Martha Tilston — The Sea
°δ° Když se její rodiče rozvedli, Martha se s matkou přestěhovala do Surrey. Její nový otčím byl divadelní režisér Frank Whately, vlastním jménem Geordie a irské dědictví u něj bylo ruku v ruce s láskou k tradiční lidové písni. Právě toto prostředí bylo určující, tam Martha nejprve zvládla hru na klavír a pak se sama učila finger–picking stylu ve hře na kytaru, inspirovaná zejména oblibou Joni Mitchell a Paula Simona a to jak hudebně, tak politicky, s důrazem protiválečných prvků a sociálního svědomí 60´. Martha si také dokázala uchovat některé z matčiných dárů pro malování, v nových domácnostech pravidelně navštěvovala herce a další divadelníky a tak začala driftovat směrem k herectví.
°δ° Její mimořádná rodina ji povzbuzovala a dala své hudební nadání a tady Martha používá tyto dary co nejvíce moudře a laskavě, což má za následek přitažlivé album podmanivé krásy.
Location: Brighton, East Sussex
Album release: October 6, 2014
Record Label: Squiggly Records/Proper
01 Lovely On the Water 5:14
02 Lowlands of Holland 3:54
03 Shipwreckers 4:09
04 Shallow Brown 3:57
05 Blackwater Side 4:03
06 Fisherland of Whitby 5:21
07 House Carpenter 4:22
08 Waters of Zyne 2:26
09 Mermaid of Zennor 6:25
°δ° Limited Autograped Edition (Available While Stocks Last).
°δ° Traditional folk songs about the sea, collected, sung and played with family & friends — Kith & Kin.
°δ° "I've always had it in mind to make a traditional album" says singer and contemporary songwriter Martha Tilston. "Singing trad songs is what I grew up with, not just from my father (Steve Tilston) and step mother (Maggie Boyle) but also on my stepfather's side of the family with its Geordie heritage" (her stepfather is Frank Whately and uncle Kevin Whately, the actor known for his iconic roles in such beloved TV series as 'Lewis' and 'Morse' as well as movies like 'The English Patient').
°δ° Among the family friends of her childhood was the legendary Bert Jansch (and Martha includes 'Black Waterside' as a nod to his influence and presence in her work). °δ° 'The Sea' is a brand new album of traditional songs about the sea and the stories of those whose lives are intertwined with and guided by contact with it. Each song has one of the above–mentioned family members, plus brother Joe Tilston and friends, singing or playing with Martha and she says: "it has been a beautiful experience. We recorded most of it in a cliff side cottage in Cornwall and enjoyed trying to capture the magic and treachery of the deep".
°δ° "I wanted to include" she continues "people in the project who have made folk music integral to my own musical journeys. Last year, at my step mum's Northern benefit gig, to raise money for her treatment for cancer, I was consumed by the beauty of the folk music being played and struck by what an important influence Maggie Boyle has been not only on me, but on so many in the folk world. She has been quietly, humbly getting on with making beautiful music whilst supporting so many other musicians, and i just thought I have to do this, and do it well if I can, but most importantly let go of any self doubt and make it happen.
"°δ° Most of the songs were worked out with my house band — The Scientists (Matt Tweed, Nick Marshall and Tim Cotterell) — then the guest singer/player would add their own magic, sometimes just small sections, sometimes the whole song as more of a duet. We went with what sounded organically best for each track.
°δ° Due to the geography of where we individually live, and because my family are busy away working, touring and teaching, we often would only have a short slot to set up recording gear and capture them. But it seems to have worked well. "Nick Marshall was integral to the whole creative process, often introducing a beautiful guitar line to what I had conceived for the song to hang on. Matt Tweed would then add his unmistakable wizardry on bouzouki, Tim Cotterell came down to the cottage in Prussia Cove, Cornwall where we recorded and he would just close his eyes whilst playing as if the song instantly took him to a different sphere. There was a bit of cross pollination to the recordings; so we have Maggie playing flute on songs on which she is not the guest singer and John Thorne (Lamb) is playing double bass on the 'Lowlands of Holland' (on which my uncle Kevin Whately sings, revisiting something he did prior to his acting success)."
