Canterbury Rocks

Legendary rock stars Ian Anderson, Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson and Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues are performing together in a fundraising Christmas Concert in Canterbury Cathedral. Kent Life spoke to Jethro Tull frontman to find our more

Canterbury Rocks

Legendary rock stars Ian Anderson, Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson and Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues are performing together in a fundraising Christmas Concert in Canterbury Cathedral. Kent Life spoke to Jethro Tull frontman to find our more

What’s brought you back to Canterbury Cathedral?

It’s all about supporting the community in its broadest sense. I’ve been doing charity gigs for many years, my first was back in 1971 at Carnegie Hall for victims of drug abuse in New York.

In more recent years I’ve had a more direct involvement with the church, for example I’ve done charity concerts at St Bride’s in Fleet Street – and I decided to broaden that out. Two years ago I did a fundraising concert at Exeter Cathedral and last year performed for the first time at Canterbury Cathedral with guests such as Greg Lake and we raised more than �20,000 towards the conservation programme.   

Canterbury are very switched on, others don’t have the experience or the will to get bums on seats, which is what it’s all about. I do feel a certain pride about being the catalyst to put bums on seats.

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Are you a Christian?

I’m not a Christian with a capital ‘C’ but I do have Christian sentiments and see absolutely no contradiction in not being a Christian and playing in the Cathedral.

Many Cathedrals have tended to become like tourist attractions – I recently went to York Cathedral and there was a service going on in a roped-off area with only about 10 people in the congregation, yet the rest of the building was packed with sightseers taking pictures with their cameras and cell phones.

Of course Cathedrals should be open to visitors but ultimately it’s what happens when the tourists have gone that’s important. The average age of churchgoers is my age – 64 – and that needs to be urgently addressed.

Aren’t Canterbury’s acoustics tricky?

The trick is to play quietly but to have good distribution of sound to contend with the reverberations – you almost have to be whisper-quiet – with careful positioning of different speakers to try to disperse the music throughout the Cathedral.

It’s a bit of a trade-off really, the more exciting the architecture, the more intrinsically difficult it is musically.

What sort of music can we expect?

Happily, my guests have both chosen songs that suit the occasion and the building. Justin will be doing a couple of classic Moody Blues tracks which don’t require a heavy rhythmic accompaniment while Bruce, who is known as a heavy metal yodeller, has wisely chosen English hymns and will be doing one more or less a cappella and very lightly orchestrated.

It will be a Christmas-related repertoire, but also a time to bring in not entirely faithful renditions of some hymns, plus seasonally related songs that fit the mood of Christmas and observe the propriety of the evening. I am including Bach’s Prelude in C Major, for example.

Any chance of a super group being created?

Music with strangers is like safe sex, you reach into each other and it is deeply personal – beyond a musical friendship, and it goes into the memory banks. It might dilute if you kept repeating it.

Bruce and Justin are part of the legendary side of rock music and it will be fascinating to see the swaggering rock n’ roll of Iron Maiden moved by the power of the place.

Any readings or prayers planned?

I will be having guest readers, all friends of mine, but we have to be flexible as many of them can get last-minute calls that call them away. I am hoping that Gavin Esler, the BBC newsreader, will be able to come this year as he missed last year – as did so many members of the audience – because of the heavy snow.

And I also hope my son-in-law Andrew Lincoln will be able to do a reading, if he gets time off from The Walking Dead, that is.

One of my guest readers is expecting a Christmas baby so I am not sure if she will be able to read – but it would be highly appropriate I suppose if she gave birth in Canterbury Cathedral! Perhaps the Archbishop (whom we’ve invited) could deliver the baby!

And we will have a Christmas Christian prayer – we’re walking that delicate line between a secular concert and being respectful of the building in which we are performing. I’m not a stranger to bible readings myself, I can enter into the spirit of it and give a performance.

I would be delighted if 10 per cent of the audience go away after the concert thinking ‘well, this Christianity lark isn’t so bad after all.’ I feel quite like a spiritual pimp – but rather that than a spiritual philistine.

There’s a community spirit in supporting local theatre so perhaps the answer is to make the church experience more exciting, more theatrical, as there is a definite decline in church numbers. So many people must walk past these great cathedrals every day and think they are not meant for them.

Do you get a mixed audience?

We really have seen a generational shift in the demographics and are used to seeing a major part of our audiences made up from late teens and early twenties.

We discover who we are at that age, it’s a voyage of discovery that helps define our pre-natal experience, and that voyage includes absorbing the music and the books that meant so much to their parents.

Sadly, that’s not applying to young people going to church, and that needs careful thinking about as we need to put bums on seats.

Your ticket prices seem quite low?

I am a bit nervous about people coming along with a �10 ticket and thinking they’ve got a bargain, not realising the price reflects the limited sightlines. But I believe in keeping a sense of Christmas and keeping the prices modest, I don’t think it’s appropriate to raise prices as we all have a limited amount to spend.

Ticket prices should be made according to the global economy, �35-40 should be about right and I would be uncomfortable at much higher prices. If you give fair value for money people have the option to be more generous with their donations – but the best thing they can put in the collection bucket is their pledge to come back. Promising their attendance and support is the best pledge of all.

Where will you spend Christmas?

I hope to be spending Christmas at home in Wiltshire, my daughter’s birthday is at Christmas and she and her husband are buying a house in the country less than 10 minutes from us so maybe it won’t all be at ours for once!


Tickets for this concert have sold out. Any returns will be sold on the day (10 December) from 10am by ringing 01227 464764 or in person.

To make a donation to The Canterbury Gift, please call 01227 865349 or send a cheque or postal order made payable to The Canterbury Gift to: FREEPOST THE CANTERBURY GIFT ro online at:

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