Looking forward to some of the best shows already announced for 2014, any rock fan would put Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson's Aberdeen and Inverness gigs on their list. Here Ian - voted prog rock god last year - talks about the new album that will feature on the tour alongside some Tull hits. And below, we pick out 10 more must-see nights across the area.
THERE was never a chance veteran rock icon Ian Anderson – Jethro Tull’s singer, flautist and driving force – wouldn’t have picked up his recent prog rock god award.
A couple of months from a long solo tour – taking in Aberdeen's Music Hall on May 20 and Eden Court, Inverness, on May 21 – Ian Anderson explained why you couldn’t have kept him away from Prog magazine’s awards’ ceremony.
“It was a very important and very heartfelt occasion for me,” he said.
“While I don’t give a toss about me being a rock god, I do about supporting the dying embers of the print media.
“I wouldn’t be doing the job I am without the help of people in the media. They weren’t always kind to you – but if you’re a singer in a rock band or a politician you accept the rough comes with the smooth.
“But these days many of us feel that we owe something to media – we have to pay our dues sometimes.
“So when you have a glossy magazine fighting for survival, to stay on the newsagents shelves in the UK, they have something of a minority appeal – and it’s important that people like me go along to the awards ceremony – though with our tongues in in our cheeks.”
Maybe a lot of people who have followed Ian’s progress over 45 years – including selling over 60 million albums with Jethro Tull so far to many solo projects – won’t know the music press inspired his music career in an early job on a newsagents’ stand.
But while many musicians would be happy to settle for a slowing career with a big-name band like Tull, Ian’s energy means he likes to push his music forward.
Last year the band produced a collector’s edition of the 1970 album Benefit, following on from the 40th anniversary edition of Thick As A Brick in 2012.
So much for the past.
But Ian’s now working on a solo album – and it’s a change of musical direction, a concept album promised for release by Easter.
“It goes back to 9am on January 1, 2012 when I decided to do it after a week off for Christmas. You go in at the appointed hour with your flute, laptop, guitar, empty head and file – and start to work.
“It’s amazing how once you get the first little glimmer of an idea it does come thick and fast. After three weeks I had it pretty much mapped out.
“I’ve still got a few weeks to make any changes before we start rehearsals.
“Recording was scheduled to go before and after Christmas, but when everyone else got 10 or so days off, I had to work on the flute and vocal bits and bobs.
“A lot of research goes into a conceptual album and you have a lot of loose ends to keep tying together.”
Ian defines the sound as “folk-prog-metal” and as well as those songs on the tour, there will also be a selection of Jethro Tull highlights.
“I’m like a supermarket shelf, I’m forced to think of different brand names. After all these years, the Jethro Tull brand does suggest a can of Heinz beans – it’s something people rely on and know what they are going to get when they open the packet. You can’t sneak in a bit of curry powder without putting folks out.
“But over the last 15 years, I’ve increasingly done more project-related work, maybe with string quartets or acoustic shows or the cathedral shows I do at Christmas.
“You really have to let people understand that this is going to be a bit different.
“So I use my own name for the project-related things.
“And if you’re lucky enough – and I suppose brave enough – to go and confront people with a whole bunch of stuff that that they can’t possibly know, then you’ve got to make it entertaining.
“It’s got to work on first inspection!”
Hinting at what to expect, Ian said: “It’s not an end to the acoustic and gentler moments, but more of an emphasis on the louder aggressive flute style which marked me out from the earliest days of Jethro Tull.”
PLUS 11 MUST-SEE SHOWS FOR 2014
1 DR FEELGOOD at Inverness Ironworks (Friday, March 13) Even without the magnificent late Lee Brilleaux, the line-up blew the crowd away at their Strathpeffer Pavilion performance last year.
2 JOSH WIDDICOMBE at the Lemon Tree, Aberdeen (Wednesday, April 2) One of the fastest-rising younger stand ups, Josh made his mark on TV in 2012 appearing on Stand Up For The Week, Mock the Week then becoming a regular guest on Channel 4's The Last Leg which returned this year.
3 KING LEAR National Theatre screened live at Eden Court Cinema (Thursday, May 1) Skyfall director Sam Mendes directs Simon Russell Beale – one of the UK’s finest stage actors – in Shakespeare’s tragedy. Encore showings on May 28 and June 8.
4 HOMECOMING SCOTLAND BREW AT THE BOG (Saturday, May 3) The Bogbain Farm festival just outside Inverness has already announced another must-hear line-up with some of Scotland’s best upcoming bands and musicians. This week they've just added in King Creosote.
5 WICKED at His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen (Tuesday, May 5 to Saturday, May 30) It's won 90 international awards and musical Wicked casts its spell with a retelling of the classic The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz and the tale of two sorcery students.
6 TOPLOADER at Strathpeffer Pavilion (Friday, May 16) The band’s back with everyone’s favourite singalong hit Dancing In The Moonlight.
7 LORD OF THE FLIES
at Eden Court (May 28 to 31) Dance genius Matthew Bourne’s new piece is based on William Golding’s book and the film where small boys washed up on a deserted island go feral. Local guys will join the show.
8 MANON Royal Opera House Live screened at Eden Court Cinema (Tuesday, June 24 at 6.45pm) Big-name tenor Jonas Kaufmann plays would-be convent girl Manon’s love Des Grieux in Puccini's opera directed by Anthony Pappano. Manon is on her way to the convent when she meets the young student Des Grieux. The pair fall in love, but when the elderly Geronte offers Manon a life of wealth and luxury instead, her head is turned.
9 MADAMA BUTTERFLY at Eden Court (Thursday and Saturday, June 5 and 7) Scottish Opera return with Puccini’s heartbreaking Japanese story with Korean soprano Hye-Youn Lee – one of The Independent on Sunday’s faces to watch – as Butterfly.
10 PETER ANDRE at Inverness Leisure (Friday, October 17) The loveable reality TV star’s date is sure to include new songs plus the inevitable classic Mysterious Girl.
11 JOAN ARMATRADING at Eden Court (Sunday, October 19) The veteran singer songwriter returns to Inverness on her first solo tour which she has revealed will also be her last major tour.
And there are more North dates now added at the start for the Universal Hall, Findhorn, on Monday, September 22 and also at Woodend Barn, Banchory on September 23.
Joan has said of the tour: "I will never retire.
"But this will be the last major tour that I will undertake.
"For the first time these concerts will be me solo on stage playing the guitar, piano and singing.
"I want these concerts to be a special lively interactive one to one experience.
"I have absolutely enjoyed the last 42 years of performances.
"But now, with my final major tour, I want to capture a unique memory for both myself and the audience."
For a full picture of everything happening in the North of Scotland, keep up to date with our What's On North listings section. If it's going on, it's going in!