In a week that saw Sam Bailey crowned Queen of X Factor and announcing that her first album may be one of cover versions, you can’t help feeling that the true musical troopers suffer in silence.
Enter, Thea Gilmore, who since 1998 has steadfastly trod the boards and who left it until 2011 to record her first album of ‘covers’ .
But now is not the time to ruminate over the sad state of the music industry and indeed the fickle hand of fate. We can’t under-estimate that at least Thea is probably comfortable in her own skin. Musically, and ethically, she has never sold out or been mis-shapen by “impresarios”.
Thea’s self-styled “Office Christmas Party” in her local stomping ground is almost an annual event and it should be on everyone’s calendar to bring festive cheer in the run up to Christmas. It’s as comforting as your first mince pie. And, if you own just one festive album it should be her 2009 offering ‘Strange Communion’.
The album radiates seasonal warmth, like toasting one’s nuts on an open fire. But it also includes a couple of Christmas classics that are up there with the likes of those hardy perennials The Pogues : ‘That’ll Be Christmas’ and the Elvis Costello song ‘The St Stephens Day Murders’.
Thea spiced the mulled musical wine on offer tonight with some Christmas standards – songs like ‘Blue Christmas’ and ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’ were all the better for her own delivery. But it was the originals ‘December In New York’ and ‘Sol Invictus’ which exposed her fine voice and at her fragile best. The former originally appeared on an EP in 2001 and was re-recorded for the Strange Communion album and it is quite simply one of the best songs you’ll hear this side of any Christmas.
Ably accompanied by Thea’s “other half” Nigel Stonier (guitar), Fluff (violin) and Liz Hanks (cello) – and with a cameo appearance from 7-year old Egan Stonier (a Stefan Grappelli in the making) – this gig was deceptive in its simplicity. Revellers may have been disappointed not to hear anything played from this year’s fine album ‘Regardless’ but Thea’s judgment was spot on. This was Christmas, after all. And as the crowd warmed there was time to relish ‘Old December’ before being emptied out into the cold Chester night.
If anyone requires the perfect antidote to X Factor overload, Thea’s your girl. Time-served talent. And bold enough to perform almost exclusively a festive album that contains a whole bunch of original and timeless classics. Now that’s what I call proper music.
Review by David Randall
David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.
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