Can you picture that scene in Laurence Olivier’s film version of Henry V; the bit where he gives the "This day is called the Feast of Crispian…" speech, a silence and then the longbow men let loose that incredible shower of arrows which absolutely decimates (actually, probably more than one in ten is killed!) the French forces.
["The mastering action of the battle, however, begins with a prodigious truckshot of the bannered, advancing French cavalry shifting from a walk through a canter to a full gallop, intercut with King Henry's sword, poised for signal, and his archers, bows drawn, waiting for it. The release - an arc of hundreds of arrows speeding with the twang of a gigantic guitar on their victorious way - is one of the most gratifying payoffs of suspense yet contrived." This from James Agee’s review of the film for Time Magazine in April 1946.]
Twang of a gigantic guitar - love that.
Now the longbow is a formidable weapon; if one stood at the bottom of Mill Street and loosed an arrow from a six foot English yew longbow drawing 55lbs. the arrow might well land on the terrace of The Queens. STEVE TILSTON whom The Driver and Me saw at the Queens last Saturday (28th) shoots longbow and could undoubtedly easily cover the distance. For he is a big man with a big voice - and that is not the only string to his bow (groan) for he is also a fine songwriter and an absolute whiz on the guitar.
I only draw a 32lb. recurve with a max distance of about 120 yds. so have to settle for the usual trudge up the hill to see the performer of choice. Now I must say straight away that Steve is not my musician of choice – no I’ll reconsider that, it’s not my music of choice for as I said Steve is a fine singer and a very accomplished guitarist. But there was a good turnout in the Top Bar so he obviously has a strong following. And strong songs; a powerful start with Life Is Not Kind (I think) and Here Comes The Night (which might owe more to Erik Satie than Van Morrison – I like Them both and I liked this also!), then Streams Of Sweet Mary, a traditional Cornish song which gave an inkling of the excellent guitar playing which was to come.
And So It Goes (Nick Lowe anyone - else?) followed, which was up-tempo and more to my taste as was West End Samba which had a hint of bossa nova hidden in there and I Need A Cup Of Coffee which was almost pure boogie. A sequence of songs very much in my line and I could not, would not, fault their execution. Although Steve did seem somewhat unsure of himself constantly worrying about the sound levels. But then came a prime example of his interesting songwriting, The Sniper (it was prior to this we learned of his longbow exploits) accompanied by some very deft fingerpicking on his Martin Cole Stratus 12/14. This is an unusual guitar in that it has offset shoulders. Specially developed in conjunction with Steve, this guitar could be described as a steel sting version of a classical guitar. It borrows heavily from classical guitar design and construction i.e. slipper heel integral neck, wide fretboard, 650mm scale length and slotted headstock but differs radically in that the uneven shoulders of the body allow access to the 14th fret without resorting to a cutaway. Body capacity is therefore maximised for a very rich acoustic performance. And indeed the sound of the guitar was magnificent throughout the evening
Chris B did some fiddling with amp controls in the interval and the sound was better in the second half and Steve seemed more content, more relaxed - even to the point of a few false starts and fluffed chords. But it would be churlish to dwell on these minor faults and a trio of self-penned numbers, Dust Of My Heels, Going To The West and Face Of A Friend amply demonstrated why he is held in such high regard. Then some really stunning guitar on Willow Creek, a Chris Parkinson tune to which Steve has added some sweet words. Then just as he was about to rev up the gears into Rock mode on Tsetse Fly Shuffle he BROKE A STRING, a 4th, first one in thirty years apparently but got it fixed in two minutes and thirty eight seconds and straight in (already tuned – the man’s no slouch!) to what turned out to be a pretty good number As the man said, "The trick is not to let you fall asleep!" Well I got the joke.
Unable to resist subjecting us to the ubiquitous sing-along of New York Gals he made up for it with, for me the highlight of the evening (Some Kind Of) Sonnet. The last but the best. Although Anthony Believes and Home which he did for an encore were both pretty good also. So you see I liked him really!
We didn’t stay to chat I’m afraid as I had to be up early next day to shoot a Warwick, a Short One admittedly but it is a very new hobby. And who knows one day I might get an arrow up Mill Street quicker than walking. Or vice versa.