July 25, 2023

Though not entirely unheard of, a rock band seldom grows so prolific that they enter the studio and produce three albums’ worth of material at once. Rarer still is that they would shelve two-thirds of what they created, consigning the tapes to generations in dusty attics or trickling out the songs on various compilations over the course of decades. But such was the case with Jethro Tull and the colossal sessions that resulted in their 1982 album The Broadsword and the Beast.

Many felt that previous album A deviated from the quintessence of Tull with its electronic sounds, stark cover art, and themes of embassy sieges, unions, missiles, and battery-powered toys. For Broadsword, the revamped Jethros took more of a hybrid approach; still employing the emerging technology of the day, but squeezing in a few more traditional motifs to satisfy the faithful while spinning tales of beasts and Vikings. A more whimsical cover painting was also used (complete with runic border for extra fantasy points) and front man Ian Anderson wisely reappraised his image, ditching the dodgy white jumpsuit and returning to the slightly less dodgy leather doublet that he could have plucked from the costume department of a Terry Gilliam film. It would only be a year later when a cleaner-cut Anderson would materialize in a business suit on his altogether more contemporary Walk Into Light album, but in 1982 he was still the wild-eyed character bounding about the Broadsword tour’s pirate ship stages (while the Spinal Tap guys took notes).

Performing Jack-in-the-Green, Wiesbaden, 4th September 1982
Photo credit: Carsten Bergmann

September sees the long-awaited 40th anniversary deluxe Broadsword reissue with the appropriately subtitled Monster Edition, a jaw-dropping eight disc treasure trove of outtakes, demos, unreleased tracks, live concerts, and new stereo and 5.1 surround mixes by Steven Wilson. With so much of this long-running series having exceeded expectations, it’s hard to imagine some of the most acclaimed volumes ever being topped, and surely that goal grows even more unattainable as the chronology advances beyond the classic period of the band’s catalogue. But Broadsword: The Monster Edition definitely gives it the ol’ college try. It’s certainly among the most expansive entries in the series, but of course its allure lies in how much one likes the music in the first place. Broadsword may not firmly reside in the love-it-or-hate-it category, but it can occasionally be divisive. For those who dig it, well, this is an absolute must have. For those who don’t, or aren’t sure either way, grab a beverage and let’s examine the contents disc by disc.

We begin with the newly remixed album proper. Now on his fourteenth Tull album remix, seasoned veteran Wilson finds room for improvement in sonics and clarity with what was at times a flat sounding recording, particularly in the drum department. His tweaks are sensible ones, boosting and refining where he can, while maintaining the artists’ original vision and resisting any urge to make radical changes based on personal preference. We’ve all heard some pretty dire remixing jobs over the years, where undisciplined technicians make mincemeat of our favourite albums, so it’s understandable when some are wary or even scoff at the idea of anyone monkeying around with our beloved Tull music. But rest assured, Wilson is the man for the job and I think the accolades will far outweigh the criticisms, as they have with most or all of the previous Tull albums he’s worked on. Bear in mind that the original 1982 mix is also included, providing a safety net for anyone not exactly besotted with the new version.

Broadsword, more than A, benefitted from a unified band approach to its construction, with a couple of key ingredients in particular elevating the material. First and foremost? Martin Barre. His bold guitar work rises to the fore here, each of the songs flecked with his bluesy licks and coloured by his squealing riffs. His evolving style and advancing strides were not lost on Anderson:

It was a period in which Martin Barre’s playing went through incremental increases in terms of musical proficiency, his expression and the degree to which he was articulate as a musician. His best work is the period that evolved through the eighties into the nineties. I don’t think you can get any better examples of Martin’s playing live than on some of the concert recordings that were done in that era. Listening to them is a great reminder of how good Martin was on stage every night.

Ian Anderson

Also of note is Scottish keyboard whiz Peter-John Vettese whose impressive ear and musical savvy brought a new angle to Tull’s music of this period (and would become even more dominant on Walk Into Light and the follow-up Tull album Under Wraps). Vettese, though not as outwardly interesting as his inimitable predecessors had been, was nonetheless something of a character both on and off stage, and his period synths lent Tull’s music a different energy, with sometimes darker tones that blended well with Anderson’s compositions. An immensely important member during this time, Vettese – the man and the musician – is well spoken of by all parties involved; bandmates, crew, and producer Paul Samwell-Smith.

