Bert Janch and John Renbourn were the swinging London singer/songwriter movement ambassadors to the world. Hanging around the London Soho and playing constantly in the leading folk club of the time – Les Cousins, they gained reputation as admirable icons of acoustic guitar players and stunning songwriting. They both released couple of albums and built their names, but the impact of joining forces with Terry Cox, Jaquie McShee and Danny Thompson to form Pentangle was surprisingly huge.
Pentangle helped spreading the word of British folk to the world outside the British island. Playing sold out shows, for seven years in a row, the world began to listen, and the small and humble British folk circuit that started in Les Cousins had continued few years later to gigantic shows in the Carengy Hall.
Both Jansch and Renbourn were raised on their big brothers’ knees – Davey Graham and Wizz Jones. The last two were there couple of years before and were slightly older, and their influence on a generation of musicians cannot be diminished.
You can suspect that Al Stewart, John Martyn, Paul Simon, Ralph McTell and others wouldn’t become serious musicians if it wasn’t for the Graham/Jones revolution, that was followed by the torch holders Jansch/Renbourn.
That young generation slowly became famous outside the UK, built careers, sold at least one mega-album and became a perfect example for excellent singer/songwriters.
Steve Tilston played in the same clubs, hanged around the same people, but didn’t really broke out of the UK circle. Why? Good question. Probably it has something to do with the world being unfair. The history is full with stories of amazing singer/songwriters that were completely missed by the audience.
Tilston have it all. Beautiful and present voice, amazing songwriting, stunning guitar skills and still – no worldwide recognition back in the days.
He did manage to establish a nice career within the island with a lot of excellent records. But then the internet came along, and the world discovered the exploding talent of Tilston.
His debut album is one of my favorite records in the singer/songwriter zone. While still working in a Tel Aviv music store, I used to import in a very expensive price at least one copy of Tilston’s An Acoustic Confusion. Every time I had a client who asked me for Nick Drake‘s Five Leaves Left, I used to stall him for ten more minutes, play him/her the first couple of notes of every song in Tilston’s debut, until he’d finally give up on Drake and take Tilston home. It worked 90% of the time. For the other 10% it was just too expensive for the client.
An Acoustic Confusion was recorded in the early winter of 1971. In the CD booklet, Tilston tells the story of the recordings and how the heat in the house where the album was recorded broke down from time to time, so he was forced to record with a furr coat and freezing fingers. Not the best conditions for a 20 years old Tilston, but he managed to make magics there.
He managed to assemble an album of ten beautiful, personal, catchy and hunting songs with fantastic lyrics, and a terrific level of composition.
All the songs has the big cloud of inspiration from Jansch/Renbourn/Jones/Graham, but it also has a very solid and strong personal statement for the young musician. He avoids the Drake-ish melancholy, the Jones humor, and the Jansch darkness. He’s closer to Paul Simon and Al Stewart in his songwriting then his fathers of inspiration.
The album was then released in the new label formed by Ian I Anderson (not the Jethro Tull dude) – Village Thing, and over the years became a collectors item like all the other albums by this fantastic label, who managed to release terrific british folk albums.
Lucky for the world, it was released on a cd by the tiny label of Scenescof (also released Wizz Jones and Chris Thompson‘s albums), and the digital edition contains liner notes by Tilston + 2 bonus tracks who didn’t appear in the original release.
Tilston continued to release fabulous albums and built himself a respectful solo career where he’s treated as one of UK’s finest singer/songwriters. I strongly recommend to any of you out there who digs the names I mentioned, to hurry up and check this album, as it falls brilliantly to the category of a Sunday morning album.
Share your thoughts – what other obscure singer/songwriter albums from early 70’s/late 60’s you adore but no one knows about ?
Buy : From Steve himself. Go figure, he may agree to sign you, like he signed on my copy, seven years ago.