Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Dee Palmer (Jethro Tull)

So far, we have dealt with 4 of the 6 letters of the LGBTQI spectrum. We have dealt with the L(esbian), the G(ay), B(isexual), and Q(ueer). Today we will deal with the I(ntersex) and the T(ransgender).


Dee (formerly David) Palmer (London, 2 July 1937), is an English composer, arranger, and keyboardist best known for having been a member of the progressive rock group Jethro Tull from 1977 to 1980. How does Palmer belong in this narrative? In her own words: "My mother told me something and it became very evident to me once I was able to make comparisons. I was born into what was called the intersex space; there was clear and obvious genital ambiguity. I had to have surgery when I was only a few hours old. I had my last surgery when I was 28 years of age. The only people I was able to make my observations from growing up were my brothers. Once I became aware of the female shape and constitution I knew something was seriously wrong."

"I was born into a mining community in the West Midlands in England - it was a steel bashing and coal digging area. You actually don’t go around saying you were born a girl because people would just have not have understood. I was able to talk to my mother about it. She was conciliatory but said that I would just have to get on with life the way it is. When I met Maggie (his future wife), I explained to her that I had great difficulty getting to age 18 and not turning into a female and she told me that I was probably not the only one. When Mom and Maggie had both died - my two closest friends - I had to deal with it once again. It had been repressed; that is why I waited all this time."

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Palmer studied composition at the Royal Academy of Music with Richard Rodney Bennett, winning the Eric Coates Prize and The Boosey and Hawkes Prize and during her studentship taught clarinet to second study students.

Going about her early career as a jobbing arranger and conductor of recording sessions, she recorded a first album project, Nicola, in 1967 with the legendary Bert Jansch, Scottish hero of the then folk scene. From that album, here's Woe Is Love, My Dear:


She was then was referred to Terry Ellis, the then manager of the early Jethro Tull, who were making their first album This Was (1968) at Sound Techniques Studio in Chelsea, London, courtesy of Terry’s father’s £800 loan. At extremely short notice, David came up with arrangements for the horns and strings on the Mick Abraham’s composition, Move on Alone. It was the only Jethro Tull lead vocal not performed by Ian Anderson on a studio album, since Mick Abraham decided to sing the song himself.


This speed of work and professional performance endeared her at once to the band and she was soon to visit the boys again in the studio with the brilliant string quartet arrangement to A Christmas Song, one side of their first hit single (#29, UK). The other side contained Love Story. Here's A Christmas Song:


In Jethro Tull's second album, Stand Up (1969), Palmer did the string arrangements and served as a conductor on Reasons for Waiting:


Palmer also did the orchestral arrangements in JT's third album, Benefit (1970). From that album, here's To Cry You a Song:


... also from the same album, here's Teacher:


Jethro Tull's next album, Aqualung from 1971, was their best, as well as my favorite. Palmer was still on board. We'll listen to a number of songs from this album. First is the title track:


This is Cross Eyed Mary:


This is Mother Goose:


This is Wond'ring Aloud:


This is My God:


This is Hymn 43:


This is the majestic Locomotive Breath:


And this is the closing track, appropriately titled Wind Up:


Jethro Tull's next album, Thick as a Brick (1972) contains a continuous piece of music, split over two sides of an LP. Thick as a Brick was deliberately crafted in the style of a concept album and a general parody of the genre. The original packaging, designed like a newspaper, claims the album to be a musical adaptation of an epic poem by the fictional 8-year-old genius Gerald Bostock, though the lyrics were actually written by the band's frontman, Ian Anderson. Here's an excerpt:


Living in the Past, also released in 1972, was a quasi-compilation collection, which contains album tracks, out-takes, and non-LP singles. From it, here's the title track, a hit single (UK #3, Ireland #5, US #11, New Zealand #15, Canada #16).


And here's Sweet Dream, a #7 single in the UK in 1969:


A Passion Play (1973), like its predecessor, Thick as a Brick, is a concept album, comprising individual songs arranged into a single continuous piece of music. Here's an an excerpt:


Jethro Tull's follow-up album, War Child (1974) was their most accessible to date, and Palmer's orchestrations were more prominent than ever. Here's the title track:


Bungle in the Jungle was a #12 hit in the US:


Skating Away on the Thin Ice of the New Day was also a single:


Minstrel in the Gallery (1975) came next. Here's the title track:


From the same album, here's Requiem, featuring nothing but Anderson's singing and acoustic guitar, Hammond's bass, and a small string orchestra conducted by Palmer.


