Nomad Blood is available at:
Folk; Alternative; Pop; Singer-Songwriter
7th April, 2017
The album, NOMAD, is released on 12th May, 2017. Available for pre-order here:
CONSISTENCY and longevity might not seem…
the most stimulating and important issue to look at when investigating a musician but you’d be surprised. I am excited to have Martha Tilston in my sights and a young woman who is among the most prolific and exceptional artists we have on these isles. Before I come to her in more detail, I want to look at the nature of survival and sustainability; albums born from unexpected situations; artists who have their own labels and the range/variation of subjects artists employ; songwriters lucky enough to have a musical background – in the case of Tilston; she had a wonderful, dream-like childhood. That first point – endurance and quality in music – as I said, might not be the most glittering and alluring discussion proposition. If you look around mainstream music, there are few musicians that have THAT many albums under their belt. Most of the new artists I approach have a few singles; maybe three or four albums but you wonder how far they can go – whether their career will continue or they are coming to an end. It is very rare discovering someone who has a lot of albums under their belt AND seems likely to create many more. I have written a few pieces, recently, that looked at what new artists need to do in order to survive and impress – ensuring journalists and fans are impressed by your music/websites and you make the most of that opportunity. I shall not take the spotlight from Tilston and distract you with that but there was a defined and bold conclusion: so many new acts are dropping the ball needlessly and not being as sensible, proactive and ethical as they should be. There are factors that can limit an artist’s career and ambitions – financial considerations and constraints; creative dry-up or band conflicts; commercial pressures or a lack of energy – and it is always rewarding finding a musician who can remain and inspire. I always align myself to those artists who have that impressive back catalogue and (have the) determination to forge onwards.
I have seen many talented and sensational acts have to call time for reasons other than creative impetus and energy. A lot of the time, there are things out of their control that affect their ambitions. Music is, as we know, an unpredictable mistress that seems to kick those undeserving harder than it hugs those who merit it. Martha Tilston has a rich musical pedigree – which I shall address later – but, above it all, a nimble and broad palette that means no two albums really sound alike. She is at the seventh-album-stage with NOMAD: that bold-type moniker is apt and striking. Tilston is a musical nomad who ventures into different genres and collaborates with different musicians. In fact, as a human, she is keen to hit the road and see as much of the world as she can. Not only is NOMAD a perfect fit for such a curious soul but, in musical terms, a succinct definition of Tilston’s musical mind. It might be this – the wanderlust and restlessness – that accounts for her lifespan and acclaim. If she were to stick with, say, Folk for all the time one wonders whether she could have reached album number seven. I contest her sheer talent would have made it possible but it is interesting to debate. Every musician is accountable for their own work-rate and career but I feel there are many who deserve affection and long careers that fall short or struggle needlessly. Perhaps there is no general rule or formula but I am glad Tilston has remained and continues to grow. Not only does it prove she is popular and constantly inspired: fellow musicians can use her as an example and see a long and varied career is achievable. Tilston is a benchmark others can aspire to and emulate. Against attrition and potential entropy; Martha Tilston has risen above the waves and proved herself one of our finest songwriters. I make that sound all very dramatic but, perhaps, that is another reason why she continues to regard: a calm attitude and positivity that seems (relatively) free from stress and hassle. One hears her music – and reads interviews conducted – and gets the impression of a strong and level-headed woman who puts her all into music. I shall come back to this topic when concluding but it is something I felt compelled to raise.
