It beats sitting on a park bench spitting out pieces of your broken luck.
After Jethro Tull broke up eight years ago, Martin Barre had to reinvent himself. The long-time guitarist and foil for singer Ian Anderson suddenly found himself having to start over — this time as a bandleader.
“I guess it’s a career I didn’t know I had — or didn’t know I had it in me — because at the end of Tull I was really quite repressed musically,” said Barre. “It sounds a bit dramatic, but the role I played was more supportive than anything else. ”
Barre returns to New Hampshire with his band and a couple of Tull alumni tonight at the Lebanon Opera House tonight and on Friday at Tupelo Music Hall in Derry to celebrate 50 years of Jethro Tull. Expect a show that focuses on the band’s early work, beginning with Tull’s 1969 release “Stand Up” to “Crest of a Knave,” the 1989 album that won the band a Grammy.
During an interview last week, Barre recalled his journey from support player to front man.
“I’m fine being in the background, but suddenly I’m a solo artist,” Barre said from Hudson Falls, N.Y., hours before the band’s first show of the tour. “I need to talk to the audience. I’ve got to play a lot more guitar, and I need to start writing and releasing albums. And wow, surprise, surprise, it is a lot of fun. I’ve sort of opened up all these doors that I hadn’t seen before.”
Ian Anderson is also touring in support of Jethro Tull’s 50th anniversary.
Barre says he hasn’t seen former band mate Anderson’s show but promises a singular experience.
“This is a heavier show, and it’s more representative of all the music. I don’t really want to go into why it is. They’re two different animals and they need to be,” Barre said. “There’s no use going out on the road and doing a similar show. People go, ‘I’ve seen that one so I won’t go and see the other one.’ I’d rather people go see Ian because they like Ian, and see me because they like me.”
Barre recruited former Tull drummer Clive Bunker and keyboard player (David) Dee Palmer, who both played with band in the ‘70s.
“The short list of who I could approach and who would be really good for the gig, it was pretty tight,” said Barre, 72. “But I do believe I got the best options. Clive is phenomenal and such a big part of Tull’s history, and Dee Palmer is the same. She wrote so much of the music, and was on all the albums and brings all those keyboard parts onstage. It’s really, really satisfying that it’s worked out really good.”
Jethro Tull, named for an 18th-century English agricultural pioneer, first came to prominence as a blues-based band in 1968 with the album “This Was.” Barre joined in time for the recording of “Stand Up” in 1969, which introduced FM radio to “Living in the Past,” “A New Day Yesterday” and the instrumental “Bouree.” The band’s scored another radio hit with the song “Teacher” from its next album, “Benefit.”
But it would be the title track of the group’s fourth album, 1971’s “Aqualung” — the tune about the guy sitting on a park bench — that would make Jethro Tull pro-rock gods and forever associate Barre with its signature guitar riff.
“I want a big variety so there’s a lot of dynamics,” Barre said. “And I always like to do something where people go ‘Wow, I didn’t expect that.’”
Barre wants the same experience for the shows, which includes both acoustic and electric versions of “Locomotive Breath.”
“I don’t want people to find it predictable. ‘Oh, yeah, they did all the big hits. Yeah, they sounded like the record. Yeah, I could have stayed home and listened to the CD,’” he said.
Tull fans can expect standout tracks from the albums “Songs from the Wood,” “Heavy Horses” and, of course, “Aqualung.”
“There’s so many albums that it could be a five-hour show. But we picked out the songs that we think are really important in the history of Tull, and that’s what we’re playing. The great ability for this lineup is we can play anything we want because we have great musicians; we’ve got great singers. We’ve worked really, really hard,” Barre said.
That meant organizing rehearsals — something Barre would rather skip.
“When you get to my age, I usually do all my homework at home and avoid rehearsals like the plague. But you discover with eight people on stage there’s no escaping it,” he said. “So it’s a big investment in time, but it’s showing. It’s finally becoming really important and a great show.”