Jethro Tull’s Barriemore Barlow

Since their 1972 album Thick As A Brick, Jethro Tull’s music has become more and more layered, intricate, and demanding on both players and listeners. Also, since that time, Barriemore Barlow, a 29-year-old Scotsman, has been their percussionist. Barlow has tackled the complex arrangements with a savage flair, rhythmic awareness, and attention to detail that suggests a midway point between the styles of Bill Bruford and Carl Palmer. The school of “progressive rock,” with which Tull is classified, has produced many an outstanding drummer. Barlow certainly ranks somewhere in the same league as Bruford, Palmer, Phil Collins, Guy Evans, and other such progressive rock drummers.

MS: Could you supply us with some background information? For instance, what were you doing before you joined Jethro Tull and when did you start playing?

BB: I started when I was 14, after seeing the Beatles. I saw Ringo Starr up there and thought to myself, ‘I can do that . . . I think.’ It was fashionable to join a rock band. You got a lot of girls that way and it was fun. I tried it on a friend’s set, and it didn’t seem too difficult. Eventually I got a set of my own and played around with a few people.In 1966 I heard an album by Graham Bond, called The Sound of 65. He was one of the so called “renegade jazzmen,” like Alexis Koener, Jack Bruce, that whole early jazz and R and B scene in London. And it was just superb music. Way ahead of its time. Turned my head completely around, musically. That’s what made me seriously consider becoming a musician, seeing people come up with music that intense. At the same time, I was playing with John Evan and lan Anderson and Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond in a little pickup band. I’d just left Glasgow. We tried playing that Graham Bond stuff but we just couldn’t do it. This was about three years before Jethro Tull was born. I sort of dropped out of the scene a little while after that. I t seemed as though everyone was going in the direction of simple pop music, whereas I’ve always wanted to play the more instrumental stuff, or at least something that challenges and makes you improve

MS: Yes, lan’s music, since you’ve joined the band, has become very challenging and intricate. Passion Play, for instance. You can tell that the drummer is really getting into the music, and it’s rather amazing because there are so many perverse metrical things happening all the time.

BB: Yes, I know! I would have preferred to see the band go into the direction of Passion Play, the very involved intricate stuff. That’s what I most like to play, and I love listening to it too…stuff like Genesis.MS: Are you at all into the so-called “progressive drummers.” like Bill Bruford or Phil Collins?

BB: Yeah, I like them, but my real favorites are almost 98 percent American drummers. Bruford strikes me as having analyzed every single note and beat he’s doing, which is quite amazing. There are a lot of great drummers, it’s just a matter of which particular style you happen to like. American funk drummers really get to me. Steve Gadd is my absolute favorite. The guy is so bloody good! David Garibaldi of Tower of Power is very good, but Gadd is the jack-of-all-trades.

But there are a couple of English drummers who I really admire: Michael Giles, of the old King Crimson. His playing on In The Court of the Crimson King was absolutely lovely. And a session guy named Gerry Conway who plays with Cat Stevens, he’s very tasty. Nobody knows who he is, which is a shame. Also there’s a friend of mine who not many people have heard of, Artie Tripp.

MS: From Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band?

BB: Yes, we have the same birthday. I met him a few years back when Beefheart toured in England with us. The first time I saw him, I could not believe it. Flipped me right out. I mean, Beefheart’s music is pretty amazing, right? And this guy Artie Tripp was handling it all so perfectly. We became fast and good friends on that tour. When the tour ended, we embraced each other and cried. Grown men! It’s so sad that he isn’t playing right now. What a colossal waste. He was totally ambidextrous, you know. He told me once he’d give his right arm to be ambidextrous.

MS: What do you think of your own drumming, your particular style? How would you define it, or would you define it at all?

BB: No. I don’t think about it that much, except to remind myself or push myself to do something I couldn’t do. But I feel my drumming is dictated by the style of the music I’m playing. It’s an overall musical thing. It’s influenced by everything I’ve ever seen, everything that’s reached my ear. You can only really identify a style if a player is involved in a particular kind of music. I can tell if it’s Steve Gadd, but that’s only because I’ve heard him before in a similar format.