One of my biggest music-related gripes is a sense of the formulaic and predictable. So many acts – more common in the mainstream rather than the underground – tend to have schedules and laminated guidelines for album releases and promotion. One feels there is a real mechanical nature to new releases and the creative process. Sure, songs can emerge from unexpected places and have a loose and natural aspect – how common is this when it comes to an album? I feel a lot of artists are too structured and rigid when creating music and releasing it to the public. Whether represented by a label or unsigned: are musicians thinking outside the box and organic as they should be? Maybe I am being cynical but there seems to be a fair few formulaic and overly precise albums coming through at the moment. NOMAD intrigues me because of its conception and delivery. The progeny of previous L.P., The Sea; the germ of the new record was sewn whilst in a charming cottage in Devon. Without expansion and explanation, that location seems perfect to create and inspire the mind. Starting out as late-night jams; there was never any plan to release and write a new album whilst producing the current one. It is testament to the work ethic and passion of Martha Tilston she continued jamming and experimenting after recording ended for the day. These impromptu sessions contained enough gold and spark to prompt the songwriter to begin a new record. NOMAD, ironically born in a singular place and time, gains its title because of the wealth of subjects and sounds explored throughout. I love the fact Tilston and her band – the musicians she conspired with on The Sea – were in creative spirit and able to weave some spectacular after-hours songs. Interestingly, when listening to The Sea and NOMAD back-to-back; one would imagine they’d be quite similar. As with Radiohead – an example I bring in under these circumstances – recording Kid A and Amnesiac at the same time; there is enough difference and distinction to separate the records. You’d guess an album recorded at the same time of another would be similar in sound and, essentially, the second part. This is not the case with NOMAD. Instead, one is treated to new themes, dreams and sounds.
NOMAD began when Tilston and her posse wound-down from The Sea’s recording sessions. On that Cliffside cottage, she joined with her musicians – including Matt Tweed, Nick Marshall and Tim Cotterell – and kept those instruments warm and active. These ideas, merely blueprints and conceptions at this point, were fleshed and expanded by the collective energy and connection in the cottage. One can cast themselves the fly on the wall: seeing the guys chat and experiment into the infant hours. A blend of pre-conceived notes and freestyle session: soon enough, a new album was taking shape and a reality. It seems extraordinary such a thing can occur. Consider the energy and time it takes to record a single album – those daytime hours taking up enough time and soul – but a second, at the same time, no less, seems almost impossible. God knows how much sleep Tilston and her crew got during that time but that discipline and sacrifice seems to have paid dividends. What we have is an album that feeds o the energy and spirit of The Sea but has a consciously different skin. One cannot read the scripture and revelations of The Sea and see it as an introduction to NOMAD. There is familial blood and connectivity but each album has its own agenda and themes. Maybe it is my naivety – not being privy to recording and songwriting sessions – but I feel a lot of acts will record their songs and albums based on a schedule and release it with the same sort of agenda and business-like mind. Tilston has her P.R./label – who approached me to review this song/album – but have their own timetable and schedule. A lot of agencies that approach me have very specific demands and timetables. Yes, there are certain shots I need to include in the review and it has been timed to coincide with the album’s promotion and build-up – NOMAD is out in six days.
When it comes to the actual music; there is such an openness and sense of freedom. There were no plans to create NOMAD – or, at least, so soon – but it just happened. Like love and life’s best things: they occur when you are not expecting them and forcing them to happen. One feels there are many more albums left in Tilston and it will be exciting to see where the next one originates. I am not sure if she is based down in Devon at the moment or further north but it seems likely the sea/coast is a vital Muse. It is the tranquillity and compelling scenes of the South Coast that goes into NOMAD. One gets a distinct taste of the sea’s salt and the breeze flirting with the cliffs; the sunsets and beguiling mornings of Devon; the homeliness and security of that cliff-side cottage – it is not that precariously-placed, so fear not! Earlier, I posed the questions as to how certain artists can sustain a music career – whilst others have quite a brief moment in the sun. Tilston proves some of her best creations emerge when they are completely unexpected. It is not going to be the case every artist has their own The Sea – NOMAD spark but there is a lot to be learnt. Many artists are still too inflexible and lack necessary invention and broadness in their music. NOMAD explores so many different areas and is matched by stunning compositions. What amazes me about an album like NOMAD is the depth and variation of ideas explored. Many albums revolve around love and can be too defined. There is often little room for anything else and you can become a little bored by the end. The best albums, as we can see here, are those that have a mix of familiar and unique but rebel against rigidity and convention.
