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Telford's Warehouse, Chester 14 December 2010

I think most solo artists should tackle a Christmas album once in their lifetime. It will almost certainly sort out the men (or women) from the boys (or girls) as lesser mortals wallow in cheesy nostalgia or pumped up cover versions.

In 2009 Thea Gilmore came up with her own festive offering, apparently encouraged by Janice Long from BBC Radio 2 who noted a lack of new Christmas songs out there.

A few weeks after release she toured the album for her 'Wintertide' supported by Rod Clements. That was twelve months ago and I was kicking myself when this same venue was sold out and I hadn't got a ticket. 

Quite simply, 'Strange Communion' is one of the best seasonal albums you are likely to hear. Mostly original compositions are tinged with Thea's good cheer, a hint of melancholy and a twist of traditional folk. It's just the sort of album for taking to your imaginary or real country cottage, toasting around a real log fire and with the snowflakes dancing in the cold wintry air outside.

Thankfully, Thea gave us a reprise - Wintertide Part 2 -with some selected gigs this Christmas. 'Strange Communion' was pretty much featured exclusively although we also heard the Mike Scott (Waterboys) song 'December' (which was destined for the album until Mike recommended the Yoko Ono song 'Listen the Snow Is Falling') and a fine version of 'Sweet Child Of Mine'.

Although Thea mentioned that she's been fighting a chest infection for a month or so, and therefore couldn't account for any strange variations in her vocal delivery, everything was spot on. She is frankly a wonderful singer, ably assisted by partner Nigel Stonier and the be-capped Fluff who lent her own considerable talents to violin, viola, recorder and backing vocals.

This was a splendid gig in an intimate setting and the time seemed to fly past; much like Christmas it was long in anticipation but over too soon.

Alongside the seasonal songs, we had opener 'Rosie' (from 'Liejacker' )and 'You're The Radio' (which sounds to me in parts like a cross between Marillion's 'The Uninvited Guest' and Suzanne Vega's 'Marlene On the Wall'), 'Teach Me To Be Bad', and 'God's Got Nothing On You' (from 'Murphy's Heart').

The song 'Atonement' came over well, and also with a plug for Thea's web-based subscription service 'Angels in the Abbatoir” where she supplies a new song per month to the faithful.

'That'll Be Christmas' and 'St Stephen's Day Murders' (like a latter-day 'Fairytale of New York') reminded me that another great singer songwriter (with some read across to Thea) - Kirsty MacColl - was killed in a boating accident almost 10 years ago to the day.

But the real gem tonight was 'December In New York', first appearing on the EP 'As If' in 2001 and reprised for the seasonal album. It is the sort of classic track that would easily grace a Christmas blockbuster movie, perhaps it could even inspire the plot.

Other songs too had that distinct air of timeless quality such as 'Old December' - a bit like a familiar and comfortable fitting pair of Christmas slippers - which drew an admirable chorus from a by-now Gilmore-gorged Chester crowd.

With a well received album, 'Murphy's Heart', and some good national press coverage in 2010, we are now waiting for the UK's best kept singer songwriter secret to go massive.  If there is any justice, she will.

Already feted by her peers (including Springsteen and Joan Baez) her loyal fans, many of whom will follow her gig to gig and have done for many years, can mutter into their mulled wine "I told you so" whilst the rest of the world catches up. A Happy Christmas, indeed.


Rosie / December/ Sweet Child Of Mine/ Atonement/  God's God Nothing On You/ December In New York/ Blue Christmas/ Listen The Snow Is Falling/ Cold Coming/ Teach Me To Be Bad/ You're The Radio/ That'll Be Christmas/ St. Stephens Day Murders/ Midwinter Toast/ Old December

Review by David Randall

Thea Gilmore regularly features in the singer-songwriter sequence on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Mon-Fri 14:00-16:00 (GMT)


Gig review (September 2010)

Album review (Murphy's Heart)

Album review (Strange Communion)

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