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Barrie Barlow was Jethro Tull's drummer through the band's supergroup years – from 1971 until 1980. He was famed for his flamboyant, innovative, hugely energetic drumming style and was described by Led Zeppelin's John Bonham as “the greatest rock drummer England ever produced.” After a decade of drumming through world tours and a dozen albums with Tull, Barrie worked with a range of musicians including Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Miles, Kerry Livgren. He started his own band, Storm and another called Tandoori Cassette. He has written songs, manages various artists and produces records in his own Doghouse residential studio in rural Oxfordshire.
Doghouse is set in magnificent, secluded grounds on the banks of the River Thames not far from Henley and attracts many household names. They relish the tranquillity of the surroundings while they spend time writing, rehearsing, recording, relaxing. Echo & The Bunnymen, Pete Doherty, the late Amy Winehouse, Lily Allen, Mark Ronson, Bellowhead, the Damned, Joe & Sam Brown and many more have recorded here.
It is a beautiful sunny day when I meet Barrie to talk about his musical life. As I negotiate the twisty gravel drive to the Doghouse studio, flowers are blooming all around the extensive lawns and beyond Barrie's private football pitch. The river at the boundary of the property is just visible, glinting through a shady wooded area. Barrie's large family home is almost adjacent to the converted barn that is now the Doghouse Studio. He and his wife Dee (for Diane) and family have lived here since 1976.
Barrie emerges from the studio to greet me. He looks fit and young for his 64 years and is grinning broadly – but with mop and bucket in hand! He explains, “This is part of the daily life of a studio owner. We had a young band in here until a couple of hours ago. You can always tell the ones who still live at home. They never clean up after themselves! But it's not always like that.”
“One day I wandered into the kitchen to find Take That's Mark Owen on all fours, scrubbing the floor. I told him, 'Hey Mark, you're a household name, you've no need to do that.' But he insisted, 'No, no, it's fine, I always clean up at home'. So I said, 'Well, in that case, you've missed a bit over there in the corner.... .'”
“Then we've had the lovely Lily Allen cooking a delicious lunch for us all, Kate Moss lounging on the couch over there, contributing lyrics to a song Pete Doherty was working on. Pete has been here a lot. One day he appeared surprisingly early and I said, 'Would you like a cup of tea?' 'Oh, yes, please', he said and I asked, 'How do you like it, milk and sugar?' To which he replied, 'Tell you what, no sugar but instead of milk could you put in some orange and instead of tea, just vodka'. He was a delightful guy really.”
“Then there was Mark Ronson and the late Amy Winehouse who I'll always recall with great fondness. Amy initially came for ten days and stayed almost six weeks, bless her. She said to me, 'Baz, I love it here...I want to buy it'. And I said, 'But it's my home' and she replied, 'That's okay, you can stay here too', which was kind. She was such a sweet girl and a great talent. She's a tragic loss to us all. I recall that the press were ferocious though. We had paparazzi from all over Europe, wearing leafy helmets as camouflage in the bushes over there, trying to photograph Amy when she was sunbathing in her bikini. We put up screens and they tore them down...I had to spray with high pressure water hoses to keep the press at bay. “
“We normally try to keep the studio a media-free zone...privacy is important. And the pressure can be huge on young, high profile artists like Amy was at that time. I think in some ways Amy's generation matured at a rather later stage than mine did. Just because of circumstances. In the fifties and early sixties in post-war Britain it was more austere, harder with less cosseting. So people in my age group - the Jethro Tull generation - stood on our own feet probably six, maybe even eight years earlier.”
Was there much music in Barrie's home when he was young?
“I was raised in Perry Bar, Birmingham. My dad was a toolmaker, and sadly my mum was crippled with rheumatoid arthritis from when I was young. She died at just 52 after years in permanent agony. My Dad was like Peter Pan, though. He moved up to Blackpool while my mum stayed in Brum and he was in and out of the nightclubs; he did a lot of living. My Dad loved Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Count Basie. So I was raised surrounded by all of that. Whenever you revisit those rich and wonderful sounds, there's no doubting the sheer quality....of every aspect of the performance. It's great. So, I think there may have been a bit of subliminal implanting from that music.