NOMAD is as wide-ranging and itinerant as one could hope for. The music stem from the intimacy of the acoustic guitar and voice but blend electric guitar and slide; big beats and deep bass; banjo and strings are all in there. The cinematic and folky sits alongside soulful offerings and Pop – a real feast of sounds and genres. In terms of its themes; Green Moon it is about, as Tilston explains herself: “We are all a hair’s width away from feeling either a part of, or outside of any experience or relationship. Do we stay forever outside looking in, never daring to reveal and leave ourselves vulnerable, or do we say; screw it, so you told my secrets to everyone, I will survive and I will trust again.” Loss and guidance are mentioned on Little Arrows and, elsewhere, one hears tales of age and wisdom: how we can connect to deeper tales to reflect on our own novella. Climbing Gates investigates the conquests musicians face and the realities of the game. Self-confidence and succeeding as a female musician – a personal experience from Tilston on one of the album’s highlights – is investigated on Fish Tank. Not only do the song titles suggest what is contained but are vivid and stand-out. The album looks at the human condition and, rather than giving answers and personal opinions, poses questions and leaves the door open for interpretation. It is a record that can be adapted by each listener and compel them to think and imagine as they wish. The way the album casts itself as personal self-discovery gives one insight into how that title came about. It is nomadic and wandering: it roams the land looking for answers and community; moving through towns and counties as it does. There is a bit of the personal and love-based but, by and large, Tilston looks at wider issues and brings the people right into the music. I was amazed by the sheer range and variegation of NOMAD’s progeny. It seems those late-night sessions were incredibly productive and appealed to a certain side of Martha Tilston’s creative mind. What we have is an album that is daring and personal but can be appreciated and understood by every listener.
I shall come to the music in a bit but want to look at Martha Tilston as a child of music and a label owner. If her surname seems familiar then you might have heard is mentioned before: her dad is Steve Tilston. Her mother was a certain Maggie Boyle (step-mother, excuse me); and, not only was theirs a marriage of respect and affection but a perfect musical affiliation. I am not sure how important that shared music love/career was to Tilston’s father and step-mother but it has resonated and influenced Martha Tilston. She takes a little from each and continues their legacy. In terms of sounds, she is probably more similar to her father but, when you listen closely, it is just a slight influence. She has been keen not to trade off her parents and has established herself as a distinct and individual musician who takes inspiration from so many different sources. There is a nod to 1970s Folk and Pop but a lot of modern-day references. Tilston seems happiest and most comfortable in those rural/distant locations surrounded by stunning scenery and a certain tranquillity. One can imagine her surrounded by the city and reflecting on the pace of modern life but, when listening to NOMAD, there is a certain romance and soothe one experiences. In terms of themes; there is a lot of deep and fascinating things discussed. I found myself thinking more about female musicians the struggles they face (Fish Tank) and Green Moon’s talk of secrets and trust. Climbing Gates got me thinking about musicians’ conquests and testaments. I guess Tilston thinks of love and reflects on it – I am not sure whether she is married or single at the moment – but it is not a huge voice in the choir. So many musicians get fixated by relationships and the need to unburden themselves through their songs. Instead, Martha Tilston casts a wider net and documents issues few musicians cover. This kind of dynamic and aesthetic can be traced to Steve Tilston and Maggie Boyle. Here are two musicians who, between them, have created some sensational music – tracks that go beyond simple love and relations and dig deeper. One can only imagine the sort of names that would have come by the Tilston household. I know John Martyn was a visitor/friend of the family.
