I first heard of Thea Gilmore sometime back around 2003 when my friends were sharing round a copy of The Lipstick Conspiracies (2000). I didn’t really get into her music until I heard the album, Rules for Jokers (2001), which I loved. Since then, she’s been putting out consistently excellent albums.
Thea Gilmore has a beautiful voice and writes catchy, melodic, socially aware folk/rock songs in the tradition of people like Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Sandy Denny and Billy Bragg, but with very much her own distinctive sound.
There’s been quite a lot of buzz about her new album, Small World Turning and I finally got to see her play live last week. The gig was as good as I expected. New songs featured heavily, with ‘Cuttleslowe Walls’, ‘Glory’, ‘Don’t Dim Your Light for Anyone’, ‘Grandam Gold’, and ‘The Revisionist’ all being highlights. She also played ‘Saviours and All’ and ‘This Girl is Taking Bets’ from Rules for Jokers, and ‘Old Soul’ from Liejacker. There was a lovely cover of ‘Sweet Child of Mine’ and a great song I hadn’t heard before, ‘The New Tin Drum’.
I’ve listened to Small World Turning a few times since the gig and I think it’s one of her best albums, a gorgeous collection of songs for our time. This is even more of an achievement when you realise that Gilmore did almost all of the work herself after three record companies pulled out.
Here’s to another seventeen albums!
January has been pretty quiet.
The second week saw both the anniversary of our civil partnership in 2011 and our first proper date back in 2007, so we decided that was worth celebrating and went out for a nice dinner at a little French bistro near where we live.
We went to one gig. It was supposed to be folk legends John Kirkpatrick and Martin Carthy, but Martin had flu and had to pull out. John Kilpatrick managed to get a set together at the last-minute and it was a really fun gig, with all the joy of watching a tuly consummate performer. Plus he sang one of my favourite songs by Fairport Convention, ‘Crazy Man Michael’.
I finished and wrote a post about Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers.
I also read Star Nomad the first in a series by Linda Buroker which was fun (CN for rape threat though).
We went to see The Favourite and seem to be in disagreement with pretty much the rest of the universe because we didn’t like it! I won’t get into the reasons here because it would take an entire post.
We watched Lucy Worsley’s series History of the Home which was fascinating. I love social history.
There we were crammed into a small wood-paneled venue to see Patti Smith play at the Coal Exchange in Cardiff. My partner and I were quickly scooped up by a group of fifty-something women from London who seemed to think we were very young and sweet, and that they ought to support us through our first Patti Smith gig.
I never really thought I’d get to see Patti Smith live and didn’t believe it was going to happen until she actually appeared on stage. I think I would have paid the ticket price just for the opener, ‘Dancing Barefoot’, but that was followed a generous set of favourites: ‘Free Money’, ‘Beneath the Southern Cross’, ‘Redondo Beach’, ‘Ghandi’, ‘Peaceable Kingdom’, a fist-pumping rendition of ‘Because the Night’, a very long (and even better for being a bit messed up) sing-along version of ‘Gloria’.
She sang several songs from the new album ‘Banga’, which I don’t have yet, so can’t remember too well, but they sounded really good. ‘This is the Girl’ is a moving tribute to Amy Winehouse and the title song ‘Banga’ stood out with its swirling guitars and big chorus. She gave a political speech about the need to use the amazing technology we have as a tool to better the world, rather than allow it to dominate and control our lives, something that seemed slightly lost on the people tweeting their way through the gig and trying to film it on their phones.
Despite her fierce reputation, Smith was joyful, generous, and funny in person, telling jokes about her Welsh heritage, but her charisma and the power of her presence is undeniable. She has a quality which in other ages might have got hercalled a prophet, bodhisattva, or a saint, not because she’s perfect, but because she is so fully herself and completely present in her life. She also conveys a feeling that she believes in us, believes that we are capable of changing this world for the better.
I can’t remember who introduced me to Gillian Welch, but she’s become one of my favourite folk artists, an incredibly talented singer-songwriter whose expressive, world-weary voice is perfect for reinventing the appacalian and bluegrass traditions that she draws on in her songs. So I was extremely pleased to get the chance to see her play live in Manchester last month with her long-term musical partner, David Rawlings, even if the tickets did require my spending the money I’d set aside to buy new work shoes.
