Time hasn't taken its toll on Tull

WHAT I find so un-nerving about rock legends strutting their stuff decades on from crazy-hair heydays is that their journey is your journey - and the ravages of time have taken place both on stage and in the audience.

Nigel Pickover

WHAT I find so un-nerving about rock legends strutting their stuff decades on from crazy-hair heydays is that their journey is your journey - and the ravages of time have taken place both on stage and in the audience.

When I first started loving the folk-rock gods of Jethro Tull, my gold-spangled locks dangled closer to waistline than shoulder. And at 17 I was allowed to play the band's signature song, Aqualung, to my school's assembly.

Then, Tull were the hairiest of the early rock legends. Their spell-binding, flute-led, earthy rock, blues and folk tunes capturing the hearts of a generation of rebels who partied long and hard and, for the blokes at least, thought baldness would never come.

Today, for many, the follicle challenges of the 21st century have arrived and the sell-out audience at Ipswich's Regent Theatre have endured a battle scar or two along the way. Gone are the days when the throng would have stormed the stage at the first sign of frontman Ian Anderson's flute.

The fans are still there - it was fabulous to see the Regent packed to the rafters in a 1,650 sell-out - but this is a more discerning audience now. The crowd jumped to its feet only at the end, when Aqualung and Locomotive Breath belted down upon us.

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This was billed as Tull's 40th anniversary tour and it is worth putting the band's incredible history into perspective. Anderson and Co were on the road a full ten years before Ipswich Town won the FA Cup in 1978.

What is in no doubt is the quality of the band's musicianship which, like a good claret, benefits from the caress of time.

Let's start with 60-year-old Ian Anderson; this charismatic and learned, Isle of Skye-loving singer and flute maestro bounds around the stage with all the passion of those years so long ago.

As he plays, with leg constantly cocked up into the air, you feel as if the stage manager should plant this pedigree hound his own lamp-post to lean against. Anderson narrated the evening in style, taking the audience through the four-decade journey with wit and knowledge thanks to an incredible memory of dates and places. Top stuff.

Lead guitarist Martin Lancelot Barre, a little older than Anderson, has lost none of the raunchy guitar riffs that marked him out as one of the axe greats from the earliest days.

Barre has stayed with Anderson throughout a journey which saw Tull crack both the European and American music scene - today, as in yesteryear, when the Eagles once supported the boys in the US.

Barre is older, balder, greyer and wiser now - but he shares Anderson's passion for the musical journey to go on. There's no sign of these two OAP rockers putting away their instruments just yet.

Highlights for me were a shortened Thick as a Brick from the album of the same name; Heavy Horses, another title track; Nursey and a couple of tracks from stunning emerging violinist Anna Pheby who joined the band as a support instead of singing before the stars came on. Nice touch, guys.

Ipswich has an enduring love affair with Tull, a real band still going strong into a fifth decade and not some clever tribute outfit, and Anderson and Co will be welcomed back to Suffolk for a long time yet.

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