Tag Archives: Jethro Tull

all about that flute

(Post by John Allan, from Bridgetown, Western Australia – March 2021)

I clearly remember the day my big brother brought home ‘the beast’. He was at ‘big’ school and had recently ditched the violin. And here it was. The double bass. Six mighty feet of curved sensuous shiny dark wood like the entrance to Narnia with strings. Bro would draw the bow across the lowest string and I would marvel at the deep sonorous rumble, the vibrations reaching down to the pit of my stomach. ‘Pluck’ like a stone in a well. I was mesmerised. This was the instrument for me.

Like anything in life there were drawbacks. It was 6 foot and I was barely 5. My brother strictly forbade me anywhere near it and I’d get a dead arm just for loitering outside his bedroom door.

Of course the problem’s in the name. Double. Twice as much. Double trouble. Try lugging that thing on and off a corporation bus ? In the mid 70s I would be standing at the bus stop with 2 saxophone cases in my hand. The skinny guy next to me had his guitar in a canvas bag. We were both going to our respective band practices. His was with Orange Juice. When the bus came, I would struggle on and deposit my cargo on the shelf at the front of the bus and sit in front of it only to be shooed away by some pensioner. The whole journey I’d be sitting at the back in a hot sweat staring at my cases thinking ‘some bastard’s going to half inch ma saxes!’

Try this. Put your left thumb in your left ear. Put your 2nd finger on the tip of your nose. Your 1st finger on your brow. 3rd on your lips and your pinky on your chin. That’s the basic first position of the bass. Has your hand cramped up yet?  

I’d really have to think this through.

I played a descent descant recorder in primary, (which was compulsory in all non- denominational schools in the west of Scotland) well enough to get an audition for a ‘real’ instrument. Clarinet or flute was on offer. All I knew of the clarinet was ‘Strangler On The Shore’ by Aker Boke which I thought pretty lame. Did you know Mr Bilk took out his false teeth to play – a big no no for reed players apparently. It buggers up the embouchure – and that is not a euphemism !

Flute was OK. Hadn’t Canned Heat being ‘Going Down The Country’, The Moody Blues been lamenting about ‘Knights In White Satin’ and Jethro Tull ‘Living In The Past’ with the help of the flute ? Flute it was then.

I passed the audition and so began 5 years of weekly flute lessons with a wonderful and patient teacher.

Playing an instrument in primary had a certain credibility about. Secondary ? Nah, not so much. It was now I realised that I had made the wise decision.

The flute fitted neatly into my canvas duffel bag and I thought about the humiliation my fellow musos were about to endure. You might be able to pass off a trumpet case as a small suitcase or trombone case as containing a bazooka but string players were doomed from the off. Which was probably a sort of natural selection thing as a certain number would have had to be culled anyway !

I persevered. Sometimes trying to emulate Jethro standing on one leg swinging the flute like a baton only to scuff the axminster and maim the Capodimonte figurines.

I even got into the Dunbartonshire Schools County Senior Orchestra. From The Vale of Leven to Lenzie, musical teens from across the county were let loose in a large Scottish baronial mansion near Drymen once or twice a year and were expected to make beautiful music together (and that’s not a euphemism though there were some Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark!)

Playing the flute led me to play the soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones, piccolo and various whistles (if you can’t be good be versatile) in part-time bands touring Scotland from the mid 70s onwards. Occasionally, I will still try and attempt ‘Syrinx’ by Debussy. One of the most hauntingly beautiful solo flute pieces ever written.

Do I wait eagerly for the double bass solo in the late night jazz club or hanker for the slap of the rockabilly or bluegrass bass fiddle ? You bet I do.

living in the seventies.

