You’re probably thinking that you’ve heard of Alice Jones before, and you probably have: The Gina Le Faux Trio, The John Dipper Band and her collaboration with Pete Coe working on the Frank Kidson collection as well as what seems like a dozen other things in her native Yorkshire. Poor Strange Girl, however, is her first solo album.
Alice sings the way she speaks which isn’t always a given even now. Despite that, she casts her musical net wide. The title track, which opens the set, was collected by Cecil Sharp in Kentucky and, even before I read her sleeve notes, I had the feeling that she was referring to herself. Next is ‘Woody Knows Nothing’, adapted from traditional sources by the late Erik Darling and we’re still a few thousand miles from Yorkshire. As well as an interpreter of traditional songs Alice is also a composer and musician, playing keyboards, whistle and tenor guitar so next up is the first set of tunes, both written by her before the first traditional songs collected in England, ‘The Cruel Mother’ and ‘Green Bushes’; the latter from the Kidson collection.
Variety is one of the selling points of the album. There is a set of mazurkas and another of polskas; two fine songs from the Warner collection; a very timely version of ‘Adieu To Old England’ and ‘Long, Long Trail A-Winding’ to finish.
Poor Strange Girl was produced by Jon Loomes and Alice is supported by Tom Kitching on fiddle and Hugh Bradley on double bass but this is definitely her album and very good it is too.
Although he’s just turned 65, has been making music for 44 years and released over 20 albums, the Liverpool-born folk singer-songwriter, now based in Hebden Bridge, has never had quite as high a public profile as this year. The release (and disappointingly quick disappearance) of Danny Collins, an Al Pacino starrer inspired by a letter written to Tilston by John Lennon in 1971, but not received for a further forty years, has seen Steve featured in several major newspapers as well promoting radio interviews looking back across his lengthy career.
A propitious time, then, for the release of his latest album, a reflective affair that opens on an appropriately autobiographical note with ‘Grass Days’, a lively song tracing his early days as a wet-behind-the-ears folkie getting a foothold in the London folk scene of the 70s, referencing the likes of McTell and Wizz Jones who offered him a helping hand and ending with his move to Bristol and his signing to Village Thing records.
Coming up to date, a very personal note is also struck on ‘The Way It Was’ which, featuring David Crickmore on melodeon and Hugh Bradley on double bass, is a touching tribute to his late friend, violinist Stuart Gordon, formerly of The Korgis and, most recently, one third of the Steve Tilston Trio.
The other songs don’t have quite the same personal connections, although the piano-backed late night jazz-blues ballad ‘Bygone Lands’ reflects his interest in history and archaeology in its contemplation of past civilisations while the fingerpicked ‘All Around This World’, a celebration of the travelling musician, clearly has resonances with his own chosen career.
Likewise, Tilston’s concerns with time and place, the march of history and the impact of sociopolitics are firmly in evidence. Etched on 10 string acoustic, the waltzing ‘Cup And Lip’ concerns the way closed minds, religion in particular, seek to limit the progress of science and reason, while, referencing Nick Drake’s song, the jazzy-folk ‘The Riverman Has Gone’ uses the devastating floods of a few years back to comment on climate change deniers and the effect of government’s cutbacks and, Crickmore on pedal steel, the slinky, bluesy ‘Running Out Of Road’ (which shows the Wizz Jones influences are still strong) extends the theme to talk about how, blinded by greed, mankind’s blindly heading for global destruction. Wrapping things up, the album ends with the personal and universal notes of ‘Ways Of A Man’, a piano-backed hope-tinted reflection on things passed come and new beginnings.
Elsewhere, ‘Died For Love’ is a major key arrangement of the traditional downbeat ballad, ‘Yo Me Voy’ is a leaving song, the Spanish guitar elements underscoring the language of the title (which translates as “I Am Going”), ‘Lasting Love’ is a straightforward number that still retains a rhythmic flavour of its original African-like instrumental origins while, showcasing his guitar virtuosity, ‘Pecket’s Well’ is an intricate baroque instrumental designed to evoke running streams
Worth special mention, not least since the sleeve credits forgot to list Belinda O’Hooley’s piano contribution, is ‘Pick Up Your Heart’, a rhythmically shuffling encouragement to get back up on your feet should what’s been lost exceed what’s been gained that I could almost hear being rocked up into something Richard Thompson.
Truth to tell, even with the Danny Collins exposure, this isn’t going to suddenly make Tilston a household name, but his devotees will certainly welcome it as another jewel in an illustrious discography while curious newcomers may well find themselves keen to further explore that back catalogue.
After years on the punk scene as Random Hand’s bassist, Joe Tilston, son of UK folkroyalty Steve Tilston and Maggie Boyle, has returned to his family roots for a bit of musical balance. Joe’s music echoes years of influence from his upbringing in and around the English folk scene, with a fresh twist and energy provided by his own venture into punk over the last decade. Not a million miles away from the likes of Nick Drake and Damien Rice, this is not likely to be what you’re expecting if you’re familiar with Random Hand’s music.
‘Embers‘ is Joe’s debut album, bringing together six years of writing to one consistent piece. Settling in calm relaxed grooves, layered with a number of great musicians adding their flavours to the mix, including long time live Violin player, Luke Yates. This is complimented by the odd splash of sound from his punk roots, showing the true diversity of his song writing. Songs on the album cover subject matter both questioning our humanity and celebrating it, all taking inspiration from friends and family. The album was produced by Matt Tweed, who has produced Martha Tilston’s recent records. The recording process was split between the Coast of Cornwall and the Valleys of West Yorkshire with assistance from Luke Yates, who also added some beautiful string arrangements.
On the record, Joe is joined by sister Martha for the opening track ‘The Railway Children’. Joe also has Sean Howe, who he works with in Random Hand playing drums, Robin Tyndale-Biscoe on percussion, Phillipa Ratcliff on the Cello and Hugh Bradley adding all things Bass to the mix as well as some nice twiddles and flavours from Matt Tweed and Luke Yates over the whole album.