Jethro Tull. Simply writing the words here feels like entering some kind of permanently culturally forbidden territory, a hidden world that we are told permanently not to enter. It was punk that did it, of course. The conscious “Englishness” of this band and others like them fell from favour literally overnight, and they were consigned to years of lower-profile existence interrupted only by a typically clueless Grammy Award for the best *hard rock* album at some point in the 80s. They still record, but I doubt whether even Mojo magazine takes much notice these days, and from 1972 onwards they gradually became more successful in the US and Europe than the UK, which shouldn’t really have surprised anyone. As anyone from Johnny and the Hurricanes to And Also The Trees can tell you, a conscious appropriation of your national cultural past generally gives you a greater appreciation *outside* your home country. Pop audiences worldwide tend to turn to their music as an escape from their own national “roots”, while audiences in other countries will often find a certain escapism and exoticism in those images.

Listening to this music now is like going through an old album of dusty black-and-white family photos, a cultural diversion only *just* beginning to be re-evaluated. Much of it is deeply unmemorable – Tull were, on this evidence, a fucking atrocious band much of the time, with far too many extended rock workouts (the general rule is that the closest they get to heavy rock, the worse they are) and bear in mind that these are live recordings from 1978, the time and place where all the worst aspects of 70s rock were the most overplayed. Nothing matches the utter genius of “The Maypole Song” and other soundtrack music from The Wicker Man, which was written at roughly the same time. *But* … the best songs here (“Hunting Girl”, “Jack in the Green”, “One Brown Mouse” and the wonderful reflection on mortality and permanance “Skating Away On The Thin Ice Of A New Day”) are affecting, inspirational, evocative of a personal journey, and highly suggestive of Britain at a particularly fascinating stage of reconciling its past and future, trapped beautifully between the obsessive futurism of the Telstar era and the shameless immunisation-from-now of Poundbury et al. They’re also infinitely better than any more “purist” take on the same style I’ve ever heard.

In many ways, the whole rock-as-Englishness phase of 1968-76 was a repeat of the early 20th Century craze for collecting and archiving the past, which gave rise to cultural products as diverse as Thomas Hardy’s novels (chronicling a way of life already disappearing into the past) and the “hey-nonny-no” light operettas of Edward German. It’s not too difficult to see this music as the offshoot of a similar feeling, feeling pushed by the still relatively new influence of television to look back into its past, and to reconcile that history with the forces seen as its inevitable destroyers. While its utter domination in the early-mid 70s over the urban English dystopia of punk was a narrowing and restricting influence, its complete removal from most pop consciousnesses for the last 23 years is every bit as constricting.

I’m writing this the weekend BBC Radio 2, long Britain’s most reliably MOR network, airs a punk documentary – maybe Momus is right that this stuff, at its best (and you have to fight long and hard through the dross to find the good stuff, mind) is now more subversive than what seemed to utterly confine it to history. The fact that it relies upon the same English imagery that I’ve always tried desperately not to be defined by just makes it all the more intriguing.