Newcastle upon Tyne
16th October 2022
In an old 1920’s exhibition hall, not far from my place, now a brewery, Thea Gilmore. I’ve heard of Thea, but never listened to her. I decided to give it a go.
Lights down, Thea amble's into stage in front of a full house. The school concert seating is cool, lights up, a stool, a singer, 6 string, piano, just her, no band, Close-up audience, mixed ages, a few pensionistas, fewer youngsters, most familiar with her work, it’s immediately clear Thea has them with her.
Opening with acoustic guitar, recorded, looped chords, and looped again, the soundbox bashed, looped, three vocal harmonies laid down live and direct. A minute and it’s done, her voice soars through the backing vocals, her guitar weaves through looped melodies, Thea immediately hits her stride.
The electric piano, just her, her lyrics and fluttering voice. It was unexpected to hear backing tracks, looped, laid down on stage, and she was a joyful master of the technique, this was real electric music for the solo singer, and she was masterful.
The tween tune banter with the crowd was affectionate and warm, adding and imbuing the songs with a wistfulness, pain, and loss. Her songs are mostly reflective, with angry flashes, and lost love. At times a bitterness, or is it the anger that aids recovery, a truth too little sung in love songs; as if we’re meant to ‘deal with the issue and move on’ not always possible as Thea knows, and sings these truths, she knows ‘stuff’.
Her version of ‘Bad Moon Rising’ gave us all the sing-a-long we all secretly want, a chance for group bonding. Another song dedicated to the memory of Joe Cox, the murdered MP it made for a particularly poignant passage of Thea's set.
The show closed with a truly celebratory cover of ‘Cabaret’, a ‘let’s remember the losses, loosers, the people gone, and celebrate lives where we can. A sense of we’re better than those making life miserable’.
The crowd knew many of the songs, and swayed along. I particularly enjoyed the more complex backing tracks, with guitar stabbing in and out, and the voice more prose than a song, more a Lou Reed monologue, than a song. A real mix of styles, subjects, and musical accompaniments, keep me intrigued and committed.
There has been recent criticism of artists using backing tracks. Seeing Thea, I’m more ambiguous, for solo artists putting together a show, it’s a different story, and in a recession, perhaps this is the only way performers, and punters can afford to keep music alive.
Was it worth the evening stroll? You betcha, an unexpected delight of dexterity and passion. Thea’s a great, intimate, passionate, live performer. Catch her on this tour before the coming recession does what COVID failed to do by killing off venues and genres of live music.