robert tilling MBE, RI- 1944 to 2011
Bob Tilling MBE, A Personal Appreciation
by Giles Robson
Blues in Britain March 2011
Bob Tilling was the Channel Island of Jersey's tireless champion of the blues. Whether working by himself or with co-promoter Gerry Jackson he never ceased to bring high quality blues acts to the island. Woody Mann, Roy Bookbinder, Steve Phillips, Cephas and Wiggins, Kent DuChaine and The Roy Rogers Band were among the many visiting artists I can remember performing knockout shows promoted by Bob to highly appreciative Jersey audiences.
As readers of Blues In Britain you will remember him for the countless live concert and CD reviews he contributed to the magazine over the years and his book "Oh What a Beautiful City - A Tribute to Rev Gary Davis". Let me talk a little about the influence he had on me, one of his once young secondary school art students and a burgeoning teen blues fanatic.
My first blues harmonica was purchased at the age of fourteen in the historical Spanish city of Toledo on an art School trip. I was fourteen years old. The weekend I returned to Jersey I both purchased my first harmonica instruction booklet "HARPIN' IT EASY" by Steve "Harpo" McCloskey and visited my first blues harmonica concert, Cephas and Wiggins organised by Bob Tilling at the Jersey Arts Centre.
As I sit here I can both visualise and remember aurally the first number that night, which was a fast chugging harmonica blues. At the end of the number John Cephas stared at harp master Phil Wiggins with a look of disbelief and then humorously glanced at a stunned audience who exploded with applause. John Cephas with a glint in his eye, simply said…."He makes it look easy!".
This one concert was to set me up with an overriding passion for blues harp for life, and I would always pester Bob Tilling for advice. He after all was the man who had brought this legendary duo over and he was also my secondary school art teacher. I can remember asking him dismayed why all harmonicas seemed to go flat. Eighteen years later I'm still dismayed!
He kept a dusty Hohner Special Twenty above the door to his office in the art block at school and occasionally he'd brush it off and play it. I recall the first time I heard him was when he and all the other secondary school, art teachers of the island were hanging the local Eisteddfod.
I jammed with him in front of the art class when he brought in his vintage National Steel Guitar to school. My first ever blues jam at eleven thirty on a Wednesday morning in front of the class and the Deputy Head. He asked me who my favourite harp players were after we'd played. "Little Walter, James Cotton, Walter Horton" I replied. "Just remember" he said, "You'll never be as good as any of them!". It was harsh but good advice and kept me working. I must have been fifteen back then, but I kept working and I still am!
I remember one day at school, I was gobsmacked to learn from him that my great hero Muddy Waters had performed live at Jersey's Fort Regent Leisure Centre. It seemed inconceivable that a Godlike legend such as Muddy had even set foot on Jersey, let alone performed a gig. Bob very kindly gave me some prints of photos he had taken during the visit, including one where he had been fortunate enough to shake hands with Muddy Waters at Channel Television. This, incidentally, was a photo he kept above his art desk whilst working. He was a devout believer that Muddy Waters was a vocal and guitar genius, a master of timing and space. I was lucky enough years later to perform live with Muddy Water's eldest son Mud Morganfield at a sold out gig at Jersey's Blue Note Bar, which Bob Tilling reviewed for Blues in Britain Magazine.
I went to London when I was sixteen on yet another school trip. I got my first glimpse of the fabled One Hundred Club, nearly had a heart attack at the amount of blues CDs that were for sale in HMV Oxford Street and purchased tons of books on blues including Mike Rowe's Chicago Breakdown. It described in detail Walter Horton's solo in Jimmy Roger's "Walkin By Myself". I HAD to hear it on my return and Bob was kind enough to give me a cassette with it on. He played it in front of the GCSE art class with the sage advice that it "Was what Horton didn't play" that was important. He also gave me photos of all visiting artists during that time; one of the most memorable is of John Jackson playing guitar with a knife. Many years later when I was writing my dissertation on the work of blues harp genius Little Walter at Art College he gave me a vinyl of Little Walter rare outtakes.
In terms of blues mentoring and advice to young musicians who wanted to make blues as a career, Bob was tough. He pulled no punches in describing how financially hard some of the top blues artists found it on the road. He more often put the visiting artists up with his lovely wife Thelma and his great family in his beautiful converted mill in the picturesque Victoria Valley in Jersey. He would hear first-hand what some of our most celebrated artists had to go through to make a living. He, as most of the rest of would be, was shocked.
Bob was also a guitarist and vocalist. His greatest skill in these areas was not performing so much as teaching and communicating the magic and the meaning of the blues. I can remember sitting in his house once as he held me spellbound whilst demonstrating pre-war slide guitar blues. He taught across the world on guitar camps with some of his heroes and I can imagine the great impact he would have had amongst the many students with his flair for showmanship and technical demonstration.
I now promote visiting blues artists on the Island of Jersey. As I write this I think towards the forthcoming weekend when will see a sold out show with Paul Jones and Dave Kelly. Bob would have loved the evening and I wish there had been a chance to invite him. Unfortunately it was not to be. I hope in some way I can be seen as following in his sterling example of keeping the live blues tradition going in Jersey and promoting only the best of visiting artists. He set a high standard in terms of booking and hopefully we can keep this going throughout the next few years.
