‘People put the two things together’: Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson on his one-legged flute stance

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Who isn’t familiar with the iconic image of Jethro Tull’s frontman standing on one leg, playing the flute? Ian Anderson shares the unusual beginnings of that signature move.

Truth be told, it had nothing to do with his iconic instrument of choice at all.

“I actually stood on one leg for the first time at the Marquee Club, playing the harmonica — I was a blues harmonica player,” Anderson tells BBC Radio 4. “To bend those notes, you actually suck rather than blow. And when you suck them, and your pants are a little bit too tight, as they were for me back then, you involuntarily raise a leg — and that’s how it’s happened with me. Doing the bending of blues notes, I would lift one leg off the ground. That became noticed. ‘Oh, and he plays the flute, as well.’ People put the two things together. So, I then had to learn to play the flute standing on one leg.”

Anderson, who recently released the long-awaited epic sequel to Jethro Tull’s memorable 1972 song cycle Thick as a Brick, says his decision to take up the flute was one of practicality in an age of guitar legends.

“At that point, there was Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, obviously Eric Clapton — people we knew about who were the hot-shot guitar gunslingers in town from down South,” Anderson says. “Coming from the north of England, I thought: ‘Well, I’ve got to find something else to do, if I’m going to make my mark.’ The flute was just a shiny thing hanging on the wall of the music shop. It seemed like a fun thing to have.”

While Anderson adds that he still composes on the guitar (saying “I’m a strummer”), the long-time Tull frontman readily admits that even today he doesn’t play to Clapton’s level. “I’m sure that I don’t; but I’m equally sure that he doesn’t play flute as well as I do.”

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