Bert Jansch and John Rebourn could be found exchanging stories and conversation with her parents. There was singing in the family kitchen an evocative and strong musical influence early on. It would have been impossible for a young Tilston to avoid the lure and appeal of a career in music. Naturally, those whose parents are not musicians can find their own way into the industry but what about those whose folks are natural music folk? Tilston has taken her music to the Acoustic Stage at Glastonbury and toured around the globe – sharing the stage with Kate Tempest and Damien Rice. In addition, she has been nominated as the Best New Act at BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards and collaborated with Zero 7, J-Spool and Tru Thoughts Records. It is hard to say just how important that parentage has been and whether it has given Martha’s Tilston a genetic leg-up. On the one hand, she has that wonderful memory of music legends singing in the kitchen; a dad and step-mother who have/had successful careers and could impart invaluable advice. Steve Tilston’s latest album, 2015’s Truth to Tell, is his seventeenth solo album – he has recorded two albums with his wife – and sees the sixty-seven-year-old in fine form and restless mood. That experience – and secrets behind that survival – would have been passed down to his daughter. Sadly, her step-mother passed away in 2014 but would have been an important role model and guide for Martha Tilston. She would have learnt so much and been able to advice and support her step-daughter as she began her career. On the other hand, the young musician is not indebted to her musical parents and hanging onto their coattails. She has had a hard and unpredictable last few years – including that untimely and sad death – and, as such, would be forgiven were she to retreat from music for a while. A hiatus/sabbatical would be perfectly acceptable: a chance to recharge the batteries and find comfort in traveling and self-assessment. Instead, she has put her all into music and channelled any sadness and loss into her songs. It is, perhaps, not a coincidence there is such longing, beauty and sadness in some of The Sea’s moments (released in 2014) and NOMAD’s key tracks.
Before getting down to business; I wanted to look at Martha Tilston as a label boss and independent artist. Yes, she has a great P.R. company behind her but has created the interestingly-named Squiggly Records. A number of musicians have their own labels – including Kate Bush and her even-more-vivid, Fish People – and it seems to be a good route for musicians. Not only do they have more say in how their music is recorded and marketed but it allows them control and a sense of ownership. If releasing through another label, you’d imagine most of the important decisions are being made by other people. Tilston has created her label – not sure whether many other musicians will be releasing through it – and ensures she has a say in what happens to her music. It would be great to thing other artists release music on her Squiggly Records label and have Tilston guiding them. Whilst it is not overly-expensive setting up a label; the success-rate of new labels is unsure. I used to write reviews for a Leeds-based label, Cuckoo. With a fair few great artists in their nest – Annie Drury and Raglans among them – the label folded and shut its doors. I always assumed they’d go for years but it seemed finance and demand were hard to come by. The nature of the closure is still a little shrouded but it always got me thinking about starting my own label – could I sustain it and would it be a risky venture. In Tilston’s case; she has that support from her father but is a strong-minded musician who knows the industry and the realities facing her. Unlike some other labels, she does not have a huge roster of talent to promote and support. I feel, if possible, all artists should have that ambition in the back of their mind. Not only would it give them an insight into how a label works but provide a sense of autonomy and ownership of their material. Of course, a label can help promote and finance an artist so, if you lack those resources, it can be quite fraught. In any case, we have an exceptional young artist who is determined to record for as long as possible and wants a huge say as to how her career will unfold.
Lovely on the Water is one of The Sea’s most direct and stunning songs. The incredible finger-picking sees the heroine out on the spring-time morning. She is, perhaps, accounting the tale of two lovers who meet by the water and have this vivid and evocative meeting place. It is a wonderful song that sees Tilston glide her voice and seduce at its most beautiful – sounding like Joni Mitchell in places, too. The performances are exceptional and you get caught by the sea-wave and energetic performance. The acoustic strings skip and race – hints of Led Zeppelin III for sure – and it is one of those immersive songs that are never too heavy and coercive. The lyrics are captivating and scenic as the listener engages and transports themselves in the song. The same can be said for The Sea’s title track: the heroine dreams she were a raven or crow; immersed in bodies and the rush of the sea. Whether talking about deck-stealing sailors or the general unpredictability and insecurity being cast at sea – that desire to fly and float away. There is an immense beauty in the delivery and one gets a real sense of theatre and opera. The glistening and silky voice has so many different contours and sides to it – one of the most affecting performances from Tilston. It defines The Sea’s themes and positives; the emotion it possesses throughout. It is unsurprising, recorded and conceived by the sea, its landscape and physicality would provoke this kind of music. In that same vein; Nomad Blood finds the heroine starting by that sea-side realm and casting her mind and imagination further afield. With The Sea, I got a sense of locality and base: there was a set location Tilston manages to evoke stories and variation from. If anything, Nomad Blood is the start of NOMAD’s quest across the land. Having witnessed the capriciousness of seafarers and a certain romance by the shore; she is looking inwards and has a more itinerant mind. NOMAD will continue down the same path as Nomad Blood but, it is worth noting, the incredible visual elements Tilston puts into her songs.
