September 3, 2019

Darlings, are you ready? Summer is rapidly leaving us as the autumn air begins to roll into city and countryside alike, those first cool wisps innocent harbingers of the eventual biting chill of winter. And with this seasonal transition comes Stormwatch: The 40th Anniversary Force 10 Edition, the twelfth volume in the ongoing Jethro Tull deluxe reissue series. Anyone already owning one or more of these sparkling treasure troves is no doubt acutely aware of just how thorough they really are – and Stormwatch is no exception. From the new stereo and surround sound remixes (once again from the desk of Steven Wilson) to the associated recordings of the period, to the complete live show, and the staggering and exhaustive 96-page book, this sprawling six-disc set is an absolute bounty for Tull fanatics – and one of the finest editions in the series.

New life is breathed into the freshly remixed album on disc 1. Wilson, now a seasoned veteran of remixing 70s Tull albums, understands how to make these old recordings vibrant and contemporary-sounding, without sacrificing their original spirit. Unlike other modern remixes that actually alter the sound of some tracks (no names mentioned… let’s just say ‘rhymes with Schmenesis’), this album has not changed, it has simply improved. Wilson is not pulling a George Lucas and rewriting history – and as if to prove it, the original 1979 mix is also included on one of the audio DVDs. But it’s the second CD (or the second DVD, depending on how and where you listen) where things get really interesting…

Perhaps most noteworthy is that yet again, the lads have unearthed complete, fully recorded yet never heard tracks from the period. Tull is known for having a lot of non-album singles and b-side tracks that sprung from various sessions, and have released a boatload of them over the years on various boxed sets, compilations and reissues. And yet with this 40th anniversary series, somehow even more are discovered – quite a bit more, in fact. It’s truly unbelievable. A Single Man is one of these, a feisty little instrumental with a beautiful classical-inspired piano intro from John Evan. Urban Apocalypse is another – a much different sounding piece than the re-imagined version on last year’s Dee Palmer album Through Darkened Glass. As Ian Anderson explains in the mighty tome that accompanies this set, it was a Palmer composition in the first place, but here of course it sounds more Tullish. Furthermore, Man Of God is another strong piece, but lyrically may not have fitted in with the general theme of Stormwatch, so it’s not hard to see why it wouldn’t make the final cut. But for all the work they put into composing and recording these tracks, one would think they would have at least found their way onto the b-side of a single or on a compilation at some point.

Dotted throughout disc 2 are the more familiar non-album tracks (also newly remixed) that have graced previous releases. Of these, Broadford Bazaar tends to be a fan favourite, and while some were dismayed at its omission from the Heavy Horses box (it had previously been issued as a bonus track on a Horses remaster CD), it is in fact chronologically appropriate to have it here with the Stormwatch songs. Kelpie was another strong contender for the album, notes Anderson, but there was only so much available space on vinyl LPs at the time. Also of note here is the full version of A Stitch In Time, rarely heard and finally on CD for the first time – a full minute longer than the common edited version.

Ian relaxes at his estate on the Isle of Skye, 1979 (photo: Martyn Goddard)

On the same disc are some of the biggest highlights of this set. Particularly the early recording of Dark Ages, one of the greatest ever Tull pieces, and surely the centrepiece of the original album. This arrangement is largely the same as the final album version, but with an extra verse replacing a chorus, and a much longer, atmospheric intro. It’s a bit rawer too – there are few backing vocals or flute overdubs at this point, and Anderson practically snarls some of the vocals (he provides an amusing anecdote in the book about sending a copy of this version to Steve Harris, claiming that it was his ‘Iron Maiden moment’). It’s a remarkable version of the piece. Another ‘early version’ (is that the same as a demo?) is the beautiful Dun Ringill. Of course, there is no weatherman intro as on the final version, but the hard start to the song isn’t jarring – it’s rather nice to just get on with it, actually. Anderson sings in a lower register here, and this time there are flutes and backing vocals. It’s a truly lovely version of the song, and dare I say a superior one. Anderson had a knack for coming up with gentle, emotional compositions that needed no embellishment (his one-man acoustic sketch of Jack-A-Lynn is a good example of this, a much prettier song than the later, overworked studio version).

The big one that a lot of Tullheads will have been waiting for is the greatly expanded version of Orion – now in its original nine minute form, complete with long intro and extra verse, before it suddenly veers into a lengthy, complex and energetic instrumental section quite unlike the main body of the song. A true high point of this set, it’s amazing to think that this large piece of music was edited down to a four minute track on the album, and was then tucked away in the vaults for four decades…

Discs 3 & 4 comprise a full concert recording from the Netherlands in March of 1980, late in the Stormwatch tour and less than a month before the end of Palmer, Evan and Barlow’s tenures with the band. The tour was heavy on Stormwatch material, with seven of the ten album tracks being played live – oddly enough, all front-loaded into the beginning of the show! It’s a typically rousing performance from the Jethros, with new boy Dave Pegg adding a nice flavour to the Songs From The Wood and Heavy Horses tracks, these being the pieces of music from the Tull repertoire most in his own wheelhouse. A very enjoyable show to have beaming from your speakers. The bulk of the two DVDs included here are the 5.1 surround sound remixes of both the album and all its associated recordings. Those with proper surround setups will appreciate the work that Wilson has put into these special mixes, and this album was a good candidate for the treatment.

As if all of that was not enough, the substantial 96 page book is once again worth the cost of the set (seriously). Packed with photos, essays, interviews, previously unheard Tull tales, lyrics (even the alternate lines in Dark Ages and Dun Ringill early versions), tour dates, and Anderson’s thoughts on each and every track (including the ‘new’ ones), it’s hard to overstate just how much of a draw these really are. Truly magnificent volumes for Tull fans to cherish in their expanding libraries. Overall, a sublime boxed set that gets my absolute highest recommendation – remember, these are one-off prints, and when they are gone, the secondhand prices skyrocket. Don’t miss out! Be there when the Dutchman comes…