~ Songs From The Wood ~



An introduction to
"Songs From The Wood"

Jethro Tull would close out the seventies with a trilogy of albums that would most eloquently and cohesively express Anderson's world-view. He would continue with these themes in later albums but these attempts would prove to be expansions or recapitulations of the ideas stated in these three works. It is in these albums that the urban/rural dichotomy comes to the fore and Celtic/pre-Christian ('pagan') myth and imagery, which had been used sparingly in the past, is used prominently.

Previous Tull albums have been generally cynical and quite trenchant with regards to modern society. With the album at hand, these elements are inverted. A largely celebratory mood is invoked with the lyrics in praise of nature and of past rural life. Previous albums portrayed modern life as being spirtually hollow and in decay while the current album portrays a way of life that Anderson sees as full of meaning with a sense of community and respect for nature. This environmental theme will be most prominent in the final album of the trilogy, Stormwatch. The first track 'Songs From the Wood' begins with the title track: "Let me bring you songs from the wood, To make you feel much better than you could know." These lines are sung in a madrigal-like acapella chorus. The narrator wants to show us "how the garden grows" and to bring us "love from the field." He urges us to "join the chorus if you can." He calls us to become a part of larger community pursuit of a greater good. Contrast this with the criticisms evident on Thick As a Brick. It would seem that Anderson is trying to construct a set of values that would be appropriate for society to pass onto its young. In an interview the following year, he would reveal how he has integrated some of the ideas on the album into his own life: " ... rather than spending his money on drugs, parties and cars, I would rather have something tangible at my disposal and also something I can feel a little bit responsible for. That's one thing money buys: the right to acquire responsibility for things or people or animals or whatever".

'Songs From The Wood' is ripe with folk instrumentation, but it is not folk music. There is electric guitar and rock drums but it is not rock music. It is a complex mixture of both these musics and more. Regarding the appropriation of English folk music Anderson has said, "It's more than a liking for the instrument. It's a response to the music - that droning quality - Celtic music. It's something special. One can't really pin down what. It has to be some kind of folk memory." It is also noteworthy that this musical break with their past involved the inclusion of 'additional material' by David Palmer and Martin Barre. This album was more of a group effort than past albums.
"Songs from the wood : the music and lyrics of Ian Anderson", John Benninghouse; adaptation Jan Voorbij.

As said before, on the albums 'Songs From the Wood',' Heavy Horses' and 'Stormwatch', Ian Anderson makes use of all kinds of references and images from English folk song, as Caswell states in his astute 1993 paper: "In fact the images are too numerous to be dealt with thoroughly here. However, with just a brief look, we can find that English folk song is a source of validation for religious and sexual rebellion. The matter-of-fact sexual attitude expressed on Songs From the Wood and Heavy Horses is in no contradiction with true English folk song. Stuart, in his Pagan Images in English Folk Song, explains that sex was considered quite natural and a worthy topic of song (59). Lloyd explains that in an agricultural society, all kinds of fertility are sacred--human, animal and plant. He goes on to say, "Nowhere does this intimate consonance with nature show clearer than in the erotic folk songs" (p, 197).

The "Songs From The Woods"British tour programme (1977).
By kind permission of Pete McHugh
(Electrocutas - The Jethro Tull Archive).

Particularly striking images arise from the rite of Beltane, or May Day: Stories abound of young men and women running amok in the woods on the eve before the first of May. Church officials condemned such practices, swearing that a full two-thirds of the maidens returned home "defiled" (Lloyd, 106-107). For the pre-Christian peasant, these were not defiling acts: The first of May was seed time, and after planting it was believed that the seeds should be assisted in their fertilization. The sexual energy of the most virile members of the community was required to ensure the success of the crops (Lloyd, 106). Young couples copulated in the furrows of the fields to assist the crops along as well (99). As a result of these pagan practices, sexual imagery involving fields and farms is abundant (200)."

"The sexual imagery on Songs From the Wood and Heavy Horses is full of such references. The main sexual songs on the album "Songs From The Wood" are "Velvet Green" and "Hunting Girl".(...). All songs involve love in the wide outdoors."

