with Kelly Oliver support
Miles To Tralee
The Witch of Walkern
A delightful opening set from Kelly Oliver accompanying herself on acoustic guitar. She has the knack of making her songs sound traditional … they’re all her own compositions, mainly from This Land her current album. I was sure Miles of Tralee must be traditional, not that I’d ever heard the tune. Diamond Girl was the catchiest, and The Witch of Walkern was an intriguing story song. The story of the last witch trial in England is also a current play, running the very same night, just twenty miles away in Salisbury. As well as singing, her guitar work on Mr Officer was stunning …she semed to be getting a kind of drone, a distinct bass line AND strumming.
Thea Gilmore – vocals, acoustic guitar
Nigel Stonier – acoustic guitar, piano, vocals
Tracey Brown – bass guitar, piano, Q-chord
Egan Stonier- violin on ‘London’
1 The Wrong Side
2 Old Soul
3 Rags and Bones
4 Teach Me To Be Bad
5 The End Of The World (Skeeter Davis cover)
6 Slow Journey II
7 Josephine Knots
8 Girl Mercury
9 Pretty in Lace
10 The Waltz of The Hare and The Hounds
11 Start As We Mean To Go On
12 Inch by Inch
13 You’re The Radio
14 Live Out loud
16 Love Looking For Me
This is the very first gig of Thea Gilmore’s November tour. I always look at previous set lists, and of the seventeen songs here, only seven were performed on the one May gig that’s listed. She made a point in an intro of not having a new album to promote this time, and therefore being able to play what she wanted, free of the pressure to promote the new album … in this case Ghosts and Graffiti from May. As Ghosts and Graffiti was a career retrospective, newly recorded with guests, focussing on the album would have been fine, as most of the songs were familiar. I like artistes who radically shift their sets. Some do it on the inspiration of the moment (Simone Felice), but here there was no discussion or cueing, so at least this evening seemed carefully pre-planned and ordered.
Having said that, she does have an EP, Girl Mercury, which is only on sale at gigs (for a fiver) for this tour, and she played all four songs from the EP in a block in the middle. That is of course the best place to put unfamiliar material … start with stuff people know, end with stuff people know.
I noted that they played the acoustic Me & Julio Down By The Schoolyard from Live Rhymin’ over the PA before they came on (a bold choice), then an old jump jazz number much louder as they came on stage and took their places … and they waited it out too.
It’s a three piece band, with mainly Thea Gilmore and partner Nigel Stonier on acoustic guitars, with Tracey Brown alternating between bass guitar and grand piano (though she’s also off stage about half the time). There’s a drummer (and much else) on the records, but leaving the drummer behind really does make sound mixing so much easier for this sort of material, and the two acoustic guitars is almost their ‘signature.’
The Wrong Side is a lively starter. As it finished Tracy Brown put the bass guitar aside and moved to piano for Old Soul which has a fine melody.
The third number, Rags and Bones dates right back to 2003 (‘When I was 23’ she told us) and was on Avalanche. It always was a memorable lyric:
And now the candle’s flickered out, the walls have been built
And they are racking up the weapons of blood and piss and guilt …
She announced the fourth song as a “sex song” … they had fun with its length. She made the usual assumption that the audience were all from Wimborne, and said the town seemed very respectable. They might indeed be (from Wimborne … respectable I don’t know). There’s a strong sense of community support for the Tivoli, which draws better audiences for this sort of thing than do the neighbouring Bournemouth and Poole … but a lot of people travel out from the two larger towns in the conurbation as I had. It’s only 7 or 8 miles. I’ve sat through ‘Hello Yeovil!’ ‘Hello Andover!’ ‘Hello Brighton!’ with a wry smile many times. Wimborne is a rare Southern gig on the tour, and I’d think she under-estimates her drawing power. People often drive fifty odd miles for shows like this. Anyway, the song Teach Me To Be Bad was done with raucous gusto.
The End of The World was a surprise cover, beautifully taken with Thea Gilmore on vocals only, and Nigel Stonier on piano. It was a massive country crossover hit for Skeeter Davis way back in 1962. Skeeter Davis is highly under-rated, but the song has appeared in many movies.
Slow Journey II was another deep catalogue song, ( from Harpo’s Ghost), but not a song revived on Ghosts and Graffiti. The other two went off. She used a loop of backing vocals, to great effect. There was no attempt to hide the pre-recorded sound … she bent down by the monitor quietly to listen to it out. She said she hadn’t played it since 2006, and that last time she had, the loop station had failed … more on that.
This was the point where the set from the EP Girl Mercury was announced, starting with unaccompanied vocal on Josephine’s Knots. The title track, Girl Mercury suffered from the only bad sound of the evening. She used vocal loops again, but whether deliberate or not, I don’t know, but they were distorted. She added a small drum … beating it a couple of times and it added onto the background loop, then she added some vocal backing noises. I don’t know what it was but it just piled up layers of distortion. Weird. Anyway, Nigel came back on for Pretty in Lace which as she said, combined a sweet melody with angry lyrics. The sound returned to excellent. The Waltz of The Hare and The Hounds completed the block. After the show, the EPs were selling fast!
Start As We Mean To Go On was a strong song, featured on the May album. In fact, the last five songs of the main set all appear on Ghosts and Graffiti, and arrived in a further block.
For me Inch by Inch was the outstanding song of the evening, just as it was the centrepiece of the Ghosts and Graffiti album. She said it was written for a friend on the Obama campaign who was so incredibly nervous and hopeful waiting for the results to come in. On the album, Joan Baez sang it with Thea, and she wondered if Joan was with us in feeling … pity it wasn’t Judy Collins she was invoking, as Judy has stood on exactly that spot at the Tivoli three or four times in recent years. Inch by Inch has an anthemic quality that writers dream of hitting … Thea Gilmore hit the very same vein of gold with London, played incessantly during the 2012 Olympics. They switched the line up so Nigel played piano, and Tracey bass guitar (a change from “either piano or bass”).
You’re The Radio has intriguing lyrics about the Montagues and Capulets and is very much a twin vocal song. Live Out Loud is a major change of style, almost music hall. I love it.
For the BIG ONE, London, they brought on 9-year old Egan Stonier on violin … he also appeared with them on the Sandy Denny Tribute (LINKED REVIEW HERE). He played the violin part very well and (obviously) got the biggest applause of the night. it’s a song you can’t go wrong with.
The two encores were Love Looking For Me (with more loops) and Nigel on piano, then Copper, which had been the opener in May. It’s a well-placed song at either end.
Overall, I’d have loved to hear another Sandy Denny posthumous collaboration as Don’t Stop Singing is the album I know the best of all. I’d have been fascinated to hear something from her complete John Wesley Harding album too. I’ve often considered buying it, so I bought a copy tonight (along with Girl Mercury).
Ghosts and Graffiti, 2015