Steve Tilston and the letter from John Lennon


The story of Steve Tilston’s “lost” letter from John Lennon inspired the Hollywood movie Danny Collins starring Al Pacino in the title role.

In August 2010, it emerged that Lennon had written an undelivered letter of support to Steve in 1971. Lennon was prompted to write after seeing an interview with folk singer Steve in which he admitted he feared wealth and fame might negatively affect his song-writing. The incident quickly spawned the film Danny Collins in which ageing 1970s rocker Collins (Pacino) cannot give up his hard-living ways – but then his manager (Christopher Plummer), uncovers a 40-year-old undelivered letter to him from Lennon. He starts to think again.And the rest, as they say, is… Hollywood.

The film’s effect, however, Steve modestly says, has been a few fewer empty seats at his concerts. But he’s quick to stress the world of the film is very far distant from his own particular world, one he is keen to preserve.

Steve, who plays at this year’s Southdowns Folk Festival in Bognor Regis (Sept 23-25), said: “My first thought was that I really didn’t want my name to be used. Danny Collins in the films is a cross between Neil Diamond and Elton John. This character is playing the big circuits – and he is not remotely like me! It is not remotely my musical journey or my life style, and the fact is that I still like my life style! And I don’t think Danny Collins would particularly like to have my lifestyle. But we are actually talking about a fictional character here! But the film has had a slight effect. But really I didn’t want the attention. I didn’t want it to be my life story. I have never really gone down the full-on commercial writing route. Part of my journey as a musician has been to steer away from limousines and the high life and the glamour. That kind of thing is anathema to me.”

Steve’s first album came out in 1971 and he had a very positive response to his most recent album last year: “I didn’t for a moment dream that I would still be doing this when I turned professional. My dad said ‘What are you going to do when you turn 30?’ At that particular time, being a musician was regarded as being beyond the pale. Now it is accepted as being an honourable profession. When I turned 50, my dad paid me the compliment of saying I had done well, being my own boss for that period of time. My mother tells me he was very proud of me and would tell his friends, but he wouldn’t say it to me. He was just that generation, I think.”

Steve, who plays the Regis Centre on Sunday, September 25, said: “I am just pleased to be still getting away with it. I have been doing it for quite a while now, and I still enjoy it. My fingers can still go where I want them to; I can still reach the notes. It’s great.”

And adding interest just recently is his collaboration with Jez Lowe, a teaming-up which will result in an album together, The Janus Game, in November: “It’s quite a departure for both of us who have a pre-existence as songwriters to be working together.”

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