Martha Tilston

Live Review | The Regent, Doncaster | Review by Allan Wilkinson

If this is Steve’s daughter, then perhaps it’s all in the genes.  Martha tells of a childhood listening to the likes of Joni Mitchell on an old Hi-Fidelity record player, with dad and step mum (Maggie Boyle) gently providing a pretty bog standard folkie-based family background that is materialising in many cases these days, Kate Rusby, Eliza Carthy, the Lakemans etc.  Most of my contemporaries can say with a certain amount of pride that this is what we have subjected our kids to since the Seventies, Joni on the turntable.  But how many of us can claim to have invited Bert Jansch and John Renbourn over on a regular basis to jam in the front room whilst little Martha played with her My Little Pony?  That sort of ‘osmosis’ is priceless.   Yes, growing up in the Tilston houshold has reaped its own rewards and Martha provides one of the most beautiful voices on the folk/acoustic scene at the moment, and most of us are unjustifiably unaware of it.  Four frequently played albums (Rolling, Bimbling, Ropeswing and Of Milkmaids and Architects) cry out to be heard in the same manner as her gigs cry out to be attended.  Tonight Martha played something of a sublime gig at the Monday Music Club at The Regent.  Accompanied by fiddle player Matt Kelly, who also provided some delicate nylon strung classical guitar noodling, the pair selected a couple of sets worth of songs from the aforementioned albums.  Martha’s songs are often seemingly whimsical, but I can’t help but believe these to be sincere reflections of her life; if you close your eyes, you are listening to a flower child wandering around the broken down perimeter fence of either Woodstock or the Isle of Wight festivals.  There is something of a Melanie or a Bert Sommers in her delivery, very delicate, yet driving the message home loud and clear.  The strange thing is that if you open your eyes, Martha looks like a carbon copy of any young chick from that generation.  “Night Rambling” from her first CD, remains my favourite Martha Tilston song and one that I hum constantly, much to the annoyance to those on the bus next to me.  I make no apology for being moved to hum.  Little Red Riding Hood makes an appearance in the lovely “Red” from the Bimbling collection, which takes us deeper into the woods and probably up a tree or two.  It’s a good place to be these days.  Martha frequently pours her soul out in her songs especially when revealing her episodic love life.  “The Numbness” carries not so much a heart breaking ache throughout, but actually a numbness.  How personal does a song need to get in order to share an emotion?  Martha delivers the numbness of lost love from the comfort of her toilet seat, from the bathtub, talking to Jesus.  This is Martha’s world.  “Songs that Make Sophie Fizz” is delightfully sweet.  We are taken back to Mr Tilston’s front room in Bristol with little Martha and sister Sophie, both slow readers but having the good sense to cut the lawn with scissors.  A whimsical memoir, but absolutely to the core crucial to those of us who enjoy a bit of nostalgia.  Martha and Matt left the stage for the encore, in order to sing in the old traditional way, totally acoustic that is.  The traditional “Silver Dagger” would be as easy as breathing to Martha, who delivered the song as exquisitely as her step mum did on the Of Moor and Mesa album a few years previously.  I like to think of a Martha Tilston gig as a very special, by invitation only, guided tour of a world akin to the Cottingley fairies; delightful if you allow your imagination to go with it.