~ Heavy Horses ~


An introduction to "Heavy Horses"

The album - released in 1978 - continued the themes explored on the previous album with the same mixture of folk-influenced acoustic pieces and heavy rock. Like "Songs From The Wood", this album is full of folk imagery. Many of the songs are about animals and the lyrics continue much of the rustic tradition of its predecessor. The album is a bit darker however, with more references to modern civilization but lacks the lightness and humour the previous album. The music too reflects this change: the more traditional rock sounds of electric guitar and the trap kit are more prominent. Though Anderson once again was responsible for all the writing, the musical contributions from individual band members were stronger than ever. Up to now "Heavy Horses" remains one of the most popular and successful Tull-albums and the title song still is - in spite of being a long winded - an obligatory one on every Tull concert.

The "heavy Horses" world tour programme (1978).
By kind permission of Pete McHugh
(Electrocutas - The Jethro Tull Archive)


...And The Mouse Police Never Sleeps

  • This song appears to be about cats:
    "Savage bed-foot warmer of purest feline ancestry"
    and doesn't seem to celebrate nature as much as it reminds us that dead and killing are parts of nature:
    "Eats but one in every ten, leaves the others on the mat."
    It may be the case that a pagan or 'nature-worshipper' would not view death in the bleak, dreary manner in which most modern, Western people do.

  • The line "Eats but one in every ten, leaves the other on the mat" is an obvious reference to the habit of domestic cats to bring their kill to the master as an offering. This is a very common behavior of domesticated felines. Anyone who has a cat that catches mice knows that the cat will frequently leave the intact bodies of their prey in a well trafficked area as a gift to show their 'love' for the humans that keep them. The front door mat is the most common alter of offering, as this is where the cat patiently waits for the master to open the door and let them in to the house.
    * Bruce Rusk

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Acres Wild

  • Acres Wild takes a very earthy view of sex, based on a tradition I discussed in the introduction of Songs From The Wood. In the opening verse natural settings are enumerated in which the narrator plans to have sex. Than, in the second verse, the scenery change from rural to urban:
    "in narrow side streets with shuttered windows, crumbling chimneys" and brings us to the present day. The narrator proceeds to enumerate places of dilapidated civilization. He speaks of having sex in "a weary town".
    Based on the pagan fertility beliefs discussed before, the practice of having sex in these places should make them alive and productive again. Caswell asks himself: "Is it possible that this song is about a kind of pagan , pre-Christian sexual rejuvenation of a crumbling civilization?" We saw how this theme was the main subject of Jack-In-The-Green.

  • In the chorus lines the narrator calls his love "northern father's western child".
    It might be that this cryptic line shows the gap that arose between old tradition, where every human being had his/her place in the cycle of nature, and modern life, where so many feel lost and anonymous. In that case the "western child" stands for modern man and his life in the city who experiences the alienation that springs from the loss of traditions, that were so dear to the previous generations ('the northern fathers'). Could it be, that these northern fathers refer to Picts, Scots and other Celtic nations that inhabited Scotland so long ago and - being safeguarded for Roman civilization - could preserve their traditions for so long?

    * Jan Voorbij

  • In 'Acres Wild', I've always thought "northern father's western child" is simply Skye itself.  The northern father is Scotland, the comparatively small Isle Of Skye being described as Scotland's child.
    * Neil R. Thomason

  • "By deep brown rivers
    that slither darkly
    through far marches
    where the blue hare races."

    The 'blue hare' is the Mountain Hare, as distinct from the lowland Brown Hare. The Blue Hare is seen in mountainous areas of Scotland, presumably including the Cuillins on Skye, whereas the Brown Hare is common in England, and frequently appear in English folk songs. The inclusion of a hare adds 'authentic folk' character to the song, albeit with a typical Anderson twist to make the image his own. The term 'marches' refers to border country, not only politically (the belt of land along the Welsh-English border is called The Marches), but in terms of landscape - in this context, possibly the transitional zone where fairly flat, cultivated land turns into steeper moorland/rocky ground unsuitable for cultivation. This is probably obvious, but a mountain river would be shallow & fast-flowing, whereas once it had left the headwaters, it would become slower and deeper; rainwater draining from moorland peat would impart a rich red-brown colour to the river's water

  • The Winged Isle is an old name for the Isle of Skye. The black mountains refer to the Black Cuillins, the eastern part of the Cuillin Hills on the Isle of Skye.
    * Jan Voorbij, Judson Caswell

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No Lullaby

  • At first sight this song seems to address children and summons them to remain watchful and "keep an open eye" for all kinds of dangers that are "out there in the night". If that is the case, we are dealing here with what Barbara Espinoza in her book "Driving In Diverse" calls "a discomforting fairy tale : a child has to stand up to the darkness and all that lies in wait there" (p. 83). It is known however that Ian's lyrics can be interpreted at more than one level. So when we look more close, it is us who are addressed here. The lyrics are very alarming, supported splendidly by the brooding atmosphere of the music. What are the dangers the narrator warns us for? Who are these "dragons and beasties", these "folk out there who would do you harm" and make it necessary to stay alert ("Keep your eyes open and prick up your ears, rehearse your loudest cry") and defensible ("Gather your toys at the call-to-arms")? And why are the "lock on the window (...) chain on the door: a big dog in the hall" not enough to make us feel safe?

