Category Archives: Recent work

Jethro Tull cover feature (Prog magazine February 2022 issue)


Ian Anderson is not messing about. When the man synonymous with Jethro Tull told Prog a few months ago, when asked about the challenges of post-Covid touring, “I expect to be wearing a mask for the rest of my professional life,” it turns out he didn’t just mean any old mask.

“I wear none of that namby-pamby flimsy blue stuff,” he tells Prog over a 9am call – sharp as a tack as ever despite the early hour. “People seem to think it’s sufficient for the job and isn’t even more useless than a face covering. I wear an FFT2 mask or sometimes an FFP3 mask, because I care about my health and indeed the health of others – a five-layer mask. And I have done all the time [since the pandemic began], but then they are more difficult to breathe through, especially with any physical exertion going on.”

Your correspondent shuffles uncomfortably, feeling a little inadequate about the frayed standard issue face-covering he just wore in the corner shop while fetching a pint of milk for breakfast.

However robust the protection adopted, though, you would have been forgiven for wondering if Ian Anderson, a man who last year revealed he was diagnosed in 2018 with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), causing breathing difficulties even before the pandemic hit, might step back from Tull activities – particularly live ones – at this point.

Not likely. Because this is a man still determined to continue working as long as he is physically and mentally able, to the point where he might conceivably “die with his boots on”, as he will tell us later. And maybe it’s that indefatigable creative drive that has helped make the new Jethro Tull album their best for many a year.

The release of The Zealot Gene is one reason why the workload for Jethro Tull is about to ramp up again in earnest after the enforced performance hiatus. And with the ink barely dry on a Tull lyric book and a deluxe reissue of Benefit having found its way into plenty of fans’ stockings last month, Ian Anderson is as busy as ever.

And if you’re worried about what sounds like a distinctly scary medical condition, he somewhat downplays the seriousness of the situation to Prog:

However, he insists that he is simply managing something similar to the asthma he has suffered from since he was young. As he put it more eloquently in a press release last year, the condition has “no impact at all on my daily life as long as I don’t catch a cold or flu virus [he of course adds Covid to that danger list] and suffer the subsequent heavy bronchitis which, for me, historically follows since I was a young man. But on the upside, I don’t suffer from haemorrhoids or erectile dysfunction. So, things are looking up, not down. (Puns fully intended).”

Well, that’s a relief for all concerned. Still, it can’t be easy for a man of 74 to go on stage night after night, singing and playing the flute and, while not being quite as hyperactive as he once was, still putting in a fair old shift of physical activity.

“I test myself every day using a peak flow meter to see what my lung capacity is doing. But playing the flute and singing is a bit of a double whammy if you have my condition.

“But the reality is that I much prefer to keep performing, and if I’m not performing, I regularly play the flute and sing and practice just because I think that’s the best way to stay in shape.”

And whatever his physical situation, he seems in pretty fine fettle creatively and intellectually. The Zealot Gene is full of the stuff that characterised some of Tull’s finest long players: memorable riffs and instrumental hooks embedded within beguiling song structures to underpin waspish social comment and intriguing tall tales. The two things that make a record so instantly Tull in character – that voice and that flute – are as characterful as ever.

The band’s third album, 1970’s Benefit, was reissued in November (see sidebar for more on that), and your correspondent ended up listening to that album around the same time as The Zealot Gene. Anderson has often remarked on how riff-based Benefit was, and the same could be said of the new record. Throughout, it retains your attention and reels you in with neat little musical figures and motifs, whether it’s the hopscotching flute hook on recent single Sweet Shoshanna, a harmonica tune on Jacob’s Lament, penny whistle melody on Sad City Sisters the haunting piano and plaintive backing vocal of Mine Is The Mountain or the pounding power chords of the title track.

Is that how the Tull creative process tends to take shape these days? Grab a musical morsel and run with it?

“Well it varies,” says Anderson. “But it’s pretty tried and trusted, isn’t it? I mean, Beethoven, I suppose. led the way, didn’t he? Is it four notes in the Fifth Symphony? And they were basically versions of the same two, really. I wonder how that came about? I can imagine him sitting in his in his private writing room, hunched over a piano feeling frustrated, trying to find inspiration, and then suddenly somebody knocks on the door and he slams his hands on the keyboard in frustration. Dah-dah-dah-duuuuhhhh! And there’s the opening.

“Sometimes it’s that easy, and then sometimes it’s laborious – you know you have lots of little half ideas that you kick him around for a day or two, or a week or three. Eventually something comes out of it, but it’s often starts from a little musical line. And it can often be the most memorable feature of a song.

“It certainly worked for Jack Bruce and Pete Brown when they wrote Sunshine of Your Love, but only really once they had a lyric too. Jack had a riff – bom bom bom bom… bom bom bomp ba-bom-bom… But that’s all that’s all they had. And they were getting absolutely nowhere, working all night with it. Pete Brown got up and went to the window and he notices… it’s getting near dawn.

A few minutes later, they had one of Cream’s most famous and successful songs. So sometimes it is it is just based on a little idea that can also be a lyric.”


Funny he should mention that given that he has recently published Silent Singing, a book of collected lyrics (discussed further in a sidebar), and since The Zealot Gene has another hallmark of the best Tull albums, in that its lyrics are often as intriguing as the sounds.

