No, the GRTR! Christmas Party was not being held in a phone booth this year, but my fellow scribe Pete Whalley and I instead felt the glow of Thea Gilmore’s traditional gathering at a favourite venue in Chester.
In a pre-gig message Nigel Stonier was quick to point out that the Xmas show wouldn’t be vastly different from the one we’d reviewed a few years previously. That may be so, but this one was better. Thea’s annual bash at Telford’s has become the stuff of legend to those who have attended.
The set is very much built around one of the best-ever festive albums ‘Strange Communion’ released in 2009 and, as Thea confirmed, sadly now out of print. It should be a staple at every civilised Xmas party but is actually just fine for putting on when putting up your feet in front of a roaring fire and contemplating years past, present and future. Preferably with a glass of something.
The Xmas festivities started with Thea’s hubby Nigel Stonier, a talented singer songwriter in his own right who deserves more than being just a warm-up man, demonstrating his own way with a lyric and a message.
He played several songs from current album ‘Love And Work’ including ‘You Need Love’, ‘Work In Progress’ and ‘Making Moments’ whilst ‘Cold Beers And Acoustic Guitars’ (from 2014′s ‘Built For Storms’) seemed wholly appropriate in these surroundings.
As previously, Thea was accompanied by Nigel, Liz Hanks (moonlighting from Liam Gallagher’s band) and the multi-talented Fluff. Thea’s older son Egan also got in on the act, as if perhaps he’d lost his way from the school nativity play.
The Christmas feast on offer tonight mixed most of ‘Strange Communion’ with some seasonal standards, all delivered in style; Nigel’s accompaniments and Thea’s vocals underpinned by the resonant quality of Liz Hanks’ cello and lifted by Fluff’s violin and backing vocals.
This was never more obvious than on ‘December In New York’ – for me not just one of the best festive songs ever but one of the best songs ever. That might seem an outrageous claim but the blend of lyrical longing and reflective plucking hits the spot every time. Truly magical.
We shouldn’t though overlook the strength of tunes such as ‘Cold Coming’ and ‘Old December’ mixed with the more familiar ‘It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas’ and ‘Run Run Rudolph’, the latter taken on by Nigel in rock and roll mode. The haunting ‘Sol Invictus’ on the other hand sung acapella demonstrated the quality and sonority of Thea’s voice and her credentials to be one of our best vocalists and, at very least, one of our finest songwriters.
Thea’s own ‘That’ll Be Christmas’ takes its place with those other Christmas classics such as ‘The St Stephens Day Murders’ (which she also played tonight) and ‘Fairytale Of New York’ although sadly omitted from the Daily Mirror’s “Top 10″. And to bring us back to reality she even slipped in a track off the new EP called ‘Willow’.
Nigel needn’t have worried. A few years on, this latest Xmas gig exceeded all expectation. It should be anticipated each year and enjoyed like a good glass of aged Port.
What a marvellous way to round off the year – and with the additional bonus of one of 2017′s best singer songwriter albums, ‘The Counterweight’.
Listen, The Snow Is Falling/Thea Gilmore’s Midwinter Toast/Atonement/Cold Coming/It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Xmas/December In New York/Sol Invictus/Blue Christmas/God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/I’ll Be Home For Christmas/Run Run Rudolph/London/That’ll Be Christmas/The St Stephen’s Day Murders/Willow/Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree/Old December
Review and photos by David Randall
Thea plays The Sound Lounge, London, 20 December
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 2 August 2020.
UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 4 August 2020.
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