MS: I just realized we lost track of your career before Tull.

BB: Well, at that time, in the middle to late ’60s, there were so many people trying to make a living out of music that it got very difficult to make a good living at it. So after hanging around and trying to play with some people and making 5 pounds (approximately $10) a week, the advice of my parents, which was to get the hell out of this insane business, finally sank in. Also, at the time everyone was doing twelve-barblues stuff, and it was a ll guitarists. There wasn’t much for drummers to do, although Ginger Baker, who had played with Graham Bond, changed that. So I retired to my home and kept a kit around, played now and again by myself, and took odd jobs. Then in 1971, after Clive Bunker left, Tull asked me if I’d fancy a gig. I hadn’t heard any Jethro Tull records for a long time! But I sat down with their records, played them while I sat at my drums, and drove the neighbors crazy for a couple of weeks. And it has worked out.

MS: Are you happy with your playing?

BB: No. I never have been and probably never will be. I want to improve constantly. I’ve never been that confident, but people have told me they like it, so that’s nice.

MS: Do you t h i n k in terms of technical things like paradiddles when you play? For instance, some of those syncopated fills on “No Lullaby” (from Heavy Horses) are incredible. What are they?

BB: Oh God, I don’t know! I don’t think in technical terms. I’ve never had a lesson in my life…why are you shaking your head, it’s true! A couple of years ago, I decided, since I make my living being a drummer, maybe I should check out some drum books and see what they’re about. So now I do have some knowledge of what a paradiddle is, but I still don’t sit there and think . I’ll throw in a paradiddle here.’ It’s a totally intuitive thing.

MS: I find that difficult to believe. Your playing is so refined and detailed.

BB: Well, we do rehearse an awful lot. Once I do come up with a rhythmic thing, there’s plenty of time for me to embroider it. I add in little things, which is fun to do, but only if it fits in with the piece we’re doing.

MS: Your fills seem intricate and thought – out, there must be some aforethought that goes through your mind.

BB: Yes, of course there is some thought beforehand. I just listen to the piece and what it’s all about. We’ll discuss the general feel of it, and I’ll lay something down. If it sounds right, I’ll go with it. Then of course there are constant modifications, both in the recording process and through the course of a tour. That’s why the live album is something I personally feel good about. There are alterations made in there that I feel very good about. I’m happy with what we’ve done with the material.

MS: How about the music scene in general? Do you hear good drummers all over the place?

BB: Yeah, I really do. I think drummers are getting better all the time. I hear music like Al DiMeola and I just can’t help feeling that it’s great that music like that can come out and find an audience. It’s great stuff. Terry Bozzio is also a fine player.

MS: Would you like to play that kind of music?

BB: Oh, absolutely. I’ve done it before, just gather a few people around and have some funky jams. I love it, it’s a lot of fun just getting into a groove, you know? It’s very different from my playing with Tull, which I also enjoy and love, but which has a lot of stops, starts and rapid changes. But yes, there’s good stuff all over the place, and good drummers all over the place.

MS: You play glockenspiel, too, so that must require some knowledge of scales or something.

BB: Yeah, but only a little.

MS: How about flute? You do a little flute thing in the show, about five notes, and a friend of mine once told me he’d heard you were taking up the flute.

BB: What, in Tull? No, I just do one little line, and I am not learning the flute. I’m a drummer, thank you.

MS: Okay, okay. How about the equipment you use?

BB: I’ve got a blue Ludwig Vistalite kit I’ve been using for about three years, with an old Ludwig 400 snare I found for $35 in an old music shop somewhere. I have four Ludwig concert toms, 6″, 8″, 10″, and 12″. The regular toms are 12 X 8, 13 X 9, 14 X 14, and 16 X 16. My bass is a 22″.

MS: I once saw a photo of you and you had what looked li e a really deep, marching-type snare. It looked like a Hayman.