The Zealot Gene is hardly a concept album as such, but there is a strong theme running throughout, and a familiar one for seasoned Tull fans. The use of biblical language and reference points continues throughout, from nodding towards the story of Lot’s wife making the fateful decision to look back on an apocalyptic scene in Mrs Tippets to The Betrayal Of Joshua Kynde and In Brief Visitation, in which he relates Jesus’s persecution to modern society’s need to find fall guys for their sins.

On a press release and lyric sheet sent out to the media ahead of this album’s release, Anderson preceded each song with a citation from the Bible – further reading, you might suggest. At Christmas he performed another clutch of now regular seasonal Tull shows in churches and cathedrals. Yet he continues to entertain a complicated, conflicted fascination with Christianity and the good book. A similar one, in fact, to that displayed when he penned My God on Aqualung, venting his disillusionment with organised religion. He’s even admitted he sees the new track Mine Is The Mountain as a counterpart to that 1971 classic.

“I grew up as a child having obligatory attendances at church, which I was quite fearful of,” he admits. “I didn’t enjoy the experience of being in a church. To me just had a whole lot of connotations that I found unpleasant and I was fearful of the teaching because it seemed authoritarian, at least at my schools. It seemed to be somehow making excuses for very unpleasant things that were contained in the Bible. Things that were written by many, many authors and translated many, many times. perhaps two or 3,000 years ago.

“But I began to feel differently about Christianity perhaps 20 years ago. I felt more at home being in churches, and going into churches and cathedrals in different parts of the world – occasionally doing temples and other religious buildings.

“So I found a place for me in in that physical context of religion, and in that sense I’ve become a hands-on ‘supporter’ of Christianity I suppose. I’m playing shows in English cathedrals and the Vatican. Christmas concert in Rome. But I do not call myself a Christian because I do not possess the vital attributes – in short, having faith.

“To me, Faith implies certainty. I don’t do certainties, I do probabilities, and I do possibilities. I’m not in a rush to make up my mind, if indeed I have to, about anything. I like the idea of being able to look, sit on the fence. It really is the best place to be, you know, because from the fence you get a good view, you can see both sides, and have a good think about it.

“Most of it [the Bible], most of the time is a positive message, particularly part two of the Bible. And it isn’t a fairy tale, it is almost certainly based upon a real person, Jesus of Nazareth. But Jesus Christ, as the manifestation of God here on Earth in human form… I’m not very comfortable with that idea. But that doesn’t make me feel in any way that I have to sneer at other people’s beliefs or indeed sneer at Christianity, which I’m a big supporter of simply because of its positive side of it.”


It seems fair to say that Christianity helps Anderson position his moral compass, something that is clearly evident at several junctures on the new record, particularly when making some of the more topical comments we find therein.

The title track, for instance, points at a seemingly innate attraction for humans towards extremism and simplistic rhetoric, evidence of which has been seen here and abroad in various guises in the last few years, fuelled in no small part by social media discourse where the binary debate always seems to rise highest in the trending charts.

“The black and white, the stereotype, the polarising pitch at play” goes the lyric. “While some of us sit in between, interminable shades of grey.”

Anderson explains the thinking behind the song further: “It was inspired partly by the growth of right-wing populism and how extremist views seem to spread more freely and everything gets more exaggerated– sometimes through news stories and, and some from ferocious tweets from, for instance, Donald Trump. People might tend to think that The Zealot Gene is specifically about Trump, and he certainly would figure in in a list of characters who would have been floating around in my head, but it’s not specifically about him or people like him. It’s more about that need to have “a bee buzzing in your bonnet and a wasp right up the bum”, as I put it in the song.

“People just seem to have this need to get crazy about something. Maybe they’re just so easily bored with everything else and then they got to work themselves into a fury. People in in the past might have had a few crossed words over a pint in the local pub, but that face-to-face example of real people having differences of opinions, it seemed in that context, it was a little more harmless. Compare that to midnight outpouring on Twitter or something, when people may well say things with a few drinks inside them, and in that environment, it can become something much bigger – all the vile and pent-up fury explodes into something that the world ends up reading about the next morning, and which might well end up as a permanent entry into your Wikipedia page.”


He has also seen the effects of heightened polarisation in people he’s come into contact personally. And the oft-mentioned factor of anonymity that is often cited as being an enabling factor in the spread of online hate doesn’t always feature.

“I remember having this discussion with two young Israeli students, from a college I was donating money to, which was promoting co-education of Arab. Christian and Jewish children, particularly in the arts. At the time the temperature was rising [in the Occupied Territories] and when I asked them about it they said, there’s some people who just say really terrible things on social media, and the worst thing is you very often know who they are. And you see them every day; they’re sitting on the other side of the classroom. They said people just take on this other terrible personality on social media.

“I asked how they dealt with it and she said, ‘Well, we’re not as vulnerable perhaps as people think we are. We’ve grown up in the age of the internet. And most of us are able to tune in, to just switch off or just delete something before we read it.’ She suggested the older generations are almost more vulnerable because they’re not used to it several times a day.

