The Borderline – London- March 13, 2002
By Ellen Rawson
There seem to be so many singer-songwriters out there today. It gets to the point where the cynical may start thinking that they’re a dime a dozen. Some performers do fit into that category, but Thea Gilmore, an up-and-coming British singer-songwriter, has a special spark and flare that sets her apart from the wannabes.
Accompanied by Nigel Stonier on acoustic guitar (Gilmore also played acoustic guitar), she took the floor to applause; she already has a large fan following, particularly after the release of her third full-length CD, Rules for Jokers. Those fans were pleased with her opening choice, “Keep Up.” It’s sometimes hard to believe that she’s only 23 years old, what with the number of CDs she’s released and her adroit lyrics. Her songs are full stories. Occasionally, they seem rather verbose, but in a good way – kind of reminiscent of Bob Dylan. She has stories she needs to tell in a matter of minutes, and she needs to compact a lot of information into that time. Her voice is slightly on the husky side; her range sometimes seems limited, but what she has is full and earnest.
Although her lyrics often are about bitterness in relationships and break-ups (she later joked with the audience that she would play a light, happy song, but she suspected that they weren’t there for that), she’s amazingly fun in terms of between song banter. She and Stonier had just obtained new tuners. “Hence the bending down, squinting thing that Nigel’s perfecting,” she said with a laugh. When explaining that most of the songs performed that night would be from the new album, she joked, while taking some time to tune her guitar, that she’d “try to play them in tune.” Like Richard Thompson, the sense of humor displayed while conversing with the audience nicely juxtaposes the seriousness of her lyrics. When fans called out requests, she joked with them, promising to get to those songs later. “It’s not that time of the night yet. We’ll get to it, I promise,” she said with a laugh. At one point in the evening, she played a song that had been requested the other day, but she couldn’t remember it. She since had relearned “December in New York.”
Gilmore is honest with her audience, just as she’s brutally honest about the conditions she reports in her lyrics. She felt the crowd was a little too quiet at first; she really seemed more at ease when the audience starting calling out requests and yelling out comments. At that point, she was in her element and had fun conversing with her fans. “It’s gonna be a quiet one now,” she announced before her fourth number of night, gentle, dreamy “Holding Your Hand.” It has
a Cowboy Junkies feel to it, and it seemed as if it just wanted more backing vocals. It would be interesting to hear it live with a female back-up singer. Its haunting lyrics (“I’m gonna haunt you/On every knife edge/Every trip/And on every needle tip/I’ll be holding your hand) belie its sweet sound. It’s a dreamy, sensual sound reigned in by a tight control.
“I had the dubious pleasure of making my own video.” The experience, she reported honestly, was “a stupid state of affairs,” she said with a laugh, as she described having to mime “the words to my own song.” However, the video was for her new single (she emphasized it would be released on 25 March), “Fever Beats,” so “anything goes,” she concluded. It’s an interesting choice for a single. It lacks the pop feel against a rock beat of “Straight Up,” the song she’d just sung previously. “Fever Beats,” however, features her usual standard of intelligent lyrics and features her sort of trademark “punk folk” feel. She took a punk song by the Buzzcocks and turned it into a slow romantic ballad, later jokingly calling it “a Manchester folk song.”
She relaxed into a more acoustic folk/rock feel on “Saviours and All.” Gilmore can rock out with the best of them, though. Towards the end of the night, she launched into “Generation Y,” an obvious crowd pleaser from The Lipstick Conspiracies, a previous release. If Gilmore is the spokesperson for her generation, they have great promise. This song is commentary from a new generation that really hasn’t been heard all that much. After serious verses, she contrasts them with a lighter-sounding chorus of “la las,” followed by the serious “Talkin’ about degeneration.” Right after that, she went into another rocker, “This Girl is Taking Bets.” “This is the bouncy one,” she said as she introduced it. Again, there’s a Bob Dylan influence in terms of the lyrics, but it’s Bob Dylan with a better voice and a female perspective on life.
When she reappeared for her encore, she joked about how that whole routine is “bullocks.” “I would have come back anyway. In fact, I’m gonna do two,” she informed us, and then she laughingly confessed that she was “standing just around the corner, stroking my ego.” For that second song, she promised it would be a “nice, happyish one.” “Incidentally,” she continued with a spark in her eyes, “it’s not one of mine.” She then performed a cover of Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me.” Stonier sang along on the choruses, and their voices blended nicely. At this point, her voice found a natural vibrato that just added to the song’s emotion; she showed more range on this closing number.
Gilmore live, particularly with a responsive audience, reflects strong personality and confidence. She is who she is, and her fans like her that way.
Opening for Gilmore was Rebecca Hollweg, a singer-songwriter who shows great promise. Her songs aren’t quite as developed as Gilmore’s, but there’s potential there. Her opening number, ” “, had a “sweet” beat, but it wasn’t saccharine. She seems very polite on stage, but there’s a lot of emotion in her voice. At one point, she mentioned that she was performing her “angry song,” but she didn’t seem that upset – her character seemed more frustrated than angry. Hollweg just seems nice – like the best friend in whom you want to confide. Most of her material came from her recently released CD, June Babies, including “Where Are You Going,” a number that could be a hit were it performed by a more recognizable name. Perhaps Hollweg will reach that point herself one of these days.