Steve Tilston: The Reckoning
Hubris Records ****
FORTY years after his debut album, this seasoned voice and guitar on the English folk scene, whose songs are widely covered, shows no sign of diminishing powers. Despite occasional echoes of better-known peers such as Renbourn or Jansch (as in the jog-along musings of Doubting Thomas, and his closing homage to the late Davy Graham), Tilston is very much his own man. These are songs of great heart, delivered with authority and instrumental panache, whether celebrating the landscape in Pennine Spring or the lyrical This is the Dawn, revisiting the tradition in Nottamun Town Return (driven by Keith Warmington’s harmonica) or Weeping Willow Replanted, or musing on life and everything with the help of a string section in the unashamedly sentimental Memory Lane. My own particular favourites are the sublime Sovereign of Tides, a sort of eastern nocturne, and the delicious guitar spin of the Davy Lamp set.
JIM GILCHRIST, The Scotsman
Celebrating 40 years since his debut, theEnglish folk stalwart delivers an album rich in his strengths: deft songwriting, warm vocals, a pungent social conscience and blinding guitar skills. Its subjects are diverse; the title track rues the toxic legacy of nukes; “Memory Lane” is gentle, string-hued nostalgia; “Río de la Miel” a Spanish civil war song; while the intricate instrumental “Ijna” offers tribute to the late guitar genius Davy Graham. Then there’s “Nottamun Town Return”, which updates the antique surreal fable to today’s London – a “cyclist with two faces and a limo carrying his shoes”, who can he mean? A great narrator on top form.
Neil SpencerThe Observer,
In the Pennine hills in Yorkshire there lives a singer-songwriter and guitarist who has never achieved the public attention he deserves, but has always been praised by fellow musicians. Steve Tilston writes thoughtful, highly personal songs and is one of the finest instrumentalists on the folk scene, with a style that echoes the elaborate, rhythmic “folk baroque” guitar work of Bert Jansch and Davy Graham. He writes about anything that takes his interest, and the songs here range from unashamedly lyrical pieces about the countryside to others concerned with memory, nuclear waste, or a cheering story from the Spanish civil war, given a flamenco edge. There’s even a thoughtful meditation on the existence of God, Doubting Thomas, given a slinky, bluesy backing, and an update of the traditional Nottamun Town, now treated as a contemporary political nightmare. There’s occasional backing from accordion, harmonica and even a string section, but the album is dominated by Tilston’s exquisite guitar work, and features two spirited solo instrumental tracks, including a suitably virtuosic tribute to Graham.
Robin Denselow guardian.co.uk,
Hubris Records HUB006
Mature confidence in his guitar fingering and lyric writing oozes out of every track, and it’s no surprise, as this guy has been around since the 60s acoustic guitar began to dominate ‘folk’. Here Tilston rewrites an old English traditional song and a Blind Boy Fuller blues, soaks himself in Spanish sun and takes a walk from his home atop the Pennines, before his oblique instrumental Inja, his salute to the late Davey Graham. Tilston is a unique, evolved character, and truly worth listening to.
9th August 2011
Scotland on Sunday
…there are some innately very beautiful songs here, whose immediate appeal is further enhanced by their truly lovely musical settings. fROOTS
…the triumphant return of the songsmith’s songsmith…he tells musical stories unlike any of his contemporaries…it’s a cracker – over an hour of Tilston charm. Living Tradition
…the delicately picked opening bars of The Road When I was Young made me sit up. By the time Tilston’s intoxicating voice kicked in I was hooked. Maverick
It is a rich and lyrical testament from a songwriter steeped in historical landscapes of England and its traditional music…paints vivid verbal tableaux, knotted together by strong narratives …a lyricist attracted to the rich details that bring alive a story or a setting. Songlines
…in better form than I’ve ever heard him. Mike Harding, BBC Radio 2
…he is back, on fine form, producing one of the best collections of melodic, intelligent songs of his long career. Keith Clarke, Bristol Evening Post
“King of the Coiners” could have easily been written in 1708 as opposed to today. It’s not like he’s ever really been away but it’s so good to have Mr. Tilston back. Fatea Magazine
…there will be few better discs released this year. Unreservedly recommended. Fish Records
Of Many Hands
“If there were any justice in the world, Steve Tilston’s mantelpiece would be sagging under the weight of awards.” - Dave Haslam, Taplas
“Classic songs sung beautifully – a truly wonderful CD.” – Mike Harding, BBC Radio 2
“100% – exactly what we’ve come to expect from Steve Tilston.” – John Tams.