“But of course, there is that other side of that argument, which is that there are a lot of children who are not so resilient, who are so desperate for affection and approval that they do read all the negative stuff, or join in the hate, because they are desperate to be part of that crowd.”


Elsewhere on the album, though, you could interpret some of Anderson’s lyrics as flirting semi-approvingly with the biblical notion of a disapproving God shaking his head as he looks down upon our sins, preparing to wreak a terrible punishment, smiting the lot of us, Old Testament style.

On the aforementioned track Mine Is The Mountain, for instance, we are told: “I’m no pushover lamb, no gentle provider; vengeance, retribution are my middle names / I can make a cadaver of your women, your firstborn, with a snap of a finger, of salt and of flame.”

Soon after he warns: “You who ignore these things that are written will define the story your children will read.”

Anderson insists, though, that it this is by no means a reflection of his own view. “That song is seeing God as a victim, really, of the desperation of man to create this figurehead, and in human form, because that’s the only way we can understand it. We have to see God as either a scary old man or a benign old buffoon who’s forgotten where he put his glasses and… which aisle is it for fresh fruit and vegetables in Waitrose? A rather benign old chappy. But we insist on creating God in the image of us.

“I trace my own simplistic viewpoint back to the liner notes of the Aqualung album and I kind of surprised myself a little bit in what I wrote on that. It was a little naive and simple, but nonetheless, it starts off with “In the beginning Man created God, and in the image of Man created he Him.”

It was a parody of those Biblical words. And I remember at the time thinking, ‘There’s a very good reason for me writing this,’ but I hadn’t thought it through to the extent that I have done in later life. So all of these things are part of what, I suppose are for me, fertile material when it comes to writing songs.”

He’s at pains to point out, though, that this is only one of many abiding themes in his work past and present.

“I’ve been writing songs about climate change since 1973 and talking about population issues and social political issues. Jethro Tull and Ian Anderson lyrics are littered with a lot of subject material that would perhaps seem to have come from many different pens.

“But I have a low boredom threshold, that’s my excuse. That’s prog rock, you know? It’s played by, and listened to, by people who have a low boredom threshold. Who need something more than just four bars intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, middle eight, verse, chorus. Sometimes you just want something with a little more flesh on more bones.”


His point is illustrated on this record, because despite having provided Biblical touchpoints, The Zealot Gene touches on subjects ranging from the sweetly voyeuristic, sensual Sweet Shoshanna to the portrait of sibling rivalries in Jacob’s Lament or Mrs Tippets’ vision of running from the first atom bombs. And one song on the album that could be regarded equally as social observation or censorious Christian finger-wagging is Sad City Sisters. It paints an ugly picture of a city centre scene some time after midnight, and particularly the young women in varying states of disrepair. “So send them home to stumble in and toss their knickers in the bin,” he sings. “Repentance looms then melts away mocked by dark unearthly silence / replaced by incubus at play.”


Elsewhere it asks, “Why should we worry, why should we care that warrior horsemen shame, defile them?” This appears to be a reference to the Bible passage mentioned on the lyric sheets, Ezekiel 23:2-11, in which women of easy virtue who “lie down” with soldiers from all sides are punished at God’s word by being stoned by a mob and their houses burned down. With deities like that, who needs social media?

Anderson insists he’s not casting judgement, though, only observing, the story inspired by scenes the singer witnessed while walking back to his hotel to a show on tour in Cardiff a few years ago.

“It could have been anywhere in any town, in the UK, and probably through most of the world as well,” he says. “It’s that need to just go out there, get crazy, you know – whether it’s drink or drugs or whatever – and it’s the hopelessness, helplessness, and the despair.

“I’m not approving or disapproving. I just think it’s very sad that for some people, the culmination of their week is to is to do something that exposes them to danger – not just physical danger, but mental danger. [There is a] part of you that wants to be avuncular and sort of try and pick up the pieces and put them in a cab and send them home. But the end of it all, you kind of know that’s it’s not going to change anything.”

The mental image of this elder statesmen of British rock ghosting through cities late at night, silently bearing witness to Hogarthian scenes of debauchery, is a curious one. But he later explains that his sentiments are partly related to a lifelong aversion to raucous social gatherings in confined spaces. Not the ideal mentality for a rock’n’roll singer, you might think, but thankfully, since the early 70s, he’s not been forced to frequent crowded fleshpots too often.

“For me, my definition of hell on earth would be getting dragged into a crowded club,” he admits with a laugh. “I remember I was once in Los Angeles, somewhere along Sunset Strip, and there was a particular club that was a super-famous place. Somebody said, there’s a band on tonight called Mountain – they’re really great. And I went along with some of the other guys and saw this band – I think our manager wanted me to see them because he thought they might be a good act to support us on the road, and in fact they subsequently did do a couple of tours with us [if Mr Anderson’s identification of Leslie West and Felix Pappalardi’s band is correct, this would date the encounter as 1969 – history Ed]. But I remember the horrors of having to wait until they finally came on in this noisy, sweaty, awful place, and I just hated the atmosphere of being in a crowded club.

