A Review of the Steve Tilston CD
"Of Many Hands"

"Of Many Hands"
by Steve Tilston

(ADA Recordings ADA 106CD)

This review is written by Dai Woosnam, daigress@hotmail.com, 12/05

There are so many people who claim they saw Paul Simon when he appeared at the famous London folk club, The Troubadour, in 1964, that they would surely have come close to filling the Royal Albert Hall, let alone that intimate little club with its trademark church pews.

I was not one of those people. I made my first visit the following year, 1965.

But I really WAS one of the relative handful who bought British folk artist Steve Tilston's first LP: and that was more years ago than I care to remember. And although I have not bought every album since, I can truthfully claim to have heard them all.

And one has been struck down the years by his ability as a writer to turn out well crafted songs. Of course “Slip Jigs and Reels” struck Folk gold for him, but other songs were there or thereabouts.

However, in amongst the mass of his own work, Steve has often thrown in the occasional traditional song. And I have always appreciated the INTELLIGENCE he brings to another person's lyric: not for him the slavish “cover” version. And this also extends to his instrumental approach.

And to be honest ­ and at the risk of upsetting his legion of fans ­ I have always thought that THIS “interpretation” is the area he should concentrate on. And so, imagine my delight when this album arrived at my desk for review: for 11 of the 12 numbers are traditional (some of them very well known ballads indeed).

Is it a masterpiece? No, emphatically not. But remarkably, it contains a masterpiece. (More of that later.)

On the album he is well-served by seriously good musicians (some of them stellar names). These include his one-time Other Half, Maggie Boyle, Scunthorpe's own Martin Simpson, Chris Parkinson and Kerr & Fagan. And the best “signing” of all, doesn't contribute anything to the SOUND, but everything to the SENSE. I refer of course to the formidably erudite Nigel Schofield, who as usual, displays his knowledge of the Tradition in an understated way, yet at the same time comes up with some deeply impressive liner notes. This chap truly has forgotten more than I have ever learned about The Tradition. (And I would not say that about that many people!) His notes, allied to Steve's interpretations, help yield up additional meaning in songs one thought the Law of Diminishing Returns had perhaps just possibly began to set in on.

All that said, not all the interpretations work 100% for me. “Spencer The Rover” and “Loving Hannah” are taken at too brisk a pace for my liking. (But hey: that could be MY fault in that I have so grown to love the songs in their tried-and-tested slower format.) However, whatever the rights and wrongs of the thing, the incontrovertible fact remains that there is not a dud song amongst them.

But I have left the best to last. I promised you, did I not, that there was a masterpiece here. And “masterpiece” there surely is. And Steve eases it in at number 5 in the batting order. And golly, does it not play a remarkable innings!

I refer to that much-loved chorus song that has made the rafters ring in a thousand folk clubs: “The Leaving of Liverpool”. What he does with this song is nothing short of wondrous.

Gone is the song that we all used to sing with such gusto. In its place he has brought us a much more reflective and subtle song of parting. And he does it by a mixture of slowing it down with his GEARBOX rather than his ABS brakes, and writing a splendidly sensuous guitar accompaniment.

If my last remark just escaped it, then surely my NEXT remark might seem like a candidate for “Pseuds' Corner”, but I will risk it, since I believe that not everyone reading this is moron!

The track TRULY brought to mind that famous remark of the great Artur Schnabel. “The notes, I play no better than the next pianist, but the PAUSES, ah, that is another matter!”

And Tilston “plays” the pauses here with aplomb. He is aided by some stunningly good slide guitar from Martin Simpson: it adds that ACHING LONGING to the near 6 minutes of perfection.

As I write this, 11 months of the year are up. I have just been asked for my five albums of the year by a certain publication. This I regret to say is NOT one of those albums, though it would get a “very honourable mention” from me.

But had I been asked what are the top five TRACKS of the year, I would have no hesitation in saying “Steve Tilston's ‘Leaving of Liverpool' takes top spot … and the following four places!”

I can see this single track getting huge airplay on folk radio programmes. With a bit of promotion, it could be a crossover hit. All you Tilston fans out there: bombard your mainstream radio stations with requests for it.

This is an album that enhances Steve Tilston's reputation. Let's hope a volume 2 of solely traditional songs is not far away.

Dai Woosnam
Grimsby, England

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