By Lorraine Kay
January 2011 – I recently had the opportunity to talk with Andrew Giddings of Jethro Tull about his first solo album entitled “Picture This”.
Q.Is this your first solo album?
A. There is so much new music. I resisted putting this on a CD for the longest time. And I was talked into it by the guys that do the British fan club.
Q. Why did you wait so long, is that why you decided to go solo?
A. Not necessary, I mean I have always doodled – I have a full blown studio with computers to blah, blah, blah, as we all have but I’ve had some other tunes just kind of out on web sites and MySpace – silly bits here and there and these guys kept saying, “There are still people that want a CD. They don’t want to download an MP3”.
And I said, “It’s just another piece of plastic in the world. The world doesn’t need it. And it certainly doesn’t need it of my musical doodling”.
And actually I still think that, really, But they talked me into doing it and I’m pretty glad I did in terms of it is a fantastic ego boost.
Going further Tull and I just decided we didn’t want to do anything together again in the current sort of flavor that the band is displaying. In the colors of the band that are flying I don’t really need to do it. I did it for 16 years. It wasn’t the band I joined 16 years ago. There was no falling out, no firings, no animosity – I just didn’t want to do it anymore.
Q. Is Tull still happening?
A. Yeah they are still touring. It seems to be though that different people are brought in for different financial reasons, i.e., if it doesn’t seem as viable to fly a musician from afar, a local one will be chosen. So it is kind of a mix-up.
People that are Tull fans are usually Ian Anderson fans, anyway. And I don’t really care. I can imagine if I went to see David Gilmour, my guitar hero, I might not really care who is in the band. So I can kind of see both sides, although I still get emails from folks saying, “We miss you.” And then it is very nice.
But nothing is forever, and nobody’s got any money and everything is getting more expensive. And when it got to a certain point I just figured “Wise up”. It was more the cost on the traveling and everything else that made me decide whether I wanted to be involved with it. So that was kind of it, really,
No hard feelings. Ian has gotten right behind my CD as you know if you went to my web site. So that is kind of it. Not really going solo, just that I was talked into putting out some tunes. And I’ve got another three or four bits of plastic worth. I’m not going to be thrusting or forcing that on anytime soon. I have made a collection and trying more to get it into media. But that is as tough as anything else.
Q. So let’s talk about the CD. I have listened to the CD a few times and the album seems to start out kind of soft and builds. Was that deliberate? You know taking it through stages?
A. No it was a fluke. I have noodled and noodled and noodled and I’ve got every kind of dynamic but I used to make compilations and try to work out which one goes best before which other one and which one follows that one and the one I settled for was an accident. I just did a random, I just wanted to check out a few different mixes in the car or something and that’s the one that stuck. It wasn’t a conscious decision at all really.
I did move a couple around so that you wouldn’t fall asleep before the middle or before two-thirds of the way through. It was a bit moody, I think at the time I put it all together I was just in that “mellow – let’s start slowly – let’s not go banging and crashing into it.”
I think I might have imagined being able to put it on while you are doing something else. And then when you get to that point where you think, “What is that kind of annoying sound that is in the background?” Oh, there’s something with a bit of a crashing and a tune, maybe, rather than all the way through being at the same level. I know that a lot of it is at the same level. I quite enjoyed it when I heard that running order, I thought well then that’s the way to go then. As simple as that – I did it for myself because I liked the sound of it.
Q. Some tracks stuck out more than others. So, I have a few questions about a few tracks. Like The Doyles, Who are the Doyles?
A. A very good friend of mine is a Doyle and she is from the Isle of Mann, No, that is incorrect. Her mother is from the Isle of Mann and her dad is from Ireland. But the Isle of Mann is a tiny island between and England and Ireland often overlooked. And the family was a large family and it had more of a Manx influence in their family than they did Irish.
