Her dad, Steve Tilston, is one of Britain's most enduring folk singers and songwriters, and her stepmother, Maggie Boyle, is a magnificent Irish singer, so it shouldn't have come as too much of a surprise to find Martha Tilston emerging in the 2000s as such a highly distinctive and individual songwriter.
As a kid she remembers folk legends like Bert Jansch, Ralph McTell, and John Renbourn playing in the kitchen, but -- mostly raised in Surrey by her mother -- Martha went out of her way to pursue an alternative path that deliberately avoided trading on her father's reputation. Initially she went to drama school and, like her mother, was also a talented painter (her paintings subsequently adorned the sleeves of her albums). But she couldn't help herself writing songs, and when the call of music became too hard to resist she stayed away from the conventional folk music circuit to concentrate on the underground "alternative" festival scene, where she gained a strong social conscience. An attempt by an early manager to convert her into a stereotypical rock chick was doomed to failure and convinced the then teenaged but already headstrong Martha that if this was the mainstream music business, then she didn't want a part of it. With guitarist Nick Marshall, she formed a duo called Mouse which built a strong reputation on the live circuit until the rigors of constantly touring all over Britain and Europe without making any money took their toll and they split. In 2002, she was invited to support Damien Rice on an Irish tour, and on support tours with the likes of Roddy Frame and Nick Harper followed as she again found she had a natural empathy with audiences that made her a popular attraction at festivals. Her political convictions and the slightly anti-establishment flavor of her songs gave her much credence on the underground scene, and her regular venues included festival campfires, gigs in the woods, and house concerts. Various odd descriptions from acid-folk to twisted folk were used to describe her, though she always said that, apart from her father, her biggest influence was Joni Mitchell. In 2003 she issued -- mostly by word of mouth -- a lo-fi album called Rolling -- but she was living in Brighton by the time she released her first official album, Bimbling, in 2005. Financed by selling her paintings and released on her own Squiggly label, it was an intimate album full of charm and otherworldly imagery plus one traditional song, "Sprig of Thyme." After eight years on the alternative circuit she finally broke cover for her 2006 album Of Milkmaids & Architects (the title refers to songs depicting the lives of her grandparents), hiring a manager and a press agent, and at last found herself playing to the audiences who adored her father's work. The combination of her seductive voice and thoughtful songs won her a nomination for best new act at the 2007 BBC Folk Awards, but her embracing of the conventional folk fraternity hardly represented a sell-out and she remained true to her principles of conservation, ecology and fair trade, and total independence. One song, "Artificial," describing her experiences working in an office in Surbiton, particularly hit a chord with audiences at her gigs, at which she was now augmented by a band the Woods of variable numbers and instrumentation, including percussionist Robin Tyndale-Biscoe, whom she married in 2007. Her final embrace of her father Steve's world came when the pair united for a successful joint tour in 2007. ~ Colin Irwin, Rovi