Mention the name Ian Anderson and rock music fans will probably think of the name Jethro Tull a split second later.
The prog rock icon is world-famous for his role as vocalist, guitarist and flautist in the renowned British band.
However, a discussion of Ian’s music often brings up another name besides the one belonging to an 18th century agriculturalist.
I’m talking, of course, about Gerald Bostock.
This figure first appeared on Jethro Tull’s 1972 concept album, Thick As A Brick, as a brilliant but possibly psychologically unstable schoolboy, whose poetry provided the inspiration for the record. He then re-emerged 40 years later for Thick As A Brick 2.
If you’re unfamiliar with Jethro Tull’s music and have never heard of Gerald, that’s understandable – he doesn’t actually exist.
“He’s a writer’s tool,” Ian explains. “He’s a device to divorce me a little bit from sentiment, feelings emotions and views, which, perhaps, I don’t hold but he can. He’s sort of an alter, alter ego really.”
Real or not, Gerald’s back once more, this time writing the lyrics for Ian Anderson’s latest album and basing them on an unpublished manuscript by an amateur historian named Ernest T. Parritt.
Homo Erraticus, released on April 14, looks into events from British history, exploring visions of past lives. These reveal stories about a diverse range of characters, which include a Neolithic settler, a Christian monk, and even Prince Albert.
Ian and his band are set for an extensive UK tour, which comes to the Brighton Dome on April 28. Audiences will get to hear the new album in its entirety before the band plays a selection of Tull classics.
Ian says that inhabiting different characters on stage gives him the freedom to express ideas that aren’t necessarily his own.
He wryly explains, using Prince Albert as an example: “I am not married to Queen Victoria but if I’m talking from the perspective of Prince Albert in the heyday of the British Empire then I’m going to take on some elements of that character and say things that, in fact, I’m not saying.”
This particular point of view – “fusty, conservative and rather monarchical” – definitely doesn’t fit with Ian’s political outlook.
A self-described “pragmatic socialist”, Ian says: “I’m not a right winger, but I believe in making things work. So, I can have Gerald Bostock who, in a pseudo-retired Labour party political role, can have fairly more radical views than I would espouse. But he’s not a million miles away from me and I can just let him run riot a little bit.”
It’s an unconventional approach to song writing but Ian isn’t keen on “intensely autobiographical” music.
“I prefer people who are observational, who create characters, put them in a context and put them in a scene,” he says. “Let these characters have life, let them interact with other people.”
He continues: “My best songs, I think, are all about other people in other situations. They’re not telling you how I feel about something, which, for the most part, would probably be rather dull.”
Characters aside, what does Ian’s new album offer fans of Jethro Tull?
Read the full story in this week’s County Times’ WOW supplement – out now!