Interview with Ian Anderson (and his wife Shona), following his Honorary Degree Ceremony in Edinburgh 11th July 2006
N: Congratulations Ian. The first, obvious, question I must ask you is whether you are going to use the title ‘Doctor’ in your personal or professional life?
I: I was at a TV studio in Germany recently, where Elton John was due to perform, and his grand piano had an ornate cover which had been flown in especially for this TV show. Emblazoned on the quilted cover of the piano it said ‘SIR ELTON JOHN’, and my immediate reaction was that it was tacky, to do that to a title bestowed upon you. In Germany, people actually set great store by honorary titles. My very good friend Claude Nobs in Switzerland, who organises the (Montreaux) jazz festival, has had two titles conferred upon him recently, in the later years of his life, and it would be expected that he would use those titles. I think we have to kind of accept that we have a different culture going on and that here in Britain people don’t like to in any way be seen as if they are showing off or gaining some miserable rank or social status by using them. It’s what’s appropriate. Of course this is a great honour, and there might be an occasion where you slip that in, to that title Doctor after your name, or in fact in front of your name – Doctor Ian Anderson – who knows, there may be somebody in gynaecological distress on a long haul flight somewhere, ‘Is there a Doctor on the plane?’.
S: No, that would be assault.
N: It could also be handy if you wanted to play ‘Doctors and Nurses’
S: Precisely, it’s assault.
I: Well, it’s whatever’s appropriate. I think these things have great weight and gravitas in certain countries of the world. I would never be embarrassed at having a title, whether an honorary one or otherwise. I have to say in all sincerity, and not that it’ll happen, but if somebody said, you know, ‘how do you feel about being put forward for an OBE or MBE?’ then in all honesty I would find that I would really have to think about it for a long time. I’m not sure if I could do that. Its something that has to do with the values that I think are attributed to this sort of occasion, which is obviously in recognition of a broad body of activity, which in the case of my colleague here from the scientific community, (Professor Carmel Mothersill, who was awarded a Science Doctorate at the same ceremony), she obviously has a completely different role to mine, but in a funny kind of way, having been involved in Marine Biology and the sciences associated with aquaculture for many years, I probably could just about have managed a degree in something like that if I’d had to, you know. I’ve certainly read enough books about it, as well as having a lot of practical experience.
N: I believe you dropped out of full time education whilst at Blackpool Art School, to pursue a music career?
I: I was at Art School, and that was about the time when I started playing music, and instead of going on with another two or three years worth of studies, probably to end up being a teacher in a private school somewhere in England teaching Art or whatever, or to have a go at music. That’s the sort of thing you get one opportunity perhaps in your life to try out, and I was always relatively confident about leaving full time education, which could have been a difficult thing, if after a couple of years I’d have to go back to it with my tail between my legs and re-enrol in some kind of meaningful education. It didn’t worry me. I thought if I had to do that, I’d do that, but in the meantime, you give it a shot if you have the opportunity to do something in the musical sense that probably only comes once. I daresay if I’d tried the same thing five years later I’d have had a cat in hell’s chance and I certainly wouldn’t today.
N: Is the Doctorate more of an honour because it comes from your childhood home of Edinburgh?
I: Edinburgh is where I spent, in particular those transition years between early childhood and beginning to find your way out of your nest. My last couple of years in Edinburgh were spent quite joyously in what seemed to be endless hot summers, getting out and about in the countryside, which is where I probably got my passion for the countryside and the rural environment. In those days of course as a child there was no panic about boarding a bus and sitting on it until the end of the line – no fear of molestation, kidnap or being mugged for your cell phone or whatever might happen to youngsters today. It was different kind of lifestyle – good times. I was mortified to leave Edinburgh; it was certainly not my idea.
S: You never forgave them (his parents) for moving.
I: I never really did, but then again, if I hadn’t gone to Blackpool…I might never have played guitar.
S: Take a deep breath (inhales through nose).
I: Can you smell curry?
S: I think I can smell curry.
I: Don’t say that. Do you think it might be lunch?
Excellent interview and pictures...my recent chat with ian had some highlights and gratifying personal chat at the end but overall was not so smooth and featured two or three train wrecks! Ian and Shona together are great.