I have been following Thea Gilmore from the early days of her career when I heard her being championed by Bob Harris on his Radio 2 Saturday show back in the late nineties.
I’ve seen her develop from a bile-spitting teenager on albums such as ‘Burning Dorothy’ and ‘The Lipstick Conspiracies’ through to today’s professional gloss and almost commercial acceptability.
I say ‘almost’ because I suspect that Thea will never allow herself to become ‘acceptable’ in the real meaning of the word as her uncompromising, left-field views on love, loss and the world in general will always keep her on the margins.
And it’s precisely this infectious honesty and refusal to conform that keeps her legion of fans coming back time after time.
The intimate surroundings of the ‘Music Room’, a newly opened annexe to the Philharmonic Hall was the venue for tonight’s gig and despite storm ‘Barney’ raging outside, there wasn’t a seat to be had as the faithful packed in to listen to Britain’s favourite unknown National Treasure.
Things got underway with a pleasant set of songs from singer/songwriter/guitarist Kelly Oliver who grew in confidence as her set went on and seemed genuinely surprised at the generous reception her set received. Her dextrous guitar work using alternative tunings was very good and the final two songs ‘The Witch Of Walkern’ and “Mr. Officer’ were excellent – folk with a modern twist.
I’ve seen Thea many times – solo, full band, with small orchestra – but she shines brightest of all with the small group that was tonight’s format; just Thea with husband Nigel Stonier on acoustic guitar and keyboards and Tracey Browne on bass, keyboards and sci-fi widget.
Two crowd favourites got the show rolling; ‘The Wrong Side’ and ‘Old Soul’, both from the ‘Liejacker’ album, the former an upbeat, jazz-inflected toetapper, the latter a slower, introspective gem which gives free rein to Thea’s wonderful mezzo-soprano voice.
It’s been a few years since I last saw her and, it must be said, the voice, always a thing of beauty, has matured wonderfully in that time – it soars majestically over any accompaniment to deliver her songs in thrilling fashion.
Nowhere was this more evident than on the unaccompanied ‘Josephine Knots’ (one of three tracks included from Thea’s latest EP, ‘Girl Mercury’ – available at gigs only) and a wonderful take on Guns ’n’ Roses’ ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ which Thea introduced as a ‘folk song’ and featured excellent fret-work from Nigel.
This was one of those gigs you just wanted to go on and on. Things never sagged for a minute (even the tuning problems were comedy opportunities) and the choice of setlist was just as it should have been – a cornucopia of treasures old and new, beautifully sung, beautifully played and wildly appreciated by those of us lucky enough to be there.
At GRTR! we don’t give stars for gigs – but trust me, this was a six.
Review and photos by Alan Jones
Setlist: The Wrong Side, Old Soul, Rags & Bones, Teach Me To Be Bad, Sweet Child o’ Mine, Slow Journey, Josephine Knots, Girl Mercury, Pretty In Lace, Start As We Mean To Go On, Inch By Inch, You’re The Radio, London.
Encore: Love Came Looking For Me, Copper, Inverigo
Alan sequences “The Eclectic Mix” on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, third Sunday of the month at 17:00. Expect some Thea.
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