~ Stormwatch ~


An introduction to "Stormwatch"

In 1978 Ian started writing songs for a new album that can be considered as the third one in a trilogy about the relation human and nature. This environmental theme, portraying a way of life that Ian sees as full of meaning with a sense of community and respect for nature, was very prominent on "Songs From The Wood" and explored further on "Heavy Horses".

In a BBC-documentary, the band band can be seen rehearsing and performing "Dark Ages", a song from "Stormwatch" which was released in 1979. Ian explains how the song is about his idea that humanity was in the late 1970's entering something akin to the Dark Ages of several hundred years ago. This is mainly the result of destruction of the environment. So the album title comes from Ian's idea that he is watching a storm coming, that will put mankind into a kind of winter in which the environment will be destroyed. One could say that both lyrics and album cover contain a warning for what is going to happen to the world if modern society doesn't change it's manic strive for economic growth at the expense of nature and environment.

The "Stormwatch" tour programme (1979).
By kind permission of Pete McHugh
(Electrocutas - The Jethro Tull Archive).

The album cover shows Anderson bundled up in coat and mittens holding a set of binoculars. In the lenses of the binoculars are images of oil rigs and lightning bolts. The green and brown imagery of the previous two album covers has been replaced by blue, gray and black. The band logo takes the form of a digital readout like that of an alarm clock. The album presents itself in a very contemporary vein. Nonetheless it is easy to see it as the last in a trilogy. It doesn't look to nature or the past for a better way of life but instead calls for action in the present to save nature lest humanity suffer a terrible fate. This is illustrated on the back of the album cover. It portrays a coastal area with oil refineries on land and oil rigs off in the sea. The whole area is covered with massive amounts of snow while a gigantic polar bear rampages along the coast. In the clear sky are several birds, the constellation of Orion (the name of one of the songs) and an angel, presumably representing Gabriel who has come to blow his horn signalling the Apocalypse. (Unfortunately, the angel's face is obscured by a bar code.)

Ian Anderson and Barriemore Barlow during the Stormwatch tour. You will find more on George Cassuto's Jethro Tull Stormwatch Tour Pics Page
(Thank you George for lending me this one).


North Sea Oil

  • The album begins with "North Sea Oil", which describes the greed which fuels the petroleum industry: "Riggers rig and diggers dig their shallow grave, but we'll be saved and what we crave is North Sea Oil" and the dangers of pollution for the environment. However most North Sea oil is transported by pipeline, with few pollution incidents. The only significant spill in the last 30 years of petroleum extraction occurred over 10 years after the song was written. In terms of affecting the Scottish environment, it's mainly been in industrialising rural areas.  The Shetland Isles are almost unspoilt, apart from the massive oil refinery at Sullem Voe. Oil rigs were constructed in the Scottish lochs and bays for years, ruining the views. The deep waters around Skye were used this way (see 'Broadford Bazaar'), which might have been Ian's inspiration. A significant point in understanding the song is the way the British government has made use of the oilfield resource. They could have promoted slower, steady extraction, covering Britain's energy costs and trade balance for decades, maybe longer. Instead, they went for all-out, intense development with immediate profits - which won't last. I suspect Ian disapproves. I have no political bias in saying that; governments of all parties have behaved the same way.
  • It might be worth explaining the spoken lines in 'North Sea Oil. As the album credits say, Francis Wilson was (is?) a TV weather presenter. In addition to speaking the intro to 'Dun Ringill', he gives a weather forecast between verses in 'North Sea Oil':
    "Viking, Forties, Fisher: north-west, backing west, four to five. Dogger, German Bight: north-west, five or six, occasionally gale eight".
    The slightly odd names aren't just random words. The seas around Britain are split into about thirty named 'sea areas', to facilitate navigation and, indeed, weather forecasting, as this map of the
    UK Shipping Forecast Areas shows:

