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.
Martin Barre was born in Kings Heath, Birmingham, England on November 17, 1946. His father was an engineer who had wanted to play clarinet professionally. In grammar school Barre played flute. When Barre bought his first guitar his father gave him albums by Barney Kessel, Johnny Smith and Wes Montgomery to broaden his musical perspectives.
In college he studied architecture at Lanchester Polytechnic (now Coventry University) for three years, but did not complete his studies after failing Spanish and Atomic Science, subjects that he found to have little to do with designing buildings. After designing a road junction in Birmingham, England, he decided that a career in architecture was too boring, and switched to music.
In 1966 he moved to London with his friend, Chris Rodger, who had played saxophone in their previous band, "The Moonrakers." In London Barre and Rodger got an audition for a band called "The Noblemen" that was looking for two saxophonists. Barre bought a tenor saxophone and after two days of practice was able to bluff his way through the audition. The band subsequently changed its name to "The Motivation" and backed visiting soul artists such as the Coasters, the Drifters and Lee Dorsey. The band evolved through several musical styles from Soul to R&B to Pop, and in 1967 changed its name to "The Penny Peeps." By this time Barre was playing lead guitar. As "The Penny Peeps" the band released two singles in 1968, "Little Man With a Stick" backed by "Model Village", and "I See the Morning" backed with "Curly, Knight of the Road". Finally in mid-1968 they became a blues band called "Gethsemane" and played in pubs all over England with Barre playing guitar and flute.
When Gethsemane and the band Jethro Tull played at a blues club called the Van Dyke in Plymouth, the members of the two bands got acquainted. Then, four months later, while Gethsemane was playing in London and about to break up because of lack of money, Jethro Tull's manager, Terry Ellis, sent his card up from the audience asking Barre to audition for Jethro Tull. The audition did not go well. Barre was so nervous that he barely played. Barre arranged a second audition. This time he was offered the job. He spent the Christmas holidays of 1968 learning material that was to become the album “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. On the album, King Crimson alumnus Mel Collins plays the saxophone, and Fairport Convention's Maartin 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 would tour as an acoustic quartet (including Dan Crisp and Alan Bray) to promote Away With Words, which 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." Also in 2014, a new album was announced to be released that 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.
For his discography with Jethro Tull, see main article: Jethro Tull discographyA Summer Band (1992) - Various live tracks in a limited edition run of 500 CDs.
A Trick of Memory (1994)
The Meeting (1996)
Stage Left (2003)
Away with Words (2013)
Order of Play (2014)
Back to Steel (2015)
Martin Barre (2012) – 2 CD (disc 1 – studio tracks, disc 2 – live tracks).
Live in Munich (2014)
1973 Chick Churchill (You and Me)
1978 Maddy Prior (Woman in the Wings)
1978 Dan Lowe (Fahrenheit 361)
1978 John Wetton (Caught in the Crossfire)
1981 5 Furious Fish (Just for the Halibut)
1987 Paul McCartney (Young Boy)
1997 Spirit of the West (Weights and Measures)
1997 John Carter (Spirit Flying Free)
1998 Clive Bunker (Awakenings)
1998 Willy Porter (Live)
1999 ELP Tribute (Encores, Legends and Paradox)
2001 Various artists incl. Steve Vai, Santana, Alan Holdsworth (Guitars for Freedom 9/11 charity)
2003 Vikki Clayton (Movers and Shakers)
2005 Pentangle (Feoffees' Lands)
2007 Dave Pegg (60th Birthday Show)
2007 Excalibur 2
2010 Excalibur 3
2010 Chris Thompson, Gary Brooker, Frank Mead, Henry Spinetti, Dave Pegg (Live in Germany Classic Rock Tour)
2012 Pat O'May (Celtic Wings)
2015 Mick Abrahams (Revived!)