"An uneven, faintly frustrating album, that falls the right side of enjoyable": Jethro Tull's Stormwatch - Album Of The Week Club review

Stormwatch largely ditched the ‘folk’ elements that had come to define Jethro Tull's sound in favour of a noticeably harder and more ominous edge

Jethro Tull - Stormwatch artwork
(Image: © Chrysalis Records)

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Jethro Tull - Stormwatch

Jethro Tull - Stormwatch artwork

(Image credit: Chrysalis Records)

North Sea Oil
Dark Ages
Warm Sporran
Something's on the Move
Old Ghosts
Dun Ringill
Flying Dutchman

The dark horse of Jethro Tull's so-called ‘folk trilogy’ – and of Tull’s 70s output in general – 1979's Stormwatch largely ditched the ‘folk’ elements that had come to define their sound in favour of a noticeably harder and more ominous edge, one that was mirrored in both the broiling clouds reflected in Anderson’s binoculars on the striking cover and the frontman’s prescient focus on impending climate change on North Sea Oil and Dark Ages.

"That wasn’t a prophecy," band leader Ian Anderson told us. "I can’t claim in any way to be way ahead of my time. That’s far too generous. I was simply reacting to things that were being discussed in certain circles. When the first elements of climate change were being identified back in the early seventies, you didn’t have to be a university professor to know that stuff. The information was out there in the public domain if you cared to look for it."

Stormwatch was also the last album made by what is widely considered to be the classic line-up of Jethro Tull: Anderson, Martin Barre, keyboard player John Evan, drummer Barriemore Barlow, bassist John Glascock and keyboard player and orchestral arranger David Palmer. And, just two months after it was released, Glascock died at the age of twenty-eight as a result of a congenital heart condition.

“There was a lot of stress within the band, mainly to do with John Glascock’s illness," said Anderson. "We sent him home and told him he had to get out of this spiral he was in because it wasn’t just his illness, it was lifestyle. He’d be on stage and his face would be white like wax, with a film of sweat. I made him leave to get himself well and sadly he got worse and then we got the terrible news that he’d passed away. Did we do everything we could to help? That’s a question we’ll ask ourselves forever."

In 2019, a 40th anniversary edition of Stormwatch was released. 


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Other albums released in September 1979

  • Siouxsie and the Banshees - Join Hands
  • Foreigner - Head Games
  • Eagles - The Long Run
  • Rory Gallagher - Top Priority
  • Frank Zappa - Joe's Garage Act I
  • Judas Priest - Unleashed in the East
  • Foghat - Boogie Motel
  • The Police - Message in a Bottle
  • The Stranglers - The Raven
  • Leonard Cohen - Recent Songs
  • Wire - 154
  • The Slits - Cut
  • Buzzcocks - A Different Kind of Tension
  • Bonnie Raitt - The Glow
  • Santana - Marathon
  • U.K. - Night After Night
  • Sammy Hagar - Street Machine


What they said...

"Despite the fluctuating quality of the songs, Stormwatch remains quite an interesting album for fans of the band. Not only does it present a darker, more serious side of Anderson’s persona, but it also contains a rather larger amount of compelling, if not incredibly innovative, music. One, however, can’t help feeling that of Jethro Tull’s folk trilogy, Stormwatch is obviously the weakest link. (Sputnik Music)

"Just when Something's On The Move seems like it could be the most tuneless track in Tull's history, Old Ghosts and Dun Ringill follow it with even less memorable melodic material. The latter, in particular, proved that Anderson's well of folk-inspired tunes was also running dry, apart from the instrumental Warm Sporran." (AllMusic)

"It’s certainly their last album that was unmistakably Jethro Tull. Perhaps if A had been released as an Ian Anderson solo album, then Stormwatch, and maybe Jethro Tull’s career as a whole would be much more widely celebrated than it is now. As it is, it’s all too frequently considered to be where the decline of the band started, rather than the final hurrah of one of the UK’s greatest rock bands as they raged against the dying light." (Backseat Mafia)


What you said...

Gary Claydon: Transitional Tull and it shows. The upheaval and general dissatisfaction in the band and Ian Anderson's restlessness results in an uneven, faintly frustrating album, that falls the right side of enjoyable – but only just.