°δ° The end result is music that is captivating, beautiful and as much a joy to listen to as it, undoubtedly, was to make. Traditional folk songs about the sea, collected, sung and played by Martha with family and friends; a personal and family testimony to the power of song and traditions forged by kith and kin.
The Observer, Sunday 5 October 2014; Score: ****
Martha Tilston: The Sea review — embraces tradition with nautical ballads
°δ° Martha Tilston has carved her niche in the English folk scene with sharp, original songs that dissect the modern world. Here, she embraces tradition, with nine songs from the national hoard of nautical ballads and shanties: The Waters of Tyne, Fisher Lad of Whitby etc. Shorn of their Joni Mitchell mannerisms, Tilston’s delicate vocals recall Anne Briggs (not least on Black Waterside), and an array of guests from her extended family add robustness, though the arrangements (guitar, bouzouki, flute) remain low key. It’s an engrossing set that captures both the harshness and enchantment of maritime life, with the salt of sea air almost palpable.
© Photo credit: David Angel
Review by: Simon Holland, on 6 OCTOBER, 2014
°δ° Martha has to date charted her own course as a singer songwriter, gradually staking a claim to a successful career in the folk world, but has said that she always had it in mind to make a traditional album. She finally picked up the direction the drive and the courage to immerse herself into the world of folksong, following a benefit concert for her stepmother Maggie Boyle, and has turned to family and friends, gathering all of the people who have helped to make the music such an important part of her life. What a talented bunch they are and the resulting album, The Sea, is beautifully crafted album, packed with wonderful singing and playing some great nautically themed song choices and a few surprises into the bargain. The album was mostly recorded in a cliff–side cottage in Prussia Cove in Cornwall with the slat spray in the air, and it sounds absolutely fabulous.
°δ° If Martha Tilston was always going to make music, given her father and step mother are both significant members of the folk world, she did so in her own sweet time and when she eventually started, on her own terms as well. Even as a babe in arms, Martha was a regular at the folk club in Bristol, run by her parents, Steve Tilston, whose own music career had already begun, and her mother Naomi. Regular house guests included the likes of Bert Jansch, Ralph McTell and John Renbourn, just family friends, who would sit in kitchen trading songs and stories.
°δ° When her parents divorced Martha moved with her mother to Surrey. Her new stepfather was theatre director Frank Whately whose own Geordie and Irish heritage gave him a love of traditional folksong. It was in this environment that Martha first mastered the piano and then taught herself finger style guitar, inspired in particular by the likes of Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon, both musically and politically, picking up on the anti–war elements and social conscience of the 60’s singer songwriters. Martha also proved to have some of her Mother’s gift for painting, but as the new household was regularly visited by actors and other theatre professionals, so she started to drift towards acting.
°δ° In Bristol meanwhile Steve and Maggie Boyle were together, and Martha refers to her filling that house with songs. As a youngster Maggie had joined a branch Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann in Fulham, an organisation dedicated to promoting Irish traditional folk song and dance, Martha was in turn introduced to the richness of this culture. The album notes credit Maggie as the single most important inspiration for Martha’s own singing, with the moving dedication, “Thank you, it’s because of you that I sing at all.”
°δ° None the less when Martha did start she didn’t follow her stepmother and Father into the world of traditional folk singing or the folk club circuit. Instead Martha became attracted to the alternative festival scene, through lifestyle choices and her keenly developing social conscience. She became part of the travelling troupe that were known as the Small World Solar Stage, before forming a duo with Nick Marshall called Mouse. The pair released a couple of albums following the turn of the millennium and toured extensively, without gaining much success, until eventually financial pressures took their toll.
°δ° Martha started releasing her own albums thereafter and even set up her own label as the means to do so. First there was a lo-fi CD called Rolling and then the somewhat fuller Bimbling, funded by selling her paintings. With Ropeswing the following year Martha had added a band, although it was Of Milkmaids And Architects, that she really started to cross back into more mainstream music circles, even picking up a Folk Award nomination, and building a solid reputation on the live circuit.
