As his long-awaited CIRCU5 album lands with a satisfying thud, I secured a ringside seat with Steve Tilling to get the inside scoop. Steve has been a familiar face on Swindon stages, and those further afield over the years. So the obvious place to start is, why after all this time playing in other people’s bands did you want to put out your own album?
“I suppose I’ve always felt there was an album in me – maybe the timing was finally right,” he tells me over a pint in the quiet corner of a local pub. “I had been through a difficult time just before making the album. It became a cathartic and therapeutic process to hide away and finally link my ideas. And it was a challenge that helped me get my head together.”
And not content with just making an album, Steve set out to play all the instruments. “Most of what you hear on the album is me. Over the years of playing in bands and being around other musicians, I picked up enough skills to get something out of most instruments. But halfway through recording, I realised I couldn’t do everything myself. So I contacted friends and band mates past and present to see if they wanted to get involved.”
Steve’s managed to pull together quite an array of musicians. Dave Gregory (XTC and Big Big Train), Phil Spalding (Mike Oldfield), Matt Backer (ABC), Johnny Warman (Peter Gabriel) and Andy Neve (Steve Hackett) all bring their considerable skills and experience to various songs. The only musician, apart from Steve, to be found throughout the album is drummer Alan van Kleef, once of glam art-punks Rachael Stamp.
Going against the fashion for rock albums of today, it’s built around a story of a child raised as a psychopath in a secret government facility. It harks back lyrically, if less so musically, to the heady days of progressive rock, but in a darker, more dystopian fashion. “Some of the early songs seemed to touch on the idea of ‘nurture verse nurture’. As the character developed, I thought, let’s explore this story, imagine what would happen to a child raised in an extreme emotional environment, and see how it might affect his life later. It’s a warning and an analogy for not letting others shape you into being something you’re not.”
This blend of thoughtful story lines, raw and powerful music, progressive rock creativity and alt-rock muscle has produced an album that’s both big and clever. Now the album is complete, in fantastically sleek packaging with a 28-page booklet and ‘secret’ document, what’s the next step?
“The logical step is to put a band together and play it live. I’d like it to be some sort of multimedia show with audio visuals – a bit more than a live performance.”
And that sounds like something well worth waiting for. In the meantime, you can find out more about the album, and buy a physical or download version at CIRCU5