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Jethro Tull in 1977 during the Songs From The Wood tour.


Songs From The Wood

  • 'Songs From the Wood' , the title track, begins with: "Let me bring you songs from the wood, To make you feel much better than you could know." These lines are sung in a madrigal-like acapella chorus. The narrator wants to show us "how the garden grows" and to bring us "love from the field." He urges us to "join the chorus if you can." He calls us to become a part of larger community pursuit of a greater good.
    * Judson C.Caswell

  • "Galliards", or in french "gaillardes" are dance songs from the Renaissance era.

  • Obviously the title is in itself one of the most interestingly rich features of the song and of the album, since it is title for both. I think we ought to take into account the fact that the sentence can be understood in two (if not more than that, as is usual with Ian Anderson) different meanings, the first one being, of course, songs from the countryside in opposition to urban life. The wood here symbolises the old way of life, the rural one, when human beings were closer to nature and understood it better. Now they are destroying it, and the narrator wishes us to hear the voice of Nature singing in these songs from the Wood, telling us to come back to a better way of life in harmony with Nature.
    Secondly, since the album reverts to such a folk kind of music, "from the wood" might mean "from wooden instruments", that is to say older ones than electric guitar and the kind. Of course electric guitar is present in the album, but I can think of no other album than Heavy Horses that has as old-flavoured music as Songs From the Wood, and the song in itself is a example of the mixing up of old i.e. traditional folk style and new style. The verseline
    "Let me bring you old things refined" is quite clear in this way, and "Dust you down from tip to toe" applies to us listeners, meaning that we need to get off ourselves the dust accumulated through generations of evolution in order to find back what is lying at the bottom of us, i.e. the older way of life. Hence the narrator says he wants to revitalise us because our current life is killing us: let me "... show you how the garden grows" is explicit: in our modern way of life we have so detached ourselves from Nature that we do not even know how plants and vegetables grow any more! We are only concerned with eating, without thinking what a marvellous process of creation has had to take place before we can have the said vegetables in our plates.

    "Let me bring you love from the field" means for me "let me show you that Nature loves you, because you are her children," and "to heal the wound and still the pain" once again explicitly implies that our modern society and way of life endanger our health. "Life's long celebration's here" means that life is in Nature, not far from it, and that if we want to enjoy life again (Ian constantly implies that we do not, even though unconsciously, enjoy life in its western, modern, urban way) we have to come back to rural life.
    "I am the wind to fill your sail / I am the cross to take your nail" imply two metaphors: in the first one the narrator says he will fill our sail with wind in order to help us sail towards better life, and the fact that he talks of a sail goes on well with his idea of the old ways of life being better: a boat with a sail does not pollute! In the second sentence Ian does no less than, I think, comparing himself with Christ, i.e. let me be the one to pay for your sins so that you can life happily. Finally, "A singer of these ageless times / With kitchen prose and gutter rhymes" apply to himself, so he positions himself as a kind of herald of these forgotten times when life was better, and he also implies that his discourse and songs are all but serious: kitchen, that is not very good prose, and rhymes from the gutter mean that we must not take things too seriously but rather revel in a simple but healthy way of life.
    * Fred Sowa

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Velvet Green

  • Imagery in this song is reminiscent of images from an English folk song called "The Mower," in which the fair maid is unsatisfied with her beau. "I'll strive to sharp your scythe, so set it in my hand" says the maiden (Lloyd, 201). "Velvet Green" includes the line "Won't you have my company, yes take it in your hand."
  • As the first lines of the song imply, it is about living without a care in a rural way, so it sums up the whole message of the album. The Velvet Green of course refers to the green grass of Scotland, Ian's birthplace, but I think we can take it as a larger metaphor for Nature in general. "Walking on Velvet Green" would thus mean "following the green way, the green road of Nature," that is to say living in harmony with Nature. Of course it is about a sexual relationship between a country girl and a country man, but once again I think we should take this as a metaphor meaning that real, enjoyable and healthy life lies in a closer relationship with Nature (embodied in previous songs in the Green Man, Jack-in-the-Green, and here in the narrator) and the awareness that we ourselves are part of Nature.