°δ° The Sea will be her fourth full album since that release in 2007, along with a compilation EP, suggesting that any move into the mainstream has resulted from, or at very least come with a creative surge at the same time. Mostly of course, except for the odd traditional dabble here and there, it’s been all her own material and in the course of creating that Martha has attracted a number of fine musicians to her cause. Several of whom are on hand here. After going under the name The Woods around that Ropeswing album, the latest incarnation is The Scientists and the bouzouki of Matt Tweed, the guitar of Nick Marshall, Tim Cotterell’s violin created the foundation of the songs here.
°δ° More importantly, however, this is an album about family and the people that Martha refers to as making folk music an integral part of her life. Naturally enough that includes her father Steve and stepmother Maggie Boyle. To some degree it was a benefit concert for Maggie, to raise money for medical treatment that gave Martha the courage and inspiration to delve into the folksong tradition. Although she may have always felt she was going to at some point, there’s a sense that Martha had to do it right, bringing with it an undercurrent of pressure, with Steve and especially Maggie, setting high standards for her to aim at. It’s easy to say from listening to the finished work that she needn’t have worried, however, as the record sounds fabulous and with the theme linking the songs, there are some interesting narrative choices, adding another level of enjoyment.
°δ° The opener, Lovely On The Water is instantly entrancing and Martha’s voice, light and airy, almost ethereal with its gentle tremolo is an immediate hook. She’s joined on the track by Maggie in a gorgeous duet, with her stepmother’s sweet yet fuller less decorous delivery creating a perfect compliment. The sleeve notes tell of the lyrics being written on a piece of paper that kept surfacing, almost nagging to be recorded and also setting this project in motion. The arrangement is beautiful with interlaced guitars, bouzouki and fiddle given ebb and flow by Martha’s partner Robin Tyndal–Biscoe’s inventive, rolling percussion. Maggie also adds a flute that hits right at the heart of this sad tale of lovers parted by war and the duty to set sail.
°δ° The Lowlands Of Holland takes another aspect of the same theme, with a young man forced to leave his lover, never to return as he falls in combat. It is also introduces the Whately branch of the family, with Martha’s uncle Kevin Whately, the actor proving that he’s a surprisingly capable singer. It’s another exquisitely sad lament and Kevin displays an unexpected tenderness, as Martha’s voice tremors with the full anguish of a woman left to mourn. Again there is a haunting flute added by Maggie.
°δ° The next song breaks from the tradition and is Martha’s own Shipwreckers, Which incorporates part of a Kipling poem in its choruses. It’s a co–write with her friend Matt Kelly and features the cello and voice of Beth Perry. The subject of wreckers is controversial and the idea that people would deliberately lure ships onto the rocks has largely been debunked, but there are strong stories from Cornwall, where Martha lives and salvage from wrecks and smuggling were certainly rife. Martha has simply let her imagination free with idea and the arrangement is equally adventurous.
°δ° Joe Tilston, Martha’s brother, is on hand for Shallow Brown, a slave’s lament turned into a shanty and adapted from a version by Johnny Lamb (Thirty Pounds of Bone), who learnt it from Mary Hampton. This version was recorded in an old fishing warehouse in Falmouth, where Troubadour studios is to be found, and swells with the salt sea and salt tears. Following on, Martha’s former Mouse partner Nick Marshall courageously takes on Blackwater Side and does a very good job of it too, with a little almost minimalist piano from Martha, who gives a notable credit to Anne Briggs for the last verse, whilst perhaps channelling some of her spirit into this lovely, lithe version.
°δ° Martha’s two father figures also feature with Steve Tilston joining her for The Fisher Lad Of Whitby (listen below) and Frank Whately revisiting his Geordie roots with The Waters Of Tyne. The first is handled with considerable restraint, although again the arrangement sparkles with banjo added by Tim Cotterell. Frank, although not a professional singer also handles his duet well and Martha’s notes recall him singing some fairly lengthy ballads when she was a child, although this is short and very sweetly done.
°δ° In between those two comes The House Carpenter and features her friend from the festival circuit, Nathan Ball, who proves an excellent guitarist with a smoky edge to his voice, as the tragic tale of love and honour unfolds. But perhaps saving thes best for last,is another of Martha’s own song, The Mermaid Of Zennor, which features the voice of her friend of Cornish stock, Steve James, along with flute from Maggie and Bath’s cello adding to the house band. It takes Martha’s childhood memories of ythe Landscape around Zennor Hill and Penwith and submerges us beneath the waves with a tale of enchantment and magic. But we’re not quite done as there is a surprise reprise of Whitby, with sister Sophie rounding off the family connections in style.
