St Paul’s blogger Rob Kelly in conversation with Thea Gilmore.
For more than 20 years singer/songwriter Thea Gilmore has successfully straddled genre’s to produce music that is still true to her own voice and vision.
Following her debut release aged just 19, the eclectic “Burning Dorothy” she went on to create the stunning breakthrough album “Avalanche”, so admired by Joan Baez that she asked Thea to open for her on the 2004 tour. Thea has gone on to work with a range of leading artists including, Nigel Stonier, Matt Owens, Seth Lakeman, Robbie McIntosh and Tom Waits percussionist Michael Blair.
In 2011 Thea was asked to collaborate on material left by the late Sandy Denny as unfinished songs and recordings, creating the haunting and beautiful album, “Don’t Stop Singing”
I caught up with a very busy Thea as she prepares for the Launch of her new album “Small World Turning” which released on the 17th of May; her UK wide acoustic tour begins in Glasgow on May 15th, arriving at St Paul’s Worthing on Tuesday May 28th
I began by asking how the preparation for the Album and tour was coming along.
Must be a very busy time for you with an album launch and a tour to prepare for, how is it all going?
It’s going pretty well. I’m mostly in charge of everything on this project, so there’s a bit of learning happening at my end, which is always a good thing. We’re prepping the tour at the same time as trying to drive the album, so yes, lots to do.
How is the release plans for “Small World Turning” coming along, has it been mastered and sent off for pressing or are you still tweaking?
It’s currently in sunny France getting test pressings for the vinyl done. Lucky album! Meanwhile I’m in rainy Cheshire!
It’s always a difficult time when you have finished an album and you are waiting for the world to hear it.
It is an odd time for sure. These songs that you have worked on and you have lived and breathed for a couple of years suddenly go into this quiet time. It’s a bit like what I imagine actors feel when they make a movie and it doesn’t come out for ages. I’m already thinking about what comes next. But I know when the record is finally out in the world; I’ll immerse myself in it again and be living the songs live.
I love the new song Glory, it has a real edge to it, but does it give a hint to the tone of the new album? – It has a timeless feel to it, made me think of the new David Crosby album, contemporary and nostalgic at the same time,
Yes, Glory seemed like the obvious track to make available first because it sets the tone for the record. This album was very consciously a step back to my roots and into the folk world.
The lyrics are biting; did the song start with the words, the riff or the melody?
In uncertain political times like these, folk music provides a sense of perspective and history as well as real narrative arc and storytelling which I think is vital to make sense of the world we’re living in at the moment.
I also love the fact that you always sing in your own accent, was that a conscious choice on your part?
Well now, when I made my second album, I was really young and made the mistake of singing in a mid Atlantic twang. I’ve regretted it ever since and made a deal with myself that I’d always sing in my accent from that day on. And I have. I have a bit of a non-accent like a lot of people from the south midlands-ish area. But I’ve lived in the North West for so long now that an accent can sneak in when you don’t expect it to, which I love.
You have had some fantastic collaborations across your career are there any on the new album?
This record is bursting with the kings and queens of the folk world. Seth Lakeman is on it, Cara Dillon, Sam Lakeman, Katriona Gilmore and Jamie Roberts and Ciaran Algar. They were all so wonderful and generous with their time and expertise. I felt really lucky that such amazingly talented people were prepared to play on one of my albums. On top of that, I had Matt Owens from Noah and the Whale on bass and doing some vocals for me AND Michael Blair who was percussionist for Tom Waits… so it’s a pretty awesome supergroup on the album!
You have had some amazing moments in your career for instance opening for Joan Baez, how did that come about?
It was through her manager at the time. She had a policy of supporting young, new artists and was always on the lookout for stuff she could give a leg up to. She’s a truly extraordinary woman. I was so happy I got to introduce my kids to her when she was playing in Manchester recently. It felt like the right thing that they had got to meet and chat with someone who was so key to my own career but also, a living legend. They mostly talked Harry Potter.
Have you started working on a set list yet for the tour, any little snippets you can share?
I’m a last minute set list writer much to the discomfort of my band, so no set list yet. But it will feature a lot of the new album as well as some old faithfuls!
You have a good eye for which song would make a good cover version, can we expect some this time around and can you share yet what they might be?
I’m not sure yet. When I pick a cover, I have to be sure I can bring something new to the song. I like doing unlikely stuff so it could be anything!
Do you know much about the venue at St.Paul’s?
I’ve never played St Pauls. I can’t wait. I have been known to tailor a set list to suit the venue, but usually the venue sort of informs the performance. Old churches tend to have a gravitas and depth of atmosphere that is really special.
What will be your line up for this tour?
It’s an acoustic album, so it’s an acoustic band. There will be 4 of us on stage. A lot of instrument switching going on as well!
Any venues you have yet to play that you would love to?
I’m happy on any stage to be honest. I couldn’t say that I have a venue that sits in my head as the pinnacle of what I’d like to achieve. In the industry as it stands at the moment, I just feel lucky to still be out there gigging.
Thanks again for your time; I always like to end with a few quick fire questions
What’s your favourite album/artist at the moment? Any recommendations?
Ooh. Tough. I actually am loving Billie Eilish. I think she’s got something really special going on. I’m aware that if there are any 14 year olds reading this they’ll probably groan that someone so old likes their artist, so I’m keeping it a bit quiet!
There’s a song called Chemicals by Gregory Alan Isakov which is beautiful and Flaws by Vancouver Sleep Clinic that really get me. Lots of great stuff out there right now that’s not really being written about enough.
Beatles or Stones?
Beatles. No contest.
Joni Mitchell or Joan as Policewoman?
Damn. I love them both, but I know Joan a little and I don’t think she’d mind me saying Joni.
The Roches or the Unthanks?
Unthanks. Although that is VERY tough.
World party or Waterboys?
Man. At a push, Waterboys.
Playing live? Or working in the studio?
That’s like choosing between a boat and a squirrel.
Go too Sunday Morning Song?
Are You Serious? – Andrew Bird
Best live gig you have attended as a fan/guest/punter?
Paul Simon in Manchester 2016 or Ani DiFranco at Shepherds Bush Empire in 1997
If you had to give advice to a young musician starting out what would it be?
Don’t listen to the advice of older musicians. You’ve got this all by yourself.
Lastly what is the first song on your playlist when you head out on tour?
O Children – Nick Cave
There are still some tickets left for the St Pauls Worthing show, don’t miss out, if you are a fan of Folk, Americana, blues or even just music with soul then Thea Gilmore live is an experience you will want to see.
Thea is supported by the wonderful Matt Owens formerly of Noah and the Whale (interview with Matt on its way)
In the meantime check out the new Single “Glory” I would also recommend “Rags and Bones” from “Avalanche” and “Slow Fade to Black” from “The Counterweight”
Huge thanks to Maria Philippou for setting up the interview, to Rob Collins for the photographs and as always to Alex Kelly for advice and tech support and to Mike at St Paul’s.
If you have time check out my Blog Womu a Worthing Music Blog at worthingmusic.wordpress.com for extra content, extended interviews and lots of great reviews, previews and interviews.