Thea Gilmore seemed surprised that so many people had turned up to see her – enough to fill the Epstein Theatre – on the same night that Dolly Parton was doing her thing down at the Arena. But Thea’s fans are nothing if not loyal: when she asked how many members of the audience had previously attended one of her gigs, the response was pretty well unanimous. For myself, as the links at the foot of this post reveal, I’ve seen her on several occasions now, and been a fan of her music since the late nineties.
Indeed, Thea was in reflective mood last night, musing over the fact that it’s been 17 years now since she recorded her first album – at the age of 17. With no new album to promote, she was free, she said, to play what she liked, and to range over her extensive back catalogue. So what we got was a selection of old favourites and some classic cover versions. No-one, I think, does cover versions as good as Thea’s, except, perhaps, Bruce Springsteen.
As usual, her husband and producer Nigel Stonier accompanied her on guitar and keyboards (he had also opened the show with a supporting set of numbers from his new album – the best of which was an old song, now re-worked, ‘Messin’ With Fire‘, which he originally wrote with the jazz vocalist Clare Teal. Apart from Stonier, Thea’s current band makes an unusual line-up – in addition to Stonier, there’s Liz Hanks on cello and Susannah Simmons on violin. Oh, and 7-year old son Egan on fiddle for a couple of numbers at the end.
Thea opened with two numbers from 2002’s Songs from the Gutter – ‘And We’ll Dance, taken at a much faster pace than on the album, and ‘Tear It All Down’. Then came a superb cluster of songs – ‘Old Soul’, one of my absolute favourite Thea Gilmore songs, followed by the superb version of ‘All You Need Is Love’ which she recorded for a Mojo magazine cover mount. Slowed-down and with all the orchestration stripped out, it’s a brilliant interpretation. She sang it at the Hillsborough Justice gathering before the new inquest began; after singing it at the Epstein she said how nervous she felt singing it in this city. She needn’t have worried.
After that came ‘This Road’, the beautiful song from last years Regardless album which, as Thea explained, she wrote as an expression of love for her children: ‘this road is the only one worth walking’.
Two more outstanding moments were interpretations of songs by others – David Bowie’s ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ and an exquisite reading of George Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’.
We left the Epstein fired up by a great concert, with the rousing choruses of the final encore, ‘Are You Ready’, ringing in our ears.
And We’ll Dance
Tear It All Down
All You Need is Love
The Man Who Sold the World
Goodbye Old England (For Victor)
To the Bone
Start As We Mean To Go On
Love Came Looking For Me
You’re the Radio
Are You Ready