Negatives? Thematically and stylistically it's a somewhat muddled affair. Some of the arrangements are unsatisfactory, most notably on the album's longest track, Dark Ages which is partially rescued by a nice Martin Barre solo and Barriemore Barlow's drumming - which is excellent throughout Stormwatch. Some of the imagery, both metaphorical and literal, is too heavy handed, particularly on North Sea Oil

Elsewhere there is a tad too much filler about proceedings. The most irritating thing about Stormwatch, for me, though, is the track order, which contributes to the uneven nature of the album and seems to have been done by pulling names out of a hat. I always used to head straight to side two when sticking this on the turntable, so listening via Spotify (or CD) gives a welcome opportunity to experiment with the shuffle button.

Positives? Something's On The Move is my favourite track and the one that best reflects the album title. It would also have made a far better album opener than North Sea Oil. Dun Ringill is nicely evocative of the Iron Age fort's Isle of Skye home while Orion has a nice energy to it. The underlying message of the epic Flying Dutchman may well have been inspired by the plight of the Vietnamese boat people but is still relevant, more than four decades later, when considering the number of displaced people in the world.

Overall, I'd rate this as 'mid-table' Tull. When it works, it works well, with a pleasing 'Northerness' to it's soundscapes. Lack of consistency and a muddled feeling let it down somewhat. 6/10.

Philip Qvist: Well, thanks for the suggestion this week, because it forced me to listen to the only 70s Jethro Tull album that has never appeared on my Playlist.

My first impression is that Stormwatch has a lot more in common with their 80s albums such as Crest Of A Knave, rather than their 70s output - and that includes Songs From The Wood and Heavy Horses. The impression I got was a 70s album looking into the 80s and using the technology of the time - with a lot of references to the climate and countryside.

So does that make it a bad album? Well no. It certainly isn't as great as albums such as Aqualung, Thick As A Brick and The Minstrel In The Gallery, or the two albums that preceeded it for that matter, but it is definitely a better record than A Passion Play, War Child, Under Wraps and Rock Island. In other words it fits neatly in the middle pack, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Ian Anderson is on top form, so are Martin Barre, John Evan, Barrimore Barlow and Dee / Dave Palmer, the latter who wrote the surprisingly good Elegy.

My favourite songs are Dark Ages, North Sea Oil, Old Ghost and Flying Dutchman, although Stormwatch also has filler tracks such as Warm Sporran.

Final verdict; a surprisingly good album that is well worth a spin. A 7/10 for me.

Evan Sanders: I'm glad I read the comments about this album being part of Tull's Folk Rock trilogy including Songs From The Wood and Heavy Horses, because I then listened to all three. Even in context, I found it hard to enjoy Stormwatch. When Jethro Tull are at their best, I think it's from a combination of strong musicianship, intelligent lyrics, and catchy melodies, evidenced by their early 70s work. Stormwatch has the intelligent lyrics and strong musicianship, but the songs themselves just aren't very memorable other than the single Something's on the Move. 5/10

Roland Bearne: Oh cripes, am I alone in not really knowing Jethro Tull? I know a couple of the obvious songs and they're okay, so I girded my ears for full Tull-mersion therapy. I've tried with this, I really have, but what an absolute snooze fest! It just doesn't hold my attention. I cant get through it! Flootle tootle, a bit of okay singing, sort of folky bits.... my brain just doesn't want to dock with it. Ian Anderson seems like a jolly interesting chap but, sorry no endorphins released at all by this. Sock plus sandal = flute!

John Davidson: Stormwatch came out after I 'discovered' I liked Tull so was the first one I bought as soon as it was released. I think that might be why I have such a soft spot for it.

Keith Jenkin: Often seen as the poor relation in the so called Folk Rock trilogy that began with Songs From The Wood and then Heavy Horses. I enjoy the slightly tougher sound and subject matter compared to those predecessors. It's not one of their very best records, but for lapsed listeners it is certainly well worth revisiting.

