STEVE TILSTON – Distant Days (Riverboat Records TUGCD1117)

Distant DaysSteve Tilston has enjoyed a long career as a singer, composer and guitarist both solo and in partnerships. It seems to me that his popularity and the esteem in which he is held increases year on year which is great for a man who has worked continually at his craft for nigh on half a century. Distant Days is an acoustic celebration of that career, nineteen songs and instrumentals dating back to his first album, An Acoustic Confusion, released in 1971, all re-recorded entirely solo.

With the exception of the closing ‘The Slip Jigs And Reels’, Steve has avoided the more obvious pieces and has gone for listening pleasure over chronological accuracy. The first two songs, ‘The Road When I Was Young’ and ‘Rare Thing’ made we want to return to their source albums and hear them in context while ‘Time Has Shown Me Your Face’ made me realise that I don’t own anything like enough of Steve’s records. It’s interesting which albums he’s ignored; there’s nothing from The Reckoning, which I reckon is his best work nor from his diversion into traditional song, Of Many Hands. Apart from his first two albums, Steve concentrates on his work from the 80s and 90s convincing me that each track is there for a reason.

Of the songs that I haven’t heard before, ‘Is This The Same Boy?’ hits hard as does ‘Life Is Not Kind To The Drinking Man; which Steve says is not intended to be preachy but tells it how it is. ‘Let Your Banjo Ring’ seems rather an incongruous choice in the context of the album but I’ll not let it bother me. Three instrumentals, ‘Shinjuku’, ‘Southernhay Avenue’ and ‘Slow Air In Dropped D’, have not been released before and perhaps Steve has seized the opportunity for a little self-indulgence.

Distant Days succeeds in so many ways: it allows Steve to revisit his back catalogue in a new way; it points us to songs that perhaps we’ve forgotten or not heard before and provides excellent listening in doing so.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website:

‘The Road When I Was Young’ – live on TV:

Welcome To The Folkies

With Oscar fever rising to a climax it’s time to say “Welcome To The Folkies” – the 2016 Folking Awards. We’ve sifted through the albums and performances of 2015 – always a long and difficult task punctuated by bouts of thumb-wrestling to settle disputes. Adopting the pattern followed by everyone else, here, in no order of precedence, are our nominations. With the exception of one category we have restricted our choices to British acts.

All nominations are 2016 Folking Awards winners.

Welcome To The Folkies

Soloist Of The Year

Steve Tilston
Sam Carter
Kathryn Roberts
Steve Knightley
Ange Hardy

Best Duo

Phillip Henry & Hannah Martin
India Electric Co.
Show Of Hands
Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman

Best Band

Blackbeard’s Tea Party
Eliza Carthy & The Wayward Band
False Lights
Merry Hell

Best Live Act

The Demon Barbers XL
Blackbeard’s Tea Party
Eliza Carthy & The Wayward Band
CC Smugglers

Best Album

Layers Of Ages – Peter Knight’s Gigspanner
Head Heart Hand – Megan Henwood
The Girl I Left Behind Me – India Electric Co.
It’s Not Your Gold Shall Me Entice – Elle Osborne
Disco At The Tavern – The Demon Barbers

Best Musician

Dan Walsh
Peter Knight
P.J. Wright
Chris Leslie
Kris Drever

Folking’s Rising Star

Will Varley
Sam Kelly
Wes Finch
India Electric Co.
Chris Cleverley

Best International Artist

Gretchen Peters
Tom Russell
Gandalf Murphy And The Slambovian Circus Of Dreams
Justin Townes Earle
Los Lobos

To give the awards a further edge, we opened the vote to our visitors and run a public poll in all of the 8 categories (as listed above).

The Public Vote closed Sunday 28 February at 20.00 hours and “The Folking Winners” have now been announced here at:

If you would like to consider ordering a copy of an album for any of our award winners (in CD or Vinyl), download an album or track or just listen to snippets of selected songs (track previews are usually on the download page) then type what you are looking for in the search bar above.

Buying through Amazon on helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us

STEVE TILSTON – Truth To Tell (Hubris Records HUB008)

STEVE TILSTON – Truth To TellAlthough 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.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website:

‘Some Times’ live – The Steve Tilston Trio:

MARTHA TILSTON – The Sea (Squiggly SQRCD08)

The SeaOn the back cover of the album appear the words “Traditional folk songs about the sea, collected, sung and played with family & friends – kith & kin”. This pretty much tells you what to expect from Tilston’s ninth album. “I’ve always had it in mind to make a traditional album”, she says in the press release, not surprisingly given that this was the music that surrounded her as she grew ip, from both her father (Steve Tilston) and step-mother (Maggie Boyle), but also her Geordie stepfather, Frank Whately.

So, here are a collection of nautically themed tunes, delivered in her breathy husk, that range from the very familiar to the more obscure, performed by Tilston and her house band of Matt Tweed, Nick Marshall and Tom Cotterell. All tracks feature guest vocals for the aforementioned kith and kin, first up being Boyle on the first track they actually recorded, ‘Lovely On The Water’, who both sings and plays flute on Tilston’s rework of the chords and timings. Equally well known will be ‘The Lowlands of Holland’, a soft, gentle hybrid based on both Boyle’s and Martin Carthy’s versions with the former again on flute and a rather surprising guest vocal from her uncle, one Kevin Whately, aka Lewis from Inspector Morse, who, it transpires, is also a folk singer (and not a bad one either, to go by this) and actually suggested the song.

While it may sound it, ‘Shipwreckers’ isn’t a traditional number, but, featuring Beth Perry on cello, one penned by Tilston and Oscar winning film music writer Matt Kelly that draws on Cornish smuggling legends. Most of it was actually written some five years ago, but it only fell into place when Tweed suggested using the words to Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘Smuggler’s Song’ in the chorus, thereby justifying the traditional tag.

