The O2 Academy strikes me as a bit of an odd venue choice for Thea Gilmore’s first Oxford show in four years. A soulless black box usually writhing with sweaty teenagers, it’s a million miles away from the theatres and arts centres I’ve seen her play elsewhere in the interim. It’s also hot as hell tonight, making the experience somewhat uncomfortable. It seems though that a change really is as good as a rest sometimes, with both Gilmore and her partner and guitarist Nigel Stonier on excellent form.
There’s a change up in personnel tonight too, with a cellist and violinist brought in to accompany the strings heavy new tracks. In that vain, they kick off with This Is How You Find The Way before taking us through much of latest release Regardless, from the upbeat Start As We Mean To Go On to the more sombre moods of This Road and I Will Not Disappoint You. With such a vast back catalogue though there are of course some older tracks thrown in for good measure including Old Soul and You’re The Radio, along with a couple of covers.
At the mid way point a plug for the music and literature festival the couple curate back in their home of Nantwich leads into a cover of Wooden Heart (the 5 year anniversary theme of course being wood), followed by an a Capella rendition of The Amazing Floating Man. The latter, which appeared on the fairly recent Beginners EP, receives the unscripted accompaniment of ringing cash machines at the bar. As Gilmore herself points out, the sound effects are apt for a song about the financial crisis, however unintended.
Ending the set with London from 2011’s posthumous Sandy Denny collaboration Don’t Stop Singing, the ensemble are joined by Gilmore and Stonier’s eldest son Egan on second violin. The youngster then returns with his parents for the encore, which starts out in the audience with an unplugged cover of the Gershwin standard Summertime, and is followed up by a rare outing of Juliet much to the delight of the audience. As Nigel Stonier had pointed out part way into the set, tonight they were coming full circle from the sticky floored indie venues they played in earlier days. Perhaps this, coupled with a change of direction on the new album, has brought with it renewed enthusiasm.
Photo courtesy of substandardnerd