The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

 

It is a three-act, musical history of Britain featuring songs about a nomadic Neolithic settler, Christian monks and an Iron Age blacksmith - the “concept album” is making a comeback with the surprise chart success of the latest release from Ian Anderson, the frontman of Jethro Tull.

A “prog rock” pioneer, the 66 year-old Anderson is set to enjoy his biggest UK hit for more than 40 years with Homo Erraticus, an unashamed concept album, which examines “key events from throughout British history” and offers “a number of prophecies for the future”.

The album has shot into the top ten at number 6, according to the Official Charts Company midweek update. It is some achievement for a musical suite, divided into three sections, “Chronicles”, “Prophecies” and “Revelations”, which one review called “as close to 1970s progressive rock as is possible in 2014.”

Opening with Doggerland, a tribute to the area of the southern North Sea that used to be dry land connecting the British Isles with the rest of Europe, the meta-fictional narrative of Homo Erraticus revives characters from Thick As A Brick, Tull’s 1972 concept album which topped the US charts.

Anderson, rock’s most famous flautist, said the concept album, out of favour in an era where music fans build digital playlists from context-free single tracks, is on the way back.

“If you want to cram 8,400 years of history into 50 minutes of music only the progressive rock album can do that,” Anderson told The Independent. “No-one had written a song about Dogger. So I fleshed out bullet-points of song scenarios into the archetypal, OTT concept of a prog rock album.”

The record’s success revives memories of an era when students pored over gatefold-sleeved albums housing cod-classical rock marred by Tolkien-light lyrics.

He said: “Concept albums went out of fashion in the mid-70s but progressive music is gathering a lot of strength again. Prog’s bombastic, self-indulgent musical noodlings got a lot of people annoyed. It took punk to wash the system clean and make a fresh start.”

“The concept for this album is migration. All of us are from somewhere else. But it’s not a stern lecture. The music has to work on a foot-tapping level. For people who want to peel back the layers of the onion they can find other elements.”

The Scottish-born musician, who used to own a £10 million fish processing business on his Isle of Skye estate and enjoys an estimated wealth of £35 million, is surprised by his return to the upper echelon of the charts. “If it’s number 6 today, it will be 36 next week, then 1,006. But it’s nice to be recognised in any context.”

However, Anderson, elevated to Prog God Award by Prog Magazine last year, has retired the Jethro Tull name. The 18th-century British agronomist who invented the machine drill for sowing seed for commercial gain deserved better, the musician believes. “We didn’t know our booking agent named us after a dead guy. I didn’t do Jethro Tull in O-level history. We couldn’t change the name after we started having some success.”

He admits: “I’ve always felt a bit of embarrassment about the name and now it’s time to take a step back. When I tour this album I don’t want 20 drunk yobbos jeering because we’re not just doing their 20 favourite Tull songs: ‘Stay at home, watch the baseball game but this time don’t go to the concert.’”

Although the classic spoof movie This Is Spinal Tap mocked the absurdities of the prog rock concept album, Anderson praises the film for “helping keep alive the movement”.

The singer believes that Spinal Tap’s fictional bassist Derek Smalls was inspired by Derek Small, a character who appeared on Tull’s Thick As A Brick. Anderson said: “I once challenged Harry Shearer (who played Smalls) and asked him if he owned a copy of our album. Harry eventually said he did but he never played it. I had him, it was a Bill Clinton ‘I didn’t inhale’ moment.”

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'