Then I learned about this – it seemed to me a good story, There are a lot of songs about this ship that got sunk going from the Isle of Mann to Liverpool, England. And then my friend’s parents both died and it was a bit moody and it was a bit kind of melancholy and we’re close and I just started doing this tune. And then it started sounding a little bit Celtic to me. It didn’t sound really Irish. It was even a bit Chinese-y, Then I realized what it was and then I checked out a little bit of Manx music. It is not a representation by any means but it seemed to fit that kind of in-between-ese so that’s as simple as that. So I named it after her family name.
Q I have not heard that term before – Manx. Manx cats, yes, but…
A. That’s the generic for the people from the Isle of Mann, Manx. The Manx cats are the only cats without a tail.
Q.I kind of heard the Celtic thing on this song and a kind of tribal thing.
A, Yeah, it’s got some flavors in there that I couldn’t really put my finger on. And seeing as the Isle of Mann is kind of in the middle of two larger cultures and they have got their own kind of identity – it all just seemed fitting. I was putting it together as she was suffering. It just seemed a nice thing to do and it suited that purpose. A lot of people like that tune.
Q. I really liked “Dark Blue”. It has kind of a brooding sound. That was interesting, kind of foreboding.
A. I meant it to be. I had a picture in my mind of something tense. Something foreboding. It’s a kind of sweet spot in the middle which I just put in because I wanted to hear it. Most of my music I just sit at the keyboard and then something will happen. And it might be then after I get a theme that I get the picture. I’m afraid I can’t profess to any great profound intervention, divine or otherwise around my writing. It is really just what I feel like doing at the time
Q. “Hulyah” – what is this Hulyah? It has a kind of Middle Eastern feel to it that was interesting.
A. What that is all about? Well, I watched this documentary on television about a Turkish belly dancer. And in high definition, some of the follicles were really rather exciting. There’s that particularly beautiful part of a woman which is from the middle, the stomach, the belly, the tummy, whatever you want to call it which is so very, very feminine. And Turkish belly dancers just love to get it out and waggle it. And this documentary I watched – her sarong, you know the bottom half of her costume, was quite low slung and there was a definite pattern as to where the hair follicles were. Anyway, so she had the jewel in her navel and it was all about that and I thought that is really very nice, But about Hulyah – Hulyah is Arabic for jewelry, it is also a girl’s name.
Q. All of the CD is instrumental except “Coming Home”. There is a female vocal – who is that?
A. Me. I don’t know whether I should have kept that a secret, although if I am advertising that everything is made by me or the keyboard, it can hardly be anyone else – otherwise I have just lied. That version is actually a truncated version of the very last piece of music in an Australian film I was working on. So that was an edit actually and a remix and a slight redo. It was a tune and it was just how I felt at the time and I thought I enjoyed it. I quite enjoyed it. It was a bit silly and there were bits of it that were quite happy – even though it is from a very sad scene. So yes, I’m afraid that is me. It’s a made-up language. It doesn’t mean anything. All the voices are me. And sometimes they sound kind of African and sometimes they sound kind of something else. I was just thinking of voices as a kind of instrument really.
Q. Your bio says you have been playing pro since 1980. Besides Jethro Tull you have played with people like Profusion, Xstatique, The Chase, The Brothers Grimm, Eric Burton, Leo Sayer, Sniff ‘n’ tears, Willy Porter, Vyktoria Keatting, and The NEC Orchestra. Has anyone set-in on any of your recordings?
A. Yeah, some, Jon Anderson. See, I love Yes, and Jon Anderson had heard something or other and he said, “Hey. I want to sing on some of your songs.” And he’s English. But I’ll tell you why it didn’t really come to anything. I sent him a few tunes. And he said “I’d love to sing.“ and he does. But, I didn’t hear back from him and since I didn’t I released it without his vocals. It’s number three on my CD called “Weightless”. I really quite like it. And you know – I’ve got Jon Anderson singing on one of my tunes. It is such a shame, but no one will ever hear it. I did send him some real straight forward Yes things but I don’t think he was going to entertain There’s no bad feeling, it just didn’t amount to anything and then he went off on tour with Yes and then he got ill.
