Martha Tilston: Arts Club, Liverpool

Martha Tilston

Martha Tilston at the Arts Club

Hauling anchor, Getintothis’ Paul Fitzgerald set sail for a night of storied folk with Martha Tilson. 

Liverpool loves folk music.

It’s a port thing. A poor thing. A stick it to the man thing. Songs of resistance and songs of the sea.

And in true folk fashion, Martha Tilston, daughter of Liverpool born folk singer Steve Tilston, has gathered together friends and family, including Uncle Kev, who you’ll know as Lewis off the telly, to help out on her new album, The Sea, taking the found items of classic folk songs, such as Lovely On The Water, her version of which is lovely on the ears, and Fisherlad Of Whitby, sculpting her own intimately rendered versions.

There’s much talk of press gangs, fishermen, oceans and mermaids, a high tide here and a splash of rum there. There are songs of separation, and songs of togetherness. She treats us to several of these little acoustic wonders this evening in the compact and bijou surroundings of the Arts Club bar. Granted, it’s not a massive crowd, but as Tilston notes, they’re very loud clappers. “That’s lucky”, she adds.

She’s backed tonight by her long time cohorts, guitarist Nick Marshall, and also, on bass and bazouki, Matt, who looks so ‘from the country’ that even his surname is Tweed, and he’s still wearing his rattlesnake-proof boots. They cram onto the tiny stage, barely able to contain them and the plethora of stringed instruments they’ve brought. Playing with a subtle confidence, and hardly seeming to even touch their guitars, the sound they make is as beautiful as these great old songs demand.

Martha’s folk upbringing means her voice can carry these songs with ease. At once we’re reminded of Eliza Carthy, Beth Orton, and Kirsty McColl, with a healthy side order of Parton thrown in for good measure. So, she knows her folk, that’s for sure, but it ain’t all shanties and fiddles.

Martha’s got some fine tunes of her own too. Artificial is a great song about the drudgery of her years working for the man in a London office, and the many opportunities for abject misery that the hamster wheel existence can provide. In it she dreams of ‘running across the tables, and heading for the sea’. She lives in Cornwall now. Well played, Martha.

Then there’s More, where she glories in her mistrust of the advertising industry, having bravely turned down numerous offers for her songs to be used in adverts. She’s as ruthless in defending the honour of her songs, as the ad-men would be in exploiting them. Moby she ain’t.

Her hatred of all things corporate, all things profit and loss, greed, and the beauty and magic she finds in Cornwall, are common themes here, and can be found in the few as yet untitled new songs they try out on us. One of the new songs breaks down into a beautiful even-sparser-than-Portishead version of Glory Box. Magical stuff on show here tonight, and long may she continue to shake the cage, sending us these pearls from the Cornish coastline.

Photos by Getintothis’ Tom Adam