“They came on and played a couple of songs and I legged it back to my hotel, but I remember hating that, one of the very few times I’ve ever been in what you would call a club. And that was a music club! They were places we used to play in, in the first few months of our career. I remember vividly being at the Marquee club. But we were there on the stage – that was one thing. But to be there in the audience was for me a very uncomfortable experience. It’s one of those things –throughout my life I’ve always been uncomfortable with crowds of people. Feeling like you’re hemmed in touching people. It’s like a musical version of the London Underground at rush hour – it’s just a place I don’t want to be.”


If anything could intensify a fear of crowded confined spaces, it would surely have been the events of the past two years. But it doesn’t seem to have put Anderson off from picking up where Tull left off in February 2020 and heading back out on the road. Meanwhile, as well as having a new album to promote, this year will also see a 40th anniversary reissue of 1982’s The Broadsword And The Beast, which Anderson tells us will include a great number of extra tracks from the many demos and alternate versions created during the making of it. “A lot of additional music was written and recorded,” he points out. “So it is the biggest box set ever, in terms of the actual individual numbers of tracks.”


For all this ongoing activity, though, he surely doesn’t have much left to prove. He’s not short of a few bob, he’s got a long, successful career behind him, the new studio album shows he’s still in fine fettle as a songwriter, so given the hazards of touring for a man with his health issues, what is it that keeps driving him?

“There’s always that stuff you’ve not done or that you think you could have done better,” he explains. “And you fancy, age aside, that you can still give it a good shot.

“I could cite the example of Lewis Hamilton as an example of someone who doesn’t have to prove anything anymore, but is obviously driven by the demons, the twin demons of failure and growing old, because like tennis players or other sportsmen in their mid-thirties, you know that your physical and mental acuity, your reaction times, soon they’re just not gonna work for you the way that they did.

“So I suppose there is that sense of urgency that you you’ve got to do this while you still can. And it’s the same as a performer of my age: the harsh reality of growing old and knowing that you don’t have that much time ahead of you.

“But for those of us in the performing arts or the creative arts generally, you know, maybe we have a different position. You know, we can aspire to be, you know, rock’n’roll Eric Morecambes and die with our boots on like a cowboy in a western.

“I suppose there is a romanticism and a finality about it doing something that inspires you to carry on to the bitter end. I remember seeing the mime artist Marcel Marceau in Buenos Aires in a hotel before one of his final performances and he was a shuffling little old man. He could barely walk, he was all twisted and deformed. He looked terrible And he appeared on stage at the same venue we played at, and he shuffled onto the stage, but within seconds he had grown a foot taller, and assumed a kind of controlled… greatness. While it probably wasn’t the very best performance of his life, for him and the audience, it was time and money well spent. And there’s an object lesson there. When you see someone at the end of their life, the end of their career, there’s a dignity in it that’s very special to witness.”

Meanwhile, no doubt it would be a brave person to admit to themselves that the final curtain had come down, and that they needed to take their final bow…

“Well I notice, for instance, that we’re not going to see Meatloaf touring again. So there are occasions when somebody has to say, ‘It’s over.’ I’m not sure whether I could do that – say, ‘Right, that’s it, call it a day, not going to do that anymore.’ Or whether I would just grind on into the unsavoury, messy final moments and take people’s hard-earned money out of their pockets in the process! But I suppose, if you’re having fun, why not?”

And judging by the reliably spritely performances and lively records Jethro Tull are still coming up with, it seems that’s still very much the case. Just don’t invite him to any nightclubs, OK?



Benefit, Michael Collins and Me


The schedule of Tull reissues continues apace, with the 50th anniversary reissue of Benefit recently coming out in a 4CD + 2DVD box set. Which of course required Mr Anderson to reacquaint himself with a record that doesn’t hold the fondest memories for him.

“For me, it’s a dark album because I was writing the songs when we had our first year of touring the US in 1969,” he says. “They were long tours and a real culture shock for me. For me growing up even with an awareness of America but only through TVs and movies and comics. To actually be there and experience the real America was a bit shocking.

“A lot of the songs have a darkness or kind of frustration mixed with a feeling of being out of place and really wanting to come home. I don’t think it’s a bad album. It’s just that it’s the subject material for me is disagreeable.

Are there songs he still likes from the album?

“The one that springs to mind is Michael Collins, Jeffrey And Me, which is about the commander of the Apollo missions. He died, recently, of course. He wasn’t the guy who got to go to the Moon, but who sat alone waiting to see if his buddies would make it back. It always struck me as a very poignant, because of the loneliness, the responsibility and the certainty that if his two buddies didn’t make it back for whatever reason, and he had to come back alone to earth, that there would have been people who would have hated him and accused him of abandoning them.

I always imagined how it must have been for him. Musically speaking the song is a bit twee. But I always had a fascination with space travel… as long as it’s not Elon Musk! Wasteful, fantasy-filled… I mean, when you’ve got the helicopter and the private yacht and you’ve got the you know, the converted Boeing 787 as your private jet, that what do you do? I know, I’ll have a space rocket! Go into space and pretend it’s for research. And I’m appalled that someone I know – Bill Shatner, whose spoken word record I played with a while ago – fell for the invitation to go on that trip into space. It seemed so wasteful in terms of the environment… such a futile and pointless gesture, just for publicity for the corporate body that put him briefly into space.