I finally will always remember seeing Bob and his long time cohort Gerry Jackson in mid-2010 walking to Gerry's weekly Monday Acoustic Roots Jam night at the Ha'Penny Bridge in St Helier Jersey. I was sitting with my girlfriend in a local steakhouse. Both of them looked like teenagers as they strode intently past the window with their guitars slung over their shoulders towards the pub. After all these years and all the musicians they had met and music industry horror stories they had heard they were still as enthusiastic as they had ever been. They were no doubt about to have a magical musical evening. I was quietly heartened by the sight of the two of them looking like two young men who seemed to be still at the beginning of their life's passion.
Experience a bit of Bob talking about his passion for the blues
A lovely tribute from Jersey Channel on line News
And another from BBC Jersey
Ben and Bob on the beach in Jersey 2006 - photo by Maurice McElroy
Bob circa 1960s
‘A great deal of my work is based on the landscape and still life which is composed by a process of imaginative reconstruction in which both observation and memory play important parts.’
- Robert Tilling
Still Life (two)
NW Three Study
Latest March Studies
Robert Tilling MBE
Biography: Born 1944, Bristol
Robert Tilling R.I. has held twenty eight solo exhibitions including the Barbican Centre, London, Jersey Museum, Exeter University, Gloucester Guildhall Arts Centre and the Jersey Arts Centre.
His work has been selected for a number of mixed exhibitions including the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, New English Art Club and the Royal West of England Academy.
He has been awarded a number of prizes including the Cleveland Drawing Biennale and the prize for the most outstanding work at the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolour. He has lectured widely on art and music including the Tate Gallery and the University of the West of England.
His work is in many public and private collections including Cleveland County Museum, Lodz Museum Poland, the Jersey Museum and Shell Limited. He works full time as a painter and music journalist.
Society Membership: Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours
1944 Born in Bristol
1961 – 1966 Studied architecture, art education at art in Bristol and Exeter
1966-1968 Art teacher, Tiffin School, Kingston upon Thames
1968-1997 Head of Art Department, Victoria College, Jersey
1985 Elected R.I.
2006 Appointed M.B.E.
Method of working: (in Bobs own words)
I work primarily in watercolour, acrylic, gouache and charcoal. The majority of my work is on paper and my acrylic paintings are on canvas and on board. Each of these materials allows me to work very dynamically and at speed. I work with very large brushes, including working in watercolour, including house painting brushes. When working with gouache I also apply the paint to the paper using pieces of card, scrapping the paint across the surface at speed. I work on many paintings at the same time. All of my ideas start from drawings and making notes in front of my subject. I take photographs but I do not work from them directly. I enjoy taking photographs as an art form, and many have appeared in music magazines and journals. The majority of my commissions are landscape/seascapes from particular areas. I also take commissions for abstract paintings often for specific places. I like to be given a great deal of freedom and commissions take from a week to six weeks to complete.
2008 The Romantics in The Channel Islands, Jersey Museum, loan exhibition from works from the collections of the Jersey and Guernsey Museums. Solo exhibition, celebrating forty years working in Jersey, Studio 18, Jersey (also 2000 and 2004)
2007 ‘Secret Destinations’, loan exhibition of paintings illustrating the poems of Charles Causley, Jersey Arts Centre.
2003 Retrospective, loan exhibition of thirty five years work, Jersey Arts Centre.
1999 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition (also in 1980, 1985, 1994 and 1996)
1996 Solo Exhibition of paintings, Guildhall Art Centre, Gloucester.
1989 Loan exhibition of paintings illustrating the poems of Ronald Tamplin, Barbican Centre, London.
1984 Solo exhibition of paintings at Exeter University (also in 1980).
1985 Solo exhibition of paintings, Polytechnic of Central London.
1977 Solo exhibition of paintings, Jersey Museum (also 1981, 1983, and 1985)
Scholarships, Awards, Prizes:
1962 Prize winner at the open painting competition, Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol.
1985 “Most Outstanding Work by a Non Member”, RI, London.
1989 Prize winner, Cleveland International Drawing Biennale.
1994 “Most Outstanding Work by a Member”, RI, London.
2003 Award for “excellence in watercolour”, Royal West of England Academy, Bristol
2003 Watercolour Landscape Arts, International Artists, Canada The Watercolour Course, Angela Gair, Harper Collins
2004 Painting Light and Shade, Patricia Seligman, Quarto Publishing
2005 The Watercolour Artists Bible, Marylin Scott, Chartwell Books (USA)
2006 How To Paint Watercolour Landscapes, Hazel Harrison and Joe Cornish, Readers Digest (USA) Acrylic Mixing Directory, Ian Sidaway, Foster Publishing (USA)
2008 Different Strokes, Naomi Tydeman, New Burlington Books.
The Watercolour Artist’s Guide to Exceptional Colour, Jan Hart, New Burlington Books.