Returning to the family tree, deep-voiced brother Joe (from Random Hand) sings, plays guitar and co-arranged ‘Shallow Brown’, aka ‘30 Pound of Bone’, a West Indies shanty in its original incarnation, here, one of the album’s stand out numbers, given a slow, melancholic reading and recorded overlooking Falmouth estuary to add that extra tang of salt.

Dedicated to Bert Jansch, with whom it is most associated, ‘Blackwater Side’ is a simple, uncluttered treatment for just voice, guitar and piano and certainly does justice to Jansch’s memory. Dad Steve finally puts in an appearance (and contributes the tune) on ‘The Fisher Lad Of Whitby,’ a number he originally recorded on his own Ziggurat album, here recast trading contrasting and complementary male/female verses with chorus harmonies while Cotterell provides banjo and Tweed bouzouki.

Described as the underground John Martyn, Nathan Ball is the guest for ‘The House Carpenter’, a simple voice/guitar arrangement on a duet about the tug between love and duty, refocused by Tilston to emphasise the lyrical theme of consequence rather than judgement. The oldest of the clan, Frank Whately steps up to the mark for a simple, beguiling rendition of the wistful The Waters of Tyne and, while he may be a drama teacher, director and playwright (Jude Law just one to have passed through his tutelage) rather than a professional folk singer, he provides solid, seasoned harmony.

Officially the final track, ‘Mermaid of Zennor’ is another Tilston original, one inspired by the region of Cornwall where she spent part of her childhood. The well-known legend of a young man, Matthew Trewella, the best singer in the parish, supposedly lured to the sea by a mermaid, it’s been the subject of various poems, books, recordings (including one by Seth Lakeman) and even a film and an opera, here the lyrics are fleshed out by stories gathered from the locals one night down the pub while, at the start and end of the song, the distant voice of Steve James can be heard singing the old hymn, ‘This Is My Father’s World’, as the voice of Matty. As you might gather, there’s also a bonus hidden track, adding a final branch to the family tree with big sister Sophie on a brief reprise of ‘Whitby Bay’, a delightful coda to a marvellous family affair that ebbs and flows with the hypnotic nature of the tides.

Mike Davies

Artist website

Martha Tilston and Nathan Ball perform ‘House Carpenter’:

Joe Tilston releases his new album Embers on Fellside

Joe TilstonAfter years on the punk scene as Random Hand’s bassist, Joe Tilston, son of UK folk royalty 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.

Joe Tilston Embers

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.

Label – Fellside Recordings FECD255

Release date – 25th February 2013

For more information and the latest tour news please visit

Martha Tilston to release Machines of Love and Grace and new single ‘Stags Bellow’ plus UK live dates…

Martha Tilston will release her new album Machines of Love and Grace on October 22. The new album will be accompanied by the single ‘Stags Bellow’, and a headline UK tour, including London’s Bush Hall on Thursday, November 8.

The daughter of folk legend Steve Tilston, Martha Tilston found herself drawn to folk’s protest spirit and its themes of social justice from an early age. She crafted her own anti-war anthem, ‘Saddest Game’, in 2004, for Big Issue’s Peace Not War compilation, an early foreshadowing of the eloquent, politicized questioning that suffuses her latest LP, Machines Of Love and Grace, a collection of subtly charged acoustic folk songs tinged with electric guitar and touches of electronica. The title is a nod to a beat poem by Richard Brautigan and the BBC2 documentary that lifted the poem’s title: All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace.

“The programme blew me away. It tackled a lot of the questions my peers are asking: how the finances are run, how we’ve let machines take over and how those machines run us”. Martha Tilston

Like Mitchell’s Woodstock, which painted an image of exploding bombs transforming into butterflies, Tilston’s Machines ponders the conflict between human life and the machinery of modern age.

Tilston underpins her pastoral narratives with meaningful contexts, such as lead single ‘Stags Bellow’, a stirring paean to freedom and the wild deer that roam the Royal Parks. Tilston’s songwriting eschews the hoary ‘moors and maids’ folk imagery of old for gentle, probing meditations on modern concerns such as consumerism (“More”), urbanization (“Suburbia”), unheard voices (“Silent Women”) and with “Wall Street”, the disastrous ebb and flow of stock market tides, a paced, determined number Tilston wrote inspired by the then-emerging Occupy movement.

“A few years ago, folk went very mainstream. It was good in a lot of ways, because it meant loads of people were taking up instruments and learning the old songs. But the world was in crisis and it felt weird that folk, which has always been the people’s music, was totally avoiding that and not acknowledging it”. Martha Tilston

Martha’s background  – Martha began her musical tenure in folk duo Mouse, with Nick Marshall, releasing debut album Helicopter Trees in 2000 and a follow up, Mouse Tales, in 2001.  She released her lo-fi debut, Rolling, in 2003, while touring Ireland as support for folk troubadour, Damian Rice.  Inspired by Damian Rice’s self-produced, home-recorded hit debut, O, she funded the pressing of her next record, 2005’s Bimbling, through the sale of the album’s canvas-painted artwork.  2006 saw her team up with band The Woods, an outfit that includes Lamb bass player Jon Thorne (who guests on Machines) to release Ropeswing, and by 2007, Martha was opening the Acoustic Stage at Glastonbury with songs from her album Milkmaids and Architects, garnering a nomination for Best New Act at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.  By 2009, Tilston’s vocals had been courted beyond the folk world, by producers such as J-Spool and Tru Thoughts Records Mawglee and Mangatout, and pop group Zero 7, who invited her to guest on their 2009 album, Yeah Ghost.