Fishcakes, Mousse, Shirts and Tilston
Otterton Mill is a café/restaurant venue that has an oak-beam ceiling charm, and the audience at last night’s Steve Tilston intimate gig added a particular genteel, OAP feel: most [if not all, me being the odd one out] had attended first to have a meal, and the aroma of hake fiscake was still rife when I turned up, though by that stage many were eating their delicate mousse desserts or drinking coffee. The men were - as with the majority of gigs I attend these days of bands and/or singers I liked back in the day - either greying or balding [or had already arrived] and wore an array of colourful shirts stereotypically Hawaiian, Lee Perry Polo or check/plaid [ah, that’s me then…..]. Tilston played two 45 minutes sets, and to complete my portrait of the audience I will just point at that during the interval most had more coffee and twee desserts whilst I had a strong cider [rock’n’roll!], and the guy sitting next to me did the crossword he had torn from a newspaper and brought along in his trousers pocket. And I will also mention his kind wife had earlier before the start offered me some dark chocolate she had brought along in a Tupperware sandwich box.
Steve Tilston is one of the genuinely great English singer/songwriters, and he was/is friends with, amongst others famously of the early 70s, Ralph McTell, Bert Jansch and Wizz Jones, the latter whom influenced him in his early days and when he played at Les Cousins in London [and when Steve asked last night’s audience if anyone there knew the club there was a knowing assent from a few so perhaps my shirts and desserts caricature isn’t entirely fair]. Tilston doesn’t appear to carry the wider acclaim/knowing of his contemporaries just mentioned, and indeed my crossworder and darkchocolater didn’t seem to know much about him either, though had seen him at the Mill before. However, this might change as more people see the Al Pacino film Danny Collins based loosely on an incident in Steve Tilston’s life: you can see a video of Steve meeting Al here – Pacino looking like an airbomb has just exploded in his face – and more on the pertinent background story with a review of one of Tilston’s great early albums by me here.
Tilston’s guitar playing is as delicate to virtuoso as ever, and his singing voice is wonderful: folksy when needed, with the attendant resonance that makes it generic, and also quite beautiful with an occasional warble that I so like on his two earliest albums. He opened with his Fairport Convention song [written for them] Rocky Road, with its quick guitar, and then an upbeat Weeping Willow Replanted with its bluesy undertones, a reworking of Weeping Willow by Blind Boy Fuller. He also played the beautiful Fisher Lad of Whitby and the reflective The Road When I Was Young which I am sure had many in the audience in addition to me feeling likewise and rueful. It is a familiar set, so I won’t name others from this expectation, and Tilston tells a set narrative too, for example recounting when at his daughter’s wedding he didn’t play the requested Jacaranda, but instead – as we discover when he starts to play – Let’s Face the Music and Dance, at which point the audience last night [perhaps now fulfilling the caricature] all joined in.
Tilston also played a significant selection from his imminent new album Truth, including another sweetly nostalgic song Grass Days recalling his early musical career and outlook, the plaintive The Way it Was recalling the loss of a dear friend and musician, a wonderful tribute to Nick Drake The Riverman Has Gone written like and played in Drake's inimitable sound/style, and Yo Me Voy which as a recent song reminded me of Tilston's earliest work in the beautiful melody and the distinctive, light warble in his fine vocal, this song as well as others played on his 10 string acoustic guitar. I will review this album later.