Tonight’s venue is considerably closer to home than other concerts I’ve frequented in recent months, however I have to admit somewhat embarrassingly that it is my first visit since it moved from its old home in the village of Faldingworth and relocated to the outskirts of Lincoln and the Village Hall of Nettleham. Andy Watkins as promoter is a role he has carried out in and around the Lincoln area for around 47 years, truly quite staggering and surely deserving of some accolade as well as our heartfelt thanks.
This evening’s headline act could well be described as a national treasure, such is his standing as a singer/songwriter and guitarist extraordinaire within the folk genre that he has graced for well over six decades. Steve Tilston’s C.V. reads like a who’s who of folk music royalty having recorded and performed with such luminaries as John Renbourn, Peter Bellamy and Maggie Boyle as well as running a folk club with the legendary Bert Jansch, while his songs have been covered by the likes of Fairport Convention, Dolores Keane and Bob Fox. His fame stretches all the way to Hollywood, okay maybe slightly tenuously, with the 2015 comedy drama film ‘Danny Collins’, directed by Dan Fogelman and starring among others Al Pacino and Annette Bening, inspired by a true story centred around a brief correspondence between Tilston and none other than John Lennon. Tonight he is joined on stage by his long term musical partner in crime and equally talented Hugh Bradley who supplies the most perfect accompaniment on double bass.
After opening proceedings with the perennial favourite ‘Rocky Road’, a song that Fairport Convention recorded on their 1999 album ‘The Wood & The Wire’, Tilston turns the focus to his most recent release ‘Such Times’ (2021) with most of its material being written during lockdown. Firstly ‘Daylight Rising’ a song of hope through the dark days of the pandemic that shines the spotlight on Tilston’s strong rhythmic right-hand technique driving the tune forward and supporting this uplifting almost hymnal offering. Next is ‘Satellites Decree’ that Tilston introduces with stories of a time before ‘Sat Nav’ when all he had to find his way to a venue was an address scribbled on a piece of paper. He marvels that somehow he is still here to tell the tale and his reminiscences strike accord with many of tonight’s congregation. ‘Nothing To See Here’ completes the triptych of tracks from the new album at which point Tilston informs the audience that he himself is recovering from the dreaded Covid virus that he possibly picked up while playing at the Whitby Festival a few weeks earlier. Now fully recovered, the story leads us perfectly into the next track of the evening, the traditional folk ballad ‘The Fisher Lad Of Whitby’ before a strict tempo change takes us back to ‘Such Times’ and the song ‘Waters Of March’. Originally entitled ‘Aguas De Marco’ it was written by the legendary Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobin and along with some fabulous fretwork from Bradley on the double bass, Tilston’s guitar delivers a delightful slice of bossa nova that effortlessly transports the crowd to the land of the Amazon Rainforest. With this we reach the final track of the first set and another quick change of continent as Tilston remembers the early rock ‘n’ roll guitar players, particularly Scotty Moore, that first inspired him to pick up the six strings with his own composition ‘My Mystery Train’ paying tribute to those pioneers of the fifties.
The opening track of the second set ‘Oil and Water’ has a tenuous link to Pentangle as Tilston recalls it was the song he performed on his one and so far only appearance on ‘Later…With Jools Holland’ which coincided with the sad passing of his good friend and founder member of Pentangle, Bert Jansch. From here it’s straight to the title track of his 2011 album, a winner of the prestigious ‘Best Original Song’ at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, ‘The Reckoning’, which going by the response is very much a crowd favourite. Tilston has collaborated with many other songwriters throughout his career one of which is the legendary American artist Chris Smither who initially made his name when Bonnie Raitt took his song ‘Love You Like A Man’, slightly tweaked the title and recorded it for her second album. Tilston and Smither worked together during the mid nineties and wrote the following number of tonight’s set ‘Can’t Shake These Blues’ which perfectly encapsulates the familiar traits of both artists and sounds as fresh this evening as it it did when it appeared on Tilston’s 1996 album ‘And So It Goes’.
As tonight’s show gravitates all too quickly to its conclusion Tilston delivers two of his finest songs. Firstly ‘King Of The Coiners’ before closing with what has surely become his signature tune, the magnificent ‘The Slip Jigs & Reels’ which truly skips along while sparks fly from the fretboard of Tilston’s guitar with his left hand almost a blur, I could almost swear I counted six fingers! It came as no surprise that an encore was demanded and duly supplied with Tilston introducing ‘The Road When I Was Young’ as somewhat biographical and it perfectly wrapped up a wonderful performance that the evening’s gathering clearly enjoyed to the full. As one of the remaining links to the halcyon days of the folk revival of the sixties and early seventies who still today actively connects and creates with folk music of the 21st century Tilston is indeed something akin to folk music royalty. Long may he continue to entertain and educate us.