“But a seminal moment for me was listening under the bed covers to Radio Luxembourg on mum's Dansette transistor radio, and hearing my first Beatles record coming over those crackly airwaves back in late 1962. ‘Love Me Do’, it was. I knew I'd never heard anything like it. A new, raw sound; it was really memorable, catchy yet somehow mature. And then the Beatles had their own look, their own attitude. It all just felt so right for the time. I still believe the Beatles, John Lennon in particular, helped change the world. We'd all been so blind to so much of what was really going on. England was narrow. There were good things, a wonderful community spirit and people helping each other out for no gain....but it was a rather grey and gloomy time and somehow we weren't tuned in to the bigger picture. For me and millions of others, the Beatles helped change that”.
So, when did Barrie start to play drums?
“At school I'd been into music a bit and had saved money from my paper round for my first snare drum. I taught myself to play it. But I couldn't afford lessons and it was very frustrating, trying to coordinate your right foot with your left hand and so on. Lessons would really have helped. I persevered, though.”
“I left Brum at 15 and stayed with my dad who'd moved to Blackpool by then. I saw an ad in ‘The Blackpool Evening Gazette’– a new band seeking a drummer. I auditioned at the home of John Evan. He'd been drumming but his mum was a piano teacher and was keen for him to play keyboards instead. Anyway, I got the job and soon I was playing regularly with John and Jeffrey Hammond as well as our frontman Ian Anderson. The band was called Blades and we were influenced by both jazz - the rich sounds and rhythms of the swing era – and blues. The Graham Bond Organisation with Graham Bond on Hammond organ, Ginger Baker on drums, Jack Bruce on bass and Dick Heckstall-Smith on sax was a massive influence on us. We'd play eight of their tunes in each set along with some Georgie Fame material. Gradually we augmented our sound with baritone and tenor sax plus trumpet and became the John Evan Smash. Seven of us would cram all our kit in an old Ford Thames van as we'd tour up and down the motorways playing gigs and staying in some dodgy, dirty digs along the way. Ian Anderson was writing material for us by then and we and our management - Johnny Taylor of 'JT Enterprises' and a lovely cigar-smoking chap called Don Reid – had hopes we'd make it in London. So the decision was made to base ourselves down south.”
“It wasn't easy. One time we were booked in Dagenham but they were expecting an Irish show band. When we didn't know any Irish tunes they paid us off. There were some good gigs, though. I remember being in Dunstable and supporting a band starring Mick Abrahams who was a fantastic singer and guitarist. We were impressed and later Mick joined us. Another time we played with Herman's Hermits who were very popular. Frankly, we didn't rate them musically, but we were impressed when they told us about playing in the States alongside their mate 'Elvo'...Elvis Presley, to you and me. And when they told Ian Anderson he sang like 'Elvo' he was very flattered and to this day the rest of the band and I always call Ian 'Elvo'!”
“The band was starting to get a following by now but there was no money in it and it was very hard. I wasn't seeing much of my mum or my dad and, missing the home comforts and feeling constantly tired and often hungry, I decided to quit. As did John Evan. Clive Bunker who had played with Mick Abrahams replaced me. His family were in the south so it was easier for him; he could get home for hot dinners. He and I did gigs together until Clive had the whole repertoire down. After that I went back north and trained as a toolmaker. Went to night school, learning my trigonometry and did a few gigs in a Blackpool bar at night just to earn extra cash...like backing Ronnie Ogden, the elderly resident organist who'd meander in and out of all kinds of songs. I married Dee and we had our first daughter, Katie.”
“A few years passed by. Then, out of the blue one Saturday afternoon when I'm at home watching football on TV, John Evan turns up in his MG sports car. He'd rejoined the band - now called Jethro Tull – which was having international success, helped along by Terry Ellis and Chris White who'd formed the new Chrysalis agency and label. So, John says, 'What are you doing wasting your time sitting around here in front of the telly? Clive's leaving so do you want to come and do a gig?' Just like that. And of course it was what I'd dreamed of...been kicking myself for years at leaving.”
