The lights were low, the music soothing, and over 100 people sat talking quietly around shared trestle tables waiting for the performances to start.
This was The Malt Room at Kendal Brewery Arts Centre on Saturday, a far cry from the atmosphere at the last show I went to there, Dreadzone, but no less expectant.
Support act Nathan Ball arrived on stage with his guitar and with a quiet, brief introduction launched into a 40 minute set that left the audience spellbound.
A strong voice, well crafted lyrics and clever and original guitar playing combined to create a mesmerising soundscape that could easily transfer onto an album for relaxed home listening.
His “banter”, which he said he wasn’t very good at, ended up being extremely funny and engaging. We were all waiting for Martha Tilston, but here was a support act that could lead a show.
Martha Tilston has been wowing me for a few years now. Since the release of her album Of Milkmaids and Architects in 2007, and a live show in Clitheroe, I’ve been smitten with her voice, guitar prowess, sense of humour, political viewpoints, love of nature and earthly energy.
Her folk is unconventional but timeless – drawn out double bass, yearning fiddle and keyboard sounds move around the guitars, bazouki and her voice, she doesn’t just sing the songs, but seems to slip into then.
Her 2012 album Machines of Love and Grace is filled with new classics, and she started the show with Survival Guide, a song about being prepared for an ever changing world.
Each song has its own story that becomes the link between music, anecdotes about her past and her father, Steve Tilston, and her stepmother - Maggie Boyle, places in the world where the songs found their origin (Music of The Moon in southern Spain) strongly held beliefs (Silent Women, Wall Street) and people that influence her.
She did some nifty things with echo and sound too, moving her voice across two mics to create a haunting and otherworldly outcome.
Her relationship with the audience was easy going and good natured, and she had us singing along to a song dedicated to Leonard Cohen.
She sang a traditional folk number – The Fisher Lad O Whitby, and Nathan Ball joined her onstage for the “last song” The House Carpenter.
Then we were treated to a solo, unamplified rendition of Joan Baez’ version of 100-year-old folk ballad Silver Dagger, a track featured on Of Milkmaids and Architects.
The final song was Helicopter Trees, from 2000, when she performed as Mouse with Nick Marshall, who still plays alongside her today.
Here is a stunning wordsmith, guitarist and producer at the top of her game.
I expected a good show, but this was a revelation, blasting out the cobwebs and warming up my January no end.
By Nick Lakin