In recent years Thea Gilmore’s tour schedule has become as prolific as her recording career but at tonight’s show, to promote her 11th album, Murphy’s Heart, there are two reasons to be excited.
The first is the presence of her band for the first time in more than four years, and the second is her on stage acknowledgment of her husband and the father of her child, Nigel Stonier’s role as anything other than “Writer, guitarist, producer and right hand man.” While their partnership has been the driving force for much of Gilmore’s work, since 1998’s Burning Dorothy, her reluctance to divulge their relationship to her live audience has been as admirable as it is confusing. Anger, sadness, bitterness and heart wrenching love spill from every album, but night after night they stand side by side, in a cathartic companionship.
But tonight, she tells us that she and her husband were having a “cute lovey dovey” chat, during which she asked Nigel what his favourite smells were. His answer, they agreed, was a great song title, and they argued about who would be allowed to write it. “Guess who won,” she smirked before launching into Coffee And Roses.
Maybe it’s the extra bodies flanking the couple and regular violinist Fluff that make her feel more at ease in exposing her private life to a packed Dingwalls. After playing her trump card early and opening with the singalong favourite Saviours And All, from 2001’s Rules For Jokers, which received a disappointingly mute reception, she persisted in trying to warm up a strangely reserved audience before bringing her old backing band on stage. The addition of a bassist, extra guitarist and drummer makes all the difference, and by the time she’s reached her rousing rendition of traditional folk song Gospel Plow, the beers are flowing and the crowd has thawed out. Seizing the moment, she keeps up the momentum with one of the highlights of Murphy’s Heart, God’s Got Nothing On You. It’s classic Thea and sits easily alongside some of her live staples, as do fellow new album tracks Teach Me To Be Bad, Automatic Blue (“About an Auto Trader ad,” she jokes) and single You’re The Radio.
Proving the diversity of her voice, she flicks from soapbox, foot stomping madam of folk to an entirely more vulnerable creature with Liejacker’s Old Soul. As her voice quivers, threatening to give way to tears, the basement club is again silent as she reflects: “‘Cause when the days grow old, and the nights get cold, I’ll need a young heart but an old soul.”
Almost as quickly, she switches back into brattish Thea mode. The band adds an extra layer of venom to This Girl, and she seems to get caught up with them, spitting out the smug, wry lyrics with a surprising sense of purpose. The rabble on stage give her some clout she perhaps hadn’t realised she’d missed.
Introducing her encore, she plugs her Angels In The Abattoir service, which sees subscribers receive a brand new MP3 track every month. One of those songs, Love And Whiskey, goes down a storm and is followed by the equally well received – and equally unheard – C’mon. A late addition to the American version of Liejacker (added, apparently, at the demand of label bosses to give the album a radio friendly track), it’s slipped under the radar over here but, judging by tonight’s response, should be getting out a bit more in future.
So, all in all, a great gig from one of our most genuinely brilliant, though frustratingly overlooked, artists. She’s just 31 years old, but what she lacks in years she more than makes up for with a back catalogue that would be the envy of folk singers double her age.