“Anyway, they set up a quick audition for me with Ian - which felt very odd after all our previous years together - and I borrowed my neighbour's record player and bought some Tull records to learn them. It went OK and I was off...a few days later I was in Salt Lake City playing to 10,000 people”.
That must have been quite a pressure?
“It was terrifying. Then the next Tull gig was at the huge Red Rocks amphitheatre in Denver but too many kids turned up and there were riots, police helicopters, tear gas – just mayhem. All this is just a week or two after me accompanying Ronnie Ogden in Blackpool's Gaiety Bar and living my safe, suburban, domesticated existence. A big shock to the system.”
“And that became my life for the next nine years. We did non-stop world tours, about a dozen albums - an exhausting time. Very physical, too. You had to be as fit as a butcher's dog. I'd lose twenty-five pounds and drop to under eight stones - that's about 50 kilos for the benefit of your younger readers - by the end of a tour. But the first five or six years were fantastic. Some magical moments - I'll always remember playing the Boston Garden arena with the whole place just illuminated by lighters like an old-time Christmas scene and the huge applause...thinking of it now still sends a shudder down my spine. It all went by so fast.”
“Inevitably, the business aspect became more prominent, sadly. Lots of merchandising and various corporate pressures. And, as the gigs got bigger and we'd made more albums, we felt there was an obligation to play more material. So we could be doing up to three hours every night which was totally draining. Though you wouldn't swap it for the world.”
Barrie must have missed Dee and the children?
“Yes, of course. Balancing that touring, rock star life with family responsibilities is murder. You'd come back after three months away, and the kids would be thinking, 'Who is this strange person?' Plus the lifestyle is just so different. Re-acclimatising is hard and you get grumpy and dissatisfied, having got used to being spoiled and self-indulgent. Suddenly there's a school run going on, homework to be done and it all feels so alien. I was the only one in Tull with children then - so it was doubly hard.”
Barrie stayed with Jethro Tull for almost a decade, through their most successful period when they enjoyed supergroup status and were recognised as being in the same league as Led Zeppelin or Genesis.
“They were amazing years and the time flew by. But I eventually left in 1980, after my friend John Glascock died. I'd met John when he played bass with Carmen, a fantastic flamenco rock band who did a rocky version of intricate Spanish rhythms...very complex, noble music and visual, too. Anyway, after Jeffrey left Tull, we invited John to play and he introduced a whole new dynamic musically. He was the archetypal rock'n'roll bass player. But he lived hard and soon had heart problems. After a heart transplant his fingers suffered from bad circulation so he had to opt out for a while. But he seemed to be recovering.”
“Then, when Tull were in Los Angeles, just two gigs from the end of a tour, I phoned John who was back in the UK to see if, now he was feeling better, he'd like to come out and do some work with me and David Allen, a singer/songwriter who'd also been in Carmen. John was really keen and booked his flight to LA that same afternoon.”
“I was delighted and headed down to San Diego to do that night's Tull concert. As we came on stage it was suddenly announced that John Glascock had died just hours before from a massive heart attack. I just crumbled. Couldn't believe it. Back in LA many of John's friends gathered in my hotel room so we could mourn together. Tull had to do the final show of the tour the next night, and I just wept through it. Subsequently I learned John had been less well paid than the rest of us which seemed very unfair. It made me angry. And then I knew I just didn't want to be in it any more. I dropped out, and soon Ian Anderson was the only remaining original member of Jethro Tull.”
What followed for Barrie?