From the opening moments of Nomad Blood, one sees the heroine, bags packed, walking the path somewhere new. It is an immediate effect that helps define and mould the song from the early notes. The windmills on the “county line” breathe in and out: Tilston is wandering and moving (the first shots of the video see her in a car, to destinations new) and there is a definite acceleration. Whereas The Sea had a more refined, still and pure skin: here, there is a definite step-up in terms of pace, candour and ambition. The heroine, like she did in The Sea’s title cut, rides the crest of the musical wave and is, I would say, at her strongest when contrasting that ethereal serenity and boisterous curiosity. That sense of restlessness is augmented throughout the song. Our girl is weighed down by wheels and instruments; the pressures of the road and touring, perhaps? Maybe the demands of being in music are causing stress and the desire to be still. She wants to rest, that is clear, and find some sort of solace and quiet. That said, when/if that does arrive, she knows she will be bored. A young woman who is used to travelling and moving will seem foreign and strange if she were too motionless and uninvolved. It is a strange contradiction but there is a desire for calm but not at the expense of that wanderlust. A musician, one with such a family and background, is always going to be looking around the world and exploring new places. Nomad Blood has that balance of nervous energy and building pressures: trying to find a new blend that can foster that itinerant past and find more time for breathing and relaxation. You are captivated by the music and the nuances of the strings. In the percussion and other instruments, one hears different things and emotions – nothing is wasted and everything adds to the story and drama. Maybe it was conceived after a late-night jam but what we have on record sounds exceptionally well-rehearsed and full – even if, knowing her previous albums, there is that degree of looseness and free spirit.
Tilston shows how adaptable and powerful her voice is throughout. In the early stage, she wants to cook outside and uproot her base – never seem too dedicated and reliant on one destination. Maybe that contradictory mind-set would seem confusing to most but, for those involved in music, it makes perfect sense. Tilston seems happier and more at-ease than her recent work and has ambitions in her voice. Maybe she is referring to recent times when she has been at a destination recording and maybe, although inspired, feeling constrained by the ‘smallness’ and limitations of her Devon base. Being someone in love with that county; one knows any need to depart is only temporary – get away from it a bit and find somewhere new. Tilston is someone who tours regularly and sees new nations so, if anything, this is her mission statement. She needs to remain planted when recording an album but has that itchiness to shake loose and fulfil dreams is there. In fact, that is pretty much the mantra of the song: those who say you cannot follow dreams have never had any themselves. Among the broken and buzzing factory lights, there is that need to break free and discover new parts of the world. We can get too comfortable in ruts we do not want to be in; those expectations and ways of life – always feeling unable and unwilling to do anything more. Perhaps there is a hesitation and risk of losing everything – if you take the gamble there is that possibility it will fail. Martha Tilston has always had a yearning to achieve and accomplish but seems at her most determined here. Nomad Blood is her statement of intent and a real lust to rebel against the doubters. Maybe there are friends and contemporaries who are dubious and sceptical of her dreams. Perhaps they have been disappointed and jaded and seem to be putting that shadow onto Tilston. Roots tie us down and that is their intention. We often rush into settlement and a ‘safety net’.
I feel that frustration and tension build up but the voice is always levelled and disciplined. It vibes with the musicians and is spurred and encouraged by an incredible performance from her players. In terms of the vocal sound, it is hard to compare Tilston with another – maybe less reliant on those Joni Mitchell-esque notes and accentuation. It is a Folk song in a historical sense – there is an element of the 1960s’ and 1970s’ best – but a lot of modernity and contemporary sound. The production has a refinement and richness to it but never too glossy and unemotive. At every stage, you are involved in the song and picture what is being sung. Tilston is one of those singers who has the power to take the listeners with her and make them part of the song. In the video, she continues to drive and has that need to find somewhere foreign and fresh. Laying out all those humdrum scenes and predictable locations – if people say you cannot achieve what you want then that is wrong. Those wheels have been burning and turning and taking the heroine away. It seems she is returning somewhere she has been before – having been “away too long” – and creates some curiosity. I was looking at the song as a reaction to touring and recording commitments. Perhaps she has been creatively defined for a long time and always put into a mould. Perhaps, like I did, people mention her parents too much and do not listen to the music in its own terms. Maybe the words are more about the physical and not wanting to be stagnant: I guess there is a combination of the two. Nomad Blood is a beautiful and curious song that has mystery and ambiguity but, above it all, that clear message: not wanting to remain still in spite of the rush and chaos of the modern world. Whether Martha Tilston is referring to commercial demands or an inner-restlessness; that is down to you. What I do know is Nomad Blood is part of a fantastic double A-side and a NOMAD track that will make you long for the album – just what else is contained and the type of music contained within.