“But again you could aim personal criticism at me, because I have in my house a flute that spent five months on the International Space Station [in 2011]. I worked out how much it cost to take that flute into orbit and safely return it to planet Earth, and it was about $15,000 to take a 900g flute into space. That amount got burned up in order to do a duet with a US astronaut Catherine Coleman when I was in Perm in Russia on the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s first flight. Some of the old guard of the Russian space programme came to the show when I did it [they performed a passage from Bouree]

“It seemed like a nice way to engage with that world, but I suppose you’d have to drive a Porsche around for a couple of years to equal the amount of fuel burn, which is something that only occurred to me somewhat after the fact…”

We’ll forgive you, Ian, just this once…




“I surprised myself” – How the Silent Singing lyric book took shape


If the pandemic was good for anything, it was freeing up time to finish off long-postponed projects. And one that finally saw the light of day recently was an illustrated book containing 300 Tull lyrics spanning the group’s whole career.

“Many times in the last 20 years I thought it would be good to do a lyric book. Because on many of the album covers – and this is my is my responsibility – there are typos and mistakes and lyrics that got typed out in a back office of the record company from my scribbled notes or trying to decipher what I was singing from the record, and they weren’t always accurate.

“I should have paid more attention at the time, but there’s lots of little discrepancies. And then on the internet they get amplified and copied and pasted endlessly, with sometimes hilarious deviations and mishearings of words. I can only blame myself for bad diction and lack of attention.

“So I thought it was a good idea to put all of this right and assemble. I mean, it’s a vanity project. I mean, nobody, nobody needs it. But I just thought I just want to get it all right and put it all in one place.”

Anderson points out that lyrics can prove the starting point for the songwriting process just as surely as the riffs and musical ideas mentioned elsewhere in this piece.

“I remember Thick As A Brick began with one line popping into my head: “I really don’t mind if you sit this one out…” I wrote it on a piece of paper in a hotel room somewhere on tour, and I thought, ‘That’s an album!’

“Or the song Budapest – I remember writing that at about six in the morning in Hungary the morning after our first ever show there [in July 1986], before the end of the Cold War, and I cast my mind back to the night before and the vision of a girl who came to put drinks and sandwiches in a refrigerator in our dressing room, and the promoter told me about her. And the first thing I wrote was, ‘I think she was a middle-distance runner…’ And she was – a trainee athlete for the Hungarian Olympic team. Sometimes it can be just a little line that pops out of nowhere and you think, I can build upon this; I can make a story; put leaves on the bare branches of this tree.”

So did he end up wincing at any youthful poetic missteps?

“Well, I surprised myself – there were probably only two or three real turkeys! I felt quite proud of the lyrics given the context of the time and the music around which they were written. They weren’t too bad at all. Whereas I thought when I started the project that I find it very difficult because I’d be confronted with the naivety or the silliness or the embarrassment of lyrics that I would cringe at as an older man today. Largely, the reverse turned out to be the case. All except maybe two or three.”

Tell us more…

“And no, I’m not going to tell you which ones they were…”




Under The Covers: David Bowie – Aladdin Sane (Hi-fi News, November 2021)



If you want to go to a fancy dress party as a rock star, there are plenty of different ways that you could do David Bowie. But probably the easiest way would be to simply paint a red, blue and silver lightning flash over your right eye. Kapow! Instant Bowie. Fancy paying tribute to the great man on your Facebook profile? A lightning flash should do it. You might even get away without dying your hair red or growing a mullet.

Throughout the history of popular music, has there ever been an artist more closely associated with shape-shifting switches in image than Bowie? From the post-hippie eccentric resplendent in a dress on a chaise longue on the cover of The Man Who Sold The World through Ziggy Stardust’s pre-apocalyptic sci-fi rock star to Halloween Jack, The Soul Man and the Thin White Duke, Bowie’s personae kept evolving. But while other albums are more acclaimed and other periods in his career more celebrated, the front cover of Aladdin Sane established a look for Bowie that has become arguably more iconic than any of his other arresting visual constructs.

Ironically, though, outside the Bowie cognoscenti, the image of Aladdin Sane is often confused with that of his predecessor among the great man’s cast of characters, with many a harassed picture editor having slapped in the sleeve photo with the caption ‘David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust’.

To be fair, they are closely related. As Bowie plotted his exit route from the Ziggy avatar that had launched his career into the stratosphere but which, he felt, was also threatening to creatively restrict him, he suggested publicly that his next album would be “Ziggy goes to America”. He later told Rolling Stone, “I was trying to move into the next area – but using a rather pale imitation of Ziggy as a secondary device.”

Indeed, the lines between Ziggy and Aladdin were pretty blurred, both aesthetically and historically. In his head Bowie seems to have embraced the latter as early as 20 January 1973, soon after he’d penned a track entitled ‘Aladdin Sane (1913-1938-197?)’ on a week-long voyage by cruise ship back from the US. He looked distinctly Aladdin-ish, wearing make-up and a single chandelier-like earring, telling ITV’s Russell Harty, “I’ve always seemed to collect personalities, ideas”.


Contrary to the widespread assumption that every artistic move Bowie made was carefully planned and backed by a slick conceptual marketing strategy, when Aladdin Sane was released in April 1973, he was still midway through The Ziggy Stardust tour, and indeed still had to play the 59 dates on the British leg. It was only at the end of that tour, on a famous night at Hammersmith Odeon in July, that he shocked fans by announcing that this would be “the last show we’ll ever do”, thereby heralding the end of Ziggy – although many fans feared it meant the end of Bowie’s career.

