For four decades Ian Anderson has been fronting bluesinfluenced band Jethro Tull. As he prepares to perform in the North-East, he tells Steve Pratt why he shuns the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle in favour of a book and the news on TV.

NOT for Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson the sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll lifetyle. No wild parties, druginduced hazes or nights on the town. After a gig, you’re more likely to find him curled up with a good book or catching up with the news on TV.

What he does demand is a good curry. So the night before Jethro Tull play in a marquee, in South Shields, next month, he’ll be looking for the best Indian restaurant in town to have king prawn vindaloo and half a pint of Indian beer.

He’s been the familiar figure – standing on one leg playing the flute – at the front of Jethro Tull for more than four decades.

Separating Anderson the performer from Anderson the person is not easy, it is just that you push the acclerator a bit harder for the period you’re on stage, he says, adding: “It’s the same engine doing everything, you just wind up the performance a little bit.

“I come off stage and want peace and quiet and solitude. I like to sit in my hotel bedroom and watch CNN, get a decent night’s sleep. I’m a simple soul really – I don’t party or hang out with the guys. I just like to read a book.”

Growing up, his musical influences were blues and jazz men, many of whom were already dead, killed by drug habits. “In a sense it was one of the things that warned me off drugs at an early age. I’ve always tended to eschew the chemicals that abounded in my teenage and later years,” he explains.

“It’s clearly difficult for a lot of people who are seduced into stereotypical behaviour. It’s a lifestyle that people feed into. It does exert a strong pull for a lot of people, but I also think you’ll find a lot who are quite normal, some pretty regular girls and guys.”

As for the demands made by some artists on tour, he notes that his wife is his tour accountant and relates to him stories, told to her by promoters, about the diva-ish demands made by other performers. He doesn’t approve. It would be nice, he adds, if these people were slapped down.

Heaven forbid, if this early to bed, no drugs attitude makes Anderson sound boring. No one who’s survived in the music business for more than 40 years could be that.

Tull never was an ordinary band, not least because of their common love of the blues at a time when pop was under the influence of groups like The Beatles.

Band members have come and gone but composer, singer and flautist Anderson has stayed the course. The band now has some 30-or-so albums to its credit with sales of more than 50 million and still doing about 120 gigs a year.

He both endures and enjoys touring. For him, the challenge is getting there. He said: “That’s not necessarily enjoyable in the back of a van or plane, with the possible exception of trains which I enjoy. Much of your day is spent just getting on with it, getting up early in the morning and going to bed late at night.

“It becomes increasingly difficult because I’m not a happy flyer and don’t enjoy long flights. It’s stressful trying to get around with our equipment and baggage. There’s the economic pressure and the rules get tighter and tighter, become more of a hassle.

“It can be both stressful and tiring, particularly for the crew because their working day starts as soon as they get to the venue. The concerts are an easy couple of hours that live in the middle when you do something that’s a bit more for fun.”

Tull will be performing in a giant marquee at Gypsies Green Stadium, South Shields, during a weekend of celebrations surrounding this year’s Bupa Great North Run.

THE day after we spoke Anderson was travelling to Israel where Tull were appearing in Tel Aviv. The trip had entailed an email to former PM Tony Blair – not for musical tips but advice in his guise as a Middle East peace envoy.

Anderson determined if he performed again in Israel, the money would go to charity and, aware of trouble caused over some “Biblical real estate”, he wanted to ensure the groups selected don’t favour one side or the other.

On the subject of charity, if you’re ever in India and visit Mumbai look out for an ambulance bearing the Jethro Tull name. It was bought with the proceeds of a charity concert staged after the band was caught up in the terrorist attack and hotel siege a few years back.

He tells me that the interview after mine is with the Jerusalem Post and knows that he will be asked something along the lines of “All these other gigs have cancelled, why have you chosen to go?”

Anderson could, of course, afford to sit at home and do nothing. But he’s not about to do that. “It’s not just about going out there and making tons of money, it’s about going out there and doing things you want to do,” he says.

He likes going to places he has visited before and having the opportunity to stand there and see something and know something he didn’t know the day before. “I always enjoy my little expeditions. I travel alone when I can and usually on a train. No one pays attention to a little balding old man.”

Although the North-East gig is linked with the Great North Run, he won’t be tempted to join the run. He regales me with details of injuries to ankle and knee that rule out that kind of exercise. He also had a deep vein thrombosis “and nearly ended up snuffing it in hospital in Sydney”. It taught him a valuable life lesson about taking care of himself and he considers himself in better shape now than he was ten to 15 years ago.

There’s no fear that he’ll not be able to stand on one leg playing the flute as fans expect. Photographers demand that too.

“I make a point of doing it in the first couple of songs so the professional photographers can get their picture, then leave and not block the view of the ticket-buying public,” he says.

Inevitably, he’s given some thought as to why Jethro Tull has been so successful for so long.

For a generation of people in their 40s and 50s, even their 60s, the band is a little reminder of a period of their lives that makes them understand who they are and where they come from.

But the audience also includes 20-year-olds, often the children of the older fans.

“It’s a way of discovering who your parents are and who you are, or will become. It’s bringing people together in that family way. As a teenager I grew up listeninig to old people and now I’m witnessing what happened when I was a teenager.”

■ Jethro Tull perform at Gypsies Green, Sea Road, South Shields, on Friday, September 17.

Gates open 6.30pm, with the concert being standing room only (no reservations). Tickets are £27.50 from The Customs House box office, on 0191-454-1234, or online at customshouse. (booking fee applies). They can be collected from The Customs House, in Mill Dam, or the Customs House Shop, in King Street, both in South Shields.