It is interesting Nomad Blood forms part of a double A-side. I didn’t touch on it in the opening but is something that intrigues me. I have often debated why we are seeing a return and rise of the double A-side. In past years – maybe as far back as the 1980s and ‘90s – it was a lot more common seeing this in music. I have written a piece about the art of the double A-side – I will not distract and bore you with it now – and there seems to be a point when it died off. Perhaps there was an expense with releasing two singles at once or the fact we have transferred from physical singles to digital. When one could buy a single at a record shop; it made a lot more sense releasing something like a double A-side – musicians would often release a single with a B-side or two. Now, because there is more disposability, commercialism and a faster-paced market; artists are more concerned with a single song and focusing on that. In my view, and reason why we are seeing double A-sides come back in vogue, is it allows a user a bigger taste of an album: a way of releasing two songs without committing to an E.P. Little Arrow is the sister/brother of Nomad Blood and, without going into too much detail, is a rival. I wanted to focus on Nomad Blood because, I feel, it has a slight edge and hits a little harder. That said; Little Arrow is full of nuance and keeps getting inside my head. Squiggly Records creator Martha Tilston has released a fantastic song (two, if you’re being picky) that shows just what NOMAD will contain. Not only is one primed for a fantastic album but gets to hear a hugely memorable double-side release. I know many artists are starting to embrace the double A-side and, with Nomad Blood/Little Arrows in the ether, that will inspire others to carry on that craft.
I will return to my earlier points about musical families and diverse thematic spread; artists that endure and create multiple albums and why many artists are setting up their own record labels. Tilston has not been back in the country that long after touring around Australia. Taking in everywhere from Canberra to Sydney; she has been in the warm weather, taking her music to the eager and passionate Australian fans. I stated how Tilston is comfortable somewhere like Devon and a cosier, more secluded part of the world. As part of her Australian tour, she has hit the road and toured from city-to-city; seeing the diverse Australian landscape and opening her eyes to a new world. Tilston is big on travel and has that curiosity for international crowds and new faces. Now, she is back in the U.K. and in the midst of NOMAD’s next leg. Tomorrow, she plays St. Mary’s Hall in Whitstable: the last few days she has been welcomed to Manchester (The Wonder Inn yesterday) and Bristol’s Trinity (the night before). Before she can rest and concentrate on NOMAD’s release reception, she takes in a range of venues and locations – she is down my way on 9th June – including London, Birmingham and Penzance. Tilston covers some serious ground and will be performing in some wonderful spaces. After she plays her final U.K. date, one wonders what comes next for her. Being seven albums in, there is not the commercial pressure to hurry out another record. I wonder whether Tilston is more an album-musician rather than an E.P. or single merchant. Maybe she will release a between-albums three-track or a standalone single. I feel, given the places she is visiting and new inspiration accrued, another album cannot be too far away. Certainly, she has a lot to reflect on and must be thinking about. I shall not dictate her motives but it will be interesting seeing what 2018 has in store for her.
