Thea Gilmore review: She shows just what beauty and power there can be in a soft voice
- Credit: Tracey Bagshaw
I discovered Thea Gilmore purely by chance. I'd mention her to friends and they'd look blank, but this Open gig was a sell-out.
She has been turning out albums, singles and EPs since 1998 but just hasn't got the mainstream attention she really deserves.
This tour coincides with yesterday's release of her latest album, Small World Turning, and some of these new songs got an airing last night.
The likes of Glory, The Revisionist and Grandam Gold - a track influenced by a Twitter account - sum up the state of the nation with its undeserving heroes and rewritten history, while Don't Dim Your Light for Anyone offers advice to her son about how to get on in a world which is, as she says, "truly messed up right now".
All her songs are written for a reason, with a message. My Voice was a "howl of frustration" written at the time of the 2010 general election; new song Cutteslowe Walls tells the story of a wall built in Oxford to separate "the poor from the rich". (Google it - it's shocking.)
If it all sounds a bit miserable and worthy, it's really not. Gilmore writes some powerful, socio-political lyrics about very deep subjects, but they are set to catchy tunes and haunting ballads.
One minute we're wanting to get up and dance to The Fuse; the next we're all singing along to the catchy chorus of Live Out Loud; then we get hit right in the soul by Karr's Lament and a heart-stopping acoustic cover of Sweet Child O' Mine.
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Her support act, former Noah and the Whale bassist Matt Owens, is another storyteller, only his stories range from being asked to smuggle cocaine from Ireland and hiding from drugs cartels in Mexico to finding a piano buried in candle-wax in an Irish pub. I'm not sure we all believe him, but they make for damn good songs.
He comes back as part of the headliner's backing band, along with Gilmore's husband, Nigel Stonier, on guitar and keyboards and Katriona Gilmore (no relation) on mandolin, fiddle, vocals and tambourine.
But it is when Thea is alone, raw, with just a guitar and keyboard, that she shows just what beauty and power there can be in a soft voice. There's no need to shout to get your message across.