“I started to really appreciate my life back in the Oxfordshire countryside. And I was able to spend more time with my family – so my two daughters and my son knew who I was. I'm glad none of them are professional musicians. They have musical talent, but fortunately they had a taste of fame performing their own song called ‘One in a Million’ in a competition on the’ Saturday Superstore’ children's TV show in the 80s. They were in the national finals but mercifully didn't win, and maybe that early experience of disappointment was enough to put them off a music career. Katie is a film-maker, Sarah is occupied with her two children and my son Stan (he's David really – but I call him Stan after my football hero Stanley Bowles) is with the Met Office. I always encouraged them to see music as a hobby, something to be enjoyed. I've seen so many talented musicians struggle to make a living and know how hard it can be, how heartbreaking. So I didn't wish that for them.”
“I also did some writing. With a friend from Oxford I co-wrote one of the best ever English football anthems for the 2010 World Cup! It was called ‘Hanson's Eyebrows’ by the Turnstiles and it won a BBC competition! I also started a couple of bands – Storm and another called Tandoori Cassette. On a good night Tandoori Cassette were as impressive as Tull ever was. Tandoori Cassette gave me more opportunity to play creatively, be innovative, than Tull had latterly...always having to replay the same material can be a bit limiting.”
“I also worked with John Miles, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and many others. Plus I spent time in the Doghouse studio here, just jamming and enjoying myself. The studio gets its name because I seem to have been in the doghouse one way or another quite a bit of my life! I'd bought the place in 1976 soon after Ian Anderson moved out to Stokenchurch in the Chilterns, not far from here. I'd been living in Pinner – that wonderful London suburb where Ronnie Corbett and Elton John were from.”
“We converted the barn here into a studio, soundproofed it and put in all the latest kit. In the early 80s I loved Tears for Fears, Depeche Mode, Human League with their new electronic sound. Today we have a late version of the Protools system at Doghouse, but I've kept the old multi-track machine because to me there's a warmth, a special noise and feel on multi-track that nothing quite matches. We also have the Jethro Tull C3 Hammond organ (on permanent loan from John Evan), a Wurlitzer piano and a vintage Gretsch drum kit as used by the Tamla Motown drummers...those drums record beautifully.”
“Gradually, almost organically, the studio started to become known and people would come to record here. We built guest accommodation and improved the grounds adding a football pitch. Plus there's a heated swimming pool and fishing and boating from our own riverside frontage. Producers and artists were soon staying here to rehearse and record. The word just got around.”
How did Barrie start managing artists?
“People would tell me about new bands that needed help with writing, arranging or with management and gradually I'd find myself involved. I'd managed Tandoori Cassette myself and had learned how demanding that role could be. In Tull I'd often been hypercritical of managers, never appreciating how hard the job was....now I found out. So I started helping manage one or two people - like Kiss of the Gypsy, a band from Blackpool who did melodic rock. I got them a deal with Warner Chapel Publishing and Atlantic Records. We remain mates to this day. One of them, George Williams, now engineers and produces here sometimes. I also manage my godson's band, the Repertoires who are local and very, very good.”
“Then Sam Brown - who has also recorded and produced at Doghouse - very kindly introduced me to Megan Henwood who Sam had been coaching. Megan went on to win the 2009 BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Singer of the Year Award, and I co-managed her for a while. She recorded here with people like Sam and Sam's dad Joe Brown and brother Pete Brown and me playing behind her. Megan was very lucky to have top calibre musicians like the Browns support her on a first record. She's now launched on a successful career and moved on. With management you do always need to remember that the good you do doesn't necessarily do you any good!”
“I also managed one of the most amazing artists I ever witnessed in my life, Mr Methane. Atlantic Records introduced us. Mr Methane has perfected the art of what we rather coyly call anal voicing. Basically Mr Methane farts tunes. He's a “flatulist” and has a huge repertoire. He's done several US tours, has made three albums plus a video and is on i-tunes as we speak! We've done 400 interviews with him on local radio stations across America, all from his bedroom in Macclesfield and he's a favourite of the original US radio shock-jock, Howard Stern. I've played drums with him, Peter Knight plays fiddle on one of the tracks and Fraser T Smith – who produces Britney Spears – plays guitar. Incredible fun! You have to check out www.mrmethane.com to see for yourself.”
What remaining ambitions does Barrie have?
