Words by Fay Hield. Photography by Nigel Hillier
London-Irish singer Maggie Boyle lost her life to cancer on November 6, aged 57
Brought up in a vibrant musical family in London during the 1960s and 70s, Maggie Boyle developed a love and appreciation for traditional music and community. As a youngster, Boyle performed with the local branch of Comhaltas, gaining All-Britain singing titles. In the 80s she formed a duo with her then husband Steve Tilston, recording several highly acclaimed albums and later, three further solo albums. Over the years, Boyle collaborated with luminaries such as The Chieftains, Incantation, Fairport Convention and Bert Jansch, and regularly performed in numerous line-ups, the most significant as a duo with Paul Downes and the all-female trio Grace Notes. Boyle also engaged in cultural works outside the folk scene including the Ballet Rambert’s performance piece Sergeant Early’s Dream and John Renbourne’s Ship of Fools. She also contributed to film soundtracks, notably Patriot Games and Legends of the Fall.
Throughout her musical career, Boyle was dedicated to supporting young singers and developing the tradition. She was instrumental in establishing the artist-run cooperatives Three’s Company and Skinnymalinks through which she helped develop new talent, including The Demon Barbers and The Witches of Elswick. Boyle organised concerts promoting young performers and taught regularly at Breton Hall and Newcastle University. Since 2012 Boyle pioneered a scheme to visit her musical heroes and record intimate exchanges with the support of BBC Radio Leeds. The Kitchen Songs Project demonstrates her innate love, respect and passion for this music and her fellow musicians far beyond the bounds of ‘career’.
Revered for her ability to enchant a room with her ethereal voice, this captivating quality penetrated her very being; Boyle had a pure soul that brought joy and peace to others wherever she went. She was dedicated to her wider family and had a profound impact on many more. After touring the country constantly for the past three decades, Boyle is well known to many throughout the folk scene. Those who met her, even briefly, were greeted with an open warmth and generosity of spirit they haven’t forgotten. Her family are immeasurably grateful for the astounding love, care and generosity shown to Boyle over the past year by countless people in the folk community and beyond. Boyle leaves behind an exceptional presence; her absence is felt most keenly by her devoted partner, Bill, two children, Molly and Joe, and beloved granddaughter, Betty Sue.
Watch Maggie perform with Steve Tilston