this exquisite new album. WUMB Boston
It’s a fine record – genuinely innovative. Steve has always been a guitarist I’ve greatly admired, one of the best in Britain. Richard Thompson
It’s all magic of the highest order, assembled with typical Tilston tastefulness. David Kidman – netrhythms.com
but Best in Show must go to Steve for this hugely pleasurable listening experience. Alan Rose – Living Tradition
a refined and perfectly paced masterwork. Colin Randall – Telegraph
STEVE TILSTON Of Many Hands ADA106CD (50m) IF THERE were any justice in the world, Steve Tilston’s mantelpiece would be sagging under the weight of awards. One of Britain’s finest songwriters and guitarists, he’s produced a constantly impressive body of work and Of Many Hands is no exception. His distinctive song writing style is hard to categorise, but there’s a sense that traditional music underlies much of it. Indeed over the years he’s included many traditional songs on his albums but, as the title suggests, this is the first time he’s dedicated an entire album to them. It could be argued that songs such as The Streams of Lovely Nancy, Barby Allen and Spencer the Rover suffer from over-familiarity but, thanks to his inventive arrangements and warm delivery, Tilston gives them a new lease of life. He could probably have done so armed with nothing more than his guitar, but instead he’s chosen to bring such luminaries as Chris Parkinson, Nancy Kerr, James Fagan and Martin Simpson into the proceedings and their contributions certainly add plenty of atmosphere and drama to this splendid album. – Dave Haslam (Taplas)
Steve Tilston – Of Many Hands (ADA Recordings) Here, one of my very favourite singer-songwriter-guitarists celebrates a self-imposed fallow writing period by getting round to putting together that album of traditional songs that he’d been meaning to do for ages! Previously, of course, the trad-arr pieces had nestled like hidden pearls amongst the self-penned material on Steve’s albums, but here he’s allowed himself the luxury of recording a bonny bunch of songs that have touched him in a special way. The album title is a canny reference to the provenance of songs labelled traditional, which are seen to be the product “of many hands” – and although the CD is stamped through with Steve’s unmistakable warm musical personality, the recording itself is also evidently the product of many hands, with contributions from guest musicians Martin Simpson, Chris Parkinson, Nancy Kerr, James Fagan, Maggie Boyle, Scott Devine and Mike Hockenhull. It’s all magic of the highest order, assembled with typical Tilston tastefulness, yet yielding refreshing new insights into the songs. Musical delights abound, as befit Steve’s respectful new interpretations of the songs, which are surely destined to prove as timeless as the songs themselves. Steve constantly delights us here, inviting us to look again at these songs and rediscover their meaning, one that’s tended to be stripped away by decades of popular “spinnery” and blatant misreading, whereby the poignant emotional journeys depicted in the songs have largely been rendered bland and jollified (The Leaving Of Liverpool) or else dull and dirge-like (Loving Hanna) by countless inferior or plain thoughtless retreads over the years. The instrumental backings contain so many delicious, intelligent and thoughtfully imaginative (and fun) touches (being “of many hands”, indeed) that I kept rewinding a few seconds just to hear them again. Martin Simpson’s cool and characterful slide guitar counterpoint to Steve’s slapped rhythm on Going To The West, Maggie Boyle’s flutey echoes of the moorcocks “crowing”, Mike Hockenhull’s rippling banjo driving along the saga of Captain Ward, Chris Parkinson’s cheeky harmonica blowing snatches of G&S in on the sea-breeze on Steve’s Caribbean-tinged rendition of New York Girls. the list could be endless. Steve’s fortunate too in having commissioned Nigel Schofield to write the booklet notes, for these are well informed and supremely insightful and fully complement Steve’s own attention to detail in acknowledging