piece of music by the American blues singer Charles Isaiah Ross (1925-1993). He recorded it in 1953 under the title "Mississippi Blues", and again in 1956 when it was retitled "Cat Squirrel". It was reworked by Eric Clapton and recorded for the album "Fresh Cream" (1966) and lateron reworked by Mick Abrahams for "This Was".
    * Jan Voorbij (source: "Flying Colours: The Jethro Tull Reference Manual", Greg Russo, Crossfire Publications, 1999)

A Song For Jeffrey

  • This song is dedicated to a friend in Blackpool - where the band originally came from - Jeffrey Hammond, as Ian stated many times on stage. He played bass in two Blackpool bands The Blades and The John Evan Band from 1963 to 1967 (with John Evans, Ian Anderson and Barrie Barlow!) and would join Jethro Tull as a bass player after Glenn Cornick left the band and appeared on record for the first time on Aqualung in 1971. Together with "One For John Gee" (a song that wouldn't make it to the album) this was their first single for the Island label, previewing the "This Was" album
    * Jan Voorbij

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Last modified: February 2 2002

Jan Voorbij (1998-2009)