Ian Anderson’s musical career extends back to 1962 when he formed his first group, “The Blades.” By 1967 he had joined with guitarist Mick Abrahams, drummer Clive Bunker, bassist Glenn Cornick, and horn player David Palmer to form Jethro Tull. The most important change for Anderson was his instrument of choice was now the flute and it added a unique aspect to their sound.
Tull originally started out as an English blues band with Abrahams and Anderson as the co-leaders. As such, their 1968 debut album This Was is different from all other albums in their vast catalog.
Abrahams was and is at heart a rock/blues guitarist and much of the music contained on this album was a result of his influence. He vision for the group would clash with Anderson’s and he would depart after only one album. He would go on to form Blodwyn Pig and during the late 1990’s re-formed the original members of Jethro Tull, except for Anderson, and toured under the name This Was. He has recently re-established a musical relationship with Anderson.
This Was finds Jethro Tull not trying to be too ambitious, which would happen with both brilliant and not so brilliant results in the future. The energy and the beginnings of Anderson’s madman persona are present but the band performs within its capabilities.
Abrahams’ direct presence is felt on a number of tracks. “My Sunday Feeling” may have been written by Anderson but it is Abrahams’ bluesy guitar which makes the song work. “Beggar’s Farm” is a nice slow blues/rocker and remained a part of their live show for years. “Cat’s Squirrel” is a traditional blues piece, which early Cream would move in a psychedelic direction. “Move On Alone” is the only non-instrumental song by Jethro Tull not to feature a lead vocal by Anderson as Abrahams does the honors.
The song which would look ahead to Tull’s and Anderson’s future is the six minute version of “Serenade to a Cookoo” by Rahsaan Roland Kirk. It was a jazz piece written for the flute and helps Anderson establishes himself as an instrumentalist of note.
Forty-two years after its initial release This Was remains an interesting listen as it presents one of rock’s classic and enduring groups at the beginning of its legendary career. In addition, the music itself holds up well and makes the album worth a listen or two today.