An occasional series featuring LPs boasting ‘fine art’ on their covers, with commentary on the music and something about the art.
JETHRO TULL – Minstrel in the Gallery 
After the patchy but commercially successful Warchild (#2 in the US), Jethro Tull’s eighth album was an energetic and consistently excellent return to form. Combining ballads, tasteful application of strings, lashings of English folk and some of the most piquant guitar-work in recent memory, Minstrel in the Gallery is an unfairly overlooked dish on the Tull menu. Probably the only thing missing for world-wide acclaim and mass consumption was a killer single.
It’s all there in the opening title track: a folky preamble dripping with caustic observation then a kick up with some searing Martin Barre guitar. Add in a couple of time shifts and a rocking reprise of the verse and you have a great opening to the feast.
“Cold Wind to Valhalla” shows that you can engage in Norse mythology without bombast (cf “Immigrant Song” from LZ III) while “Black Satin Dancer” croons, sighs and rocks its ballet shoes off. On side two, extended suite “Baker Street Muse” evokes aspects of Thick as a Brick with shifting tempos and moods and a returning melodic theme that ties it together effectively.
There is an attention to detail here that rewards repeated listening. Probably the only quibble is the somewhat muddy production; the drums are soggy and Ian Anderson’s voice lacks the cut-through clarity that draws you into his story-telling. This aspect is improved on the 2002 CD remaster, which also includes three interesting bonus tracks (two with strings) and a brief live performance teaser of two Minstrel songs.
Overall, a terrific addition to the Jethro Tull larder.
Diary Note: Minstrel in the Gallery was released on 5 September 1975
The lithograph has several alternate names, all sharing a yuletide theme:
Christmas is Coming
Christmas Revels, Hadden Hall
Twelfth Night Revels in the Great Hall
When published in The Mansions of England in the Olden Time in 1912 it bore the caption seen above, perhaps suggesting that they revelled like this not just for Christmas, but the whole year round.
The artist, Joseph Nash [1809 – 1878] was an Englishman who, in addition to being a lithographer, was a painter of watercolours. His architectural works, often enlivened by people occupying the spaces, were very popular.
I love this lithograph. There’s an energy of celebration and fun, unless of course you are the monkey in the ball and chain or the miserable Yeti. Would your six-year-old self be brave enough to ride a crocodile? Look closer…
On the left a persistent suitor is being firmly rebuffed (“I believe you may be inebriated, Mr Weathercock!”) while on the right (of course) stand the Lord and Lady, observing the revels from a safe distance. “Bravo, peasants. Party like it’s 1839!” I rather like that Tull edited out the aristocrats while just squeezing in the chap on the table toasting the band.
Meanwhile, behind and above, as the jests, japes and capers unfold, stand the minstrels in the gallery.
Haddon Hall, Derbyshire: The Banqueting Hall
Joseph Nash [1809 – 1878]
Jethro Tull – Minstrel in the Gallery [Chrysalis/EMI 1975/2002/2015]
In May of 2015, Tull released a “40th Anniversary La Grande Edition” of Minstrel, featuring a new stereo mix (and a 5.1 surround mix) by Steven Wilson. In addition, a bonus CD includes a contemporaneous concert (Paris, July 1975) and a short live film. The album also includes some BBC versions of Minstrel songs. Full details at the band’s website here.
The previous Art On Your Sleeve posts were:
#1 Procol Harum – Exotic Birds and Fruit
#2 Osibisa – Osibirock [with JDB]