Their confusion was surely compounded because by that point, the Aladdin Sane LP had long since peaked at the top of the album charts, and its first two singles, ‘The Jean Genie’ and ‘Drive-In Saturday’, had made the UK top three.

It soon became clear that although Ziggy’s screwed up eyes and screwed down hairdo were now history, Bowie was anything but finished, and indeed the look achieved on the Aladdin Sane sleeve would endure more powerfully than any other.

His face is split in two, as if to denote a half-man, half-supernatural being, by a red and blue lightning streak. He is looking down, as if despondent or waking from some sort of hibernation, while a shiny, metallic airbrushed tear has dripped onto Bowie’s unclothed collar bone below.

“An electric kind of thing,” Bowie later explained to Rolling Stone. “Instead of, like, the flame of a lamp, I thought he would probably be cracked by lightning. Sort of an obvious-type thing, as he was sort of an electric boy. But the teardrop was Brian Duffy’s, an English artist-photographer. He put that on afterward, just popped it in there. I thought it was rather sweet.” In fact it was airbrushing specialist Philip Castle who added the teardrop, also lending a silvery effect to the subject’s already milky-white skin.


But that’s not to detract credit from Duffy, the former fashion photographer who played a key role in firming up the visual elements. Duffy, who died in 2010, has said he believes that Bowie took inspiration for the flash from the ring Elvis used to wear with the ‘TCB’ acronym (standing for ‘Taking Care of Business’). However, the zigzag was further inspired by a humble domestic appliance Duffy and makeup artist Pierre LaRoche had seen lying around in the photography studio. “It was the trademark for National Panasonic – a red and blue zigzag that I took from a rice cooker,” Duffy told Grant Scott in Professional Photographer magazine in 2007. “I drew the zig-zag onto his face…”

Duffy’s studio manager Francis Newman, explained more to AnOtherMagazine: “Pierre started to apply this tiny little flash on his face and when Duffy saw it he said, ‘No, not fucking like that, like this.’ He literally drew it right across his face and said to Pierre, ‘Now, fill that in.’ It then took Pierre about an hour to apply properly. The red flash is so shiny because it was actually lipstick.”
Other factors at work in this look and many others of Bowie’s around this time came from his fascination with Japanese Kabuki theatre, which was a big inspiration for the fashion designer Kansai Yamamoto, who worked with Bowie on many of his Ziggy costumes such as asymmetrical leotards, a silver example of which Bowie models on the gatefold of Aladdin Sane

The photo that ended up being chosen was one from a contact sheet, some of whose shots see Bowie looking directly at the camera and some in profile. The one used turned out to be the only one where he was looking down.


For all that, the vibrant shades that shone out from record sleeves actually had a lot to do with the power games of Tony DeFries, Bowie’s manager. DeFries was keen to make the record company take his client seriously, and to that end, he insisted the cover image be produced with an unprecedented seven-colour printing system, as opposed to the usual four, to optimise its visual impact on record shelves.

“I was looking for an iconic cover image and artwork that would help me to persuade RCA that Bowie was sufficiently important to warrant megastar treatment and funding,” Tony Defries explains in the book Duffy/Bowie.

“Tony realised that, in order to get the record companies really going, you had to get them up to their neck in debt, which was of course a masterstroke,” Duffy told the BBC Documentary Duffy: The Man Who Shot The Sixties in 2009. “If it cost 50 quid… well, so what one way or the other. If it cost £5,000, the record company were now having to pay attention.”

The photograph would be a dye transfer, while to get the colour transparency onto paper at further outrageous expense, plates were ordered from Switzerland, and typesetting for the coloured name and title, [in Cristal font, typography nerds] was provided by Conways [‘the most expensive’ again, said Duffy].”


The result was reputed to have been, at the time, the most costly cover in pop history. But if you’re going to push the boat out, you might as well get a lasting bang for your buck, and the way that sleeve has resonated down the ages is something that could hardly have been foreseen at the time. “To me, it was competent, very competent, but I wouldn’t take it much beyond that,” the ever-unexcitable Duffy told the BBC. However, his designer colleague Celia Philo remembers taking a different view. “When I first saw the contact sheets, I knew it was going to be a very, very powerful album cover. Time wise, it was pre-punk, it was pre- people walking down King’s Road with coloured hair and make-up on their face.”

Oddly enough, the album shoot was the only time Bowie wore the flash design across his face, although it featured on concert backdrops. Unlike the astral sphere he had worn as Ziggy, it didn’t end up as a part of his regular stage or photoshoot make-up – again, a reflection of not everything Bowie did being quite as clear-cut and controlled as his reputation would suggest.

Yet Duffy’s son Chris reckons it’s iconic enough to be compared to the ultimate artwork.

“Several years ago I started calling it the Mona Lisa of pop,” he told AnotherMagazine. “…there isn’t really an image that is as ubiquitous. It’s been on used fridge magnets, caps, calendars, t-shirts, lighters, beer mats and it is quite extraordinary, you know?”

