Ian Anderson is doing a little, as the song says, living in the past — Jethro Tull's past, specifically — this fall.
First up: Stormwatch: 40th Anniversary Force 10 Edition, a four-CD, two-audio DVD expansion of Tull's 12th studio album — whose unreleased early version of "Dun Rungill" is premiering exclusively below — on Oct. 18. That will be followed in November by The Ballad of Jethro Tull, a sanctioned biography featuring more than 200 photos, many from Anderson's personal collection, and downloads of two news songs, "The Ballad of Jethro Tull" and "Marmion."
"There is always new music afoot," Anderson tells Billboard, "but these (archival) projects raise their heads with some regularity now. Twenty, 30 years ago, no major record company could be bothered with doing anything special with old catalog. It was just too much trouble. But now, in the harsh reality of the modern age and rapidly dwindling sales of physical production, anything they can do to make a small profit…is, for them, very important.
"And the fans are the ones who benefit. They get the result of all that work and effort, which they would never have gotten 20 or 30 years ago. So everybody's a winner."
The Stormwatch package features the original album remixed by Steven Wilson as well as a disc of "Associated Recordings," eight of which have never been released, along with a previously unreleased concert from March 16, 1980 in the Netherlands. "I'm usually surprised that I'm still quite impressed by the work we collectively did and the performances of the musicians," Anderson notes. "I'm surprised by how enjoyable the (box sets) are for me to listen to, to this day." He refers to the experience of digging into the vaults as "a reacquaintance of something I surprisingly remember really quite well," although Anderson acknowledges that "on other occasions I'm dumbfounded by the way I can remember almost nothing about them" — including the outtakes that appear on the sets.
"It's been the case for quite a few years where I say there are no unreleased tracks, there are no hidden gems in the tape faults — only to find myself proven utterly wrong, time and again," he says. "So I have to eat humble pie and accept that all these things are around."
Stormwatch is notable as the end of a particular era for Tull as well. Bassist John Glascock was ill — and died during November of 1979, two months after the album's release — so Anderson filled his shoes on much of the album. It was also the final Tull album to feature longtime drummer Barriemore Barlow and keyboardists John Evan and Dee Palmer. "There was a parting of the ways, but there were quite a few changes in the lineup throughout the '70s, so I didn't see it as cataclysmic or anything like that," Anderson recalls. "At the time we were making the album there were rumblings from a couple of guys that maybe they wanted to do something different and pursue other projects for awhile.
"So after we toured it, it wasn't a question of the band splitting up or anything. It was, 'Let's take a few months to do other things,' and at the end of all that it didn't reassemble in the same way for a number of reasons, and (guitarist) Martin Barre and I carried on and the other guys continued with what they were doing."
Some of their remembrances are included in The Ballad of Jethro Tull book, one of the most enjoyable elements of the project for Anderson. "It was very different for me to read some of the things that were said — for instance by John Evans and David Palmer, who remembered little things that I had completely forgotten about, but they remembered them from their perspective, which was different from mine but not in a way that was contentious or negated anybody's experience," Anderson explains. "It was just in ways that were amusing to read — and they were quite funny. It was quite upbeat and good to read."
Anderson and the current incarnation of Jethro Tull has already done some rehearsing for shows during 2020 — which won't include the U.S. after Anderson's visa expired during September. Plus, he adds, "I've played the USA so many times for so many years, and in many ways I'm feeling that I've run out of places to play. So I keep saying to my agent, 'Look, can we find something different to do? Different cities? Different venues?' Getting visas for me and the band and the crew is really a pain in the ass, so I'm not going to do that until I have enough in the way of some fresh challenges to justify all the hassle."
In the meantime, Tull will play other territories, while Anderson will also continue to work on new music — and perhaps the band's first new release since The Jethro Tull Christmas Album in 2003. While there are no firm plans yet, Anderson says there is no shortage of inspiration from the world's political landscape and issues such as nationalism and climate change. "I'm not a writer of love songs," he says. "If you're looking for pleasant little ditties or comfort zone lyrics, I'm probably not the guy to go to. Go to Ed Sheeran — he's got enough for all of us. No, I have the difficult job of trying to write about real stuff and make it somehow palatable so you can swallow the bitter pill and think you're having a good time — which is kind of the art of politics, too.
"Maybe I should have been a politician. I don't know; I would probably end up slitting my wrists after a couple of years, but it might be fun for a short while."