BB: It was a Hayman, 10″ deep, which they’d made for me a long time ago. I have a few different snares, the 10″, the 400, which is a regular 5 1/2″ deep shell, and a 6 1/2″. With snares, and drums in general, the kind of head you use is very important. I use Remo Ambassadors on the snare, because they have that crispness. On the regular toms and bass, I use Evans oilskin heads. Vistalite generates a very bright, ringy sound, and the Evans heads take out the nasty overtones, while maintaining the power. On the concert toms I use Remo Black Dots.

MS: How do you feel about the merits of fiberglass as opposed to wood, or stainless steel, in making drum shells?

BB: Well, it’s all in the sound really. I only use the Vistalite kit on the road, because it’s very loud and cuts through well. In the studio I use an old Ludwig wooden kit which is very dear to me. I’ve just seen some of Ludwig’s new wooden drumshells, which I believe are three-ply, very thick, and I’m pleased with them. I’ll probably be getting a set of them soon as well.

MS: How about cymbals?

BB: I have a mixture of Paiste and Zildjian. Again, it varies from studio to live gigs. In the studio I use two delicious Zildjian crashes which I could never be unhappy with, but they would never last on the road. So I use 16″ and 18″ Paiste 2002 crashes live, plus a Zildjian 20″ crash. My ride is a Zildjian, the hi-hats are Paiste Sound Edge. I’ve also got a Paiste and a Zildjian China type, one on each side of the kit. Plus I have some others lying around which I use from time to time, like a Paiste heavy ride and a little Paiste splash.

MS: What kind of differences do you notice between Paiste and Zildjian?

BB: Well, the problem with Zildjians is that you have to go through six or seven of them before you find one you might like. With a Paiste, you know exactly what it’ll sound like every time. I could order an 18″ 2002 crash and I know precisely what it’ll sound like before it arrives. That consistency is nice. Back when Paiste had the Formula 602 cymbals, I used to break them all the time.

MS: What people never realized was that the 602 cymbals were meant for jazz, not for being bashed hard with thick rock sticks.

BB: Exactly. And I do use rather thick sticks (Regal Tip). I loved the sound of the 16″ thin crashes, but I’d always break them. I broke three in one bloody night! I think Keith Moon and I shared the record at the Paiste factory for breaking the most cymbals. But anyway, the 2002 cymbals are exceptionally strong.

MS: How about tuned percussion? Would you l i k e to explore it more deeply?

BB: Yes, but I’d rather get better on the drum kit first. Mainly I’ll use the glock. It’s a lovely sound.

MS: On Songs From The Wood you were listed as playing “knackers and tabor.” What are they?

BB: They’re medieval instruments. There’s this little shop in London that specializes in making copies of ancient and medieval instruments. The knacker is a copper drum shaped like a bowl, sort of a miniature tympani, with a calf head and one gut snare on it. The tabor is a shallow, round drum with calf heads and snares on both sides, which is kind of strange. They have a very wierd sound. The tabor is on “Velvet Green,” that sort of rustling sound you hear.

MS: How about the recent advances in drum technology, such as North drums or electronic percussion?

BB: Well, I don’t think the North drums will ever get off the ground. The whole idea is to make the sound louder, right? Well, if you’re playing in a small place you don’t really need them, and if you’re playing in a huge hall the mikes will take care of them. So I see no place for them.

MS: Well, their elongated shape does give them a rather unique sound.

BB: Yes, I suppose so. Electronics I find fascinating. I haven’t really had the time to explore them, and I’d rather get to know regular drums better anyway, but electronic percussion is interesting, a whole new thing. The fact that you can change the pitch and volume with a knob on one drum makes it a whole new ballgame. To a certain extent, it is only technology, and one must learn how to play rather than let gadgets do the playing for them. But all this new stuff that’s happening is great, all these advances and new ideas. It can only make things more interesting.

You were talking about the North drums before…you know what I’ve got, that’s really weird? A couple of those Trixon kits with the pear-shaped drums.

MS: What do they sound like?

