Chester music fan favourite Thea Gilmore is returning to the city to perform live at Telford’s Warehouse on December 15.
Bruce Springsteen buys her records while artists ranging from Martha Wainwright to Mike Scott seek to collaborate with her and Tom Waits’ celebrated percussionist Michael Blair appears on Murphy’s Heart, Gilmore’s tenth album.
2008’s Liejacker was a deeply personal collection that included a track with Joan Baez. It was, in Gilmore’s words, ‘the lovechild of whisky and heartache’.
Album ten is a serious landmark release in anyone’s book except, perhaps, that one owned by the artist in question.
“It’s just a number,” Gilmore says. “If it’s a milestone at all it’s because I feel my guard has dropped a bit and that’s something I’ve always battled with in the past. There’s been a bit of a glass wall in front of what I do. I never tended to let people in. If that’s not all gone, then it’s only clingfilm now.”
Gilmore says she’s not ‘an easy going sort of girl’, but if that translates into firmly resisting pressure to conform to singer-songwriter stereotypes then we should hope more people take up the fight.
“Maybe being 30 and being a mother has changed me,” she says. “That’s my everyday now, but the greatest art comes from the everyday. I always used to be getting told what to do, getting told to be more like whoever was happening at the time, but that’s what happens when you put baked-bean salesmen in charge of art.
“I hate calling it ‘art’ as that sounds awful but when you’re dealing with what comes from the human psyche, you’re dealing with art. Trying to make one person’s mind like another inevitably leads to failure. It struck me even at 16 or 17 that this was weird. So I got this name as someone who was stridently against signing a major record deal, but I just thought of it as being sensible.”
For someone who has grown up ‘standing back and making great state of the union addresses’, Gilmore is quietly delighting in examining the tiny aspects of life and pulling at each thread to see what just how enormous the repercussions can be.
“I don’t have to live my life with this sense of impending self-importance anymore,” she says. “That’s very liberating. You don’t have to be trying to write Masters Of War every time. You can write about your own decisions, turn small parts of your life into songs that people can relate to.
“I’m a 30-year-old woman with a three-year-old son,” Gilmore says. “I feel like I know life a little more now. I am in the dance rather than watching from the sidelines.”
The single, You’re On The Radio, is a decidedly sunny take on being properly in love, appropriately as it’s a co-write with her partner, Nigel Stonier. It is, Gilmore admits with a laugh, a distinct artistic departure for her.
“I’ve not done much like that, no! But you can’t be dark all the time. I wondered about whether I wanted a bright, breezy, happy person for a few minutes – then I thought, why not? What could go wrong! In fact, being upfront and honest about the positivity in my life is way more of a challenge for me than getting the dark stuff across.”
Gilmore grew up in a house was full of ‘hippy’ music. Dylan, Beatles, Fairport Convention, Hendrix, Cream, but they found room for Dire Straits and Abba too. Her dad was a fairly hardcore folky – there were John Renbourne and Jake Thackery records – while her mum was a huge classical music fan who, famously, refused to even enter the Isle Of Wight festival when she saw the state of the place.
Gilmore was a solitary child. There were only two other children in her village, both boys. She was ‘gobby’ but the youngest of two, so she could be gobby and not get a smack for it. “I was pretty bookish,” she says. “I loved to read and write. I enjoyed my own company.”
When Gilmore was six she had an all-three-books-in-one copy of Lord Of The Rings. She took it into school only to be told she was not allowed to read it as it was ‘too grown up’.
“My mother steamed into the school and tore shreds off this teacher. I loved her for doing that, but I also thought, why aren’t more people doing this?”
Gilmore was, she says, ‘raised on Guinness and live music’, though she insists she never wanted a wild party lifestyle, which was lucky as ‘there wasn’t one to be had!’ At 17 she moved to the heaving metropolis that was Sandbach in Cheshire taking her Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell and Tom Waits records with her.
Thea had got some work experience at a recording sudio when she was 16. She loved words and loved singing but she never wanted to be a singer – it never crossed her mind apparently. But she met Nigel, wrote a few songs and got a deal with a tiny label in Oxford.
“I was passionate,” she says. “But I never thought anyone could get that lucky. I thought it was magic – and it is! Writing music is magical and the idea of selling it was too much to imagine. But these things kept on happening.”
Tickets for her December 15 gig in Chester are £16. Call 01244 390 090 or visit www.telfordswarehouse.com.