Greg Schwepe: This week’s selection is what I call an 'exploration' pick. In this case you have a classic band who have released a boatload of albums. And unless you’re a hardcore Jethro Tull fan (there may be a few in the Club), you’re probably only aware of a smattering of their catalogue. And confession right off the bat, I own one Tull compilation and then two of their most obvious albums; Thick As A Brick and Aqualung. And I like this because it prevents me from being hypercritical of anything that veers from their tried and true formula heard through the years because I have no real preconceived notion of what Jethro Tull "needs” to sound like. So now I have more Tull to explore after listening to North Sea Oil.

First off, you gotta like the flute in a rock band, because otherwise you’re bailing on this week’s choice! And because I like Ian Anderson’s flute and the way his voice meshes with ii, I’m writing a review!

In listening I encountered a little 'two steps forward, one step back' vibe. A couple songs would really grab me, then another one would cause me to drift a bit and not pay as much attention; “Oh, are we on to the next track? Missed it…” With that alternating pattern; I found myself really liking Dark Ages, Something’s On The Move, Dun Ringill and Crossword.

Overall, a decent Jethro Tull album that, according to this week’s announcement post, was where the band went for a harder edge. Still plenty of acoustic guitar in the mix, but not near as 'minstrel-y' as some of their stuff. Read one article where Ian Anderson mentioned something about Tull’s classic sound featuring a Les Paul guitar. Maybe it’s that chugging sound with a little more distortion on a few tracks that brings this one into a more harder rock realm. I mean, they did get a Heavy Metal Grammy! 7 out of 10 on this one for me.

John Davidson: Songs From The Wood revelled in the earthier delights of living close to nature in a pastoral England where upper and working classes met and Heavy Horses celebrated the lure of English country life and the abandonment of the rat race with a degree of nostalgia, but Stormwatch has always struck me as a more Scottish album with its motifs of rugged coastlines, storms and ghostly seafarers.

The themes are darker and the music (while still layered with flute and orchestration) has more of an edge at times with some chunky riffs delivered courtesy of Martin Barre.

Whether by accident or design the lyrics reflected the grim political and economic outlook of the late 70s where successive UK governments (on the left and right) had failed to tackle inflation and the promise of a North Sea Oil boom was yet to improve the lot of ordinary people. It’s a long way from punk but it still has some lyrical bite .

Standout tracks are Orion, Dark Ages and Dun Ringill but even the lesser tracks are very listenable even after 44 years.

Of the three late 70s studio albums that make up this phase of Tull there’s no doubt that Stormwatch is the weakest. My personal favourite is Heavy Horses (10/10) , then Songs from the Wood (9/10). Stormwatch still scores an 8/10 .

I don’t usually comment on the extra tracks from remastered editions but the Steven Wilson 40th anniversary edition offers both a slight upgrade in production quality (though it was never failing) and another 7 or 8 tracks over the original. None of them are truly essential and they don’t really fit the tone of the album. A Stitch in Time was released as a single before the album was released (I still have it on white vinyl somewhere) and yet didn’t make the cut of the completed album. That was a good call I think as it’s a bit cheery by comparison and the roll call of traditional sayings verges on the twee.

Mark Herrington: I’d only ever heard a couple of Jethro Tull albums previously, and never dug deeper as I didn’t warm to their folky style back in the 70’s. I prefer my folk music much darker and haunting, such as Shearwater’s Rook album. So it was interesting to listen to Stormwatch and give them another go.

In the main, I found this an erratic album with a few good tracks but much that was mundane to my ears. I found North Sea Oil fairly jolly and the flute fairly distracting - but overall just average.

Orion picked up the pace and showed a little more promise and menace, but ultimately didn’t quite nail it. Home was the first track I liked, almost like a lost track from ELO's first two albums, but it's certainly no 10538 Overture.

Dark Ages is the best track on the album, with darkness and power building gradually in a Progressive manner. If only the rest of the album was like this. Unfortunately, the album seems to run out of steam from here on, with instrumentals and tracks that don’t quite hit the mark, except Somethings On The Move, which again picks up the tempo.

On the plus side, they are clearly great musicians, have used interesting subject matter and there is much humour. Overall, however, the promising material doesn’t prevail.

