Playing the flute on one leg, Anderson’s jester-like image turned the prog rockers into global stars in the 70s. With their first new album in 20 years, he talks about the passion behind the pomp – and why he could never be ‘generic, like the Stones and the Who’

When I last interviewed Ian Anderson, leader of multimillion-selling prog rockers Jethro Tull, in 1993, he told me that 2000 would be a good time to hang up his flute. “I think I was confusing myself with British Airways pilots who, when they turn 65, are out,” he counters today. “If you’re a professional tennis player and fully vaccinated, you might manage to play on until you’re in your late 30s. But those of us in arts and entertainment get to die with our boots on, like John Wayne in a black-and-white western.”

Appraising Anderson’s face on my laptop screen, I could easily knock a decade off his 74 years, but it’s still hard to reconcile this loquacious, informed analyser of politics and history with the wild hippy dervish he was circa 1970, famous for playing his flute on one leg. His troll-like hair vanished long ago, but that passage of time is “both romantic and encouraging, because it means we can keep on paying our grandchildren’s school fees in our old age. There are others older than me who are still doing their stuff. Mick Jagger’s trousers keep going up and down, so all’s well with the world.”

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