    A gale off the Skye coast, therefore, would be announced as occuring in sea area 'Hebrides', and ships would know to take extra care. In the 'North Sea Oil' example, Viking, Forties & Fisher are the offshore areas in the middle of the North Sea, in a triangle drawn between the Scotland-England border, Bergen in Norway, and Esbjerg in Denmark. Dogger and German Bight account for the southern North Sea, south from Dogger and Fisher to a line drawn roughly Norwich-Amsterdam.
    The numbers in the forecast are wind strengths, according to the Beaufort Scale (1 is a barely noticeable breeze, 12 is a hurricane). So German Bight can expect a moderately strong wind blowing from the north-west, which will occasionally reach the more severe gale eight. So this weather forecast covers wind across the whole North Sea, excepting the Norwegian coast and that of mainland Britain. A full forecast would also mention precipitation (rain or snow), plus visibility. A perhaps trivial detail is that this format of forecast is used by the BBC (radio) shipping forecast, not TV forecasts and certainly not by Thames TV, the company then employing Francis Wilson. It's quite likely that Wilson never read a shipping forecast for 'real'!
    * Neil R. Thomason

  • Return to song lyric Top of page


  • In this song Ian seems to plea for help from the heavens: "Orion, light your lights: come guard the open spaces from the black horizon to the pillow where I lie." This reminds of the appeal in "Weathercock" from the Heavy Horses album: "Good morning weathercock: make this day bright. Put us in touch with your fair winds. (...) Point the way to better days we can share with you". Even though the album is, as Anderson himself described it, "more socially oriŽntated", nature is still used to great effect.

  • As a result of his nightly excursions, Kevin Thurstom made this observation: Most of the year we can see Orion and at this time of year he
    rises in the east and follows a path similar to what the sun does. One thing
    I discovered is that there is a constellation that follows Orion across the
    sky which is known as the dog constellation (or Canis majoris). Despite the
    fact that Orion is one of the brightest constellations in the sky (including
    the famous Betelgeuse), Canis majoris contains the brightest star in our
    sky, Sirius. Thus the lyric that
    "your faithful dog shines brighter than
    it's lord and master"
    . The constellation Orion also has a star sequence that
    represents his sword, thus
    "your jeweled sword twinkles".
    * Kevin Thurston

    Return to song lyric Top of page


Dark Ages

  • The term "Dark Ages" refers to the Middle Ages in England, esp. the era of the Anglo-French war (1350 - 1450), that almost ruined both countries. This was a century of cultural and intellectual darkness. French historians use a similar term for this era.
    * Jan Voorbij

    The "Dark Ages" refer to the collapse of civilisation in Europe, following the fall of the Western half of the Roman Empire in AD 476, due to the repeated invasions of the barbarians. It is characterised by these repeated invasions during the following 600 years (initially by Goths, Saxons, Vandals, and then later on by the Vikings), and it lasted until the start of the Middle Ages in 1066. It is referred to as the dark ages, because the light of civilisation went out, and all of the advances made under the Romans slowly were lost (general literacy, plumbing, etc).
    * Alex Canduci
  • I just wanted to inform you that in a bootleg entitled "Songs from the Wooden Gramophone" and dating from the "Songs from the Wood" Tour, I have two versions of the song "Dark Ages", where Ian sings a stanza which is not on the studio recording. As I am not English but French, there are some words for which I am not sure, but it goes something like that (that stanza in the beginning, following the one with the television that dies and no-one stops to cry) :
    "And the gloom in the valley
    Grows brighter as the town
    Lends us light most royally
    And the houses all burn down."

    In the studio audio clip from the BBC Arena documentary, the line is "lends us light most royally" -- but in the live version which ends the documentary, it's "lends her light most royally".
    * Fred (from France); Andy Jackson

    Return to song lyric Top of page

Warm Sporran

  • The first half of the album ends with an instrumental piece. It would seem that Anderson is seeking shelter from the storm about to begin.
  • A sporran is a Scottish sort of purse, worn on a belt around the waist (when wearing kilt etc.), hanging at roughly crotch level. Those of a lewd turn of mind may make the obvious extrapolation. ;)
    * Leigh Ann Hussey

    Top of page

Something Is On The Move

Old Ghosts

Dun Ringill

The remnants of the broch at Dun Ringill.

