Martin Barre’s career is dotted with landmark musical moments; the former Jethro Tull guitarist having written songs and albums that influenced such titans as Rush’s Geddy Lee, Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris, and blues guitar phenom Joe Bonamassa, among many.
It comes as no surprise, that Barre admits to a certain sonic perfectionism in regards to dotting the “I’s” and crossing the “T’s” on his latest solo record, “Back To Steel.”
“If I didn’t have a schedule, I find that I’d never stop mixing and re-mixing,” Barre laughs about the process that went into his seventh studio solo record since 1992, and first since the official dissolution of Jethro Tull in 2014. “After you’ve gone through it a dozen times, you realize it probably sounded fine at the beginning.”
Barre is incredibly proud of the new material he’s released – he’ll showcase the music with an intimate performance at Endicott, New York’s Dublin Double Celtic Pub on Dec. 11. For the guitarist, who was so integral to the very inception of progressive hard rock (Barre debuted with Jethro Tull for the band’s 1969 “Stand Up” album), weaving his electric lines through Tull flutist/vocalist Ian Anderson’s decidedly British folk instrumentation, striking a platinum sway with albums like 1971’s “Aqualung” and the following year’s “Thick As A Brick” – his new music is just a further extension of an evolving creative voyage.
“With this record, I wanted it very much straight-ahead,” Barre explains, somewhat distancing this new music from the “prog” tendencies of his past glories. “Back To Steel” sees Barre’s guitar sound in more of a complimentary role, rather than out front – there is a full-band vibe here that speaks to the relentless touring he’s done recently with the now established band that includes vocalist Dan Crisp, drummer George Lindsay, and bassist Alan Thomson.
“It’s all very close to me,” Barre said of the songs on the record. “The lyrics are all what I’m thinking and feeling, there’s no hidden meanings. It’s a lot of ‘you and I,’ really – my wife and myself, our relationship. I don’t ever have an agenda, but I wanted everything here in either 3/4 or 4/4. I wanted people to be able to listen to it and have it ‘radio-friendly,’ which I guess is the old-fashioned expression; just something that people could readily associate with and be easy on the ears.”
Ever the musician, Barre said he’s never far from that riff or idea that can turn into a great tune.
“I really love writing,” he said. “I’m not changing the essentials; I’m representing them in my own way. There’s this huge catalog of Tull material, and I’m sure I’ll keep looking at things, and reinventing them, just so there’s a turnover; in the band and in my own writing. I can’t even think about a day where you sit down to write and nothing comes.”
For a guy who’s so closely associated with the progressive rock genre, one may wonder how Barre feels about any implications of limitations that such a tag may invite. Turns out, he’s not concerned.
“It’s not better or worse than being called a blues artist, or a country artist, or a folkie,” he said. “There are good and bad sides to it. Prog music can be pretentious; lots of times there are people that take themselves too seriously – silly music that’s made complex just for the sake of it. Or, it can be a band like Porcupine Tree – amazing musically with great players and great songs. I like to think that “prog” isn’t enough for me – I always say we’re a blues/rock band, because that’s the strongest element that we project.”
For Barre, even 40-plus years on from the stadium-sized success of Jethro Tull, music is the first thing on his mind every day. He relates a story from the morning of this interview that re-affirms one’s faith in the power of music as an all-encompassing life takeover.
“I woke up at about half past seven,” he begins. “I had a new guitar that I just bought in Nashville sent down. I picked it up, put a kettle on for a cup of coffee, and just played that guitar for half an hour. It’s the first thing I do when I wake up – I just want to play all the time. If there’s a guitar sitting on a chair, I just have to pick it up and play it. I don’t know why I’m that way, but I don’t analyze it. It’s the way I’ve always been.”
Mark is a Northeast Pennsylvania based music journalist who’s enjoyed interviewing legends like members of Iron Maiden, The E-Street Band and Hall & Oates, right down to the garage band next door — intrigued by a great musical story on any level.
IF YOU GO:
What: Martin Barre Band with Randy McStine and Joe Deninzon
When: 8 p.m. Dec. 11
Where: Dublin Double Celtic Pub, 1660 UC Highway 26, Endicott, New York
Tickets: $25-30 at www.ticketfly.com/venue/19905-the-dublin-double-celtic-pub