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5 March 1977


Songs From The Wood

Jethro Tull died on February 2lst 1741, but try telling that to Ian Anderson. Mention the author of 'An Essay On The Principles Of Tillage And Vegetation', and what figure is conjured up? The maniacal, pirhouetting flautist with the sort of leer that causes nice girls to stay home nights — Ian Anderson!

The task now in hand is the latest Tull offering, currently revolving at 33 and a third revolutions — give or take an insurrection — on my turntable; it's one hell of a fine record.

Songs From The Wood is a vindication of Anderson's uncompromising attitude towards Tull's music, and an album that demands they be considered as one of your first division British bands.

The whole album is a celebration of an English way of life long since gong, not perhaps as it was, but how it should have been.

With ruddy cheeked peasants wassailing away around the maypole knocking back the mead and waving jugged hare around in rustic abandon, while speculating on who made Marian, Anderson and his merry minstrels lead the dance with music of a timeless kind upon the lute and flute and nakers and tabor.

What Anderson's done is immerse himself in traditional music and translate it into contemporary terms, utilising all the technology the '70s can muster, without losing the essence of the music.

Apart from producing, singing, playing flute, guitar, mandolin and whistle, Anderson wrote every song, and it's a tribute to him that they have a traditional appeal, yet retain a freshness of their own.

The title-track is a great opener, with unaccompanied vocals ushering in flute and acoustic guitars before the rest of the band chip in, while Anderson — in fine voice throughout the album — sings his "kitchen prose and gutter rhymes," promising "Songs from the wood make you fell [sic] much better", the universal panacea.

An example of what's good about this album can be found on 'Cup Of Wonder' — a track with 'classic' stamped all over it. Guitars, flute and piano blend into a tune that leaves you little alternative but tap a foot in time. Despite the electric guitar — courtesy of Martin 'Rarely puts a foot wrong' Barre — there's a feeling that this is the sort of song sung on the eve of Agincourt. Anderson wheedles and cajoles as master of the revels as he sings the chorus of "Pass the plate to ward off hunger /Pass the wit of ancient wisdom /Pass the cup of crimson wonder", and lets his voice trail off at the end of 'wonder', in a manner redolent of troubadors departing the Squire's candlelit dinner table.

If music be the food of love — play on, and pass the bicarbonate of soda.

A stately introduction, courtesy of keyboard wizard David Palmer and his portative organ, introduces 'Velvet Green'. A serene and pastoral piece, with Anderson offering the beguiling invitation to "tell your mother you walked all night on velvet green" — must've been a hell of a party.

The lamentably under-rated single 'Ring Out, Solstice 'Bells' (which must be Chrysalis' new 'Gaudete', due for re-release every November) still sounds good, even with Spring eructing. The bells themselves, chiming away at the end of the track, bring a Christmas card serenity to the song.

'Pibroch', according to the dictionary, is a variation of a bagpipes tune. Well, there's a lot of variation, and precious little bagpipe. Unfortunately it's the longest track on the album and only really picks up about two-thirds of the way through the song, with Anderson playing the Pipes of Pan with great aplomb.

But 'Fires At Midnight' is a good way to end, an effective postscript, about Ian writing a love song beside a dying fire at midnight — nice one.

Despite the fact that my review copy was warped enough to register on the Richter scale, this album has been a constant joy.



Thanks to Mike Wain for this article.