1974: The Year of Living Dangerously

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Ian Anderson has his own interesting recollection of the music scene in 1974. “It was a time when everything was in the doldrums,” says the Jethro Tull mastermind. “By that, I don’t mean that nothing was happening, but it just appeared that no one knew what would happen next. Anything was possible.”

Things began to go off the rails for this embryonic creation when Anderson had a meeting with his namesake, director Lindsay Anderson.“He tore the whole thing to shreds and was very unkind, harsh and cruel about the film when I met him. I suspect he viewed me as an upstart, entering a world I knew nothing about. It was very upsetting to have someone you admire being so nasty about your work.” Thankfully, Bryan Forbes was a lot kinder about the film and agreed to direct it. The real troubles came when attempts were made to get American studios to provide the finances. None were prepared to commit money. “Bryan Forbes was very much seen by them as ‘Bryan Who?’ They wanted an American director, and also American actors. At the time, there was just no interest in British cinema so they wanted to relocate the whole story to the States. But it was written in the twilight zone of dark British post-war weirdness and would never have worked in the States.” In the end, the process of getting the film off the ground proved too time-consuming for the peripatetic Anderson. “It can take two or three years just to get something agreed in that world, so I abandoned the idea.” Anderson elected to adapt much of the music that had already been composed and demoed for the movie soundtrack to make a cohesive Jethro Tull album instead. To this selection were added songs originally conceived and recorded the previous year in France at Château d’Hérouville, colloquially known to the band as Château d’Isaster. “We took Skating Away On The Thin Ice Of A New Day, Bungle In The Jungle and Only Solitaire from Château d’Isaster and reworked these for the album. There was a somewhat folksy feel on War Child. Of course, this folk theme was more developed on later albums.” The deluxe version of War Child, recently released this year on November 24, gives us all a chance to hear the original orchestral demos recorded with the movie in mind. “I have to admit that I think these are of dubious value. They were written as movie music, and Tull fans have to appreciate they don’t feature the band much at all. I didn’t play flute or guitar on any of this. I think Martin Barre played some classical guitar, and John Evan does some piano parts. Barrie Barlow could have done some percussion. I’m not too sure Jethro Tull fans will want to sit through this stuff. It’s really background music, composed by myself and David Palmer, as he was known back then [now Dee Palmer]. Are they relevant to the album? I don’t know. They are there for oddity value, really.” Anderson has even been surprised by some of the material he has unearthed from 1974. “I came across a couple of sophisticated demos I’d forgotten we’d recorded. But then we were in the studio so much at that time. We all lived comparatively close together in Greater London. So, popping down to a studio like Morgan in North West London was easy. “We’d just moved back to London after living abroad for a while, due to the murderous tax regime over here. We’d been advised to leave the country when our first royalty cheque was due and we were facing 83 per cent tax charges. But we never gave up being British residents, as some did.”Anderson returned to a country that was in a state of flux. The miners’ strike at the start of the year not only led to power cuts, but also the introduction of a three-day working week by the Conservative government, to try to combat the growing energy crisis. This period of instability led to two general elections in ’74, both won by Labour. Anderson, though, like many at the time, was disillusioned with the political atmosphere.“I was politically aware, but disenchanted with all politicians. I thought it was OK to shun the whole thing and stand outside the system. “The world was a lot more black and white in 1974 than it is now. The choice facing us was between a very socialist Labour party and an arch and very scary Conservatives. You could not like any of the politicians. They were deeply unpleasant people.”Inevitably, Anderson believes what happened on the music scene reflected the political and social climates at the time. “You can look back at 1974 and appreciate that it was the birth of punk rock. You had bands like the Ramones starting up, and a lot of this was due to the anger many people felt, the bitterness they had of being marginalised and powerless. That’s why punk came about. Most of the big bands of the time in prog – ourselves, Yes and Genesis – ran in parallel to that world. Punks couldn’t admit to loving us at the time, although a lot did. “The Ramones were true American rock’n’roll in a grungy, street-credible way. And that sort of music comes round in cycles. In 1969, it had been the MC5, whom Jethro Tull actually played with, and then in 1974 it was the turn of the Ramones.”Anderson now senses that the first golden era of progressive music was drawing to its conclusion in this year.“We were at an in-between time. You couldn’t see where things would go. But we in Tull kept our heads down and got on with the next record, tour.”