And will we still be gazing at it on gallery walls for centuries to come? Quite possibly.

Low Cut Connie – Live feature, Classic Rock February 2018

Live feature (Classic Rock magazine)

Low Cut Connie

Brighton Prince Albert, December 5, 2017

Laurel and Hardy and many others since have turned it into comedy gold. It has caused damage to property and injuries or even death to humans and small animals alike. Removal operatives across the globe fear this task above all others. But tonight, just like many other nights, Adam Weiner’s piano must be lifted up the stairs to a small venue. And then lifted back down a few hours later. At least by the time the latter task has to be completed, this hefty but handsome 30-stone beast will have shed a few pounds, after it has featured prominently in a Low Cut Connie live show, in which it will lose several parts of its anatomy due to being pounded, drummed, stomped, walked on, jumped over and eventually tipped on its back in the name of rock’n’roll.

As we meet this Philadelphia quintet in their Brighton dressing room before a show at The Prince Albert public house, lead singer and ivory-tickler extraordinaire Weiner is doing careful stretching exercises as he continues to ward off the physical stresses and strains he regards as “an occupational hazard” of being one of America’s most exuberant pianists and frontmen, and the head of a band and record label that can’t afford to fly roadies to the UK.

Nonetheless, few men you’ll meet are more committed to their chosen path in life, and as he eyeballs your correspondent across the dressing room it’s with the intensity a preacher might display as he addresses a member of his flock.

“Johnny Sharp,” he begins. “What’s it like to have a cool name? I grew up with kids calling me ‘A Weener’ on a daily basis.”

Painful though that must have been, it probably helped instil in this New Jersey native a strength of character that is serving him well right now. Low Cut Connie’s fourth album on their own Contender label, //Dirty Pictures (Part 1)//, has earned plaudits on both sides of the Atlantic for its raucous blend of piano boogie, rock’n’soul and kinetically charged barroom rhythm’n’blues. It was voted one of this magazine’s albums of the year, and their single Revolution Rock’n’roll voted one of the top tracks. Their celebrity fans include Barack Obama and Elton John, and they’ve been sufficiently emboldened by their burgeoning live reputation across the pond to book a debut British tour.

And while a clutch of dates in UK venues on what has uncharitably been labelled ‘the toilet circuit’ might be a bit of a comedown given that the band have been selling out four-figure capacity venues back home, Weiner for one is only too happy to build up a fanbase the old-fashioned way.

“We start in the dive bars and the little boozers – the toilet circuit, as you rather disrespectfully put it – and carry people up with us. You need to have those experiences when you’re really close to the people you’re trying to entertain so you can touch them, and then you go on a conversation with them through the different levels of venues. I’m appreciating this tour because we’re eyeball-to-eyeball with all you snaggle-toothed British motherfuckers.”

Adam would like it to be known that he was not the one who brought up the issue of British mouths’ infamously shoddy standards of dental care. Earlier he had introduced the band’s bass player Lucas Rinz as ‘Colgate’, so nicknamed due to his toothy grin, and it led to a wide-ranging discussion about the cultural differences between our two nations, divided as they are by a common language.

Chewing gum and beer were sampled and broadly approved of, Twiglets and pork scratchings were picked at but generally eschewed, Waitrose chocolate was praised and our poor choice of salad options lamented (What do they expect? We didn’t manage the British beat invasion on coleslaw, chaps). Your correspondent taught them the ancient British art of beermat flipping, and Mr Colgate foolishly set up a contest to find who could squirt as much ketchup directly into his mouth as humanly possible (they mainly have non-squeezy bottles over there so maybe they’re easily impressed), resulting in a scene more befitting of a 1984 Ozzy Osbourne photoshoot and a crushing victory for the host nation.


A challenge these men are more suited to is winning over a crowd of any shape, size of complexion. In fact it’s a battle they relish.

“I like the bored, the hostile, the inattentive, and the small audience,” says Weiner, “because it makes you better at what you do.”

He also seems to raise his game when faced with other logistical curveballs. Two nights previously, the band arrived at Gullivers in Manchester to discover that try as they might, Adam’s hired piano (his regular upright, Shondra, couldn’t be shipped over) wouldn’t go up the stairs. A major snag for a band whose whole sound is based around the old Joanna.

“It was our first show in five years without a piano. So I had to improvise. Backstage there was this beautiful yucca plant, and I carried it through the audience to the stage, convinced it would give me spiritual strength to perform. I did whatever you can do on God’s green earth with a stool and a chair and a yucca plant, and it turned out to be one of our best shows of the tour.”

Couldn’t they have sourced a digital piano from somewhere and played that?
“That’s like saying ‘can’t you have sex with a blow-up doll?’”

How did the plant respond? Was it revitalized by being sung to and is now growing faster than ever?

“Uh, no it was ruined. It’s kind of just mud now.”


As explained earlier, there are no such problems with the show’s central prop… yet. And even though tonight’s show is not sold out, that doesn’t worry our brave soldiers.

Guitarist James Everhart takes up the story: “Last year we played this shithole bar in Lincoln, Nebraska – Nirvana played there too, actually – and we get there and there’s five people in the place, and they’re wasted. They sell bowls of alcohol, not just glasses. So you can get a bowl of rum’n’coke for 20 bucks in a bowl, and share it with your table, so these people are fuckin’ lit at 7pm.