Last night I ticked the “See the Throwing Muses play live” item off my ‘To Do’ list and they were awesome. I can hardly believe I was standing about ten feet away from Kristin Hersh all night, and I’m not sure the band could believe they’d been put in a position quite so up-close-and-personal with the good people of Cardiff. Kristin asked at one point if anyone could “smell Dave” (drummer David Narcizo) because apparently the band members were all a little ripe from travelling. They also seemed a bit overawed by the venue – The Gate in Cardiff, an old church which has been refurbished and turned into a strangely posh community centre. “It’s so beautiful here” said Kristin, “This isn’t going to go well, we’re not beautiful”. But it was great and I think they’re all gorgeous.
Last night we went to see The Indigo Girls. This lesbian band has been going since 1985 and the audience at last night’s gig showed a good percentage of older lesbians, but I have to say, I have never seen such a wide range of lesbians in one place at the same time. It would probably take K.D. Lang to better it. There were even mullets.
The audience’s reception was incredibly warm and the band seemed a little bowled over by it, not having visited the UK for some years. There were a few complaints from the Welsh cohort who wanted to know why (oh why) they weren’t playing Cardiff. I don’t think Emily or Amy had the slightest idea where Cardiff is and seemed a bit foggy on the concept of there being two nationalities in the audience. They blamed their agent.
Amy was looking very hot in white shirt, black vest and black pinstripe trousers. Aside from having slightly smaller hair than she had in her early youth, Emily hasn’t changed that much since 1985 — I mean, flannel shirt over CND T-shirt.
It was a real feel-good gig. They played several songs from their new album, but relied mainly on favourites from their back catalogue and encouraged much singing-a-long. In terms of performance, they were absolutely professional and seamless, making it all appear effortless.
I can’t remember the set list in order, but from the new album they played:
What are you like?
Love of our lives
Second Time Around
Fleet of Hope
And from the back catalogue they played:
Power of Two
Three Hits (my favourite)
Closer to Fine
Johnny Rotten (from one of Amy’s solo efforts)
She’s Saving Me
Get out the Map
Hand me Downs
Fill it up Again
Last night a friend and I went to see Leonard Cohen. Being as we’ve both been in love with him since we were about 16 this was a pretty momentous event. He danced onto the stage, a very small man in a snappy suit and trilby hat, genial, gentlemanly and still gorgeous. His stamina is astounding. I doubt I’ll be able to perform for three hours when I’m seventy four. It was more about seeing him in the flesh than anything else, but finding him in good voice was an added bonus. And what a crowd pleaser! He didn’t mess us around with the set; he sang our favourites. This isn’t in the right order, but he gave us:
- Dance me to the end of love
- Ain’t no Cure for Love
- Bird on a Wire
- The Future
- In My Secret Life
- Hey, that’s no way to say goodbye
- Who by Fire (at which point I am struck by the fact that I am singing along to ‘Who by Fire’ with Leonard Cohen)
- The Partisan (wonderful arrangement)
- Hallelujah (during which Philomela has a moment)
- Everybody Knows
- The Gypsy Wife
- Famous Blue Raincoat (during which I have a moment)
- So Long Marianne
- Boogie Street
- I’m Your Man
- Take this Waltz
- First we Take Manhattan (another great arrangement)
- Tower of Song
- If it be your will
- I tried to leave you
When he sang ‘I Tried to Leave you,’ in the final encore he positioned the audience as the beloved. Corny? Yes a little, but sweet because we all know this is his “thank you and goodbye” tour for his fans. Tower of Song was also very affecting for this reason. It was lovely to see him enjoying himself so much. Although his detractors accuse him of being a miserable old groaner, there was nothing miserable about this gig. It was warm and humorous.
I was wondering afterwards why I’m so passionate about Leonard Cohen. I think it has to do with the fact that he’s so engaged with life. As my friend said, she finds some of his politics reprehensible, but you can’t deny that the man’s thinking deeply about big questions. I also noticed that we were both singing along to ‘Everybody Knows’ putting our own emphases on the line “the good guys lose.” Life is hard, it takes a huge amount of courage, we mess up repeatedly, relationships are never perfect, human communication is relentlessly difficult, and more often than not, the good guys do lose. But we keep trying and thinking and loving and we get through it all somehow.
Here he is singing Bird on a Wire in 1979.