Home > Reviews > Live Reviews > 24/05/2011 | Thea Gilmore – Union Chapel, London

24/05/2011 | Thea Gilmore – Union Chapel, London

Lisa Ward


There’s seemingly no better way to salute the life of a legend than to rerecord his John Wesley Harding album and perform it live on his 70th birthday. I’ll confess, before tonight I’ve never embraced Dylan as readily as I should, whilst I’d mark him out as an amazing song writer and lyricist, his voice has always been more cumbersome than I’d like. Combine then his poetic work, with a powerful female vocalist and the standing ovation Thea receives at the end of the set, is somewhat preemptive.

The harmonica driven John Wesley Harding leads into As I Went Out One Morning, fuelled by heavy drums and resonating guitars and the passion of Thea and her band becomes obvious. But was also becomes apparent is that there is no venue more fitting for a set of songs bound up in biblical imagery than Union Chapel. As Thea reads from a bible before launching into All Along The Watchtower the audience sit almost transfixed, a sacred vibe hanging in the air.

The impromptu a cappella The Lost Highway which precedes I Am A Lonesome Hobo resonates in the air, whilst the closing Down Along The Cove and I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight lift the mood, much as Bob’s original versions do, the three part harmonies in the latter adding extra spice to a timeless song. In fact, as she reels off the entire album in order of recording, it’s hard to tell that Thea and long time collaborator Nigel Stonier recorded her version in just 7 days. The set drips with passion, vitality and a new burst of life.

It’s clear that Thea is moved by the music and whilst there’s a moment of comedy as she attempts to jump around to The Drifter before remembering she’s seven months pregnant, it makes it clear this is more about a tribute to someone she openly states has changed her life. Whilst Thea’s versions are different from the originals this is down to a subtle attention to detail, avoiding the trap or rote covers, whilst equally never steering too far away from Bob’s version to render them absurd.

It’s this which opens the door for an interlude of her own songs, This Girl Is Taking Bets completed by paper placards details key lyrics, whilst Invertigo is given the low key acoustic treatment. Given the number of t-shirts dotted around the venue, it’s hard to tell if they were Thea fans before the show. Nevertheless the rigorous applauding suggests that, like me, they were enamoured with her musical reworking and harmonious vocals, which once again seem to prove how Thea gathers strength with age.