A new name to me from Manchester, Jo Rose, opened the evening, with a selection of self penned songs. He seemed very nervous at first, but once he warmed up, I couldn't help but take to his personality. Some of his songs contained some intriguing lyrics. Vocally, at times he reminded me of the lead singer from Fleet Foxes. I would love to hear him sing one of their songs and maybe some Neil Young; my gut says he would be a great interpreter of others' songs.
Following an eighteen month absence, Thea Gilmore took to the stage to huge applause, flanked by a seven piece band, including, of course, husband/musician/songwriter, Nigel Stonier. It was immediately obvious that she was genuinely ecstatic to be back, as she joked with us that we should know her well enough by now that she could get us to sing along on her first song, Copper. Sing along we did; Thea eloquently articulated the beauty of a live gig and us all singing together being a shared experience, a community. I couldn't agree more.
The band were stunning, they knew intuitively how to rock without overpowering Thea's unique and distinctive vocals; vocals which seem to get richer and more intense every time I see her perform.
Promoting her new album, Ghosts and Graffiti, which was only released this week, we were treated to live renditions of most of the material appearing on it. Unusually, it contains new songs, alongside new versions of several well loved numbers from through the years, along with guest vocalists from Joan Baez to Billy Bragg, to Joan As Policewoman. New versions of Juliet, This Girl is Taking Bets and Holding Your Hand (complete with the hilarious story of her first Jools Holland performance) were very well received as was a stunning rework of Avalanche, which unfortunately isn't on the CD. Maybe next time!
Start As We Mean To Go On, You're The Radio, Love Came Looking for Me and Coming Back To You, gave the band, not least Nigel, several chances to really have fun together, evidenced by the smiles and laughter being exchanged between them.
The inclusion of two songs, London and Glistening Bay, perfectly demonstrated how well Thea made the Sandy Denny project blend the sound and lyrics of Sandy with a new sound new and lyrics which stand up in harmony with her own material. I am sure she is smiling.
However, the absolute highlights of the night were two of Thea's more political songs, the first of which she told us was inspired by an American friend during Barack Obama's initial presidential campaign, the second on politics this side of the Atlantic, expressing her frustration over people's lack of interest in using their vote. The Stateside song, Inch By Inch, reminded me just what a prolific songwriter Thea is. It evocatively encapsulates the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement, not just that of those supporting the first Black President. It seemed to me that the song would have fit perfectly into any of the recent related films, not least several scenes in Selma. This seems particularly apt since Joan Baez appears on the CD version of the song; Joan gets a mention in Selma, as she marched with Martin Luther King. The second, My Voice, allows Thea to show just a little attitude, whilst experimenting with a very new sound to her voice.
Another, cuter highlight was the arrival onstage of Egan Stonier, the couple's eight year old son, who played violin during London and the encore, fitting effortlessly in as the eighth member of the band, grinning broadly and loving every moment. What a little star!
Nights of live music like this one are the ones we never forget, and wish never had to end. Please don't leave it so long until next time, Thea!
I would also like to add a personal congratulations to her, following the announcement that Ghosts And Graffiti has made it to number 36 in the new album chart! Let's spread the word, keep it going, and Start As We Mean To Go on, getting great independent music into the charts!
There are only so many hours in a day and only so many gigs we can get to. We'd really like to expand our national coverage of the live scene as it remains the life blood of music.
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