Thea Gilmore is becoming something of a fixture in our seasonal despatches. As traditional as decking the halls of GRTR! HQ with boughs of holly.
This time last year The Counterweight was winning our readers’ album of the year vote and, 12 months on, our Reviewers’ Choices features both her 2017 Christmas Party tour and the welcome re-issue of Strange Communion, an album embodying the very essence of the mid-winter season.
And word is clearly spreading, with this year’s Christmas Party tour featuring more dates, at bigger venues, and with Sold Out signs appearing at many. And while the set list may not change much year on year, who wants to see a different fairy on top of their Christmas tree?
No, we want the soul warming, feel-good factor of chestnuts roasting on an open fire, of Christmas stockings, mince pies, mistletoe and wine.
And that’s what Thea and co – Nigel offering the deftest of touches on acoustic and piano, and the elvish Fluff (fiddle and viola) and Liz Hanks (cello) – unfailingly deliver. An evening of bonhomie and a veritable aural feast in the form of a generous slice of Strange Communion, served with the 4 ‘bonus’ tracks that grace the re-issue, and laced with a scintillating sprinkling of Yuletide standards.
‘Party’ is perhaps something of a misnomer, these annual acoustic gatherings being more of a celebration of the season where, for much of the evening, you could have heard a pin drop, with the excellent sound at the packed Bury Met exposing every nuance of some exquisite playing in a set stripped back to its frailest of branches.
The opener ‘Listen The Snow Is Falling’ set a spellbinding benchmark, the breathtakingly beautiful acapella ‘Sol Invictus’ sent shivers down the spine, and who could fail to be transported back to their childhood by a poignant rendition of ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’? And as for ‘December In New York’, well, it’s a magical song at any time of year.
Liz Hanks and Fluff’s playing throughout was simply sublime, and add in a couple of family feel good factor cameos by young Egan Stonier – whose violin playing is improving year on year – and yes, there’s something unquestionably ‘special’ about these gigs and a chance to forget about Brexit, the X Factor, and what to buy Aunty Mabel.
With nary a turkey in sight, this was a performance to warm the most chilled of cockles on a wet and windy December night – uplifting sustenance for the soul from one of our very finest singer songwriters. A timely reminder, if one was needed, to put Strange Communion on your list to Santa. Hell, why not give a copy to Aunty Mabel as well!
Setlist: Listen the Snow Is Falling / December / Cold Coming / Thea Gilmore’s Midwinter Toast / Atonement / It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas / Sol Invictus / Blue Christmas / December in New York / God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen / I’ll Be Home For Christmas / Warmest Winter / That’ll Be Christmas / The St Stephens Day Murders / Encores: Sleigh Ride / Old December
Review by Pete Whalley
Photos by David Randall
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