Performing Watching Me, Watching You, Wiesbaden, 4th September 1982
Photo credit: Carsten Bergmann

There was really no weak link on the finished album, but surely some tracks stand out more than others. Anderson reveals that Broadsword itself (original working title: Indian War Dance) is something of a sister song to Stormwatch‘s Dun Ringill. The piece remains one of the most striking on the album, with Barre and Vettese combining to produce a thick atmosphere, each afforded a larger share of the aural space thanks to drummer Gerry Conway, whose simpler playing provides a solid rock backbeat despite lacking the finesse of his forerunners. ‘A different drummer’ for sure, but one who was able to fit into the stool comfortably for this particular batch of songs, and was the ‘perfect choice’ in Anderson’s own words. Clasp is another strong, moody piece which hints at the music Anderson and Vettese would soon make for Walk Into Light, and Flying Colours exudes a pulsing energy with some plum bass playing from Dave Pegg.

Pussy Willow ranks among the most gorgeous of Tull songs, with Anderson’s dreamy verses drifting around Vettese’s relaxed piano melodies as he skillfully crafts poetic lyrics about mundane city life (one wonders if it might have been an influence on Fish with the song Chelsea Monday). The driving, rocky pace of the chorus balances the song brilliantly, and Wilson has given it more punch here. Anderson refers to the ‘Scottishness’ of this song, a correlation he makes several times in his thoughts on this album. Like with the stirring ballad Slow Marching Band, for example, another beautiful and touching composition that sees Conway dotting the track with rousing beats while Anderson turns in one his best vocal performances on the album. It’s another that has never sounded better, and it serves as a reminder of just how good each of these songs really are on their own, even if the album as a totality does not have much of a unifying theme. Martin Barre expands:

It had things on it that were really good, but maybe there were too many contrasts. It wasn’t a focused album, musically. Fallen on Hard Times is a great rock-blues, really strong, so that’s one direction; Pussy Willow is a beautiful song, but in another direction; Slow Marching Band is wonderful; Beastie is a great rock anthem; Watching Me, Watching You is fun, a sort of precursor to the sequencer style of music of later. So it’s a great album, but perhaps it’s too diverse; they’re all great songs, but whether they belong on one album, I don’t know.

Martin Barre

The first disc is rounded out with a handful of recordings from December 1981 – January 1982, including previously unreleased alternate album takes as well as the first of three different versions of fan favourite Jack-A-Lynn. Anderson’s wistful solo acoustic version is as haunting now as the first time I heard it, and I’ve always felt the final electric band version does not live up to the delicateness of this recording. Anderson reveals in an embarrassed tone that he doesn’t want to detail this song’s meaning, as it’s one of the few times he’s allowed a real relationship to seep into his songwriting.

On to disc 2, then…

Anderson was in peak vocal form through this general period. There’s no doubt that he had been a powerful and unique singer all along, but by 1982 he had honed and refined his vocal chops to deliver strong, clear lines that explored his range and expanded on the types of multi-layered harmonies he had explored in tracks like Songs From the Wood. He was only a couple of years away from blowing out his voice on the Under Wraps tour, a catastrophic event from which he never fully recovered, and the catalyst for what some consider a long, gradual decline. Fortunately before any of that, he had written and recorded Jack Frost and the Hooded Crow, a wonderful Christmas-themed song featuring a particularly rousing performance and some of his best harmony vocals. Many will be familiar with this piece already as it has appeared on a few official releases since (and was also re-recorded much later for The Jethro Tull Christmas Album).

