Martin Barre on playing second fiddle to a flute: ‘I’m sort of like the George Harrison of Jethro Tull’

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Guitarist Martin Barre might be the most underrated member of any legacy progressive-rock group. Not only has he played a key role in some of Jethro Tull’s signature moments, he is — other than Ian Anderson — the band’s longest-tenured member.

Yet Tull, for better or worse, will always be associated with Anderson and his flute. Even the song credits belong almost solely to Anderson, though it has become clear over the intervening years that Barre made important contributions to the band’s breakout recording Aqualung, while keyboardist Jon Evan was a central presence on 1972’s Thick as a Brick.

Barre has actually performed on every Jethro Tull album going back to 1969’s Stand Up, their second effort. Before that he was briefly in a group called Fat Matress, which featured Noel Redding of the Jimi Hendrix group.

The auditions to replace original Jethro Tull guitarist Mick Abrahams also included Tony Iommi (later of Black Sabbath fame) and the Nice’s David O’List, but it would be Barre who would win the job — eventually putting his indelible stamp on tracks like “Aqualung” and the propulsive “Locomotive Breath.”

Barre’s most recent solo album was 2003’s Stage Left. More recently, the guitarist has been touring with his own group New Day, a venture that lets Barre’s instrument take center stage.

But, make no mistake, there are no hard feelings. Barre, in a new reader Q&A with Guitar World, talked about understanding his role in the broader band dynamic.

“I’m a team player. I’m a great believer in giving other musicians space, and I always play for the song,” Barre says. “My approach to guitar is like dentistry: if there’s a hole, I’ll fill it. I’m sort of like the George Harrison of Jethro Tull. If I have a nice rhythm part to play, I put a lot of care and attention into it. I get a great deal of enjoyment playing supportively and knowing lots of great chords and knowing how to play behind solos, whether it’s a flute, keyboard or another instrument.”

The Quiet Beatle would be proud.

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  • JC Mosquito

    I saw Tull play about 1992-ish. Martin Barre played with the grace and confidence of all rock guitar masters – fluid and fast and interesting and never missing a note. I’m sure Ian Anderson knows just how important Barre is to the essential Jethro Tull sound.