The unique and atmospheric venue that is the Planetarium at The Winchester Science Centre was the setting for Thea Gilmore to showcase her new and critically acclaimed album, The Counterweight. If such a very different stage was always likely to provide the sell-out audience with a memorable evening then that was further guaranteed when Friday evening chaos on the M3 led to what must be the most bizarre warm up ever for a gig – a stomach churning 360-degree feature film projected onto the dome roof, We Are Stars, spanning the formation of hydrogen, nuclear fusion in stars, formation of asteroids, our own solar system and evolution of life from the very first cells.
Husband, producer and co-writer Nigel Stonier then provided a more conventional 30 minutes of solo warm up, providing a reminder that, aside from bringing his considerable musical talents to Thea’s music, he has also forged his own well respected individual musical path.
When Thea did appear, under a dome filled with the starry night sky, Nigel was very much by her side for an acoustic set that fitted perfectly with the environment. The family feel was later taken to a whole new level with young son Egan bringing his excellent fiddle playing to join mum and dad on London, taken from the 2011 Sandy Denny tribute album Don’t Stop Singing.
The sound quality in the auditorium was exceptional and, particularly on the quieter songs, expertly showcased Thea’s gorgeous, silky vocals. Opening with The Wrong Side and Old Soul, two songs from the 2008 album Liejacker, Thea quickly established the ground rules for the evening. With a quick reference to the intransigence of Neil Young, Thea refused to bow to the convention of filling the gig with songs from the new album and instead delved into her extensive back catalogue that spans 15 albums and almost 20 years.
Hence, we had only two songs from The Counterweight but we were treated to a beautiful rendition of Red, White and Black from 2006’s Harpo’s Ghost and, with a dedication to The Donald, God’s Got Nothing on You from the 2010 album Murphy’s Heart. Thea introduced this one by saying that although she aimed it at a particular, but nameless public figure of that time, she actually felt that it actually fitted Trump much better.
Gilmore is well known and respected for her willingness to tackle subjects that touch her personally and reflect the state of the planet at the time. The value of arts in the school curriculum, the perils of social media and her own experience of mental health issues were all put out there in an honest, exposed and heartfelt manner that seemed to resonate with all in attendance. Icarus Wind is a spellbinding piece of work, again dating back to 2006, that was written as she descended into depression and, under that backdrop of stars, reached out and captivated a spellbound audience.
Ending her encore with such a moving and personal song as The War, a song that is bookended by references to Jo Cox, tells us so much about what a unique songwriting talent we have in Thea Gilmore. Unafraid and with a refusal to be constricted or compromised by convention or commercial necessity, Thea Gilmore remains a rare and scandalously unappreciated talent.