  • There is a place called Dunringill. It lies on the shores of Loch Slapin, Isle of Skye, which form part of the Strathaird estate once owned by Ian Anderson - now owned by the John Muir Trust which is a conservation body. The ruins of Castle Ringill, 900 years ago the seat of the Clan Fingon, are just a few hundred yards away from the house Anderson once lived in. An attractive and secluded spot.
    * Graeme Robertson, Habitat Scotland, Hazelmount, Heron Place, Portree, Isle of Skye, IV51 9EU, Scotland UK,

(* Maps:

  • "We'll wait in stone circles" . Two examples of stone circles, built in the neolithic era. Both are situated on the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides near Stornoway. There a many of these stone circles on the British and Irish isles. Scientists have developed several theories about these monuments considering them as places for worship and ceremony, burial and devotion, calendars etc.These photographs were made by © Diego Meozzi ( ).
    * Jan Voorbij

    Return to song lyric Top of page

Flying Dutchman

  • The last song with lyrics is "Flying Dutchman". The title refers to a legendary Dutch ship whose captain is doomed to sail the seas until the Day of Judgment. For those who don't follow Anderson's course of action, an unhappy life awaits:
    "So come all you lovers of the good life
    on your supermarket run....
    look around you, can you see?
    Staring ghostly in the mirror--
    it's the Dutchman you will be
    ...floating slowly out to sea
    in a misty misery
  • Writing these lyrics Ian must have been inspired by the fact that in the years after 1975 (end of the Vietnam war) a lot of Vietnamese people unsuccesfully tried to find a new home elsewhere: ''Wee girl in a straw hat: from far east warring" . They fled their country by boat, most of the time only to discover that most of the countries refused to accept them as refugees. In this sense it's still a song of present interest. In the first part of the song the Flying Dutchman is metaphorical for the poor people on the boats that can't find a safe haven, in the last stanza it's the people who are responsible for it that could become the Flying Dutchman themselves. It's like a mirror (that they are "staring ghostly" at and thus "from") I think Ian wants to tell that the people in the rich western countries ("on your supermarket run" and "your children playing in the sun") should change their attitude towards (political) refugees. He is warning us, "lovers of the good life"  that, if we don't change "it's the Dutchman you will be, floating slowly out to sea in a misty misery""Not fishers of men" may be referring to the bible. Jesus' disciples were fishermen before they started to follow him and somewhere in the bible (so I'm told, but I don't know exactly where) Jesus refers to them as 'fishers of men'.
    * Fred Greve