“I'd like to just gain wisdom and try to listen more and talk less. I'd also like to manage the England football team. Or, at the very least, Reading. I'm friendly with John Madejski, Reading's former owner, but he never appointed me as coach. I've had a passion for football ever since I was a kid, supporting Aston Villa.”
“One of the things I'm happiest about is that I remain good friends with Ian 'Elvo' Anderson and with John Evan and the others from the Jethro Tull days. After a gap of a decade or so, one day I listened to the remastered version of ‘A Passion Play’. It was bloody fantastic. I wrote immediately to Ian to say I'd just listened to it with new ears and loved it...and great writing, Elvo. I'm very proud to have been a part of all that.”
The photographs that accompany this article were taken by Bernard Mattimore.For information about the Doghouse Studio, see www.thedoghousestudio.co.uk
Commenting On: Interview - Barrie Barlow
ie London, England
tick box before submitting comment
23720 Posted By: Craig Thomas (Derbyshire, England)
I'm so delighted to have found this interview w/ BB. I've inadvertently found myself bingeing on the entire Tull catalogue these past 10 days ago. The outstanding album for me is A Passion Play, and after reading in a couple of places "Elvo" (so funny) being so down about the record I am absolutely lit up beyond measure to read of Barrie loving APP. It is indeed a masterpiece, a landmark piece of work that seems to be growing and deepening in quality with the passing of years. It's just wonderful. So thanks for the affirmation, Barrie!
23674 Posted By: Bruce K. (Palo Alto, CA, USA)
Love that band and that time ... it was really magical.
Barrie sounds like a great guy, and sorry he quit but glad he
made it work with his family. This was my favorite music, so
thank you Barrie.
23617 Posted By: Maurice Boyle (Eskdalemuir, Scotland)
My favourite drummer.
First saw him in Glasgow, 1974, Warchild tour.
John Bonham was right.
Thanks for making the world a better place Barrie.
Now where is Jeffrey and John E, ?
23616 Posted By: Rodolfo Napuri (Lima, Peru)
Glad to see Barrie Barlow doing so well. In Cold Wind to Valhalla, I always like the martial rhythm scorting the warriors in his journey to meet the valkyries.
23615 Posted By: Kram Namloc (Portland, OR, USA)
Long time hero of mine. Great to see him doing so well.
23614 Posted By: Steve Kavanagh (Coventry)
Barrie is THE most underrated rock drummer ever, his work with Tull in the 70's was just....awesome.
Glad to see Barrie looking so well and being successful as a studio owner.
23613 Posted By: Christopher Cooper (SF Bay Area US)
Barrie has been a huge influence on me as a writer and player (guitar) in what i want from the drums. He was my first live show drummer when i was 14 (77 Heavy Horses tour Jethro Tull). Glad you have what you have BB, well deserved.
Nick Dent-Robinson speaks to Barrie Barlow, the former drummer with Jethro Tull, about his years in the band, and Doghouse, the residential recording studio in Oxfordshire he runs, whose clients have included the late Amy Winehouse
Lisa Torem speaks to multi-instrumentalist and composer Ian Anderson, who is bringing to life the story of namesake and industrialist Jethro Tull in a brand new rock opera
Lisa torem chats to Ian Anderson, the front man with Jethro Tull, about his new solo album 'Homo Erraticus' and his forthcoming world tour
Lisa Torem talks to Ian Anderson about 'Thick as a Brick 2', his recently released sequel to his band Jethro Tull's classic 1972 prog rock masterpiece; his feelings on gun control and his interest in politics
Jethro Tull:Nothing is Easy: Live at the Isle of Wight 1970
In our 'Re:View' section, in which we look back at albums from the past, Carl Bookstein examines Jethro Tull's live album 'Nothing is Easy: Live at the Isle of Wight 1970', which, originally released in 2004, has just been re-released in a new CD/DVD edition
In our 'Re:View' section, in which we look back on albums from the past, Lisa Torem reflects on Jethro Tull's 'Aqualung', which has just been re-released in a double CD 40th anniversary edition
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