    "Won't you have my company, yes, take it in your hands.
    Go down on velvet green, with a country man.
    Who's a young girls fancy and an old maid's dream.
    Tell your mother that you walked all night on velvet green.
    One dusky half-hour's ride up to the north.
    There lies your reputation and all that you're worth.
    Where the scent of wild roses turns the milk to cream.
    Tell your mother that you walked all night on velvet green.
    And the long grass blows in the evening cool.
    And August's rare delight may be April's fool.
    But think not of that, my love, I'm tight against the seam.
    And I'm growing up to meet you down on velvet green".

    This whole stanza reminds me of Sweet Dream:
    "You'll hear me calling in your sweet dream, Can't hear your daddy's warning cry. You're going back to be all the things you want to be While in sweet dreams you softly sigh. You hear my voice is calling to be mine again, Live the rest of your life in a day".
    It is an invitation to forget about our education, which restrains us from enjoying life, and is embodied in both songs in the parents. The narrators appear as kinds of tempting characters, probably devils or incubuses in the parents' minds, but who in fact want only to show us the way to a better way of life. The line
    "Now I may tell you that it's love and not just lust / And if we live the lie, let's lie in trust" mean that the narrator does not only want to have sex with the girl in question, but really to be in love with her, i.e. on a more general level, the relationship with Nature must not be based on profit (using natural resources in a wild way that leads to Nature's destruction) but on real harmony and love.
    The final verses
    "And the ragged dawn breaks on your battle scars. As you walk home cold and alone upon velvet green" add a touch of sadness, because the girl has to go back home alone, she can't stay with her nocturnal, dream-like lover, and we indeed have a feeling that everything was just a dream, that it never existed, but there is still the hope that, be it dream or reality, it will happen again the night after, and every other night.

    There is a clear dichotomy between daytime and night-time in this song, the latter being the time when the girl's (our) dreams and fancies and most profound desires come true, and day-time being the time for the harsh reality of urban life. Ian will express the same idea in "Pussy Willow" a few years later: in fact the girl in "Velvet Green " and the one in "Pussy Willow" might be the same. We have to notice that night is predominant in the album "Songs From The Wood": "Velvet Green" and "Fire At Midnight" both depict scenes taking place during the night, whilst "Cup Of Wonder" begins with the opening line "May I make my fond excuses for the lateness of the hour", once again implying it is night-time. It seems that Ian wants to give night a very positive value, it being the time for feasting ("Cup Of Wonder,") love-making ("Velvet Green") or lovesong-writing ("Fire At Midnight")
    * Fred Sowa

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Hunting Girl

  • "says: "She took the simple man's downfall in hand; I raised the flag that she unfurled." "Hunting Girl" is another of his sex-in-the-fields songs. However, this is the story of an aristocratic lady who seduces a lowly field worker with wild and extravagant practices: "Boot leather flashing and spur-necks the size of my thumb. This high-born hunter had tastes as strange as they come. Unbridled passion: I took the bit in my teeth. Her standing over: me on my knees underneath." These playful allusions to sex bear strong resemblances in tone to many early folk songs, and Ian's stage gesturing can be related to folk sources as well. "Bawdiness and sexuality, loose talk, obscene gestures, priapic dance, are the starting points for many ceremonial dramas of springtime" (Lloyd, 106)." (...)
  • Apart from the fact that this is one of the most kinky songs Ian ever wrote, I would like to point out that the girl depicted in it is the perfect representation of the Celtic woman. Contrary to other civilisations, it seems from mythological, judicial and literary evidence that women had a very happier condition in Celtic societies in the Dark Ages (the period just preceding the Middle-Ages) than in any other. Celtic women were among other things renowned for their sexual freedom, because when they wanted a man they just went to him and made it clear that they were interested in having sex with him. The concept of sin was totally unknown to Celtic peoples before their conversion to Christianity, and a married woman could have an affair with another man practically in total impunity, and vice-versa. But a distinctive feature of mythological feminine Celtic characters is that they usually were depicted as "femmes fatales," and in the relationship between a man and a woman the dominant character was often the woman.
    From thence sprung the concept of "amour courtois" or courtly love, which we find in medieval romances: the man is totally and in every respect devoted to the woman, obeying her every wish and whim. We find the same feature in the song: the lady is depicted as a "hunting girl," but what she hunts is in fact males! And when she makes it clear to the narrator that she wants sex, he just cannot refuse. Moreover, the supremacy of the woman is expressed in the position she adopts:
    "Her standing over / Me on my knees underneath."
    Finally, interestingly enough the narrator calls her
    "the queen of all the pack" which reminds me of Queen Medbh (pronounced Maeve) of Irish Mythology: she was famous for her sexual appetites, and her total lack of scruples to sleep with someone else than her husband. (Fore more information about Celtic mythology or Celtic women, I recommend Jean Markale's books The Celts : Uncovering the Mythic and Historic Origins of Western Culture, and Woman of the Celts.
    * Fred Sowa