(Subsequent to this interview Andrew emailed me that he had just heard from Jon Anderson saying how he wants to do better vocals on one tune and would like Andrew to send more music.)
Q. Ian’s comment on your website about your new CD was nice. Do you ever record with him or perform with him or with any other member of Jethro Tull aside from Jethro Tull?
A. I have been on two of Martin Barre’s solo CDs. But that’s going back now 10 or 12 years ago. Again he just fancied doing it and he had some other very good local musicians near to where he lived. I think Doane might have contributed. I can’t remember.
And of course Ian – his “Secret Language of Birds Divinities” was the first thing I did with him. That was just he and I. There was an oboe and a violinist, real persons – they came in for a session. But the other names on there are all anagrams of Andrew Giddings – Sid Gander, Nina Gresson. They are just letters out of my name. Ian picked those or his son did – I haven’t been able to think of ones as good as they did. So I can’t use them anymore, but I think it’s a good thing to do.
And there is the Secret Language of Birds which is the next one I did with him. And that was it. Not
Doane because he is too far and away and not John because he hasn’t done one. Dave? Dave Pegg, well I know Dave very well, he lives quite near me but I think the last solo thing he did was something about him being in a pub. I did not get to play on that.
Q. You would like to play with Sting, David Gilmour or Imogen Heap, anyone else?
A. Sting, Imogene Heap, Mark Knoepler. If I had to choose just one – David Gilmour. I think so. I mean I like Sting. Sting is very much maligned usually by people who are jealous and they can do it, that’s all. He can be a bit pompous but I think he’s quite clever and I like his music.
But if it’s got to be just one – I think it has got to be Dave. Dave is God on the guitar for me. He doesn’t live very far away, I mean I ought to just – I ought to go to his place and stick a CD through the door, But it would never get to him It would be intercepted by some secretary put in with fan mail in a box and never heard. Get him in a pub. But he doesn’t go into pubs anymore; well he’s probably too famous, though he doesn’t look like Dave Gilmour anymore.
Q, You said you enjoy E-sessions for other people. Who have you done those with or for?
A. Random people, random non-names. Just guys that have contacted me from all over the place. And it’s good, it’s great, because – well you can imagine, you can go to work pretty much when you like. They send me their stuff on file, I do it. Then I send it back to them and they say “we like it or could you just change that a little bit”.
But, I think the reason they ask me – I’m hoping – they know kind of what they’re going to get or they know it’s not going to be complete rubbish even if it’s not to their exact taste. So usually, I’m pretty lucky and they say, “Yep, that is pretty good – we’ll put a bit in that gap there.”
So nobody real famous, but it’s just a nice thing to do. Some guys can say, “Yeah, we’ve got this English guy playing keyboard on it,” And why not? I really like doing it that way.
I really like the isolation, most musicians want to set up their stuff in a room and play it and there is a place for that. Without a shadow of a doubt, I personally don’t like it. I personally – as a keyboard player – all of the nuances and the dynamics disappear as soon as the drummer and guitarist crank up anyway. And you’re left to just thump on what you’ve got. There’s no finesse – there’s no nothing. That’s my opinion and from a lot of experience – on stage too. It’s every man for himself, and even then it doesn’t matter because nine out of ten sound engineers are deaf anyway. And all they can hear are the wretched drums – whatever. So I’m really into that, just tape it all separately and then put it together.
And everybody’s done lots of work on their thing, and as long as they haven’t over cooked it there’s lots of effort gone into each part – not just – “Well I can’t be heard,” So, I’ve got to resign myself to that and I think that’s a keyboard players’ lot, a lot of the time – especially in rock and roll.
