Thea Gilmore + Nigel Stonier @ the Phoenix,
Thea Gilmore
Exeter – 05/12/2018

When acclaimed singer-songwriter Thea Gilmore rolls in to town with her Acoustic Christmas Party you’d make sure you’ve got seats for the show and your best Christmas jumper all laid out ready for its first festive outing. Before the main event, however, the sell-out audience is treated to a support slot from Nigel Stonier – Gilmore’s partner in music and life but also an eminently talented songwriter and performer in his own right. Stonier’s style is friendly, clean and witty with a healthy dose of melancholia which tugs at the heart strings. ‘I Hope I Always’ is a tender highlight while the piano based melancholy is enchanting on the sparsely lit stage. The Squeeze-esque rant about the blandness of mega-stars and their bleeding hearts of beige also has the audience eating out of the palm of Stonier’s hands.

After a brief interval (this is a civilised show) we are joined on the stage by Thea Gilmore in festive garb, Stonier returns as a backing musician as well as Fluff on Violin (among other things) and Liz Hanks on Cello. Gilmore’s voice is instantly arresting, as is her self-deprecating humour and dry wit. Aside from a couple of early numbers, the entire evening is given over to songs of the season – original, traditional and thoroughly wintery – all in celebration of the nine-year anniversary and re-release of Gilmore’s ‘Strange Communion’ album.

‘That’ll Be Christmas’ is perhaps her must recognisable original composition but it’s the solo voice rendition of ‘Sol Invictus’ that has the auditorium spell bound as Gilmore’s stunning voice rings out in to the darkness. The quartet harmonise and compliment each other effortlessly with a depth and richness that they have no right to achieve with such sparse instrumentation. ‘Cold Coming’ is dedicated to those with the sniffles in the front row while ‘St Stephens Day Murders’ rivals ‘The Fairytale of New York’ for its gritty romance. The sing-along rendition of ‘Old December’ has the audience enraptured and the joy on Gilmore’s face is plain for all to see as the collective harmonies swell with each round. Thea Gilmore is, perhaps, the most underrated and underacknowledged songwriters of her generation with a hugely impressive voice and a set of songs that all hit the spot from different angles and with varying force. And this was just her Christmas set…

Live Dates:

6th December – Ropetackle Arts Centre, Shoreham-by-Sea
7th December – The Electric Palace, Bridport
8th December – The Met, Bury
9th December – The Storyhouse, Chester
13th December – Brewery Arts Centre, Burton-in-Kendal
14th December – Princess Hall, Clevedon
15th December – The Anvil, Basingstoke