IAN Anderson has always been one of rock and roll’s more maverick characters. For more than 50 years he has been the force behind Jethro Tull, a band with more than 50 million album sales to their name and with a cult following on both sides of the Atlantic.

With touring restrictions finally appearing to come to an end, Ian will be bringing Jethro Tull to Blackburn next week as part of their Prog Years tour.

Tull’s combination of complex musical interplay, mysterious lyrics steeped in mythology yet not shying away from politics or social commentary and with a frontman not averse to polishing off a quick flute solo - often stood on one leg - mean to many observers the band remains the epitome of prog, a term much used and very often in a derogatory sense.

“I think the phrase was first coined by one of the British music papers to describe a number of bands around at the time including Jethro Tull,” said Ian. “When I saw it I thought ‘I quite like the idea of being a progressive rock band, that’s sort of what I’m doing’.”

ICON: Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull

ICON: Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull

Along with Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull were at the forefront of British rock bands making it big in America in the late Sixties.

“I think because of the eclectic nature of what we did, were were seen as offering an alternative to what was around on the America music scene at the time,” said Ian.

“There was something that seemed quite new and I suppose defiant. What made Zeppelin so successful and Cream so successful and Jethro Tull successful was that we didn’t actually give a damn whether they liked it or not.

“We were there to get the job done, we hoped that they liked it but if they didn’t we’d still get paid and get the hell out of there and get back to the UK.

“We didn’t go there desperate for approval; the danger is the more you want it somehow the less likely you are to get it

“It comes down to showing that you are not too desperate because people spot that. If you try too hard then it’s going to look like a fake; if you swagger on to the stage and it’s take it or leave it, much as the way the Sex Pistols did or the Who did or Alex Harvey did, people respect it.

“There are a whole host of people, many of whom I’ve worked with, just had that thing about them as soon as they walked on stage. You either loved or hated them but they weren’t asking you to do them any favours. They were saying ‘this is what we do and this is what you are going to get. We don’t do requests’.

The Prog Years tour will be the perfect antidote to 18 months in lockdown for many Jethro Tull fans.

“We’re really just trying to highlight the songs I think are the more landmark songs where I was taking that progressive rock tack”, said Ian. “We’re not playing the blues or traditional rock and roll or jazz. It’s a a heady mix of those various infusions; those little elements I tend to bring into the music.

“For a lot of people it’s just a bit too unfocussed and too eclectic. Some people just like their pie and chips. I’m pie and chips guy too but it’s nice to find little garnishes and things you can put around the edges of it all – after all there’s a lot of different things that go into a pie.”

Jethro Tull

Jethro Tull

Ian the and the rest of the band have only recently got together for the first time since the first lockdown and he admits that the long enforced absence from live shows has been difficult.

“In that period of time you do lose a lot of condition both mental and physical,” he said. “Although I’m not quite in the Joe Biden camp it has taken quite a lot of diligent work to get back to that performance level and remember all the stuff.”

Live shows may not have been possible for many months but Ian has not exactly been taking it easy. A new Tull album, The Zealot Gene, is due out in January, which was completed in lockdown.

“We’d been waiting the last year and a half to do the last five songs on the album and finally gave up any hope that we would be able to sit down and do it together,” said Ian, “and we decided it was time to crack on and get it done with the guys all submitting their things to be added into the final mix.”

Ian has also completed Silent Singing a compendium of all the Jethro Tull lyrics illustrated with photographs Ian has taken over the years.

“It was one of those projects that I’d had in mind to do at some point,” he said. “Most of it was done in the early months of 2021 because frankly there wasn’t much else to do.”

At 74 you might think Ian would be considering taking things more easily but he revealed he has three or four other projects on the go plus the return to touring.

“I shall be keeping myself fairly busy,” he joked. “I’m not ready to have golf lessons or to go coarse fishing or play bowls, god help me. No, I’m not yet ready for the end of life pseudo-sporting pursuits.”

Jethro Tull, King George’s Hall, Blackburn, Tuesday, September 28. Details from www.bwdvenues.com