Detail of Iain McCaig’s original cover idea

Other songs here have also found a spot on various releases, and those of us with old boxed sets on our shelves for years will recognize tracks like The Curse (oddly enough the second song Anderson penned about menstruation), I’m Your Gun, Commons Brawl, Too Many Too, and Crew Nights, described by Anderson as ‘not one of the great Tull songs’, but one which I’ve always liked. The song Motoreyes was until now one of the only tracks exclusive to the 20 Years boxed set way back in 1988, but has finally made its second official appearance, leaving that dusty old box teetering on the edge of obsoleteness (though for nostalgia reasons, I’ll never part with mine). Unlike his controversial purist approach to the Chateau D’Isaster Tapes on the box set of A Passion Play, Wilson has left some of the songs which appeared on 20 Years and Nightcap with their respective 1988 and 1993 flute overdubs intact. More thorough detail on the overdub status of each track is listed in the ‘technical notes’ section of the accompanying book.

But the most anticipated inclusions here are the songs never before heard. Throughout this series, fans have marveled at the amount of completely new material that has surfaced after languishing for so long in the vault. In the case of Broadsword, the mind boggles that further songs from these sessions are now seeing the light of day, when umpteen have already been issued as bonus tracks over the years. Having expanded to such a degree, can there really be more? The answer is a resounding yes, as the Broadsword domain has now ballooned to a whopping three and a half hours… and that’s not counting the live concert recordings or surround mixes found elsewhere in this set.

Inverness Sleeper deals with train travel – a not uncommon topic for Anderson – and sounds as though it could have been written and recorded around the time of Heavy Horses a few years earlier. Being a newly unearthed track, it’s impossible to know just how much Wilson improved it, but I must say it sounds spectacular turned up loud, and Pegg plays some truly tasty bass lines. Actually, everyone’s playing is robust on this track, and one wonders why on earth it was jettisoned in the first place. A more negative person than I might feel cheated having not been able to enjoy it for the last 40 years!

Chipper instrumental The Swirling Pit came courtesy of Pegg and his fretless bass. It may be familiar to some fans who have sought out bootleg live recordings of the period, or Peggy’s solo album The Cocktail Cowboy Goes it Alone, where he recorded his own version (of this and Jack Frost). Here, the piece has a loose but punchy feel before shifting to more typical Fairport territory, with the whole band going to town (or perhaps to the Renaissance faire) and Barre in particular adding terrific guitar moments. Again, a splendid little track that should not have sat dormant for as long as it did.

Roland’s Entry isn’t a proper song; it’s more of an atmospheric piece that at the time probably sounded quite futuristic. I rather like stuff like this, but I won’t be surprised if others find it a bit ho-hum. Consisting of Anderson fiddling with his new Roland keyboards, he now seems to think it was being considered for the album’s leadoff track. Although it doesn’t have quite the gravitas that Eddie Jobson’s Slipstream intro track had (which can be found on the A boxed set), Anderson manages to come up with something oddly likeable, despite sounding like theme music you might have encountered at the front of a VHS rental in 1982.

Barre’s Calafel and Return to Calafel are charming instrumentals that could have made for well-placed interludes on the album, but Barre seems to think the main piece was written with the intention of incorporating it into one of the other Broadsword songs (it never was, but one riff was used years later in the song Part of the Machine). Barre revisited this music on his 2015 album Back to Steel, where interestingly enough he also reworked Slow Marching Band, his favourite of the Broadsword pieces.

Disc 3 is comprised of various mixes and demos, including the 48 minute demo tape of a potentially very different album made in December 1981 for Samwell-Smith to give him an idea of some of the material they had been working on. This is the first ever release of this demo, and among the tracks that were being considered at that time are three more new songs. Honest Girl is a slower, low-key piece with a repetitive vocal melody and an arrangement that feels unfinished. Anderson, who likes the song, doesn’t go into any detail on its musical creation, focusing instead on the lyrics, so it’s hard to know if and when it was abandoned. But I’m reasonably confident this one won’t go down in history as one of the great unearthed Tull classics.

Peggy flavours the song DJ Dream with a disco feel to match Anderson’s lyrical themes. The song does have the slightest touch of funk to it – or at least as much as five thirtysomething Brits at that time could simulate – but the jury is still out on just how successful it is. It has a certain catchiness to it though, which at least puts it a notch above Honest Girl. Anderson’s insightful quote about nightclubs and discos sums up the theme of the piece:

The DJ is… lost in this dream of stardom. I mean, all he’s doing is putting records on and playing them. It is as bewildering to me now as it was back then how being a dance DJ is of any musical merit whatsoever, just because they have chosen a bunch of songs to play!

