Steve Tilston: ‘I received lost letter from John Lennon 40 years too late’

Steve Tilston. Picture: Shay Rowan

Steve Tilston. Picture: Shay Rowan - Credit: Archant

In 1971, John Lennon penned a letter to English folk star Steve Tilston, telling him that “being rich doesn’t change your experience in the way you think” after the young singer gave an interview voicing fears that fame might negatively affect his songwriting.

The letter was never delivered and it wasn’t until 2010 that Tilston was finally reunited with the message.

He talks about the story that inspired the film Danny Collins, and his latest album, Truth to Tell.

Tell me more about this lost letter from John Lennon - how on earth did you react when it was discovered?

Talk about a curve ball. Who could have seen that one coming? Certainly not yours truly. When it became a reality and not some kind of hoax, I experienced a maelstrom of different reactions: anger, regret and all points in between. As I’ve said before, it was ‘a road not travelled,’ something we all experience in life, but usually it’s a selection of choice, and I didn’t get the choice. Having said all that, although I didn’t get to meet John, I did get to meet Al Pacino, and there was a film made, so really I have no complaints.

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Did you wish you had read it when you were meant to, as a young, disillusioned musician?

I wouldn’t say I was disillusioned; I’d chosen a musical path that usually didn’t lead to stardom and I certainly didn’t think of myself as a pop singer. It would have been good to have received the letter, because, no question, I would have rung John’s telephone number, but then a thousand ‘what ifs’ come into play.

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Are you a fan of John Lennon’s music, as he was of your work?

Yes I was, in that I really liked The Beatles (it was everyone’s patriotic duty in those days), but I thought McCartney’s input was just as important. In fact, they inspired me to dip a tentative toe into the pool of songwriting, and that would’ve been before I’d heard of Bob Dylan.

The letter inspired the film Danny Collins - was it strange seeing your story on the big screen?

It’s not my story, my life has been nothing like the fictitious Danny Collins – not one cell in my body would have wanted that kind of lifestyle. The only connection is in the use of a letter from Lennon arriving 30 odd years late as the main device to tell a tale.

Tell me about Truth to Tell – what can we expect from your latest record?

For a start, the title is a bit of a comment on the previous question, in that I’m saying ‘this is my life, warts n’ all,’ nothing to do with any Hollywood flim flam!

Your career has lasted 45 years - how has your music changed over that period?

My musical vocabulary, palette if you like, has expanded into areas I never knew existed when I was a first starting out and although I’ve written in lots of styles, that core folky/acoustic songwriter underlays it all still. I think I’d be a pretty dull musician if I hadn’t gone through changes.

What changes have you seen in the industry in that time?

Firstly the change from Vinyl to CD was pretty monumental, and then the ability for anybody to reproduce a perfect facsimile of a recording for free was a major leap that let several cats out of the bag. So now we have the present situation whereby practically everything that was ever recorded is downloadable for little or no cost. In some ways a lot of the magic and mystique has gone – certainly for a lot of people from my generation.

Steve Tilston performs at Kings Place in York Way on tomorrow at 8pm.

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