mon 04/03/2024

Thea Gilmore, Union Chapel review - after Afterlight, a challenge | reviews, news & interviews

Thea Gilmore, Union Chapel review - after Afterlight, a challenge

Thea Gilmore, Union Chapel review - after Afterlight, a challenge

London concert in atmospheric venue offers a preview of forthcoming album

Photo: Paul Groves

Recently recovered from her fifth bout of Covid, Thea Gilmore last night made a return to London’s Union Chapel, a wonderfully atmospheric venue where the price to pay for a concert is a numb bum (unless you remember to hire a cushion). For the first time since 2017, she stepped out with a band – Charlie Rachael Kay on bass, Jim Kirkpatrick on guitar, Olly Tandon on drums – playing to a not-quite-full house that was overwhelmingly white and appeared rather surprisingly old.

It was a strikingly weird disconnect.

The tour proper begins in January and this gig was presumably planned to coincide with her new album, Thea Gilmore, release of which has now been postponed until 17 November. The self-titled album “renews her vows to music”, which is an odd thing for a musician to say, and it featured heavily at Union Chapel. Gilmore opened solo on acoustic guitar with a thumping drum/bass loop on "The Girl is Taking Bets". “Nice Normal Woman," "Unravel Me", "The Chance" and "Bones" followed, along the way Gilmore briefly swapping her Martin for a kick-arse bright-blue hollow-bodied electric.

Grungy-looking in all-black, with cut-off shorts, she promised a mixture of new songs and old. Twenty years on from her breakthrough album Avalanche and two years from The Emancipation of Eva Gray and Afterlight, the album which drew a line under everything that had gone before (“Not to invalidate it, but to put an end to the ‘before’”), Gilmore’s latest offering “has its head up and is eyeing the world as a challenge”. In concert as in the privacy of one’s own headphones, a little goes a long way these days, though there are a couple of pleasing numbers, among them “She Speaks in Colours”, Gilmore talking passionately about Radio 2’s 21st Century Folk project and the tragic story of the remarkable woman who inspired the song.

On  Thursday, Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" was dedicated to Sarah Everard. From Counterweight, she plucked “The War”, about the murder of MP Jo Cox. And she dipped into Loft Music from 2003, “my acoustic period”, for John Fogerty’s “Bad Moon Rising” which she revealed featured on the soundtrack of Zack Snyder’s zombie movie Army of the Dead.

The concert closed with “The Bright Service” – “part song, part sermon” as she warned everyone – and then "Razor Valentine", a lovely bluesy number, before she exhorted everyone to sing along on the final encore of “That’s Love, Motherfucker”, another song from the Patreon-funded new album. Some joined in with gusto but others, who would have fit in nicely at Friday Night is Music Night, sat with somewhat pursed lips. Frankly it’s hard to see the point of the song, especially from a writer whose back catalogue includes such beautifully written numbers as “The Lower Road”. I for one preferred "the before".

The opening act was Liam Frost, a proud Lancastrian who sang and picked his well-crafted songs with earnestness and intensity and appreciated the good turn-out.

Liz Thomson's website

She exhorted everyone to sing along on the final encore

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