°δ° The Sea is a powerful statement of the journey that Martha has been on and is brilliantly conceived from start to finish. Martha is strong enough to lead her significant guests through a set of salt tear tales, laced with the swelling tides of emotion, the human tragedies and the magic that unfolds. Her band The Scientists have excelled in helping to realise these songs and Martha herself has never sounded better, the playing and singing throughout is simply sublime. Her extraordinary family have encouraged her and bestowed their musical gifts and here, Martha uses those gifts most wisely and graciously, resulting in a beguiling record of captivating beauty.
Artist Biography by Colin Irwin
°δ° Her dad, Steve Tilston, is one of Britain's most enduring folk singers and songwriters, and her stepmother, Maggie Boyle, is a magnificent Irish singer, so it shouldn't have come as too much of a surprise to find Martha Tilston emerging in the 2000s as such a highly distinctive and individual songwriter. As a kid she remembers folk legends like Bert Jansch, Ralph McTell, and John Renbourn playing in the kitchen, but — mostly raised in Surrey by her mother — Martha went out of her way to pursue an alternative path that deliberately avoided trading on her father's reputation. Initially she went to drama school and, like her mother, was also a talented painter (her paintings subsequently adorned the sleeves of her albums). But she couldn't help herself writing songs, and when the call of music became too hard to resist she stayed away from the conventional folk music circuit to concentrate on the underground "alternative" festival scene, where she gained a strong social conscience. An attempt by an early manager to convert her into a stereotypical rock chick was doomed to failure and convinced the then teenaged but already headstrong Martha that if this was the mainstream music business, then she didn't want a part of it. With guitarist Nick Marshall, she formed a duo called Mouse which built a strong reputation on the live circuit until the rigors of constantly touring all over Britain and Europe without making any money took their toll and they split. In 2002, she was invited to support Damien Rice on an Irish tour, and on support tours with the likes of Roddy Frame and Nick Harper followed as she again found she had a natural empathy with audiences that made her a popular attraction at festivals. Her political convictions and the slightly anti–establishment flavor of her songs gave her much credence on the underground scene, and her regular venues included festival campfires, gigs in the woods, and house concerts. Various odd descriptions from acid–folk to twisted folk were used to describe her, though she always said that, apart from her father, her biggest influence was Joni Mitchell. In 2003 she issued — mostly by word of mouth — a lo–fi album called Rolling — but she was living in Brighton by the time she released her first official album, Bimbling, in 2005. Financed by selling her paintings and released on her own Squiggly label, it was an intimate album full of charm and otherworldly imagery plus one traditional song, "Sprig of Thyme." After eight years on the alternative circuit she finally broke cover for her 2006 album Of Milkmaids & Architects (the title refers to songs depicting the lives of her grandparents), hiring a manager and a press agent, and at last found herself playing to the audiences who adored her father's work. The combination of her seductive voice and thoughtful songs won her a nomination for best new act at the 2007 BBC Folk Awards, but her embracing of the conventional folk fraternity hardly represented a sell–out and she remained true to her principles of conservation, ecology and fair trade, and total independence. One song, "Artificial," describing her experiences working in an office in Surbiton, particularly hit a chord with audiences at her gigs, at which she was now augmented by a band the Woods of variable numbers and instrumentation, including percussionist Robin Tyndale–Biscoe, whom she married in 2007. Her final embrace of her father Steve's world came when the pair united for a successful joint tour in 2007.
2000 Mouse: Helicopter Trees (with Nick Marshall)
2001 Mouse: Mouse Tales (with Nick Marshall)
2005 Bimbling (Squiggly)
2006 Ropeswing (credited to Martha Tilston and The Woods)
2006 Of Milkmaids and Architects (Squiggly)
2007 'Til I Reach the Sea (One Little Indian)
2008 Lucy and the Wolves (Squiggly)
2012 Machines of Love and Grace (Squiggly)
2014 The Sea (Squiggly)