Music For Maggie, St George’s, Friday 17th January 2014
Being a gig-goer and a musician, I am well used to everyone lying to me about times that things happen….
So, I’m late, of course.
I should have realised that this is a folk gig – at St George’s, no less, a church-turned concert hall. With a balcony and everything. The stage is what must have been the altar.
In these rarefied surrounds, the Tilston/Boyle family have come to support, and raise funds for, Steve Tilston’s wife Maggie Boyle, who was recently diagnosed with cancer. How else could this “Folk Von Trapp family”* do it but have a concert?
*(Copyright Steve Tilston 2014)
As I arrive, Joe Tilston is on his last song. He’s got a voice that makes me curse myself for turning up late. (Must have missed Wizz Jones as well, because I don’t see any sign of him. I really should have known, folk music – at least in a concert hall – is all about punctuality…I was raised on these kinds of events….)
(When my parents first moved to England, they had a folk music group at the church hall (oh, yes, this was my upbringing; folk as fuck). One of the members was a young Welshman called Hywel Davies. Hywel died of cystic fibrosis, and for ten years, my parents organised an annual concert (in the church hall, of course) as a memorial and to raise money for cystic fibrosis-related charities. My first ever public gig was at one of these nights. In 1994 – I think – around the time Kurt Cobain killed himself and made all the (“cool”) girls at my school cry. (I didn’t give a shit about Kurt Cobain. What made me (almost) cry was the song my Dad sang about his Dad at the folk nights. Friday night at St George’s reminded my so much of those nights at the church hall.))
Northern Sky are next, a duo of Sophie Tilston and Lee Southall of The Coral, with their bluesy, intricate guitar workings of folk styles and sweet vocals.
Ralph McTell is someone I have been aware of for most of my life.
(He was also once mentioned in a review of my music, which said:
“One man and a guitar but the exact opposite of Ralph McTell”.
I have no idea what that means)
His big hit ‘Streets Of London’ is one of those songs that I was born with – I don’t ever remember hearing it, but I know the tune like I knew the walk to school. It’s a short set in which Ralph discusses his love of blues and plays songs about his heroes Robert Johnson and Reverend Gary Davies (I think that was his name, based on a quick internet search….)
After pretending to finish and leave the stage*, Ralph is accosted by the MC for the evening (Keith Warmington of The Steve Tislton Trio) and the continuing applause, and comes back to finish with ‘Streets Of London’, which is as predictable, familiar and welcome as a half-time pie at the football.
Everyone sings along, and here’s where the spine begins to tingle: it’s a church. The building is designed for musical worship, for choral singing, for communion. Here the best aspirations of folk music are met, as the boundary between performer and audience melts away and the song and the occasion and the venue and the people harmonise perfectly. When McTell asks just the ladies to sing I can hear all this and it feels a bit like the scene from Cinema Paradiso where the film director goes back to his hometown and watches scenes he had filmed as a teenager. Except I’m in a room full of people who, I think, must understand all this. So it’s better than that.
It being a sit-down gig in a church/concert hall, there’s an interval. I see a queue and avoid it. Turns out it’s for the toilet. I see another queue and join it. Turns out it’s for the bar. I have chosen wisely. (Honestly, a queue for the bar – not a scrum across the width of the bar, but a relatively orderly, single-file queue. It’s all very polite – I could get used to this.)
In fact, I am aware of the show because I bumped into Martha Tilston in a shop in Bristol a couple of weeks ago (“What are you doing here? Oh yeah, you live here.”). Martha is a proper folk singer, a credit to the family (the dynasty, if you like). Her songs are honest and her voice is pure; her gigs are positive and spontaneous. Martha and her band mate Matt Tweed (on bazouki – folk as fuck) don’t disappoint. It’s always a pleasure.
The family seems stoic about the whole thing, given the emotion of the occasion. There’s an easy humour about the performers, and no sentimentality or mawkishness, although it would be entirely understandable at such an event.
The Steve Tilston Trio emerge, energetic and harmonious, with Steve introduced by his band mate as “The Patriarch”. Having toured for decades, and written for Fairport Convention, Steve needs no introduction from me, with a body of work that speaks for itself. If you don’t already know, check this out.
Steve is engaging, and the Trio are fun, like a gang of old schoolmates that still hang around in the pub together (and happen to be top musicians…like the professional counterparts of those that used to play at The Hywel Davies Memorial Concert).
And finally…all the players come back on together for one last song, and introduce the singer: Maggie Boyle. The ensemble roar through a stirring version of the old traditional ‘Silver Dagger’, sharing lead vocals between the female family members.
I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know this song before. In the spirit of the times, I google all the lyrics I can remember as I leave St George’s, and listen to the Joan Baez version on the way home. (It’s not as good as the one I’ve just heard inside.)
Entertaining, intricate, fun, moving:
What a family, what a night.