Ian Anderson

The heavy Me, Dinosaur is one of the best of this batch, with Barre’s wonderfully rocking guitar, and Anderson spitting defiant lyrics about how he doesn’t care that he was being viewed as a ‘rock dinosaur’ by the press (… and that was over 40 years ago!) The song is well arranged with the Tull hallmarks of the day, including Vettese’s nicely incorporated keys working in tandem with Barre, and it brings a smile to hear them give a giant middle finger to the naysayers of that era. A winner of a track, to be sure.

Discs 4 & 5 (and DVD disc 3) consist of a brand new live release, a hybrid ‘concert’ compiled from four German shows from the same week in April 1982. These were still the glory days when a new album was properly represented in the band’s live set, and in this case, an astonishing nine of the ten Broadsword tracks were played (as well as The Swirling Pit). With so many new songs in the show, obviously a lot of oldies had to get the boot, so the resulting set list is not exactly a fair cross-section of Tull history; apart from a handful of obvious standards, much of the remaining music is drawn from the Songs From the Wood and Heavy Horses albums, with most recent album A only represented by a brief instrumental snippet of Black Sunday, and Stormwatch ignored entirely. It comes as something of a disappointing surprise that there is no video material on this enormous set, but I must say this live show in DVD audio form is a spanking one. The 8-track recordings sound spectacular whether in stereo or surround, and the band were in top form. Barre delivers some blistering solos, particularly the jaw-dropper in Pibroch/Black Satin Dancer, and I think Anderson may be on to something with his earlier quote.

4 LP vinyl edition

The 5.1 surround mixes on DVD discs 1 & 2 cover the entirety of the studio sessions and finished album. Wilson manages a satisfying separation of the instruments without the music sounding cold and disembodied. Remixing can sometimes result in period music sounding pseudo-modern, but that’s not the case here. Clasp especially benefits from the surround mix, with Conway’s drum rolls darting around the room; the quirky Commons Brawl showcases the battle between mandolin and electric guitar; the rich harmonies of Jack Frost come at us from all corners; Beastie’s drums have more spring in their step. As we know, the flute of this period is reined in somewhat, with Anderson’s attention partly taken up with composing on keys, and the less flowery playing doesn’t have the same opportunity to flutter to and fro the way it does on earlier boxes like Thick as a Brick or A Passion Play. Overall, it’s a decent surround mix that I would probably rank somewhere around the middle in this series. I should also point out that there is an ‘Easter egg’ on one of the DVDs that leads to a hidden track not listed on the box, but I’ll leave it up to people to find it themselves!

That leaves the 164 page book. Packed with goodies, this one took me a few sittings to get through (and I was keen to read it). A lengthy, in-depth essay provides a history of the entire period, including interviews with all band members and Samwell-Smith which illuminate the making of the album and the subsequent tour. Feature interviews with cover artist Iain McCaig and engineer and live sound man Leigh Mantle follow, and reveal some fascinating tidbits that would not otherwise become known, including McCaig’s original cover idea for the album when it was still going to be called Beastie, seen here for the first time. It’s always interesting to read a different perspective from someone outside the band, but still close to the proceedings. The book also reproduces the 1982 tour programme and provides lyrics for all songs (even the brand new ones) and the traditional thoughts on each track from Anderson (and Pegg and Barre where appropriate). I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: each of these books could easily be standalone purchases (or better yet, one all-encompassing tome). Perhaps most rewarding is the amount of new information provided, rather than the same old regurgitated info that longtime fans already have heard a hundred times.

It remains to be seen if further volumes in this series will continue beyond the Bursting Out special edition said to be in development. But whether Broadsword marks the end of the road or not, all parties involved in the creation of these outstanding archives deserve a round of applause. The attention to detail, the wealth of bonus material, the exquisite packaging… a chef’s kiss to all of it. This set achieved something I thought impossible – it made me love a Jethro Tull album more than I already did.

They really did create a monster.