  • Bearing in mind that the song was written in 1977-78, I suspect it has to do with the rise of fascism in several European countries in the late seventies and early eighties. Beating up and brutalizing foreigners (blacks, gypsies, jews, Turkish and Vietnamese people a.o.), setting fire to pensions were they were hosted and other acts of violence: they were all the results of the agitation of fascist organisations in the past two decades. This all started around 1975 and a parallel with the situation of the thirties springs to mind. Due to the economic recession, originating from the socalled oil-crisis of 1973, many fascist and other ultra right wing groups in Europe saw an increase of their following.
    History teaches us that economic crises create feelings of uncertainty, fear for the future; they make people distrustful towards foreigners, and ask for a Great Leader to make things better. These movements make these ressentiments explicit, speculate on them and thus manipulate people, who are not political defensible enough to resist these ideas, for their own questionable goals. The National Front in Great Britain, Le Pen's Front National in France, the Vlaams Blok in Belgium and the Centrum Partij in the Netherlands are clear examples of these organisations.

    * Jan Voorbij

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  • Like most of the songs in "Heavy horses" this one seems to essentially romanticize the life and actions of the "Moths" - creatures of the dark. It is partly in the third partciple - as if the "creatures of the candle" are the ones that are speaking. A solitary candle by a window on a dark night has more than once been metaphorically used as a symbol of "hope".
    Probably, the commonly used phrase "A ray of hope" emanated from someone
    fantasizing on these lines. For those who have read Boris Pasternak's immortal work, "Dr. Zhivago", maybe it'd be interesting to point out a similar situation in which Yurii Zhivago comes across this solitary candle burning by the window on a frosty night in St. Petersburg, around which his destiny "soared on powdered wings" till the end of his life. Probably all of us, throughout our prosaic worldy existence keep chasing many futile dreams in the same fashion, so wonderfully brought out in the next couple of lines -
    "Circling our tomorrows, in the wary month of Spring", for spring is the season of hopes and dreams, when fresh life re-awakens. However, many-a-time in life, prosaic and mundane activitities cause our faiths to collapse and fancies to slip - "Chasing shadows slipping". The song ends with the same kind of ethos that it started with - "to join in the worship, of the light that never dies", for although many and have come and many left, "hopes" still burn and dreams live - attracting generations after the previous ones have been naturally attritioned to attain their ends.
    * Arup Nandi

  • I've been reading through the comments about song lyrics on and I'd like to add an opinion of my own, if I may, because I feel there's some injustice done to "Moths" from Heavy Horses. As the existing comment says it may be about hope, but I think it's more about romance than anything else, and I think the existing comment is too dismissive.

    We have:
    "Sending water-lillies sailing as she turned to get undressed."
    which doesn't fit with any imagery of moths/flame in the song. I think the song is written from the point of view of one a pair of lovers, and that line has no clever meaning except to make the situation clear. At the end there's also:
    "in a moment's reflection of two moths spinning in her eyes."
    Whose "eyes" ?

    Several lines compare feelings as the two lovers make love to the moths' dance:
    "And the long night awakened and we soared on powdered wings"
    "Creatures of the candle on a night-light-ride."
    "Butterfly-stroking on a Spring-tide high."

    with this line referring to their climax:
    "And we'll all burn together as the wick grows higher"

    "light that never dies" is love, not hope; it's common to refer to the "light" of someone's love showing in their eyes.

    One line which the other comment mentions:
    "Circling our tomorrows in the wary month of Spring." means either the lovers are young or their romance is new. The "springtime of life" means youth. There's a song (September Song) which says "it's a long road from May to December", May being the beginning of adult life and December being death. Also, Chris Rea's song "Looking for the summer" begins: "Look deep into the April face, a change is clearly taking place, looking for the summer", agreeing that April is the "last month of youth".

    Finally, I think even the music and Ian Anderson's gentle voicing of the lyrics suggest this is a love song.

    * Jessica Knight

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One Brown Mouse

  • The song is inspired by a poem of Robert Burns: 'Ode To A Mouse'. Though the song has a markedly urban setting, it fits the tone of the album. Taking the Burns connection one step further, the first three lines of 'To A Mouse' are:
         "Wee, sleekit, cow'rin', tim'rous beastie
         O what a panic's in thy breastie!
         Thou need na start awa sae hasty,"

    (see for the complete poem:
    The Official Robert Burns Site)
    In a recording for the BBC in 1975, Ian quoted these lines and acknowledged that the third line may have unconsciously inspired the line: "... don't start away uneasy..." in Aqualung.
    Neil R. Thomason

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Heavy Horses

The Clydesdale

The Suffolk

The Percheron

The Shire, in the Middle Ages used as battle horse
since they were strong enough to carry a knight in armour.

All photographs by Warren Hiskett.



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Last modified: January 1 2006

Jan Voorbij (1998-2009)