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  • "This rejuvenation (of nature/life - jv) is clearer in 'Jack-In-The-Green' from Songs From the Wood. Jack, as presented in the song, is responsible for keeping the green alive over the winter and bringing it out again in spring. According to Stewart, Jack-In-The-Green is one of the many names by which Saint George is known. He is also called the Green Man, is associated with many fertility rites, including Beltane, and is responsible for returning leaf and life after winter. Ian Anderson applies this powerful healing spirit to a very modern question. Considering the environmental terrorisms of industrialization as a kind of winter, he asks:
    "Jack do you never sleep? Does the green still run deep in your heart?
    Or will these changing times, motorways, powerlines keep us apart
    Well I don't think so, I saw some grass growing through the pavements today."

    This stanza illustrates two things: 1) that there is hope for modern civilization and 2) this hope lies in reaching back to tradition for a different view of the man's relation to nature. This is a small precursor to the environmental concerns expressed later in the trilogy.
  • "Though the audiences of these songs and viewers of his shows may not recognize the specific historical references presented, that doesn't change the historical significance of the work (Lipsitz, 104). It is likely that Ian Anderson doesn't fully understand the images he refers to: for instance, his Jack-in-the-Green, according to a concert clip off Bursting Out, is one of many little woodland sprites that cares for plants. The explanation is wrong, but the image serves the proper function nonetheless. "
  • This reflects Lloyd's idea of a folk-memory, through which connotations remain long after true meanings are lost (Lloyd, 96). Stewart would say that the strength of Ian's imagery lies in the unconscious appeal of the magical symbols, and that he has tapped into a source of racial consciousness and identity (Stewart, 13). Lipsitz says "all cultural expressions speak to both residual memories of the past and emergent hopes for the future" (13). Ian's utilization of old pagan imagery of fertility and rebirth are being put to work in the present to accomplish a sense of hopefulness. His agenda at last is not political, but spiritual, and he accomplishes a sense of tranquility and rightness for those who can empathize with his imagery. His goal: "Let me bring you Songs From the Wood, to make you feel much better than you could know."
  • "Conclusions: Now it is possible to compare where Ian Anderson is in 1978 to where he started in 1968, with Roland Kirk. Lipsitz identifies Kirk as a performer who is deriving his power from a sense of history. He explains that Roland Kirk presents an art that can be interpreted at many levels - an art that makes reference to the past through oblique and coded messages. These messages arise as eccentricities in Roland Kirk's music and stage presence (4). Ian Anderson strove to make that same kind of historical connection, and to have that connection be manifest in all of his works. He felt no sense of group-identity with the rock 'n roll culture of his times, so he searched elsewhere for his historical connections. With these connections he found a voice for emotional and critical expression. The imagery of English folk culture permeated his work and allowed him to evoke the past to accomplish his artistic goals."
    * Judson C.Caswell (SCC, vol. 4, issue 32, December 1993) ; adaptation Jan Voorbij ;
    Works Cited: 1. Anderson, Ian. "Trouser Press Magazine." Autodiscography, (Oct. 1982), 1-13.; 2. Densflow, Robin. "Rolling Stone." Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson Plans a Movie; He'll Play God, (11/8/73), 14 ; 3. Hardy, Phil and Dave Laing Ed. Encyclopedia of Rock, New York: Schirmer Books, 1987; 4. Lewis, Grover. "Rolling Stone." Hopping, Grimacing, Twitching, Gasping, Lurching, Rolling, Paradiddling, Flinging, Gnawing and Gibbering with Jethro Tull. (7/22/71), 24-27; 5. Lipsitz, George. Time Passages. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990 ; 6. Lloyd, A.L. Folk Song in England. New York: International Publishers, 1967 ; 7. Sims, Judith. "Rolling Stone." Tull on Top: Ian Anderson Speaks His Mind, (3/27/75), 12; 8. Stewart, Bob. Pagan Imagery in English Folksong. N.J.: Humanities Press Inc. 1977. 9. Torres, Ben Fong. "Rolling Stone." Jethro Tull and His Fabulous Tool, (4/19/69), 10.
  • The Greenman
    The powerful foliate head of the Greenman is a symbol still seen today carved on mysterious stones, ancient churches and on Celtic artifacts. In Celtic folklore, he peers at us through the masks of Cernunnos the Wild stag-horned Lord of the Hunt, Herne the Hunter, the Green Knight of Arthurian legend, Jack-in-the-Green (...). He protects the forest and is the spirit of the land - and is still used todayas a good luck symbol for gardeners. His face, carved in golden oak, can also be seen in Windsor Castle, where it was restored after their disastrous fire.