his multifarious sources (that includes owning up to writing the words to the closing Willow Creek, rather “hot on the heels of The Naked Highwayman”!). And a special word of praise too for Mike Hockenhull’s exceptionally fine production, for he’s a man who knows Steve and his musical sensibilities inside out and he gets every intricate detail just right. Yes, here’s abundant persuasive proof that achievement of musical and artistic perfection doesn’t ever have to bring listener-unfriendly sterility. This wonderfully exciting CD affirms the relevance of the tradition, exuding life, accomplishment and understanding. The CD will be launched during Whitby Folk Week; do try to get there, it promises to be quite an occasion! Till then, it’s been a privilege to get to hear this CD in advance of the launch date. It’s officially released on 24th of August. – David Kidman for www.NetRhythms.com
Such and Such
• If you listen to this album for the first time, perhaps the strongest point of reference you can make is the great Richard Thompson. You may be surprised that Steve Tilston’s pedigree goes back almost as long, a much-respected folk singer-songwriter guitarist who has also been compared to that other folk master, Nick Drake, and who supplied songs for Fairport Convention. He recorded for the legendary Transatlantic label in the seventies.
Steve’s latest album on Peter Muir’s eclectic Market Square label is an absolute gem. It takes the best of Tilston’s songwriting skills and melds his talent for storytelling with a superb contemporary acoustic band that includes ex-Fairporter/Tull Maart Alcock and ace saxophonist Andy Sheppard. The whole offering is beautifully measured and performed. It conveys the mood of a group of excellent musicians just sitting down after supper and having a blow. Steve Tilston has a distinctive, commanding, but not-too-folky vocal delivery and his acoustic playing is exemplary.
The opening track ‘Rare Thing’ has an exquisite orchestral arrangement and catchy chorus, and there are some real highlights elsewhere. Take a listen, for example, to the superb instrumental ‘Totterdown’ with its jazzy folk-fusion samba vibe, or ‘Mirror Dance’ with its story of fading looks in the advancing years. Tilston always wraps things up with some precision turn of phrase: ‘The Sniper’s Tale’ is just incredible. There’s also a couple of great “road” tunes , the bluesy ‘Need A Cup Of Coffee” (with Anna Ryder’s subtle keyboard interjections acting as counterpoint to Steve’s driving guitar and old mate Keith Warmington’s deft harp) and “Rolling Down This Roman Road” (infectious or what?).
I can’t help thinking that this is the album Steve Tilston should have made ten years ago. It may yet get him wider and much-deserved acclaim, maybe via exposure on BBC Radio 2? Indeed, this CD has the immediate appeal of the best Al Stewart can muster, another folkie-to-rocker with whom Tilston shares some common ground. This is an album to slip on for your guests during a civilised dinner party and watch for subtle acknowledgment. Check out, too, his other offering on Market Square, a reissue of 1987′s ‘Life By Misadventure’ bolstered by his epic instrumental ‘Rhapsody’.
(David Randall, getreadytorock.com)
• Although he’s never been as successful or received the same acclamation as erstwhile seventies stablemates on the legendary Transatlantic record label, Bert Jansch and Ralph McTell, Steve Tilston is a master craftsman who has built up a devoted following among those who take pleasure in consummate playing allied to poetic songwriting. Tilston is a composer and storyteller par excellence and a complete guitarist, whose decorative and technically superior fretboard and finger-picking work makes him as impressive solo as with accompaniment. Live Hemistry, his last album, was a solo tour de force; Such & Such is ensemble oriented, and quite possibly his finest studio recording to date. Musically it’s far and away his most eclectic work, offering a subtle kaleidoscope of styles and colourings, from traditional folk to cool jazz, from samba to singalong.
