"It's nice to be here," says Thea Gilmore, looking out into the vast, chilly Union Chapel, "singing my own songs, and when I've not got a new album...yet." It is
indeed a rarity; an incredibly prolific artist, at the age of 33 she's got 13 albums under her belt. The last two were Don't Stop Singing - which saw Gilmore work with newly discovered lyrics by the late Sandy Denny - and a reworking of Bob Dylan's John Wesley Harding album. The latter was also the reason for her last performance here in Islington,
when she played that record in its entirety to mark Dylan's 70th birthday.
Without the pressure of a new album to plug, Gilmore and husband, producer, song
writing partner and the only permanent fixture in her touring band, Nigel Stonier, were treated to the rare and presumably rather arduous task of digging through her
entire back catalogue to come up with tonight's set list. The result was fairly representative of her career to date...and a pleasant reminder of just how versatile a
singer/songwriter she is.
Entering the stage to Mack the Knife, dressed in an unusually glamorous outfit of tiny shorts, patterned tights and sky scraper
heels, she giggles as she finishes a few last minute set-up tasks and seems very much at ease; the lack of new album anxieties immediately apparent. She opens with
Contessa - a scarcely played track from her seventh album, 2006's Harpo's Ghost, cheekily choosing to follow it with God's Got Nothing On You, from 2010's Murphy's
Heart. And so the show goes on, with Gilmore flitting between albums, dishing up traditional folk, upbeat pop, and lyrics that reveal a more vulnerable side to a
singer who's just as frequently heard stomping her feet, dusting down old protest songs.
These days she happily acknowledges her relationship with Stonier
(until relatively recently she showered him in praise on stage, calling him a 'genius', her 'right hand man', but never anything more - an admirable decision that only
added to the mystique of her earlier work, which was fuelled by anger, bitterness and dizzying love) and tonight they talk about their two children, their home
life...it's clear that, as her sound has grown with her over the years, so too have her points of reference. From the brattish spite of her 1998 debut, Burning
Dorothy, to the heartbreak and growing pains of 2001's Rules for Jokers, she's now looking to the wider world for inspiration. She might not be promoting an album on
this tour, but one's just on the horizon - due for release in spring, we're told - and she seizes the opportunity to test-run a few tracks. One is "A song about kids
in the music industry and my fears for them." Another is about the banking crisis, which she sings alone - not only without her band but without her trusty guitar.
It's a chance to fully appreciate what a great voice she has; truly, it's phenomenal. Never over-baring but always very much in control, it's not just the words she
sings that tell a story.
Older songs to get a look in include Old Soul, a sentimental tear jerking highlight of LieJacker which couldn't sound more
different to her top 40 hit and Radio 2 favourite, the victorious-sounding You're The Radio, which is probably the poppiest of her output. The provocative Teach Me To
Be Bad gets a bluesy make over, with drum slaps and licks of upright bass and, despite her excitement at playing her own songs again, she throws a few covers in
including a couple of tracks from the Sandy Denny album - Don't Stop Singing and London (which featured on the BBC's coverage of the Olympics). Disappointingly there
was no reference to her 2009 Christmas album, Strange Communion - but perhaps we're a few weeks too early for that.
As the set closes she rushes to the back
of the chapel, keen to meet the fans who keep her in business, for while she has a loyal following, they're still relatively few in number. She's acknowledged by the
greats (Joan Baez is such a fan that she personally invited her to tour with her in the US), loved dearly by her followers, but she is still one of our most
frustratingly overlooked young singers.