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Thea Gilmore

With vocal chords akin to the likes of BETH ORTON and, in turn, SHAWN COLVIN or the late, great SANDY DENNY, it’d be fair to say that English singer-songwriter/guitarist, THEA GILMORE (born to Irish parents on 25th November 1979, Banbury, Oxfordshire) suffered a little by comparison, as the former’s folky trip-hop was preferred. Still, raunchy teenage prodigy Thea had plenty of catch-up time on Beth (around a decade), as she found her own niche in the contemporary roots-rock market. Inspired by folkies DENNY, DYLAN, JONI MITCHELL and a raft of other legends, each one of Thea’s dozen or so sets were a hit song away from garnering deserved success; the possible upgrade of her acoustic take of DEAD OR ALIVE’s `You Spin Me Right Round’ – from promo to chart platter – just might’ve been the catalyst.
Spurred by the divorce of her parents, GILMORE was a mere 16 years old when she entered a recording studio for the first time; NIGEL STONIER produced and played on her inaugural 4-track EP, `Instead Of The Saints’; issued by the Beautiful Jo independent in 1997. Content with delivering her debut album from her own Shameless label, therefore avoiding the majors, BURNING DOROTHY (1998) {*8} received the thumbs up from anyone who was lucky enough to discover it. Showcasing the trippy guitar of Nigel, the rock drumming of Paul Burgess, the power of `Instead Of The Saints’, `Sugar’, `Get Out’ and `Into The Blue’, combined well with the dreamy but acerbic `People Like You’, `Pontiac To A Home Girl’ and `Not So Clever Now’.
THE LIPSTICK CONSPIRACIES (2000) {*7} continued to stir up a home fanbase for her L.A.-accented, country-tinged, SARAH McLACHLAN or SHELBY LYNNE-styled format, although Thea would oft cite idol ELVIS COSTELLO as inspiration; recommended songs came through `Generation Y’, `My Own Private Riot’ and `My Beautiful Defence’.
Stepping up to sign for Flying Sparks Records (Compass in the U S of A), the intimate RULES FOR JOKERS (2001) {*7} saw Thea grow in confidence and songcraft prowess; another album worthy of further inspection. Sex, drugs and rockabilly (plus a bit of religion and politics) were her observational traits on respective tunes such as `Fever Beats’, `Benzedrine’, `This Girl Is Taking Bets’, `St. Luke’s Summer’ and `Seen It All Before’.
Intended at first as an outtake double-set for release on mail-order only, SONGS FROM THE GUTTER (2003) {*7}, packed a punch and showed Thea could rock and grind with the best of them. Sprayed with her usual maudlin mix of gutsy grooves, her own `Lip Reading’, `When Did You Get So Safe?’ and `The Dirt Is Your Lover Now’, saddle up uneasily with versions of DYLAN’s `I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine’, SPRINGSTEEN’s `Cover Me’ and The CLASH’s `I’m Not Down’.
Delivered a few months prior to the aforementioned double-disc, and released on Hungry Dog Records, her fourth set proper AVALANCHE (2003) {*8} gave Thea her maiden UK chart entry, while attendant folk-pop 45s `Juliet (Keep That In Mind)’ and `Mainstream’ both cracked the Top 50. STONIER’s guidance was now beginning to pay off; soul-searching songs such as `Have You Heard’, `Pirate Moon’, `Heads Will Roll’ and the title track, the meat and bones behind her best set since her debut.
The subsequent decision to unfold a covers follow-up, LOFTMUSIC (2004) {*6}, was a tad self-indulgent and ill-timed at a stage when the GILMORE name was extended across the seas. Still, on reflection, who could argue with sultry and subtle acoustic versions of `Ever Fallen In Love’ (matching that of BUZZCOCKS and the FYC), VAN MORRISON’s `Crazy Love’ and CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL’s `Bad Moon Rising’; others on show were:- `Hide ‘N’ Seekin’’ (The REPLACEMENTS), `Don’t Come Close’ (RAMONES), `The Old Laughing Lady’ (NEIL YOUNG), `Sitting In Limbo’ (JIMMY CLIFF), `Josef’s Train’ (NIGEL STONIER), `Brother Can You Spare A Dime?’ (Yip Harburg) and `When I’m Gone’ (PHIL OCHS).
Probably a bit too American for the Yanks to get on board (Brit female roots rockers all!), GILMORE’s recent clinical depression, family illnesses and a split with her long-time partner, belied her next set, HARPO’S GHOST (2006) {*7}; in the meantime, she’d married stalwart producer, STONIER, in October ‘05. A bittersweet and skeleton work, there was poignancy in tracks like the stinging `Call Me Your Darling’, `We Built A Monster’ and `Cheap Tricks’.
