An outstanding if less-celebrated collection of Tull tales, Stormwatch must certainly have bore a sense of closure when it hit shelves in 1979. The group's final album of the decade was also the curtain call for its best lineup: specifically, that would be founder, songwriter, and flutist-vocalist Ian Anderson; Ian's longtime chum and collaborator, guitarist Martin Barre; plus the keyboards tandem of John Evan (piano, organ) & David Palmer (synths), and the rhythm section of drummer Barriemore Barlow & bassist John Glascock. Sadly, Glascock (the band's youngest member) passed away soon after the album's release (Glascock only recorded basslines for three songs, while Ian provided the rest). For the tour, Fairport Convention bassist Dave Pegg would join the circus, and henceforth become a fixture.
Casting forth feelings of isolation, cold wastes, and unwarranted extremes with its superb cover artwork, Stormwatch actually exuded the same, "organic" warmth attributed to all of Tull's pre-1980s music. This "warmth" would be conspicuously absent during the following decade as the revamped lineup of Anderson, Barre, Pegg, and a revolving-door rhythm section vaulted headlong into a more concise, predominantly electric, synth-heavy format practically tailor-made for FM radio. Reissued simultaneously with Bursting Out and
A, Stormwatch is certainly a notch up from its predecessor, Heavy Horses (equally enjoyable by its own merits, but lacking a little in consistency). Barely three minutes long and one of the ecologically or politically motivated tunes, "North Sea Oil" is a paced leadoff to warm the engine and oil the gears. The inauspicious "Orion" is one of the album's best tracks, pumped up by Evan's piano and Barlow's precise tom rolls as much as by Anderson's and Barre's contributions. This track is wrongly maligned by many nay-sayers for having "dull" verses, so laugh off such drivel. This is an ominous-sounding song, and while it's exciting, there's nothing exactly pretty about it. "Home" is a heartfelt, mostly acoustic ode to…you guessed it.
The resident high point, the nine minutes of "Dark Ages," are the album's most varied, with bass-playing by Ian—very well done, I ,might add (I assumed it was Glascock's, originally). Ian's prowess on a number of instruments has always been integral to Tull's success. Barlow is simply an animal, doing everything you'd expect to hear in a "heavy folk–rock–metal" band, as Tull seems to become within the context of this song. Some of those fills may or may not be impromptu, but everything was kept. And it sounds super. A stellar chorus (best of the album), a tempo shift at 2-½ minutes into rougher, rowdier terrain, and cogent ensemble playing make this a career standout. "Something's On The Move" fulfills its purpose as requisite ballsy radio rocker with a great, infectious riff courtesy of Barre. "Flying Dutchman" boasts truly poignant lyrics, and the acoustic "Dun Ringill" swings with the undulations of windblown wild grasses. The two instrumentals of Stormwatch each closed the A & B sides of the record; the lighter fare of "Warm Sporran" and dirgelike affair of "Elegy" were by no means filler, and still aren't.
The bonus tracks, which have appeared on the box collections, are "A Stitch In Time," "Crossword," "Kelpie" and "King Henry's Madrigal." "Crossword" is propelled by a fuzzy, quasi-Lizzyesque guitar lead and John Evan's smooth icy organ chords. "Madrigal" is my fave of the bonus cuts, as it makes the instrumental count on this disc rise up to three! More "renaissance" sounding than the others, its boundless energy and juxtaposed guitar, flute and keyboard leads are the cat's meow.
There's never been a better time, it seems, to enjoy remasters, and with the cleaned up sound and generous bonus material afforded to the current Yes and Tull reissues—and the surprisingly low prices these can be found at, if you take the time to look—there's simply no excuse to not upgrade.
1. North Sea Oil
4. Dark Ages
5. Warm Sporran
6. Something's On The Move
7. Old Ghosts
8. Dun Ringill
9. Flying Dutchman
11. A Stitch in Time
14. King Henry's Madrigal
Total time: 59:41