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Jethro Tull: Thick As A Brick, In-Depth

Written by on 19th April 2021

by Steve Ashwell

In this week’s episode of the Solid Rock show I begin a series of interviews with rock music author Laura Shenton for Leighton Buzz Radio exploring pivotal albums

Laura is the author of the first four books in the In Depth album series commissioned by specialist music and sport publisher Wymer Publishing. Each book in this series is about an album that was pivotal in one way or another for the artist, the fans or the music world in general. The first four artists to be featured are Jethro Tull (21st April)  Kate Bush (28th April), Deep Purple(5th May) and Tears For Fears(12th May).

This week the featured album is Thick As A Brick by Jethro Tull and I play some music from the album and talk to Laura about it and her reflections on why it warranted a book. We discuss the background to the album, a bit of the history of the band, what her approach to the book was and what she decided to include in the book and why.

Jethro Tull are led by singer, flautist, lyricist and main songwriter Ian Anderson. They started out in the 1960s as a blues-oriented band who changed their name every week to get repeat venue bookings in places they had previously played. The club owners wouldn’t have had them back otherwise, but it was all about perseverance and the band eventually secured a residency at London’s now famous Marquee Club.

The band went from strength to strength, their first album was called This Was, followed by Stand Up, which had the novel idea for the album gatefold sleeve to have cut outs of each member of the band stand up as the sleeve was opened. Stand-up was followed by Benefit and then came the big breakthrough album, Aqualung.

Bands such as Emerson Lake and Palmer, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Jethro Tull were successfully breaking into America by touring extensively in the early 70s. Exhausting tours, intensive recording schedules and receptive audiences led some bands to concentrate on albums rather than singles. Led Zeppelin are the most prominent example. Jethro Tull’s Aqualung is often considered to be a concept album, more by critics than the band themselves. So, when it came to recording Thick As A Brick, the band decided to respond by giving the critics a parody of a concept album. Unusual for a commercially successful record, the album is a single song split over two sides of vinyl lasting just over forty minutes.

The original album cover is a collector’s item now, being a spoof of a local newspaper called the St. Cleve Chronicle and Linwell Advertiser with articles spanning several pages written by band members. The music however is fantastic and is classic Jethro Tull who sound unlike any other band in my opinion, with different tempos and complicated time signatures to the “songs” and musical interludes. You can hear a variety of instruments in the music including all the usual rock band ones plus the flute, harpsichord, xylophone, lute, timpani, violin, trumpet, saxophone and a classical string section.

I hope that the interview inspires you to give the album a listen and buy Laura’s book, I was impressed with how much detail she has found to put into it. It will of course appeal to Jethro Tull fans but it also stands on its own as an in depth look into the making of a classic rock album from the 1970s.

I host the Solid Rock show on Leighton Buzz Radio every Wednesday at 7pm and I play a range of rock genres from across the decades. The show gets a repeat airing on Sundays at 6pm.

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You can view all Laura’s books on Amazon