Tag Archives: Jethro Tull

Locomotive Breath – Jethro Tull

jethro-tullJethro Tull are a Grammy Award winning British rock group that formed in 1967-1968. Their music is marked by the distinctive vocal style and lead flute work of front man Ian Anderson. Initially playing blues rock with an experimental flavor, they have, over the years, incorporated elements of classical, folk and ‘ethnic’ musics, jazz and art rock.

During the early 1970s Jethro Tull went from a progressive blues band to one of the largest concert draws in the world. In concert, the band was known for theatricality and long medleys with brief instrumental interludes. While early Jethro Tull shows featured a manic Anderson with bushy hair and beard dressed in tattered overcoats and ragged clothes, as the band became bigger he moved towards varied costumes. This culminated with the War Child tour’s oversized codpiece and colorful costume.

Other band-members joined in the dress-up and developed stage personae. Bassist Glenn Cornick always appeared in vest and headband, while his successor Jeffrey Hammond eventually adopted a black-and-white diagonally-striped suit (and similarly striped bass guitar, electric guitar, and string bass). It was a ‘zebra look’, and at one point a two-manned zebra came out excreting ping pong balls into the audience while both performers moved forcefully around their stage areas. John Evan dressed in an all-white suit with a neck-scarf of scarlet with white polka-dots; described as a “sad clown” type with extremely oversized shoes, he joined in the theatrics by galumphing back and forth between Hammond Organ and grand piano (placed on opposite sides of the stage in the Thick as a Brick tour) or by such sight-gags as pulling out a flask and pretending to drink from it during a rest in the music. Barriemore Barlow’s stage attire was a crimson tank-top and matching runner’s shorts with rugby foot gear, and his solos were marked by smoke-machines and enormous drumsticks. Martin Barre was the island of calm amongst the madmen, with Anderson (and sometimes Evan) crowding him and making faces during his solos.

The band’s stage theatrics peaked during the Thick As A Brick tour, a performance distinguished by stage hands wearing the tan trench-coat/madras cap ensemble from the album art, extras in rabbit suits running across stage and an extended interlude during which Barre and Barlow entered a beach-tent onstage and swapped pants.

A Passion Play was planned to have a full-length film to go with the stage theatrics. However, from this effort, it seems that only a few excerpts have survived to be re-released on recent commemorative videos of the band, including the interlude “The Story of the Hare Who Lost His Spectacles.”

A similar multi-media effort had been planned for Too Old To Rock and Roll… but was not completed. Thereafter, the emphasis on theatrics was reduced but never eliminated. In 1982’s Broadsword and the Beast concerts, the entire stage was transformed into a Viking ship. Anderson often dressed as a country squire on tours in the late 1970s, with the rest of the band adopting the style during their folk phase. The A tour featured the same white jumpsuit uniforms worn by the band on the album cover. Certain routines from the 1970s have recently become ensconced in concerts, such as having a song interrupted by a phone call for an audience member (which Anderson now takes on a cell) and the climactic conclusion of shows including bombastic instrumentals and the giant balloons which Anderson would carry over his head and toss into the crowd.

Locomotive Breath

“Locomotive Breath” is a song by the British progressive rock band Jethro Tull from their 1971 album, Aqualung. It is notable for a long bluesy piano introduction (particularly during live performances) and its flute solo by flautist Ian Anderson.

“Locomotive Breath” was recorded in a rather unusual manner for the time: the entire track was pieced together from overdubs; most of the parts of the song were recorded separately. Ian Anderson did his normal flute and vocal parts in addition to bass drum, hi-hat, acoustic guitar and some electric guitar parts. John Evan’s piano parts were then recorded; Clive Bunker added the rest of the drums and Martin Barre finished the electric guitar parts. All of these recordings were then overdubbed onto each other because Anderson was finding it difficult to communicate his musical ideas about the song to the other band members.

The composition is designed to resemble a train chugging. Anderson occasionally says a word like “Oh-OH!” in the style of “All aboard?!”, as shouted by train conductors.

The term “locomotive breath” refers to the steam exhaust from a steam locomotive. The song’s lyrics use the imagery of an impending and unavoidable train wreck as an allegorical portrayal of a man’s life falling apart – or even death itself, as Ian Anderson has put it. Despite this, elements of humour are present, as Anderson often includes in his lyrics.

Locomotive Breath – Ian Anderson

In the shuffling madness
of the locomotive breath,
runs the all-time loser,
headlong to his death.
“Oh” He feels the piston scraping —
steam breaking on his brow —
old Charlie stole the handle and
the train “it” won’t stop going —
no way to slow down. “OhooOh”

He sees his children “jumping” off
at the stations — one by one.
His woman and his best friend —
in bed and having fun.
“Oh” He’s crawling down the corridor
on his hands and knees —
old Charlie stole the handle and
the train “it” won’t stop going —
no way to slow down. “Heaheya”

He hears the silence howling —
catches angels as they fall.
And the all-time winner
has got him by the balls.
“Oh” He picks up Gideons Bible —
open at page one —
I “THINK” God “he” stole the handle and
the train “it” won’t stop going —
no way to slow down.
“no way to slow down
no way to slow down
no way to slow down
no way to slow down”

  • Audio from the 1971 album, Aqualung:


Play Locomotive Breath - by Jethro Tull