As the drummer for the progressive/folk/hard rock band Jethro Tull in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Clive Bunker infused the group’s music with a frenetic, raw energy. Body twitching, using the butt end of his sticks, Bunker beautifully brutalized all before him, mixing single strokes, flams, triplets, and other rudimentary patterns, sometimes until his arm movements appeared to be little more than a blur. Sixteenth-note double kick patterns shook his entire kit, threatening the structural integrity of the very stage upon which he played. And to cap off his solos, Bunker would remove his floppy-brimmed hat and deploy his fro-topped cranium as a makeshift striking implement, no doubt denting the surface of his crash cymbals.
The man was simply a force of nature. Yet for decades Bunker downplayed his own drumming expertise, and in the December 1990 issue of MD he went as far as to be downright self-deprecating. And to be sure, the heavy-browed Bunker did work the bruiser angle fairly well. But he was far from one-dimensional. It’s these multifaceted qualities that are readily apparent on Tull’s 1969 sophomore studio album, Stand Up, which marks a turning point in the band’s storied career. The booklet accompanying the 2016 “Elevated Edition” reissue of Stand Up (remixed to stereo and 5.1 surround sound by Porcupine Tree mastermind Steven Wilson) quite rightly puns on the concept of the real Jethro Tull “standing up” for their new identity.
A rift dividing the band’s two major protagonists foretold seismic shifts in musical direction. Founding guitarist Mick Abrahams entered into a tug-of-war over band control with flute-fondling frontman and lead singer Ian Anderson. History tells us that a confident and curious Anderson emerged as the band’s undisputed wild-eyed leader as knight in shining armor Martin Lancelot Barre (Abrahams’ replacement) helped to facilitate Tull’s burgeoning commercial success.
Granted, the band’s classic 1971 album, Aqualung, with all its Gothic imagery and lyrical double entendres, may have been more appealing to fans of ’70s progressive rock. But Stand Up signifies the dawning of a Jethro Tull that would conquer America and the world. And it’s Bunker’s commanding presence that literally sets the pace—and then some—for these tunes.
The slip-sliding 12/8 feel of the album’s blues-rock opener, “A New Day Yesterday,” is a great example of how well Bunker led his merry gang through a sonic forest with his woolly, explosive rhythmic patterns. The aggregate effect can be disorientating for the listener, a circumstance compounded by phasing, amplified guitar sounds saturating the track.
Despite being in 4/4, “Nothing Is Easy” nearly falls off a cliff. Quarter-note accents on the ride clash with 8th-note triplets on the toms and snare, underscoring the tension in Anderson’s fight-or-flight lyrics. The instrumental section is totally bonkers: Bunker acts as master of ceremonies, generating buffering flams that announce the arrival of individual musical showcases. Intensity levels build until staccato pulses threaten total musical anarchy.
“We Used to Know” displays Bunker’s sensitive side, juxtaposing rolling tom fills and restrained shuffling, while the closer, “For a Thousand Mothers,” churns with a menacing groove in a very haunting 6/8.
While later Tull drummers would display greater technical facility, there’s an intelligence and swing in Bunker’s playing that complemented Anderson’s breathy and percussive flute performances in a unique and highly appealing way.
Further links between Anderson and Bunker exist. Circa 1968–69, just as Anderson began designing songs with more sonic richness, Bunker’s textural palette was expanding, too. Bongos, tambourine, clave, and what sound like maracas add a slightly Indian or Middle Eastern vibe to “Fat Man,” a song shaped as much by circus-like exoticism as its politically incorrect ridiculousness. A close cousin to “Fat Man,” the balalaika-infused “Jeffrey Goes to Leicester Square,” bubbles over with the sounds of what could be bongos or an equipment road case, hinting at something rootsy, folkish.
Despite Clive generally being remembered as Tull’s well-oiled, revved up engine, the myriad facets of his playing helped establish the aesthetic of one of the most unusual and beloved catalogs in all of rock music.
Beyond bashing. The more one examines Clive Bunker’s playing, the more dynamic and broad it seems. For instance, in “Bourée,” the band’s classic cover of J. S. Bach’s Bourrée in E minor, Clive avoids the obvious backbeat and enters into a jazzy conversation with bassist Glenn Cornick and Martin Barre.
Functional “family.” The semi-autobiographical tale spun by Ian Anderson in “Back to the Family” is met with a subtly twisted drum performance. Bunker quietly chatters away in the verses with quarter-note hi-hat beats, a 2-and-4 pattern on the kick, and rimclicks stressing the “&” of each beat. The inverted feel stands in contrast to the cymbal thrashing Bunker delivers at other moments of the tune.
Take five. Tracks that appear on the Stand Up reissue but not on the original album include the orchestral and slightly Latin-jazzy “Living in the Past,” a top-five hit in the U.K. (it just missed the top ten in the U.S.), on which claves tick away in 5/4 time as the constant ruffling of tambourine jingles provides a rudder for one of Bunker’s most streamlined and controlled performances.
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