Martin Barre

Martin Lancelot Barre was born in 1946, in Kings Heath, outside Birmingham.
“I was born in 1946 and when I see photos of post-war Britain, the kids playing amongst the rubble, houses missing, the terrible, terrible mess, it’s not the Britain that I experienced. By the early 50s, you know, most of the rebuilding had been done. The post-war years were obviously very grim with rationing, so by 50s things were getting better for everyone and they didn’t want to talk about the war. People had moved on from it.”
“My grandad was a violinist in Paris and a chef when he couldn’t get work as a violinist! He moved to London and then Birmingham. My dad and his brother co-owned a quite big engineering factory in Birmingham, but then in the late 50s there was a real depression in manufacturing, particularly in the metal industry. My parents had a to sell their house, they pretty much lost everything. But I wasn’t aware of it. I was at a state school, so the only thing would be that the kids had brand new school gear and mine would be second-hand. But I didn’t draw the implication of that. My mom and dad couldn’t afford it and you just sort of accepted that. I have a great family background, great parents. Me and my sister had a good childhood, a normal suburban life.”

Martin’s sister brought him to his first show, Mike Sheridan and The Nightriders.
“When I was 14, my sister was 17. She was going out, to what you’d call a club, where they serve Coca-Cola and everybody sort of jives. She said there’s a band playing in this club and we should really go and hear them. So I went down there and just the noise, the sound, it was all one thing. I was just spell bound by this group. I was sort of an awkward kid, you know, I wasn’t a rebel, I wasn’t an academic, I wasn’t in a gang, I didn’t seem to belong anywhere but when I saw this group I just found my niche. I bought a guitar and started playing straight away.”
“I didn’t want to take A levels because all the kids weren’t cool, I didn’t want to wear a school uniform. I just saw the kids of my age in suits, with their hair greased back so I wanted to be part of that life. I was offered three alternatives for a career, to get to college to be a lawyer, an accountant or an architect. I just thought out of the three architecture sounds the least boring. So I went to a lower college, it was like a general building and surveying architecture course, and according to how you
did, you branched out in one of the legs of that trade. I was already playing in a band, and then the next level was a university, in Coventry, and I just failed the first year. I was doing so much playing, I just hardly cared about my studies.”
“We played 50s rock. Little Richard, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Elvis Presley, Cliff Richard, The Shadows, it’s what all the kids were listening to. We met these guys who played for Screaming Lord Sutch’s band, they were a couple of rogues really, and they invited us to London, telling us we could be professional musicians. When we turned up they were like… what the hell are you doing here? So we drove to Dean Street because somebody said that’s where all the music publishers were, that’s
where you’d find work. We then spent a whole day at Dean Street, there was nobody there. So we went back to Birmingham, and I just thought, there’s no jobs in London!”

Martin’s friend Chris Rogers helped them get their first professional jobs, in Bognor Regis, near Brighton.
“In the Melody Maker there was an advert for a sax-trumpet player and a sax-guitar player. Chris said he found this band and they’re in Bognor Regis, near Brighton and he got an audition with them. Now I’d already played flue, but I didn’t have a saxophone. I bought a cheap sax and literally spent the weekend learning how to blow a couple of octaves on it. We went down to Bognor and amazingly we got the job! They were the Noblemen. Beau Brummell, a sort of flamboyant PJ Proby type character,
had already given up, but some of the band carried on, and that’s where Chris and I came in. They were really nice people and that was the band for three years.”
“It started off as the Noblemen and then it was the The Penny Peeps, it was Motivation, and then it was Gethsemane. We just changed as fashion changed, there would be soul music, and then it would be psychedelic music, and the when the blues train arrived in England, everybody started waking to the fact that guitars were actually cool instruments. I felt great, I could through away the saxophone and get the guitar out again. So the blues band version of that generic band was Gethsemane. We changed our name again and sort of overnight became a blues band playing twelve-bar blues.“
“You’d have periods where you wouldn’t have any work for a few weeks. You could only go on the dole once and get paid for only two weeks if you couldn’t get a job in your own field. They’d say, “well you can go out and be a bricklayer, a laborer, or you can’t get any more money”. So the two weeks we were on the dole, we live like lords. We never had that much money before. It was about 7 pounds a week and it was more money than I had ever seen. We were having big fry-ups for breakfast: eggs, beans, tomato, sausage, bacon, chips, every morning. It was the timing, Gethsemane were running out of steam, the passion had gone. But it was a good band, and I played guitar and flute.”
Martin was first drawn to Jethro Tull’s because of its guitarist Mick Abrahams.
“I was living with the drummer in a flat in Chiswick, and he said he’d just heard a band that I’d just love, the guy is like Eric Clapton, fuzzy hair and plays really great guitar. Eventually I did and I thought, you know, if there was a band that I would like to be in it would be that band. And then a couple of months after that, we had a gig in Plymouth at the Van Dyke Club, and we were their support band. So they heard us play, and also I was doing all the Roland Kirk stuff on the flute, in parallel to them.
I had only heard Ian play only a couple of weeks before that. So we had a lot of things in common, and when Mick Abrahams left the band three or four months later, Gethsemane were about to call it a day. I was going to go back to the university and take up where I left off. But they called me and said “we had trouble finding you because we didn’t know your name or how to get in touch with you”. The rest is history!”

Within a month of joining Jethro Tull, Martin found himself opening for Jimi Hendrix in Scandinavia and Led Zeppelin and Vanilla Fudge in the United States.
“You know, being a musician was always a long-term project. We were learning how to play, slowing getting better, and then we could try and play more innovative music. We were opening for incredible people, playing with Hendrix within a month of joining. I was absolutely petrified but he was a nice guy so that put me at ease. And when we came to the States, we just played with everybody, every huge band all within my first year. But you couldn’t just wither under the pressure of all that great music. You just had to fight yourself, here are the demons, and get off your butt and get better. It was a good environment to be a better musician because there was no being left by the wayside in those days.”
“The 70s were exciting. It was nonstop. It was all about work. I can’t remember being at home. A certain girlfriend just got fed up with being left on her own. We didn’t have commitments, not like you would now, house, kids, pets, bills. You just sort of locked the door and went on the road for three months. We were learning how to be a band, how to manage a band, how to manage tours. There was a realization that it was becoming a business and the business was competitive. And if you wanted
to stay solvent, you had to fight to do it. You couldn’t just get up and do the same stuff. New albums every year, or every other year, then off to tour the whole world: Australia, all the States, Canada, all of Europe, all the UK. That was a great time to be an expanding and emerging band, because all the infrastructure was there. The audiences were so receptive to music. They just wanted to go and see live music. It was great, English bands did amazingly well. People loved English bands, of course we were
just recycling American music!”