Thea Gilmore’s Office Christmas bash was a somewhat conservative affair this year. As always, Thea was on sparkling form and buoyed with festive cheer, office manager Nigel Stonier orchestrated with his usual aplomb, and secretary Fluff and temp Liz Hanks were impish and irrepressible. But audience participation was restrained.
That, I suspect, was a consequence of the ‘school hall’ style seating. Last year’s party was a standing affair, which undoubtedly imbued a certain ambience to proceedings, but with de rigueur for attendees being open neck shirts, jumpers (not of the Christmas variety) and slacks you can see why seating was, perhaps, a requirement. Once again, it begs the imponderable question why Thea doesn’t attract a wider age range of audience, because I defy anyone not to be enchanted by her talents.
In sharp contrast to the ‘revellers’, Nige – who opened proceedings with a short solo set – was the visual epitome of rock ‘n’ roll – T shirt, biker leather with upturned collar and a respectable stubble. And nice for a change, to see someone enjoying a beer on stage. An engaging and unassuming presence, he gave an understandable ‘plug’ for his latest Radio 2 friendly long player Built For Storms, which was well received and seemed to be selling well post-gig.
As regards the main course, it’s great to see an artist of Thea Gilmore’s calibre playing festive gigs that focus almost exclusively on seasonal fare and she opened with an angelic rendition of Yoko Ono’s ‘Listen The Snow Is Falling’ from her excellent Strange Communion release of 2009. While Stonier provides a subtle foil, the contributions of long term accomplice Fluff on fiddle and viola, and Liz Hanks on cello add a marvellous depth to the overall performance.
As well as being almost hypnotic in her delivery – you could hear a pin drop during the unaccompanied ‘Sol Invictus’ (no small achievement in an establishment with a decent range of cask ales only several weeks before Christmas), Thea’s dry, self-depreciating humour is equally engaging.
In a set that encompassed her own, traditional, and others Yuletide songs ranging from the poignant to fun, it’s hard to pick out highlights, but those that gave free rein to Hanks’ cello provided several: the melancholic ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’ and the haunting ‘December In New York’ were particularly memorable.
But even a storming version of ‘Run Run Rudolph’ failed to ‘get the party started’. The audience were attentive, polite, and appreciative, but party animals? No. Thea seemed bemused about what might go on at office parties, but I suspect that for most in attendance their days of inappropriate behaviour in the photocopying room is but a fond and distant memory.
So for that warm festive ‘glow’ on a cold damp December night, there’s no competition – Thea’s office party proved, once again, far more rewarding than warm beer, Iceland party food, and a quick grope in a darkened storeroom. Merry Christmas!
Setlist: The Snow Is Falling, Oh Hallelujah, December, Cold Coming, Atonement, It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas, December In New York, Sol Invictus, Blue Christmas, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, I’ll Be Home For Christmas, Run Run Rudolph, That’ll Be Christmas, The St Stephen’s Day Murders, London, Old December
Review by Pete Whalley
Photos by David Randall
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