Her brief liaison with the UK branch of Sanctuary Records was superseded by Universal/Fruitcake – her seventh label move – giving her another break, although it’d be Rykodisc across the big pond that financed LIEJACKER (2008) {*7}. Her insular honesty and poetical prowess were her forte, as well as the possible reason for her lack of mainstream success, although it wasn’t for the want of trying through duets with folk legend JOAN BAEZ (on `The Lower Road’) and The ZUTONS’ Dave McCabe (on `Old Soul’); the to-die-for harmonies on `Dance In New York’ were supplied by ERIN McKEOWN, additional fiddles by Steve Wickham (of The WATERBOYS). Stick around to the hidden track finale for her aforementioned DEAD OR ALIVE rendition – another one-that-got-away.
While 2009’s half-acoustic/half-electric concert sets, RECORDED DELIVERY {*6} and festive collection, STRANGE COMMUNION {*6}, marked time while she and Nigel were raising their new-born, umpteenth set MURPHY’S HEART (2010) {*7} welcomed her back in the world of wistful folk-rock. Now a sophisticated 30-something, the talented Thea stretched the textures of her songs beyond their contemporary-styled country-folk boundaries; one could exhaust comparisons by way of her all-encompassing vox – VEGA, LANG, MacCOLL, LENNOX, et al. `God’s Got Nothing On You’, `Love’s The Greatest Instrument Of Rage’, `Wondrous Thing’ and `You’re The Radio’, fuelled her protagonist passions to the max.
Never short of tenacity, gumption and bottle, GILMORE offered up her next album, a strumming track-by-track reinterpretation of BOB DYLAN’s 1967 classic, JOHN WESLEY HARDING (2011) {*6}; `All Along The Watchtower’, `I Pity The Poor Immigrant’, `I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight’, `I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine’, et al. A subsequent dip into the poetical words of SANDY DENNY for the spiritual combination of DON’T STOP SINGING (2011) {*6}, left “folks” in no doubt where Thea’s heart lay.
It’d seemed like ages since GILMORE had surrendered a fresh assault of acerbic songs, and it was a delight when REGARDLESS (2013) {*8} finally hit the shops – albeit a week late! Pushed as Radio 2’s Record Of The Week, there were several highlights from the Top 40 set, the breezy title track probably up there with her best ever, if she hadn’t included `Love Came Looking For Me’, `Start As You Mean To Go On’, `Let It Be Known’, `This Road’, `Punctuation’ and the TALK TALK-esque `This Is How You Find The Way’.
When one thinks that the similarly-threaded SHARLEEN SPITERI occupies a place within the rootsy fervour of the British music biz, then one wonders why THEA GILMORE has not yet rocketed to superstardom. Then again, releasing a part-compilation, double-set of songs by way of GHOSTS & GRAFFITI (2015) {*7} was probably the creative difference. Another Top 40 entry to pin to her widescreen CV, Thea pieces her life’s work as a concept, bridging 10 old masters with 4 new cuts and 6 newly-spun collaborations that rope in:- JOHN COOPER CLARKE (on `Don’t Set Foot Over The Railway Track’), JOAN BAEZ (`Inch By Inch’), JOAN AS POLICEWOMAN (`This Girl Is Taking Bets’), BILLY BRAGG (`My Voice’), The WATERBOYS (`Glistening Bay’), KING CREOSOTE (`Inverigo’) and John Bramwell (`Razor Valentine’). For long-time fans quibbling over what she didn’t include, her concept of combining the past with the present (accompanied by a stellar cast of singers) was surely what mattered most.
Said to be a belated companion piece to 2003’s “Avalanche”, 2017’s Top 40 set THE COUNTERWEIGHT {*7} was Thea’s political refurb concerning the day’s troubled times under the cloud of Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. The thought-provoking `Johnny Gets A Gun’ relayed her account of the recent Orlando, Florida mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub, whilst nearer to home was the mindless murder of Labour Party MP, Jo Cox (`The War’). The exhausting Brexit referendum, of course, reared it ugly head through `Reconcile’, but pop ballads were hardly going to solve the twisted tensions which have indeed increased on a daily basis ever since 23rd June 2016.
Now roping in folk musicians SETH LAKEMAN and CARA DILLON for umpteenth set, SMALL WORLD TURNING (2019) {*7}, Thea shifted record labels again: moving back to her own Shameless imprint from a short stint at Cooking Vinyl. GILMORE was a chart constant album-wise, and this well-versed acoustic-folk effort (featuring `Glory’, `Don’t Dim Your Light For Anyone’ and `The Loading Game’); more or less put her in the sombre ballad terrain of EDDI READER or SHERYL CROW. Best of all was her ode to the mid-20th century gentry of Oxford, who built their `Cutteslowe Walls’ to block their views from the adjacent slums.
© MC Strong/MCS May2013-Jun2019

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