Heavy Horses provided the meaty filling in an inspired trifecta of folk-rock releases by Jethro Tull upon its original release in 1978.
Being the middle album of a unique folk rock trilogy, which began with the woodland folklore of Songs From the Wood and bookended by the spooky pagan elements of Stormwatch, it galloped into the Top 20 on both sides of the Atlantic. It still remains an essential ploughman’s lunch of collected songs, if you will, about rural folk-tales and earthy, countryside customs. Curiously, with songs inspired by Anderson’s farmyard, domestic animal arrangements. It’s also the album that spawned the live release Bursting Out.
Talking of which, this “new shoes” release ploughs a deep furrow by digging up and unearthing a complete live recording of the Berne concert from the 1978 Heavy Horses tour. Essentially, the unexpurgated concert from which the studio ‘sweetened’ Bursting Out emerged. Jakko Jakszyk has polished up and honed a superb show from a band playing at the zenith of their mighty collected powers. The clarity of David Palmer’s and John Evan’s organs tussling with the intricacies of rocked up, classical medieval musical tapestries, amid the full powered superbly played bedrock of Barre, Glascock and Barlow’s amped up attack, is what made this line up so special. The cerebral and the visceral colluding together to create musical magic and all wittily led by the irrepressible, impresario and frontman extraordinaire Ian Anderson.
What Steven Wilson has achieved, as he is want to do, is to raise and separate the individual recorded parts so that they seemingly float apart and twine together as though individually buffed with a twist of musical gel. The double tracking of vocals on “The Mouse Police Never Sleeps” – a song about Anderson’s then cat keeping farmyard vermin at bay – and on “Journeyman” shine through where once they murkily dwelled in the deep ruts and grooves of the original vinyl recording. The same is true of Martin Barre’s double tracking of guitar on stand out ditties “No Lullaby” and the titular “Heavy Horses”. Wilson’s detectorist tendencies unearth the recorded gems lying just beneath the surface of these original recordings.
Furthermore, the collection of additional songs deemed surplus to the albums mindset are a treasure trove of dusted down beauties. For Tull collectors, the inclusion of earlier, unreleased takes on the still relevant and topical “Living In These Hard Times”, a belting “Beltane” and the aching love song to his wife Shona that is Jack A Lynn – her middle name being Jacqueline – would have fitted in nicely if vinyl timings allowed. Elsewhere, there are the curios of “Botanical Man” a musical exercise in TV programme theme writing between Anderson and Palmer for a then David Bellamy series.
A further two DVD’s bringing all the before into 5.1 surround sound, with contemporary videos and adverts patched in, are the thick icing on a cake for the listener to skate away on. As the latest Tull/Steven Wilson box set given the bells, whistles and flutes this is a masterpiece worthy of the venerable Heavy Horses themselves.
“Bring me a wheel of oaken wood. A rein of polished leather. A Heavy Horse and a trembling sky. Brewing heavy weather”. Indeed!
Jethro Tull Heavy Horses New Shoes Edition Anniversary edition features:
3 CDs and 2 DVDs of studio and live recordings.
Extensive notes about the writing, recording and touring of the album.
Track by track annotation by Ian Anderson.
Lyrics for the album plus bonus tracks.
Interviews with musicians Maddy Prior, Daryl Way and studio engineer Colin Leggett.
Words: Paul Davies