A small team of similarly sensitive musicians assists in giving Tilston’s latest batch of gems optimum polish and embellishment. The whole set is exquisitely arranged and performed; feels and fills lovingly tailored to suit each piece. Such & Such takes Tilston’s poetic songs and stories and fuses them seamlessly with a classy contemporary acoustic band. Saxophonist Andy Sheppard’s subtle jazz soloing and harmony work (on soprano and tenor) is a salient feature, particularly in the lovely instrumental Totterdown but that’s not to suggest that the contributions of Fairport Convention/JethroTull bass ace Maartin Alcock, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Anna Ryder, violin/viola player Richard Curran or percussionist Roy Dodds (ex Fairground Attraction) are any less valuable.
Rare Thing is a great curtain raiser, with its irresistible chorus and quizzical verses: “Is a crow’s heart as black as its wing? / This life is a rare thing / Is a lark as pure as the song that it sings? / This life is a shared thing.” Equally enchanting are the opening lines of the haunting Anthony Believes: “Life is but a firefly that glimmers in the darkest night / Weaves a trace before the eye that lingers though it’s gone from sight.” I Need a Cup of Coffee, which is a typical Tilston take on the blues (more Deepest Somerset than Deep South!), West End Samba (more Kirsty McColl than Antonio Carlos Jobim) and Rolling Down This Roman Road, which reflects the author’s ongoing absorption with history, are in a lighter vein. But there’s plenty of meat and mead sandwiched in between, with songs like Waterhole, which transports listeners to a desert landscape, Mirror Dance with its story of fading looks, and the superbly spun and suitably sinister Sniper’s Tale. The CD concludes beautifully with a trad. arr. folk song, a captivating reading of The Constant Lover, on which Tilston has stamped his inimitable seal.
Such & Such – soul food for those who appreciate quality words and music – should help expedite Steve Tilston’s return down under… The CD is available from Market Square Records. (Tony Hillier, Barfly Magazine – Queensland, Australia)
• Steve Tilston is an absurdly accomplished singer/songwriter and guitarist who, for years without number, has drawn from the tradition and replenished it with five-star classics like “Slip Jigs and Reels” and “Here’s to Tom Paine”. The centrepiece of this hour-long album is “The Turncoat”, a grand eleven minute epic about a man who is pressed into the British army to fight the Americans in the War of Independance and proudly swaps sides. Tom Paine would have sung along with it; George III wouldn’t. But this song is untypical. Most of this searingly introspective album is close to “Blood on the Tracks” territory, though there’s less anger and more stoicism than in Dylan’s blast. From the powerful opener “Living with the Blues” onwards, these songs will click with anyone who has tried to make sense of things after a shattered relationship or other personal crisis. A huge potential audience out there! The dominant imagery is of broken hearts and dreams, and a hard road to travel. Take “Rocky Road”, another Tilston classic, which nods to “The Prickly Bush” in tune and chorus: “Oh this rocky road, it makes the poor heart sore/If I ever get of this rocky road, I’ll ne’er get on it any more”. You don’t want a steel band following you on the kind of journey Steve is making. He is very much solo, though his warm voice & the daring skill of his classical-influenced acoustic guitar comfortably fill the corners; for variation he plays the arpeggione (bowed guitar) & mouth-organ … I think Steve has gone an extra mile to give us a challenging & rewarding album of the highest quality. And I hope it helps him as much as it could help others. (Tony Hendry, Living Tradition)
All Under The Sun
• Steve Tilston, singer-songwriter and exquisite guitarist of the English folk-baroque school, is hard on the heels of Richard Thompson in the perennially ‘underrated’ stakes. One of these days whoever needs to ‘rate’ him to stop such things being written will do so, but until then, this album – his second with Maggie Boyle – will be a treasured discovery for all who hear it. Featuring Tilston’s typically luscious arrangements – including Maggie on flute, together with cello, violin, and most of Fairport Convention making cameos – the selection of material and the decision to limit procedings to good old vinyl length make this a punchier and more consistent offering than the 1992′s sprawling “Of Moor And Mesa”. Boyle’s choice of traditional songs is another step up, with the epic “Fair Annie” a match for anything recorded by the great Anne Briggs. Elsewhere, Tilston the musical magpie weaves his influences – from Martin Carthy to Elvis Presley via Brazil – into a brilliantly balanced, superbly crafted collection. (Colin Harper, Q Magazine)
