Happy reunion for new national treasure
S ometimes a performer, however good, can be around so long that people just take them for granted. The sheer consistency of their quality almost makes them invisible and they become something of a fixture in their musical scene.
But then sometimes a younger audience rediscovers them and suddenly everyone remembers how great they are.
It happened dramatically for Leonard Cohen after he appeared at Glastonbury in 2008 and now, after more than 40 years as one of the UK's premier folk musicians and songwriters, it seems to be happening for Steve Tilston, following the release of his 2011 CD The Reckoning.
Within a few months, the title song had garnered the Radio 2 2012 Folk Award for Best Original Song, thanks to the public vote, while the album itself deservedly gathered big critical plaudits. It was well-deserved praise for a set of typically well-crafted Tilston songs, casting a reflective eye on long life lived and leaving the eponymous "reckoning" to the younger generation.
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But it was probably an appearance on Jools Holland's Later… TV show that clinched it – playing solo, his frailing fingers skilfully driving his guitar, his honest and strong voice talking directly to the camera, Steve Tilston took those last few steps towards becoming a national treasure.
He's nicely unfased by the sudden attention, though.
"Well, I've noticed the numbers seem to be up at a lot of my gigs – but like my friend Chris says, after 60, everything's just gravy!" he says. "It's a nice thing about being an oldie that I can be a bit more picky about the gigs I take."
But he'll always take a Bristol gig, it seems: "It's my favourite city in England and I'll come down as often as I can. I lived there over ten years, you know."
Indeed – having recorded his 1971 debut album An Acoustic Confusion on the legendary Clifton-based Village Thing label (alongside such local institutions as Fred Wedlock and The Pigsty Hill Light Orchestra) he was a Bristol resident for two spells in the mid-Seventies and mid-Eighties and came back in 2003 to record his jazz-influenced Such And Such album with Andy Sheppard.
Somewhere along the way he formed enduring friendships with Bristol-based harmonica player (and latterly BBC Bristol presenter) Keith Warmington and fiddling demon Stuart Gordon, that led to them all sitting around in a dressing room before one of Steve's gigs. Naturally, they started to mess around with a tune or two.
"Suddenly it was an absolute delight and we all wanted to do more," says Steve. "Every time we play together as a trio it's a really great experience, so musically rewarding. We seem to have hit on something none of us could have predicted would work so well. And we're like three men in a boat because we have such pleasure in each other's company – it's a great way of earning a bob or two."
And it's a pleasure they'll be generously sharing with an audience when they appear at Bristol's Colston Hall for yet another of those happy reunions.
Steve Tilston, Keith Warmington and Stuart Gordon Sunday, June 10, Colston Hall 2, Bristol. See listings for details.