Thea Gilmore is about to release her 14th album. The critically acclaimed singer has always been prolific. But, following an A-listed single on Radio 2 and her latest record being named the same station’s album of the week, the Oxfordshire-born, Cheshire-based songwriter is about to enter the big rooms.
New album, ‘Regardless’, is a belter, and comes with strings attached. The raw sound of her early records has been replaced with lush strings, as her always impressive lyrical couplets now clash with gorgeous orchestral crescendos. Her new sound has taken her to Town Hall Birmingham and London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall. And this Friday, Thea arrives on Hope Street, with her band and the strings, at the Phil.
It’s a marriage made in heaven: “It’s a very emotional thing being in the middle of a string section,” reveals Gilmore. “The instruments tend to occupy a similar tonal range to the human voice and it can be quite a ride – I do find myself getting a bit teary sometimes.”
The album is also an emotional journey – and it seems the live show is too: “The strings make you feel like a part of something bigger and more important… a musical community. It’s a wonderful feeling,” she says.
Latest single, ‘Love Came Looking For Me’, is that rare beast: an intelligent pop song that sounds great on the radio. “I think it’s easy to get sniffy about pop music, but it’s actually a really serious discipline to write a song that fits on the radio and doesn’t lose its acidity,” she says.
Minor key verses, a massive chorus and that big fat new sound all add up to a fresh road for Gilmore. “I’m redefined,” she sings on the single (below).
Gilmore shares a space with many great artists, one where you get the feeling writing good songs just isn’t enough – they have to do something else too: “I’m far less concerned with seeming ‘clever’ now though… I write from the heart – whereas I probably used to write more from the head. Now, if the song tells the right story in a more accessible way, I think that’s an achievement.”
Spot on. Its Elvis Costello that Gilmore reminds us of: records are released at a frightening pace with no concessions for commercial concerns and the art is all consuming. She follows her work down every path it reaches – indeed, last year she released an album of unreleased Sandy Denny songs.
And it seems that path led her to ‘Regardless’: “The Sandy Denny album allowed me to play around in a way that I never had with my own music and I liked the sound of my voice with strings. That had a huge impact and carried through to this new album,” she says.
Are you going to swim the mainstream this time, then? “The album doesn’t exactly sit with both feet in the mainstream – but I love that the single is drawing people in to music that they perhaps wouldn’t listen to otherwise. And you know what? They like it – so it’s done an amazing job for me,” she says.
“The record deals with economic and cultural tourism, a conversation between God and the devil, political calls to arms and the nature of custodianship and loss. It’s a very eclectic record in terms of feel and subject matter…”
Thea Gilmore’s music has been fearless since 1999. The new album sounds ace and make sure you’re on Hope Street this Friday to witness it all live. Just don’t get too attached to that new sound: this is an artist who is always moving. And we wouldn’t have her any other way…
Thea Gilmore with strings
Friday 10 May 2013, 8pm
Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, Hope Street