* Artwork and information: courtesy of Chris de Haan

  • Neil Thomason has a different opinion on the origins of Jack-In-The-Green and states: " 'Jack-In-The-Green' is an English character, as Ian acknowledged numerous times on stage. Some have argued here that the song relates to the Green Man. I'd disagree, but in any case, the Green Man is a figure of English, not Celtic folklore. Okay, there's some cross-over, but as generally understood, he's English."
    * Neil Thomason (SCC vol.9 nr. 14)
  • Here are the two references to Jack-in-the-Green from J.G. Frazer's book 'The Golden Bough: a study in magic and religion' (abridged edition, Macmillan 1987): "In England the best-known example of these leaf-clad mummers is the Jack- in-the-Green, a chimney-sweeper who walks encased in a pyramidal framework of wickerwork, which is covered with holly and ivy, and surmounted by a crown of flowers and ribbons.  Thus arrayed he dances on May Day at the head of a troop of chimney-sweeps, who collect pence [money] . . . . it is obvious that the leaf-clad person who is led about is equivalent to the May-tree, May-bough, or May-doll, which is carried from house to house by children begging.  Both are representatives of the beneficent spirit of vegetation, whose visit to the house is recompensed by a present of money or food." (p. 129).
    And: "In most of the personages who are thus slain in mimicry it is impossible not to recognise representatives of the tree-spirit or spirit of vegetation, as he is supposed to manifest himself in spring. The bark, leaves, and flowers in which the actors are dressed, and the season of the year at which they appear, show that they belong to the same class as the Grass King, King of the May, Jack- in-the-Green, and other representatives of the vernal spirit of vegetation . . . " (p. 299). All in all, this book is essential reading for information about pre-Christian rituals and folk-beliefs.
    * Andrew Jackson
  • The "Greenman" is in various form carved into English Christian churches by stonemasons and woodcarvers, which purport to be forest-gods from England's pagan past. You can see some examples of Green Men on these sites:
    "The search for the Green Man" and "The Green Man: variations on a theme". For more specific information, see "Who is the Green Man".
    When I first visited your site I was immediately struck by the image of Ian Anderson as Green Man that you use as a repeated motif in your site.
    * Harrison Sherwood

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