Tull's next album was Too Old to Rock 'n' Roll: Too Young to Die! Here's From a Dead Beat to an Old Greaser:


Here's the album's title track:


During the tour to promote Too Old to Rock 'n' Roll: Too Young to Die! Palmer became a regular member of the group, and remained as such until 1980, when he left Jethro Tull. Their album for 1977 was Songs from the Wood. It was the best critically received album since Thick as a Brick and was their last Top 10 album in the US. Here's the title track:


As Palmer herself had said, "I think (my role in the band) was all directed towards one album. From July of 1968 to September of 1976, in that period of time my involvement in the group led me to the album Songs From The Wood. My input on that album is colossal. Ian wrote the songs and the words but the way that album sticks together is down to me, and I am very proud of that. All that I had done in the past led me up to that. I am mighty proud of my contribution to Jethro Tull. The end of Ring Out Solstice Bells I wrote. I told Ian that I knew what the ending had to be. It is based about the notes that a bell makes. I wrote it and recorded it and played all the parts. It goes backwards against itself and it goes upside down against itself." Here it is:


From the same album, here's The Whistler:


Heavy Horses (1978), was another well-reviewed album. From it, here's No Lullaby:


Moths featured some of David Palmer's most tasteful orchestral arrangements:


The album's closing track was Weathercock:


Stormwatch (1979) marked the end of an era in Jethro Tull's history, as the last album on which longtime members Barriemore Barlow, John Evan, and David Palmer participated, and the final appearance of bassist John Glascock, who played on three of the cuts (Anderson supplied the bass elsewhere) and died following open-heart surgery a few weeks after its release.

The reviews for the album were so-so. A track that stood out was Dark Ages:


The album's closing track was Elegy, an instrumental composed by Palmer:


In 1980, leader Ian Anderson intended to release the album A with other musicians as a solo project, but was persuaded by his record label to release it instead under the Jethro Tull name. This resulted in every member of the group, including Palmer, leaving except guitarist Martin Barre and Anderson himself. Palmer formed a new group, Tallis, with former Jethro Tull pianist and organist John Evan, Dave Bristow (who, later, went on to work on the development of the Yamaha DX7), Mickey Barker (drums) and Bill Worrall (bass and vocals).

In Palmer's words: "We rehearsed for a couple of months. Together with other pieces which I’d written specially for the group, I arranged Debussy’s Sunken Cathedral and some parts of Beethoven’s Fifth symphony – I’d already scored the scherzo from the 9th symphony for the Tullettes. We performed just two gigs. The first was at West Clandon Parish Church, the other at Surrey University."

"We recorded all the material we had rehearsed and performed and attracted very favourable comments from EMI, Decca and Virgin with all of them urging us to go on the road and get a fan base together, but Dave Bristow was offered the Yamaha job, I was no good at trying to organize other people’s lives and be responsible for providing an income stream for them so we called it a day. That’s it."

The only song that was released was Disturbed Air, which was recorded as the band played it, all in real time.


Palmer returned to film scoring and sessions. She also produced several albums of orchestral arrangements of the music of various rock groups, including Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Yes, the Beatles and Queen.

The album A Classic Case (1985) featured Jethro Tull playing with the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Palmer. Here's a medley of Teacher / Bungle in the Jungle / Rainbow Blues / Locomotive Breath:


From the tribute to Genesis, recorded in 1987 with the London Symphony Orchestra again, here's I Know What I Like. Ian Anderson's on flute:


Here's Undertow / Supper's Ready:


In 1991 she conducted the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in a tribute to Pink Floyd. Here's Another Brick in the Wall Part 1 / the Happiest Days of Our Lives / Another Brick in the Wall Part 2:


Here's Money:


... And here's Wish You Were Here:


In 1993 she was in charge of a tribute to Yes, collaborating with the English Chamber Orchestra and the London Community Gospel Choir. Here's Roundabout:


Next we have Wonderous Stories:


... And finally from this album, here's Heart Of The Sunrise:


In 1994, Palmer was appointed a Fellow of The Royal Academy of Music. That same year, Palmer collaborated with The Royal Academy Of Music Symphony Orchestra and recorded the Orchestral Sgt. Pepper's - Orchestral Arrangements Of The Classic Beatles Album. This album is not on youtube, so, moving on...

In 1995 his wife Maggie died, and his mother died around the same time. This shook Palmer to the core; in his words: "My psychiatrist eventually concluded that the reason for me to once again face the impossible task of coping with this dissatisfaction of myself as a male was caused directly by the loss of the two people who meant more to me than anyone else in this world. They went in such quick succession that the shock dragged this out of the uttermost place where it had been repressed and brought it back to the surface and made me have to deal with it again."

So Palmer decided to go through the process of transitioning to female. Her children and close friends were aware of what was going on, and in 1998 she publicly came out as Dee Palmer.

Meanwhile, she made A Symphonic Tribute to Queen in 1996. It's not on youtube either, except for a promo, which I present to you:


More recently Dee recorded an album, Norske Popklassikerf with the London Symphony Orchestra, performing the rock and pop classics of contemporary Norwegian composers earning a gold album for sales in the Norwegian charts in the process.


Dee's musical journey continues and those incredible musical talents are still in demand. I will close with a quote from Dee herself, responding as to whether she's afraid that people will judge her harshly for being a transgender person: "I think you have probably gathered by now that I have the tools to defend myself as well as express myself. One of the psychiatrists pointed out to me that when I was born I was given a handful of cards to play. A lot of them were enviable cards. I also had the transsexual card to play. I had to learn how to keep that card in my hand while I was playing the others. It does not lie within the gift of everyone who has gender dysphoria to be able to equip themselves on the manner and style and experience that I have. I use it not to defend but to inform people, perhaps disarmingly. Most people that are regressive or don’t understand need leading on. I am fearless on those grounds. It would be awful if I had put myself through what I did and come out on the other end as some kind of quivering heap, jellified pile of negativity. What would have been the use?"

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