• Recorded at the Fairports’ own Woodworm Studios, All Under The Sun is a compelling album. Maggie Boyle, who sings like Mary Black before she went AOR, excels on the more traditional material. Her voice chills the air around some subtle drums and bass on “The Maid With The Bonny Brown Hair”, and backed by double bass and understated banjo on “Fair Annie”. Steve Tilston’s strength is his intricate guitar playing rather than his singing, but he more than does justice to his own “Here’s To Tom Paine”. A thoughtful celebration of an English radical, it is a reminder that the English too have genuine heroes if only we bothered to reclaim them. The album ends with a romp through the Elvis standard “A Fool Such As I”, in which Steve Tilston does a passable imitation of Scotty Moore meets Big Bill Broonzy in acoustic guitar heaven. (Tony Harcup, Folk Roots)
• With the Fairport Convention lads as a backup band, these two singers trade off on both trad and self penned songs in the Brit folk-pop vein. Tilston’s songs, like the sprightly “Man Gone Down”, resonate with social consciousness. And Boyle’s voice is just right for love-gone- wrong ballads like “Fair Annie”. There’s some inventive guitar interplay between Tilston and Fairport’s Maartin Allcock, and the instrumental “The Cage”, with Tilston on guitar accompanying Boyle on flute, is particularly nice. (Danny Carnahan, Acoustic Guitar Magazine) And So It Goes… • “His music has a flow and poignancy which makes it stand out from the plethora of singer / guitarists on the scene” (Guitar Magazine)
“Steve Tilston and Maggie Boyle’s first album together is quietly and utterly seductive…superbly crafted” (Folk Roots)
• “Of Moor And Mesa is a folk gem which grows in brilliance on subsequent plays, one which will tantalise for months to come…the combination of original and traditional material strikes a fine balance that pushes this LP towards deification as a classic record. It shines brighter than the majority of records currently vying for your attention” (Folk on Tap)
• “…a masterpiece – there’s no other word for this. Steve Tilston is the finest songwriter England has ever produced. Here is his talent at its peak. He has absorbed the best of the ballad tradition into his writing, & the results are staggering …Maggie Boyle has a voice the angels would kill for, & her vocal contributions are first class” (Rock’n'Reel)
• “Steve Tilston and Maggie Boyle are one of the most compelling acts in British and Irish folk music today…his guitar and arpeggione are as lovely here as they were on his solo record Swans at Coole, and that’s saying a great deal” (Dirty Linen)
• “Tilston is a powerful, sensitive songwriter and skilled guitarist. Boyle’s expressive vocals dominate the Patriot Games (Paramount Pictures, 1992) film soundtrack, and the couple’s new album, Of Moor and Mesa, is an example of a promise fulfilled”(Critic’s Choice, Weekend Telegraph)
• “If there’s such a thing as a perfect album, this is it !” (Barbary Post, Australia)
Swans At Coole
• “Steve Tilston is a singer-songwriter of rare talent…the polish of his performance and the technical proficiency of his lyric writing is staggering. He weaves classic, lingering melodies that are both warm and haunting, producing astringent, uncompromising music that thrives on a rare and demanding intimacy” (Folk On Tap)
• “Guitar virtuosity, sheer sweeping beauty, an album of haunting melody…He’s an unsung hero quietly going about the art of music making” (Zip Code)
• “Steve, in case events have conspired to conceal the fact from you thus far, is that very rare combination of singer, songwriter and guitarist who actually excels in all departments” (Folk Roots)
• “His musicianship is beyond question, while the arrangements set a standard against which other acoustic guitar albums ought to be measured” (Weekend Telegraph)
• “Without doubt a modern day masterwork…” (Rock’n'Reel)