NOMAD is a wonderfully inventive and contrasting album that celebrates the highs and successes but ruminates on struggles and the harder side of life. It is a reliably diverse and consistent album that, whilst not revolving around a concept or story, has a certain them running through it. You can hear a young woman look inwards at her life and obstacles she has overcome and cast her vision outwards – looking at the world and all around her. Journalists will define and explain the album in more eloquent terms than me but, in terms of Nomad Blood, it is a remarkable song that is merely one of NOMAD’s sides and colours. I am all for artists who look at love and the state of their relationships but, when you experience nothing but over an album, it can get quite insipid and formulaic. Martha Tilston will face problems in love (like anyone else) but, rather than focus too heavily on it, she looks at more original topics and inspiring avenues. As I said; you get songs about gender issues in music and the successes of the musician – the triumphs they can face and embracing that. There is a little on the environment and the world we live in (Nomad Blood) and being brave and learning to trust again. NOMAD looks at transition and movement in a physical and spiritual sense. It is hardly surprising, given the location and hours the album was conceived, it sounds so natural and textured. Some moments strip things down to guitar-and-voice whereas songs like Little Arrows utilise greater influence from strings. Whether semi-orchestral or touchingly tender; it is a record that overflows with images, possibilities and highlights. One can immerse themselves in the album and let Tilston’s stunning voice – levied to exceptional performances and personal, sharp lyrics – and those wonderful stories grip you.
I feel every music lover who wants to remain with an artist demands a number of things. First of all, one needs to discover a musician who has range and variation in their music. I have highlighted how it can be depressing when certain artists write about the same thing time and time again. I am not suggesting artists take a scattershot approach to music and write about whatever they come across – negating love and its importance. Even albums whose focus is on heartbreak can dip into new water: look at issues like mental health or a different nation; a humorous song or a look at the modern music scene. Martha Tilston proves how effective this balance can be. She has, in NOMAD, displayed a great range but kept a focus and personality throughout. The album’s sort-of title track, Nomad Blood, is a song that concentrates and defines her ability as a writer and singer. Those late-night jams – at the time of The Sea’s recording – mutated into fully fledged recordings that make up Tilston’s latest triumph. She should be a guide for all new and existing artists regarding how an album should be done. Of course, having family ties and links to music will give any artist a natural advantage. Not in a nepotism sense but having that direct experience and knowledge. Steve Tilston is Martha’s father – Maggie Boyle was her step-mother – and the childhood the young Tilston experienced is the envy of many. It is interesting to trace NOMAD back to her parents and how influential they were/are. One imagines Tilston’s range and variegated spirit is a culmination of her childhood influences and the music of Maggie Boyle and Steve Tilston. Certainty, her itinerant spirit, ambition and incredible work ethic has that common blood. I have investigated Tilston’s catalogue and see how assured and confident she is. That was established right from the start, but now, it is even more defined. She is still such a young woman and has a long career ahead. It is her wide-ranging set of subjects and sounds that make her work so nuanced and fascinating. NOMAD is another step forward and proof she is one of the nation’s biggest talents.
Squiggly Records is her baby and the label she created. Not only can Martha Tilston have a certain creative and financial freedom but encourage other artists to come to her label. I am, as said, not sure if she will expand the label and recruit musicians onto it but, from her perspective, it is nice being able to release on your own label when you want and in whatever format you choose. There are no timescales and demands from a big label: she has the decisions in her hand and can record the sort of music she wants to. It is no coincidence Tilston has completed album number seven and looks set to break into double-figures. Listening to songs like Nomad Blood and you can hear that passion and drive. When inspiration hits, those nightly jams in Devon, it can lead to an album without much planning and struggle. Who knows where the next album will come from? Maybe there will be cottage-side revelation or she will, as NOMAD takes to the road, reflect on the different towns and people she will visit. Relationships will be in her mind but, whether documenting the good or bad, will be done in her unique way. It is hard to say what will arrive and when but one thing is for sure: there will be a lot more music from her. Perhaps a collaboration with her father might appear next; a few songs that highlight the state of the modern world – the possibilities are endless. NOMAD is out in a few days and an album I recommend everyone adds to their collections. No matter what your tastes; there is no way you cannot ignore the album or let it wash by. Each song will find a place in the heart and provoke different reactions. It is a testament to Martha Tilston’s experience and instinct she can record an album that has so many different sides and treats. NOMAD is the young songwriter exploring and wandering but as focused and extraordinary as ever. The music industry produces a few songwriters who can last for years and, seemingly, get better as time elapses. In a fraught and unpredictable time; the world of music needs…
MANY more like her.
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