BB: Crap, basically. They’re sort of conical, you know, bigger at the head and then tapering in towards the bottom. They look really wierd, but the sound was nothing really outrageous. There’s always weird new things coming out, but you have to be able to play the drums, you know? Like Joe Morello. I saw him at a clinic about four months after I started playing and he was just unbelievable. So totally into just the basic drum kit, and drawing so much music out of so little, without any flashy effects. That was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. That’s what it’s really all about.

MS: How would you react to someone who said your drumming was too complex, that you should become more intuitive and straight ahead?

BB: Well, that’s their opinion and to a degree I can see it. But, again, it’s the music I’m playing that’s complex, and my drumming almost has to follow from that, doesn’t it? Besides, as I said, my playing is intuitive, to me anyway. Actually, the funk stuff I do at home between gigs is sort of therapy to keep me from getting lost in the complexity, to sort of keep me in touch with my body.

MS: What do you think constitutes musicianship, or musicality, as you put it in referring to Morello?

BB: It’s a very intangible thing. It’s a matter of combining a lot of different aspects of playing into a nice whole that goes perfectly with the rest of the music. Things like technique, proper timing, alertness, and taste. The feel of what you’re playing. That’s musicianship. When I say I like Steve Gadd, it’s because of all those things which he does so well, with such musicianship. And there are a lot of American players who have that musicianship. I’d like to ask you a question: why is it that so many people seem to have this thing about English musicians being so far superior to American players?

MS: It’s a sort of reverse-snobbery thing. In large part it’s simply because the music of those English musicians you referred to is of such an accomplished nature that people here flip over it. Americans aren’t exposed to the academic, technical thing English and Europeans have developed. On the other hand, I’ve read of a lot of English musicians who prefer the spontaneity and “soulfulness,” of American drummers. It is strange, though, and I think it’s a consequence of the commodity aspect of the record industry. You get identified with instrumental virtuosity and people get into that technique, that type of music, and that type of musicianship.

BB: Yes, but there are American bands that have just as much technique: Weather Report, DiMeola, Chick Corea, you name it. Sure, there’s spontaneity, and if the feeling’s right, a little less precision won’t hurt. I mean, they don’t sound sloppy.

MS: Certainly not the people you mentioned. Maybe it’s just that people think of some other kind of American music, Top 40 maybe.

BB: Oh God, I hope not. I mean, I don’t listen to that stuff too often. It’s nice once in a while I guess, but I prefer to be stimulated on a musical level. I like something musically challenging and exciting going on.

Another thing that’s quite different about American as opposed to English music is that with a lot of American music, people are doing backing sessions for one performer, rather than being just in one band for a while. So they’re exposed to many different things. And I find that attractive. I almost envy them, people like Steve Gadd. I obviously like being in Tull, but I still have a sort of longing to play with different people. I suppose anyone would.

MS: Have you ever been accused by anyone of overplaying, and if so, how do you react to that?

BB: Well, it’s been mentioned, but I’m always aware of it and agree that I do tend to do that. That’s why I’m so self-critical. But there are times when you just can’t resist going with a little something here or there.

MS: A flick of the cymbal, a snare drum roll…

BB: Exactly. Little flourishes and things. They’re great fun and if they work in the music it’s great. But they can become very tempting, you know, and you could get drawn into just doing them and then you’d certainly be overplaying. In Tull’s music there’s so much going on that one hasn’t the self-control not to add in his own thing. But the virtuosity has to be controlled, absolutely. But if it’s too controlled, too disciplined, it becomes cold. It’s a very fine line.

MS: Nicely put. Any parting words for the aspiring drummers out there?

BB: Don’t do it! I don’t need the competition. Don’t smoke cigarettes, which is something I must stop doing myself. Get in shape, practice a bit, and do what you like and don’t let yourself get too satisfied. And never lose the heart and soul of what you’re doing. That’s what was so great about Keith Moon, as great as he was, as technically excellent and crazy and mad a drummer as he was, the excitement, the soul of what he was doing was always there. You could feel it. That’s what it’s all about.