Adam McCann: Great album with fantastic arrangements and lyrics. Heavy when it needs to be without compromising much of the folk rock melodies laid down on the previous two albums. Tracks like Orion, Dun Ringill and Elegy show where Tull were heading and how they got to the dark fantasy of Broadsword And The Beast. It might not get the same accolades as Songs from the Wood or Heavy Horses, but Stormwatch really has stood the test of time where some Tull albums may have flapped a little. Furthermore, the Steven Wilson remix of this album is great.

Chris Elliott: It's an okay Tull album. Not their best not their worst. It's a record you'll enjoy then not get round to again unless you're a big Tull fan. It isn't a Top 5 Tull album, but then I love A, so...

Alex Hayes: And so, we come to Jethro Tull's underrated 1979 album Stormwatch, the final chapter in the group's so-called 'folk rock trilogy' (quite what Jethro Tull's prior work should be categorised as, if not something along the lines of folk rock, I have no idea). I actually suggested this album about three years ago, during a spell of bitter winter weather, so it's nice to see it finally get selected for review. Better late than never.

Saying that, I'm surprised I didn't suggest either Songs From The Wood (1977) or Heavy Horses (1978), the first two instalments of the trilogy. As good as Stormwatch is (it's an album that I think I'm a lot keener on than the band members themselves, if interviews are anything to go by), it is true that it doesn't measure up to the previous pair. They are both up there with Aqualung and Thick As A Brick among my favourite Tull albums.

It's still a bit of an underrated gem though, that's for sure. That little burst of frenzied creativity from the band in the late 70s turned out to be one of the finest periods in Jethro Tull's history, and even the 'poor relation' of the trilogy has plenty to recommend it. Like it's predecessors, Stormwatch is a fascinating blend of intelligent song craft and varied instrumentation, with strong themes running throughout. They call these albums 'folk rock', but that kind of implies that they just sound quaint and a little timid. They are those things in places, but there is also a dark underbelly to these songs, in the guise of layered prog rock virtuosity.

What kind of themes are we talking about, then? Well, one of Stormwatch's greatest strengths is just how effective a time capsule the album is. It was released a few months after one of the most tumultuous winters in modern British history, the brutal Winter Of Discontent of 1978/79. This period saw Britain battered by political unrest, as industrial strike action seemed to bring the country to a standstill. Then, as if on cue, a vicious winter storm came hurtling down from the North Sea, and hammered the country with ice, snow and bollock-achingly cold temperatures. Thus, the 'storm' that forms the basis for much of the lyrical content can be seen as both literal and metaphorical.

Everything was going to be okay though, you know why? There were billions of tonnes of 'black gold' up in those choppy northern waters. Precious oil reserves put there just to bail us all out of the shit. It didn't matter what kind of an impact that would have on the rural fishing communities in northern and coastal Scotland, already feeling the pinch of modern life, we were all saved! It was into one of these beleaguered communities that Ian Anderson had recently moved and developed a kinship with, having purchased an estate in Kilmarie, on the Isle Of Skye. In fact, much of the album has strong Scottish connections.

Thus, over three albums, we had moved thematically from a bucolic, pre-industrialised world, with it's own different kinds of hardships (Songs From The Wood), to a reflective look on life in modern rural Britain and the things that have been lost along the way (Heavy Horses), all the way to a pretty sobering look at political turmoil and the scars left from the rapacious exploitation of our natural resources (Stormwatch). Heavy stuff, but, I repeat, one of the finest periods in this group's history for me.

Did I care about any of this at the time? Nah, I was four years old, and much more concerned with what Santa was leaving under the tree that Christmas. I do remember the cold that year though. Brrrr.

I think there is one moment that sums up Stormwatch the best. It's to be found in the middle of the second verse of the brilliant acoustic track Dun Ringill (an Iron Age hill fort to be found on Skye). As the winds whip up and the Old Gods play, a single thunderbolt heralds the arrival of an onslaught of bad weather, between the lyrics 'We'll wait in stone circles/'til the force comes through/Lines joint in faint discord/and the stormwatch brews'. Just a great, powerful moment.

Like I say, I do prefer the albums that preceded Stormwatch. I still find the album a bona fide winner though, and will be happy to award it with an 8/10. It marked the end of a fruitful era for Jethro Tull.


Final score: 7.23 (102 votes cast, total score 738)

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