A long time ago, there was a point in the beginning of Tull where I was just in the wrong position behind the PA stack and it hurt all night long. It was coming out the back of the speakers – God knows what it was like out the front. And now when I need to go into the studio, I know my speakers but I need to hear everything and if something is not right I can’t function.
I do enjoy my studio. I enjoy what other people have done and I enjoy adding to it. And what they do with it at the end is entirely up to them. It’s not like sending your children off. If you make your own record with your own band it’s the first day at school when that record gets mixed – you’ve just got to wave it off. You can’t worry about it – it’s their product. If they want to take most of it off – it’s up to them. And if that’s the way they want it – that’s fine by me. And I really enjoy it.
Q. You said you have made some surreal TV appearances, usually in a silly costume. Can you talk about that?
A. That was a prime-time Saturday night TV show in England. It was called “The Funny Side”. And it was the funny side of a topic like sports. One of the hosts was a well-known singer from Eurovision. Do you know what Eurovision is? The Eurovision song contest is a song contest throughout Europe every year since 1956 – a big deal with rubbish songs. Anyhow, she was a good singer. She landed this gig with another presenter doing this light hearted magazine type program. Every week she got to sing a cover of a song linked to the subject of the show.
At that time I had been knocking about with Eric Burdon of the Animals. This guy, I had been playing with him for a few years. We were all friends and she took all of us and just said, “While you’re not doing anything, come and be the house band and we’ll record the track in the studio and mime it on TV”. And then they’d always dress us up in a relevant stupid costume. I mean some of them were really stupid. I was dressed as a banana once. I can’t think of why that would be, but they dragged me all around the studio in this banana outfit, just to make me feel really good before the show started. So that was that. It was a good gig because it lasted about six months so we had a ball, basically.
Q, Have you always wanted to be a musician? What would have been your next choice if music didn’t work out?
A. No, I never wanted to be a musician. I wanted to be a pilot. I never consciously wanted to be a musician. I wanted to be a pilot, but then when I was probably ten or something, a teacher told me I’d never be a pilot because my math skills weren’t good enough. So that was that.
Even though I’ve never wanted to be a musician, I have always played music, always, always, always, piano at home. And then I fell in love with tape machines, tape recorders and then I married the two, the family piano and tape recorder – I realized the potential in that. And then more tape recording stuff and then a bit more piano and then I left it when I discovered girls. And then I went back to it because I think I discovered that girls liked bands. And I was always playing in bands but it wasn’t going to be my profession it was going to be my living, because you can’t make a living out of music – as I thought.
And then one night, in fact I was between real jobs. I think I’d been fired from a commercial art studio. I had managed to get a job there but I got fired because I was always coming in late, because I was always gigging the night before. And just by chance a fellow came up to me and said, “There’s this old guy – I’m a bass player and I play with this old guy, who is looking for a piano player.” And I was playing synth 80s pop, and he said “What’s your piano playing like?” and I said “It’s great”, of course, and it turned out that he was the bass player with Eric Burdon, And just as I’d spent my last few bucks on a vehicle, I landed the Eric Burdon gig and went off on tour with him.
I was 23, so you see I fell into it. And it was never a conscious decision. I don’t know if I am lucky or good or a bit of both, but when Eric decided he was going, someone else came along and then a session came along and an album came along and then I was going to Australia every year with Leo Sayer.
Then he took a break and then I got a call from the Tull people. There’s was a record being made at Dave’s place and somebody dropped out or they didn’t like who it was and all that. “But we’ve got a tape because the drummer sent in a tape to our office, because we were looking for a local drummer at the time.” And I was playing with this drummer. He recorded this gig we did in a pub somewhere and they got hold of him and said thanks very much, who’s the keyboard player. And out of the goodness of his heart, the drummer called me up and said ring this number they’re looking for a keyboard player. And that was it and that was 18 years ago.