(Post by John Allan, from Bridgetown, Western Australia – February 2021)

Melbourne glam rockers Skyhooks debut album “Living in the Seventies” spent 16 weeks at the top of the Australian charts in 1974 – 75 – which was unbeknown to me until over a decade later when I left Thatcher’s Britain for a life ‘down under’. The first verse of the title track proclaims: –

I feel a little crazy
I feel a little strange
Like I’m in a pay phone
Without any change
I feel a little edgy
I feel a little weird
I feel like a schoolboy
Who’s grown a beard

In my experience, I’ve known very few hirsute schoolboys Scottish or Antipodean…………….That didn’t come out right! What I mean as a bum fluffed teen I could probably relate to some of Skyhooks lyrics (nobody talked about pay phones though. Phone boxes maybe with handsets severed at the umbilical and stinking of stale body fluids) Crazy, strange, edgy, weird. Glam rock was mere background. I was a PROG ROCKER.

I would like to say I survived a Shuggie Bain childhood of poverty and despair but that is obviously pure bollocks. I lived in a comfortable semi with dependable (if not a bit detached) teacher parents in a middle-class satellite of the second city, Glasgow.

Music was a biproduct of such privilege. With two older brothers the house was awash with instruments – piano, guitars, fiddle, flute, double bass and euphonium. Sheet music tumbled from the piano stool – the Seekers, Mary Hopkins, the comedic Bernard Cribbins and of course the Beatles. Norwegian Wood, Hello Goodbye …… pity no-oneplayed the piano! The record player was always cranked up with said Fab Four, Fleetwood Mac (all blokes then) and even some early David Bowie.

At primary school I was first descant recorder and more than eager to put away the chime bars. I had the classics covered when I took up flute and played in the County Orchestra. I invented eclectic.

At the obligatory interview with the school careers officer, you had to list four potential occupations you saw yourself pursuing in the future. I wrote down 1) Music 2) Music 3) Music and (surprise surprise) 4) Music. With my comprehensive list held aloft in one hand and my meagre exam results in the other, the holder to the key of my occupational future said after much deliberation “Have you ever thought of a career in banking”. I should have run him through with my lance and crushed him under my shield. Unfortunately, I was only armed with a blunt HB and a protractor.

Music was my oxygen, and I couldn’t breathe. Hale the inhaler of progressive rock!

I blame my easy access to the art for my straying, not to the dark side, but to the smug and pompous superiority of PR. Rhythm and blues was passe, heavy metal pantomime and Punk – really! Moronic fuzz guitar, torn tartan trousers, safety pins and bin bags does not art make.

We abandoned pop and rock, outgrew psychedelia in favour of the epic, the conceptual, the symphonic. We melded folk, jazz and classical – a flazzical magic. The fewer songs the better. Album covers of melting mountains and dripping landscapes (to be later ripped off in Avatar movies) cloaked in Listen bags gripped firmly under arm. These were the tunes of Tolkien, the dirges of dragons and dungeons. We were the denizens of the dingily dell, enchanted foresters, fairy queen fantasists and goblin nobblers.

We even indulged in our own form of progrockery with our merry band of troubadours, Entropy, with yours truly channelling Ian of Tull while lamenting Floyd’s Lunatics on the Grass to a hall of non-believers at Kilmardinny.

Our sonic utopia was all screeching castrati, phased finger plucked 12 strings. Of Moogs and Mellotrons.

We watched the watchers of the sky, echoed in the halls of mountain kings, slayed gentle giants, swam topographic oceans, escorted schizoid men through the centuries. We were the chosen ones. We walked among you although you barely acknowledged the swish of army navy stores great coat or the gentle scuff of sweaty sandshoe.

Crazy, strange, edgy, weird? No! We preached the philosophy of the pretentious, the priapism of the precocious, the pride of the preposterous. We were PROGRESSIVE ROCK!


The balloon burst. The curse lifted.

A handsome prince of half a dozen gritty blue eyed soul Dundonians and Glaswegians, a.k.a The Average White Band, hacked through the undergrowth, scaled the ramparts and kissed this little princess on the lips, Awakened, I was led to the promised land of soul, jazz, blues and funk.

Untethered from my Skyhook , shaven of my schoolboy beard.