One of the guys ended up puking all over the urinal as we were loading in. Then there was another guy there by the name of Chick, and he was about 5ft5 and 350 pounds, with no shoes, and Chick walked into the bathroom with no shoes, probably walked through the puke and the piss with no shoes. But this is became a turn-on, because as Adam always says, the shows that are sold out are the easy ones. The ones with five people there where you’ve really got to dig it out.

“You can feel every single person’s eyes when it’s like that,” says Rinz. “You can feel the judgment – it penetrates you. When there’s 1,000, 2,000 people everyone thinks you must be good enough to play there so everything you do they cheer and think it’s brilliant. When there’s six people they’re like, ‘OK, there’s only six of us, so you probably suck, whaddya got for us?’

“So Adam ends up standing on the bar, in his long john underwear, striped down and he had a pumpkin and a cigarette in his mouth and he’s jumping up and down everywhere and the bartenders don’t even look up from their phones.

“I’m in my fucking underwear,” says Weiner, “jumping up and down on the bar, whipping people with the mike cord, and I’m like, what else can a man do?”

He shows //Classic Rock// a picture of that night, which resembles a very low budget, macabre sequel to the Halloween series. Can this evening possibly match that?


Probably not, given that the audience are already around 60 strong when LCC gather at the door of their dressing room, raise a tequila glass each and shout their pre-gig motivational slogan, ‘SLOW! HEAVY! SEXY! NASTY!’

Thus fortified, Mr Weiner, resplendent in a wifebeater vest and velour jacket along with a garish gold amulet, takes his seat at the piano and instantly locks eyes with each person in the front row, one hand on the piano, the other pointing each punter in turn as if asking them, MC5-style, ‘Are you ready to testify?’

Possibly not quite yet, but many are mentally preparing their statements by the end of second number Boozophilia, as Weiner has already performed the kind of stool-perching gymnastics, ass-shaking dance moves and elastic mike-stand contortions that would make Jerry Lee Lewis look shy and retiring in comparison. Rhythm guitarist ‘Baby-faced Will’ Donnelly is the first casualty, as Weiner manages to kick him squarely in the quiff.

Meanwhile, his bandmates look on in amusement as if wondering what stunt the guy in front of them is going to pull tonight, but nonetheless manage to keep a gutsy groove right on the money. Laconic sticksman Larry Scotton, resplendent in a bobble hat, and guitarist James Everhart, half his face obscured by an oversized trucker’s cap, may look like they’ve been recruited from a nearby soup kitchen compared to Weiner and their handsomely leather-clad bandmate Donnelly, but unlike some of their suavely besuited counterparts trying to revive the spirit of traditional rock’n’roll, the disjointed appearance of it all somehow adds to the feeling of their band being a happy accident… which, according to Weiner, it kind of was.

“When this whole thing started, it wasn’t intended to span time,” he said earlier. “It wasn’t like we were The Clash and there was a mission statement and we were going to take over the world. It was seat-of-our-pants – this isn’t gonna last six months so let’s have fun for a few weekends.

“Rock’n’roll used to be the dumb thing you did to not get a job. You weren’t supposed to try. It’s only recently we’ve gotten better, and really turned into a solid crew.”

And their sound really gels into a righteous romping racket on the triple combination punch of Shake It Little Tina, Dirty Water and Revolution Rock’n’roll, during which the Prince Albert’s stage can no longer contain for this man’s performance, and he’s down in the crowd, lashing the sweat from his oversized reverse mullet fringe across our helpless chins.

“I love each and every one of you, Brighton,” he says with the hint of a smirk, and it’s a feeling that’s getting more mutual with every passing number. And when they finish the set with a cover of Bowie’s Diamond Dogs you’re reminded of how much great rock music has been piano-based, and how well this band rekindle that percussive, insistent spirit. When they then encore with their chunky, funky version of Prince’s Controversy, it turns into an anthem to inclusive rock’n’roll anarchy as we chant together, “People call me rude, I wish we all were nude/ I wish there was no black or white, I wish there were no rules.”

Perhaps thankfully, the nudity part of the equation doesn’t come to pass, but the normal rules of polite behaviour soon get a further trashing when Donnelly and Everhart, following their leader’s example, climb on top of the piano to lead a crescendous climax of the show as Weiner struts off, James Brown-like, to the wings. The only problem is they don’t share his skill at piano surfing, and soon the whole thing comes crashing to the floor, removing the top and back of the instrument like a collapsing car in a Buster Keaton movie.

High jinks indeed, but when we visit the band backstage afterwards, Weiner’s piercing, messianic glare and bold pronouncements have gone, replaced by a glazed, punch-drunk expression and a soft whisper.

It reminds us of something he told us earlier.

“All my favourite performers leave everything on the stage. They are the facilitators of a wild time for the audience, but then when the show’s over they’re often quite introverted. So when I’m done I find myself completely drained, and I need to go off into my cave and not exist for a while. I need to go recharge my batteries so I can go again the next night.”

Fair enough, but what if there’s no piano after tonight’s shenanigans?

“It’s fine,” he murmurs. “We can patch it back together. But… I think we might not get our deposit back.”