All of us on the scene at the time were professionals at hiding our heads in the sand. With some bands, though, you were never quite sure what to expect. That was true of King Crimson. They changed a lot as they went along. Sometimes these bands floundered commercially, but they didn’t follow the predictable path. They were the brave, restless souls of music. And the ones to whom I warmed.” For John Wetton, bassist at the time with King Crimson, 1974 was a very positive year. “It was a great time. We went from being a rather naïve band to becoming very consummate, confident. The Starless And Bible Black album that year was a stepping stone in that direction. But when Red came out later in ’74, we’d found ourselves.” As far as prog’s biggest acts of the time are concerned, Anderson has mixed views. “Genesis I never came across, even though we enjoyed the same success at the same time. On The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, they appeared like a strange one-man band with theatrical elements. That was because of Peter Gabriel. The rest of them always looked faintly embarrassed.”Tony Banks has mixed feelings about this album. “It was a difficult record to make because while we were actually writing it, Peter got offered to do this film script for William Friedkin and he was sort of off. In a sense, we thought, ‘OK, we’ll just carry on and do it without him.’ [The album] was a kind of departure for us. Although I think a lot of the lyrics are great, I’m not so crazy about the story. Then we did the tour and it was fun to set all that stuff up. But it never worked perfectly. And in the middle of the tour, Peter sort of left.” Anderson has very firm views on the way Yes were set up at the time. “I found them noodly, austere and took themselves terribly seriously. Rick Wakeman did give them a self-deprecating humour when he was in the band, which was their saving grace. But he left in ’74, didn’t he? Still, they were tight, always spot on and had great songs. So, you have to admire what they did. “ELP were not known for humour, but they could take the mickey out of themselves. They eventually realised there was something pompous and silly about it all, although I’m not sure if that all came in retrospect.” Keith Emerson recalls a frenetic year for ELP. “We played so many concerts in 1974 and I remember some of them mainly because of some memorable incidences. For instance, America had a serious fuel shortage and my Suzuki GS1000 ran out of gas as I left one stadium. But some great fans sucked the gas out of their own tanks to give me enough to get up the coast after the show and to my hotel!” The artist for whom Ian Anderson has a lot of affection, despite his obvious shortcomings, is Captain Beefheart. “We toured together. And I spent a lot of time with him. But he was such a manipulative character that there came a point when being around him was dangerous. He was a paranoid, insecure person, and used to try and intimidate people, but underneath was desperate to be liked. I did manage to keep him at arm’s length, but would have gotten on a plane at a minute’s notice to go and visit him towards the end of his life. Sadly, I was told Beefheart was a recluse by then and would see no one.” Now, the Tull master can be objective about the way big bands behaved towards each other in 1974, and be honest concerning their relationships. “It was very competitive. If you felt you were part of a movement then you instinctively felt you didn’t want to be – you had to stand apart. But there was also a huge admiration and mutual respect between us all.” Anderson successfully avoided the brisk hedonism that was a hallmark of the era. Not only has he never had a reputation as a crazed felon of bacchanalia, but there are no hidden stories on this front. “I had no social life whatsoever. I was either onstage, in the studio or else writing music. If I had any time off, I spent it on my own. I loved being alone. Just reading. John Le Carré and Ian Fleming were my friends. I read a lot of books. “If you spend so much of your life in planes, hotels, on stages, you are surrounded by people, not to mention an audience every night, then you are overwhelmed by the stench of humanity. The antidote was my own company. “As a child, I never enjoyed sports at school, so couldn’t interact that way, so I learned to be alone. To read, draw, paint and learn things. People did think I was standoffish, arrogant, a loner. But I wasn’t in the mood to go to a roadies’ party, hang out with groupies or indulge in booze and drugs. On the road, I went to my room and read a book. But I did meet my wife, Shona, in 1974. Although we didn’t get together until the following year.” For their War Child tour, Tull had an all-female string quartet with them, and this brought its own problems. “Through what I can only describe as mutual desperation, the members of this string quartet paired up with roadies or others in the band. And this inevitably diminished their situation musically. As always happens under such circumstances, when these relationships floundered, it brought about its own difficulties, because these personal problems were carried onstage and led to a strained atmosphere. “However, any band is obviously made up of different characters. While I was very relaxed being on my own and avoiding all the pitfalls of partying too hard, there were other members of Tull who were extremely gregarious and very needy. They embraced the rock’n’roll lifestyle which was prevalent in ’74. But there was also someone like Martin Barre, who had a similar attitude to mine. This has meant we could work together and then go our separate ways, without needing to living in each other’s pocket.” Apart from the start of what would become punk, Anderson has no doubt about what, in his opinion, was the most important musical movement of 1974. “This was the birth of glam rock, and with it the seeds were sown for the domination of British music right into the 80s. Of course, you had bands like Slade on Top Of The Pops, with their platform soles. But it was Roxy Music whom I really enjoyed. There was a sleazy slickness to the music that appealed to me. The presentation was glamorous and old fashioned, which I liked.” “The year 1974 was a very busy one for Roxy, and also its solo members,” remembers Roxy guitarist Phil Manzanera. “Stranded, our third album, was released in the US with an ensuing tour, Bryan Ferry and Andy Mackay recorded and released solo albums, and we recorded, released and toured our fourth album Country Life. You can only maintain this work rate when you’re in your 20s. We were obviously very ambitious and riding high on the hog!” Anderson believes that 1974 saw a new generation of British talent ready to dominate the global scene. “The arrival of glam rock came at a time when, thanks to progressive music, British artists were commanding global attention. But if anything, it heralded a new era where home-grown talent led the way to an even greater extent. “In that respect, it was a year when the musical world was indeed a melting pot. The likes of Cream, The Beatles and Hendrix had gone, and I believe the upheavals of the social and political spheres meant that there was an equal uncertainty in music. It’s at times like these that you get innovation. While I don’t feel the big prog names were still necessarily being bold and adventurous, nonetheless that spirit was alive and spreading.”