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Martin Lancelot Barre (/bɑːr/; born 17 November 1946) is an English rock musician best known for his work with progressive rock band Jethro Tull, with whom he recorded and toured from their second album in 1969 to the band's dissolution in 2014. In early 1990's he initiated a solo career that now spawned four studio albums plus several guest appearances.
He has also played the flute and other instruments such as the mandolin, both on-stage for Jethro Tull and in his own solo work.
Born in Kings Heath, Birmingham, West Midlands, England, Martin studied architecture for three years, not finishing his studies due to failing in Spanish and Atomic Science, two subjects Martin thought "had little to do with designing buildings". After doing one job in the area, Martin found being an architect was a "boring career", opting for music instead.
Martin start playing the saxophone in 1966, in small bands. Then, when he joined the group "Motivation", a gig was offered and even a contract to record a single call "Lady Godiva", written by Liberty Records songwriter Elton John. The band changed their name to Gethsemane, playing in pubs with Barre taking both guitar and flute. Gethsemane toured in 1968 with Jethro Tull, and as Martin knew they were needing a guitar player, he offered himself for the job. By the end of the year, he was already playing with Jethro Tull and learning the material of what was going to be Stand Up.
On the first album that Barre recorded with Jethro Tull, Stand Up, he said that he was: "terrified because I had just joined the band. It really showed a change in direction for the band and when it was accepted and became a successful album, we gained a lot of confidence. We extended that confidence into the making of Benefit, in which we were a lot more at ease". On the next album, the world success Aqualung, Martin was more confident, stating that in the recording: "Everybody [the band] had input into the making of the album".
In the following period, his solos blended virtuosity with classical music, like on Minstrel in the Gallery, where the opening track has a four-minute solo, or his piece (shared with Barrie Barlow) "Conundrum" and "Quatrain" in Bursting Out. Martin declared that much of the material from Jethro Tull catalogue was written by himself and Ian Anderson, with Ian getting the credit for writing the lyrics and having the initial idea for the music, which: "then I, or someone else in the band, contribute parts to it". There are two albums where he is credited for having put "additional material", both classics Songs From The Wood and Heavy Horses, which Martin has already stated to be two of the albums which show his best playing. Curiously, his favourite album in Jethro Tull is the most controversial of the band's career, Under Wraps, which contains two tracks co-authored by him. On his work with Jethro Tull, Martin also stated: "I'm quite pleased with my playing on Crest of a Knave, which was basically me, Ian and [bassist] Dave Pegg working in the studio for two months, so I had ample time to put a lot of myself into that album". He is credited in only another two tracks of Jethro Tull albums: "Hot Mango Flush", from J-Tull Dot Com and "Winter Snowscape" from The Jethro Tull Christmas Album. For his contribution to Jethro Tull music, Martin stated: "I've done bits and pieces on albums. Sometimes it's a riff; sometimes it's a little segment of music [...] I don't mind taking a small role in the writing, and a larger input into the arrangement and playing."
On one track of 1994's A Trick of Memory, Barre plays a guitar given to him by friend Mark Mancina. In the album, King Crimson alumnus Mel Collins plays the saxophone, and Fairport Convention's Martin Allcock and Ric Sanders appear on a couple of tracks, and Andy Giddings plays Hammond organ. According to the AllMusic review: "the dominant sound is Barre's guitars, soaring, crunching, grinding, or noodling gently, either blues or English folk tunes", to the reviewer, the album is "a decent debut album". A Summer Band was released only in limited edition.
In 2003 on his album Stage Left, Barre used an unusual electric guitar style shaped by folk/acoustic and hard rock elements. It was his first album to be released in the United States. In the album, Martin shows his style of playing with "tricky and complicated" melodies, being always "elegant, even when he's rocking hard".
In 2012, with the end of Jethro Tull touring, Martin assembled a band to tour and record the compilation/live titled Martin Barre. The line up included former Tull members Jonathan Noyce and Doane Perry (who split duties with drummer Fred Moreau), John Mitchell, guitarist Pat O'May.
In 2014, Martin announced that he is going to tour as an acoustic quartet (including Dan Crisp and Alan Bray) to promote Away With Words, which already was well received by the Prog Magazine, saying that in the album: "Barre has taken an imaginative approach to his own past by readdressing many of his favourite, often more obscure, nuggets from lull's [sic] vast cache, chiefly on acoustic guitar". Still in 2014, a new album was announced to be released in September, called Order of Play
Martin Barre announced his sixth solo album in 2015. Called Back to Steel, Barre says the album is a blues rock recording.
Barre once said that he tried not to listen to other guitarists so that he would not be influenced by them. He said he never took guitar lessons so that he would not sound like other players. However, one guitarist he has praised and recognized as being an influence is Leslie West, from the American band Mountain.
Reviewers have sometimes described Martin Barre's sound as "tricky" and "complicated", highlighting his ability to compose melodies instead of simply soloing.
His best-known guitar work includes "Aqualung", "Cross-Eyed Mary", and "Locomotive Breath". Barre's signature solo on the 1971 Jethro Tull standard "Aqualung" was voted by the readers of Guitar Player magazine as one of the top rock guitar solos of all time. Also, in 2007, this solo was rated one of the 100 Greatest Guitar Solos by Guitar World magazine. Still on Aqualung, Martin earned the 25th best solo ever in the USA and 20th best solo ever in the UK.
Dire Straits' leader Mark Knopfler, in a 2005 interview, called Barre's work with Ian Anderson "magical".
Joe Bonamassa includes Martin Barre as a direct influence, especially in the blues playing of the early albums. Other guitarists like Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and Eric Johnson also include Martin Barre as their influence.
Rush's Geddy Lee mentions the "great guitar sounds" of Martin Barre when remembering the album Thick as a Brick.