    Return to song lyric Top of page


  • The album ends with a David Palmer instrumental, "Elegy". Here ends our trilogy. The appropriation of images from folklore and nature, which were present before, come to a climax here. The conflict between urban and rural, past and present is made clear. And Ian Anderson predicts dire consequences if our present course of greed and environmental destruction is continued.
  • Some comments on 'Elegy' - the song, written by David Palmer, is actually about the death of his father. It even has lyrics, which Palmer himself sung on an album he recorded sometime back in the earlier 90's. These notes were taken from a "A New Day" from some time back. But I feel that most fans, including myself, have associated this song with the passing of John. Also, John Glascock fell very ill during the recording of Stormwatch but he did not die until three weeks after the albums release, which is why no mention of his death makes it to the cover.
    * Matt Willis
  • According to David Rees 'Elegy' was the only surviving piece of music from ''The Waters Edge', originally titled "The Siren Song". The Scottish Ballet, directed by Ian's brother Robin Anderson, had asked Ian to write an orchestral, classical piece of ballet music and he turned to David Palmer for assistance. Martin Barre also collaborated, albeit to a much lesser extent. The piece dealt with the myths and legends of the ancient kingdom of Scotland. ''The Waters Edge' was performed in Glasgow and Edinburg and unfortunately was never properly recorded.
  • Elegy was recently performed by David Palmer at the Itullian Convention, June 30 2001. The lyrics cannot always be clearly heard but this is what they are as far as I can make them out (thank you Elwyn):
  • "As the dealer laid his final card aginst my upturned four
    The nightmare game burst into flames And I ran towards the door
    I climbed the ten tread staircase and started to descend
    but for me there was no exit its beginning was its end
    And a group of grasping lawyers passed as I paused to catch my breath
    Life is trecherously deprived but you can rely on death
    And then a choir of contra tenors sang the credo from a mass
    As I gazed upon this motley scene ...through a piece of darkened glass
    I saw the hunter and the hunted The coarses and the Hare
    So I pranced and danced with muddied feet To a hunting fluted aire The clan and one lone Ricky built a mansion in this bar
    but blood ran from the mortar said the black bowler from afar
    some lawyers and a statesman drove past in stately cars
    but a black crow rode his mascot as they headed for the dance
    as a choir of tenors joined the dancers on the grass
    I saw it all before my eyes through that piece of darkened glass
    Then a bass man with a broken string took his life into his hands
    I watched him walk right through the wall as he crumbled into sand Though I tried to stop this madness the dealer let him past.
    All I could do was stand and stare yeah through that piece of darkened glass
    And I'll never know the reason of the meaning of this play
    but men and bits of paper just like dust have blown away
    They can cling to their sad story of what wealth and power gave
    when they find the path of glory beneath that true (...?)
    * Jan Voorbij

  • Aldo Tagliaferro, president of Itullians, The Italian Jethro Tull Fan Club has additional information: "If you're interested in adding the real lyrics to Elegy, here they are. I found only recently that you added the words of the DP version (included in the live cd "A night with Jethro Tull") and noticed that they differ from the original. As you know I'm translating each Tull album with full notes and explanations for our subscribers."

    Note: In the lyrics below  Maggy is DP first wife. It's the story of the death of poor John Glascock. The Dealer (=Leader) is Ian. The clown is John Evans, the "lone bricky" DP himself (or herself) as referred to in the SFTW program. General tone and a few quotes from Thomas Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. The upturned four refers to tarots, it's Death.

    As the Dealer laid his final card
    against my upturned four
    that night Maggie burst into flame
    and I ran towards the door
    I climbed the ten-tread staircase
    and started to descend
    but for me there was no exit
    its beginning was its end
    and a group of grasping liers
    passed as I paused to catch my breath
    "life is treacherous" the leader cried
    but you can rely on death
    and a choir of counter-tenors
    sang the credo from a Mass
    as I gazed upon this motley scene
    through a piece of darkened glass

    I saw the hunter and the hunted
    the coursers and the hare
    join hands in dance with muddy feet
    to a haunting fluted air
    the clown and one lone bricky
    built a mansion in his mire
    but blood ran from the water
    set the blackball earth on fire
    some bankers and a statesmen
    will pass in stately cars
    but the black crow rode his mascot
    as they headed for the dark
    and a choir of counter-tenors
    join the dancers on the grass
    and I saw it all before my eyes
    through this piece of darkened glass

    Then a bassman with a broken string
    took his life into his hands
    I watched him walk right through the wall
    as he crumbled into sand
    though I tried to stop this madness
    the Dealer let him pass
    all I could do was turn and stare
    through that piece of darkened glass
    and I'll never know the reason
    or the meaning of this play
    those men and bits of paper
    just like dust have blown away
    but I can't forget the faces
    of the dancers on the grass
    as I gaze upon that motley scene
    through that piece of darkened glass.
  • * Aldo Tagliaferro

    Top of page


Back to "Stormwatch" lyrics page


Introduction Site Map Site Search TullSongs TullAlbums TullScapes
TullBooks TullUnreleased TullClips TullLinks TullResources About & Awards

Updated: July 5 2004

© Jan Voorbij (1998-2009)