So I’ve been lucky I suppose. I don’t know if it is luck. I suppose you’ve got to be okay at your job to keep your job. But I know many excellent first class musicians but they can’t make a living. So I don’t know, you know how some people are. Like, I really want to be a pilot, still. So, I consider guys that are pilots are much luckier than me.
Q. What would have been your next choice to make a living?
A. A male escort – seriously, for business women. I can see me doing that. I’d be good at that. If you’re ever in London and you’re lonely, I’ve got all the right jokes. You think I’m joking. I might be joking. But do you know what, if it came to it and I didn’t have a penny but I had a nail brush and a razor and a nice suit I’d give it a go.
Okay not pilot, not musician, male escort for ladies has to be straight. A lady’s companion. But going back to the pilot thing all my life it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do really. So five or six years ago I went and got my pilot’s license. I’d like to meet that teacher. And take her for a flight and kick her – push her out the door – the teacher that dashed my dreams when I was 10 years old.
That’s a bad thing to do, isn’t it? Negative affirmation. That should never be allowed. It’s just outrageous. Oh man, wouldn’t you like a time machine and a gun. Just outrageous. When I’m in charge of the world, let me tell you – there’s going to be a lot of changes around here. So be ready for them. But I guess I better do it in a few years before I just give up all together.
Q. What technological improvements do you use in making your music? What do you use that you particularly like.
A. Well it depends. I love me drum samples. That’s just a program full of noises. I mean I really love vocal tweaking. I love Antares. But what would I do to improve it? I am sure I’ve thought of this and then never been asked the question. So now that I’ve been asked the question I’ve gone blank. Well it is going to happen, I think. I just want everything to be faster and better. It won’t make music any better. It will just make making it faster.
That’s a good question; I might have to get back to you on that. It’s got to be something in 3D or something I don’t know. What do I want? I want every instrument at my fingertips and I want them to sound exactly like the instrument which is not likely to happen. I know a little bit about how you play a violin and how you hammer on a guitar and that kind of thing but nothing will ever make it sound like the real thing.
Q. I assume you tweak the sampled you have.
A. All of them. None of them sound any good when you crank them up. But there’s a lot of misnomers about music because, even for the people like you and I that know what’s going on, by the time it’s mixed and compressed and squashed and mastered it’s kind of just a wall of sound. Lots of it. Lots of it might get lost and let me tell you, even more scary than that, really intelligent people that aren’t musicians don’t hear things that are blindingly, deafeningly obvious to musicians. My girlfriend is a supremely intelligent articulate person. But if you say to her, “wow” couldn’t they have made the high hat any louder?” Like it’s the loudest thing in the mix on some old records. She doesn’t know what that is. And if you explain it to her – next time she can’t see in to it. So at the end of it all, how much effort do you want to put in to what is ultimately disposable, unless what’s already being made in disposable, already an institution like the Beatles and Pink Floyd – that will never happen again because it’s been done.
So getting back to tweaking samples, I think I do it for me and people that I think might notice. But there are a whole lot of people that still buy your music but don’t buy it for the 50 Hz or the kick drum. They buy it because they like the sound of the guy’s voice or you can dance to it. Well, you can dance to someone banging on a box. One of my mates sent me a challenge. He’s my best guy friend. But he doesn’t like any of my music and he tells me, and he sent me this challenge. ‘Just do something and use no more than eight parts.” So I don’t know if it’s still around or not. So I did this thing that’s called “I can do that” and it was a kind of semi-comedy tune. And it was just for fun and it was so I could say – I’ve done that. And it was probably one of the most popular and most commented thing I’ve done. Even Ian wrote to me and said I’ve just heard “I can do that” and it’s brilliant.”
Q. Is your CD available to download?
A. Yes, it is. It’s on CD Baby, it’s on amazon and MP3 downloads and Reverbnation which is on the US side. Yes it is quite easily accessible.
You can go to Andrew Giddings Facebook to order the CD or to link to his other website: www.andrewgiddingsmusic.com.