Live Review | CAST Theatre, Doncaster | Review and Photos by Allan Wilkinson
Three things spring to mind when sitting before such a pairing as Steve Tilston and Reg Meuross, two highly accomplished British singer songwriters; first admiration, followed by satisfaction and then chronic envy. I have great admiration for these two musicians, first and foremost for the memorable songs they’ve each brought to the table over the years, but also for their good table manners as well; they’re both pleasant chaps, enjoyable to listen to and good to chat to at the same time. I’m always satisfied whenever I hear their songs, both new and old, each gathered from their combined prolific repertoire and also satisfied with their constant pursuit of new ideas for songs. Envy? Well, it’s not so much that I envy their talent, but rather that I turn a slightly wearisome shade of green when I plainly see that they can still grow their hair long enough to be cool, despite both being a good bit older than I. But that’s something I will just have to live with.
For the second half of tonight’s concert the two musicians sat beside one another and democratically shared their songs, with a little additional banter in between. Hugh Bradley, Steve’s double bassist, hadn’t heard any of Reg’s songs until tonight, but after a couple of bars, he soon found his stride on each song, all of which benefited from the additional lift. In places Steve added some improvised (yet informed) guitar accompaniment on Reg’s songs and vice versa, though Reg was willing to concede defeat during some of Steve’s more complex arrangements. The first half however, was shared between the two musicians, the order simply decided upon by the toss of a coin, of who would be batting or bowling, to use MC Jonti Willis’s cricketing analogy. Reg was first up and within a matter of minutes had introduced us to a variety of characters both real or imagined and in some cases real and imagined. There was Elvis and Phil Ochs, William Morris and Tony Benn, Emily Davison and Lillian Bilocca, not to mention the Mayflower passenger William Brewster, together with four of his unlikely named sprogs, Patience, Love, Fear and Wrestling! Notable human beings popped into the conversation as frequently as figures in a Lowry painting.
Some of that green envy arose once again when Reg casually dropped into the conversation the fact that he had attended Joni Mitchell’s Festival Hall concert almost fifty years ago to the day, whereupon the young Canadian performed her entire Blue album, which would leave anyone envious really. Inspired by that concert and that songstress, Reg turned to his own mountain dulcimer to conclude his portion of the show with a song from his recent 12 Silk Handkercheifs project, “I am a Fish House Woman”, before handing the stage over to Mr Tilston.
Steve’s set was relatively devoid of specific characters in favour of a more universal set of songs, drawn from life and nature, “Oil and Water”, the song he performed on Jools Holland’s Later a few years ago for instance, then “Weeping Willow Replanted”, Steve’s homage to “Weeping Willow Blues”, a song from the repertoire of his old pal Wizz Jones, whose significant birthday party Steve had recently attended and performed at. Then there was “Rare Thing”, one of Steve’s most memorable songs, together with the thoroughly gorgeous “The Road When I Was Young”, an observation shared by many (if not everyone) in the room, before closing the first set with his own homage to Scotty Moore with “My Mystery Train”.
As a treat for their audience here at the CAST Theatre’s intimate ‘second space’, the two musicians agreed to share the stage for the final hour, both seated throughout the nine song set, each interspersed with stories and anecdotal reflections. Neither Steve nor Reg appeared completely relaxed throughout the set, but this made for some ‘edge of the seat’ moments, as the two musicians strove to ‘up’ their game. Included in the set was the first song from Steve’s debut record back in 1971 “I Really Wanted You”, recently revisited on Steve’s current album Distant Days, whilst also including a couple of brand new songs, notably “Satellite’s Decree”, a complex little number, after which Reg quipped “I didn’t know there were so many chords”. More characters emerged during this set courtesy of Reg, notably Dylan Thomas and Hank Williams in “Leaving Alabama”, Sophie Scholl, the German anti-Nazi political activist in “For Sophie (This Beautiful Day)” and an veritable litany of geographical characters in the streets and alleyways of London in the ever controversial “My Name is London Town”.
Concluding both the set and the show, Reg encouraged some audience participation as the three musicians returned to the stage for the biting, yet hopeful “England Green, England Grey”, bringing an end to a really enjoyable and memorable concert.