Steve Tilston

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

Although it was essentially a Steve Tilston gig at the Monday Music Club tonight, I couldn’t help feeling like I had attended a double bill. Even with just a five song contribution as tonight’s support, Liz Ryder captivated the audience, the organisers, this reviewer, and I dare say Steve himself with her gentle and delicate songs. Opening with “Skyline”, a song familiar to those who have either visited her MySpace page or picked up the EP of the same name, Liz went on to play a short set of songs designed to allow us that brief glimpse into her life. Songs like “44th Street” from Liz’s second album On the Neon Highway show a maturity of style for someone so young. You almost struggle to connect what you hear with what you see. Born in Los Angeles in 1981, Liz grew up here in the UK and began writing and performing from an early age. Although she is a multi-instrumentalist, she accompanied herself tonight on just guitar and showed an accomplished flair with both open and standard tunings. Note to self: why do female guitar players who use open tunings never sound flash? Perhaps they don’t show off like their male contemporaries! I was interested to find out what Liz might have heard around the house whilst in either LA or Kidderminster; what her folks had on the Dansette, hoping to reveal an insatiable appetite for Joan Baez, whose voice Liz immediately brings to mind. I was pleasantly surprised when she told me it was more like Cat Stevens and The Beach Boys. Sounds like our house. Steve Tilston is no stranger to these parts and should, in a perfect world, fill large concert halls. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you see the current acoustic music scene), Steve remains slightly cultish amongst those of us who love songs. There is no better song writer in the UK in my opinion; he just rubs shoulders with a bunch of equals. This year Steve has been added to the prestigious list of artists to have a Free Reed box set released, joining Sandy Denny, Richard Thompson, Martin Carthy and Swarb (amongst others) to have their career encased in one of those familiar oblong boxes. This has not only been a good move in terms of bringing out previously unreleased material, but also in making Steve return to some of those songs for live performance. Tonight Steve abandoned some of the songs that have been consistently in his set for years, such as “Here Comes the Night”, “Here’s to Tom Paine” and even “Slip Jigs and Reels” to make way for some older material such as “In the Light Tonight”, more recent songs like “Tottedown” and “Rare Thing” and brand new off the page songs like “Goodbye Madame Muse”. Steve Tilston, like Bert Jansch and Wizz Jones, comes from that very British tradition of folk singer whose beginnings are definitely rooted in the blues. Tonight Steve once again demonstrated those influences in “I Need a Cup of Coffee” and “Big Bill’s Been Here and Gone”, with more than just a nod towards one of his musical heroes Big Bill Broonzy. Some of the usual Tilston fare came out once again tonight, although slightly altered since our last exposure to it, “And So It Goes” for instance, with its tongue-in-cheek swipe at our American allies and casually slipping in Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies” in the middle of “Tsetse Fly Shuffle”. Who’da thought? Up to now, one of Erik Satie’s three “Gymnopedie” pieces was always a prelude to “Here Comes the Night”, but tonight Steve decided just to play the piece in it’s entirety, proving once again that if Satie was a ‘phonometrician’, one who measures and writes down sounds, the Steve is a musician; he just gets on and plays it, however complex. The song that particularly pricked up my ears tonight was “Over the Next Hill”, familiar to Fairport Convention fans as the title song from their 2004 album release. It’s always a treat when you hear a familiar song, performed by its author, even if it’s sometimes not quite as good as the cover versions you hear. Townes Van Zandt springs to mind. In Steve Tilston’s case though, the author version is always infinitely more superior.