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In a future edition of Trivial Pursuit there may well be a question: Name the UK artist who first hit the Top 40 with her FOURTEENTH album? The answer of course is Thea Gilmore, with 2013’s ‘Regardless’.
Long cherished by fans and critics alike, Thea Gilmore’s 17-year career has seen her profile and audience grow with inexorable momentum since her first album, ‘Burning Dorothy’ was released when she was just 18. And now comes album number 15 with ‘Ghosts & Graffiti’; a very different beast again.
A compilation with its own twists – part new album, part retrospective – Gilmore has included four all-new songs that sit alongside six newly-recorded versions of old material, selected jewels from her back catalogue and, just for good measure, her recent run of A-list radio hits are also included.
The new material is striking and sees Gilmore getting deeply political in this election year. ‘My Voice’, was written in a dressing room in Leamington Spa on election night 2010 as an angry reaction to the results. Gilmore never released it but with the country going to the polls again shortly, she felt the time is right for its message to be heard, and who better to sing it with her than her friend and hero Billy Bragg.
One of Gilmore’s political poems, ‘Don’t Set Foot Over The Railway Tracks’, inspired by listening to a House Of Commons debate, is brought to life over her musical backing in a reading by another strong voice of social conscience, the original punk-poet John Cooper Clarke.
Similarly ‘Inch By Inch’ was written on the day Barack Obama was elected president in 2008 and features Joan Baez. Gilmore explains; “With Joan’s presence as an original voice of the counterculture and an active civil-rights campaigner, the historical importance that her input brings to a song about the first black US president is monumental… and that’s before you hear the extraordinary performance she turns in!”
Further collaborations include I Am Kloot, King Creosote, The Waterboys, Neil Gaiman, the iconic fantasy novelist, who contributes the sleeve notes and New York’s Joan As Policewoman, who appears on a re-working of one of Gilmore’s best-known songs.
"I found myself onstage with Joan Wasser for a series of UK gigs in 2012, celebrating Sandy Denny's life” recounts Gilmore. “Much as I love and admire her work as Joan As Policewoman I was still taken aback by her musicality, versatility and vocal presence. Her talent has such breadth. ‘This Girl Is Taking Bets’ is a special song to me, the first song I ever had playlisted...some would call it my anthem. I knew that if I ever cut it again I had to have another female voice breathing some new life into it. Joan did this, and blew me away with the energy and honesty she brought to the performance."
However these collaborations are just one facet of this remarkable 20-track album, at the heart of which lies Gilmour’s honey-toned alto which manages to send shivers down the spines of the most hardened cynics, as evidenced by the glorious lead single ‘Coming Back To You’ with its empowering chorus. It’s the perfect entry point for old fans and newcomers alike.
"People have asked me many times about a compilation,” reveals Gilmore, “but I’ve always said no. I’m a bit of a 'Best Of’ sceptic and I’ve never felt it was time to look back; I always had new stuff I passionately wanted to get out there. Then I realised last year that I wanted to bring new light to some older songs... colour, and the perspective that just living for a while affords. I was so young when I wrote many of them, and I’ve come to see some of the early versions as no longer definitive."
Therefore ‘Ghosts And Graffiti’ has one eye on the horizon and one in the rear-view mirror. “I didn’t set out to make so many albums,” she continues. “There was no master plan, I just had things to say so I found a way to say them. Now I see every record as a snapshot of that particular time in my life. I go back and listen to myself singing when I was 18 and it’s like a haunting; the songs are the ghosts of my past”
From teenage ingénue to critically acclaimed heroine – and from young girl to wife and mother – Gilmore’s musical journey has seen her sing loud about love and heartbreak, joy and loss and even set the late Sandy Denny’s lost lyrics to new music with huge success.
She has also found inspiration and courage to tackle some of the most socially charged issues from the last 20 years including political jingoism and voter apathy, the war on terror, the dumbing down of mainstream TV and the vacuous rise of celebrity culture, the Stephen Lawrence murder and her own battles with clinical depression.
‘Ghosts & Graffiti’ is as much an artistic achievement as it is a career celebration. Weaving the past with the present, this is an album that reveals Thea Gilmore in all her guises. Whilst perhaps not a household name, Gilmore has crept up on us all as a quiet icon.
She is the conscience of the music industry, that little voice in your head that proves that beyond hyperbole, beyond the glitterati, Twitterati and the Facebook flash-in-the-pans, there is music that matters and the people that it matters to. That is where true, lasting careers are born and that is exactly where Thea Gilmore shines.
Thea Gilmore will be in concert with her band across the UK this May:
Sat 9th May Birmingham Town Hall
Sun 10th May Nottingham Glee Club
Tue 12th May Pocklington Arts Centre
Wed 13th May Brighton Komedia
Fri 15th May Gateshead Sage
Sat 16th May Bingley Arts Centre
Wed 20th May Cheltenham Town Hall
Fri 22nd May Edinburgh Pleasance
Sat 23rd May Manchester RNCM
Mon 25th May Milton Keynes The Stables
Tue 26th May Bury St Edmunds The Apex
Wed 27th May London Cadogan Hall
“The best British singer-songwriter of the last ten years – and then some”
“Unarguably one of the finest singer-songwriters of her generation”
Sunday Times Culture
“The best wordsmith of her generation”