Battling off the shadows

British singer-songwriter Thea Gilmore calls in at Norwich Arts Centre on Thursday on the latest leg of yet another marathon tour. EVENT catches up with the critically-adored artist.

No slacking for Thea: just 18 months on from her fifth album, Harpo's Ghost, Thea Gilmore is touring her album Liejacker and single Old Soul.

Released through Fruitcake/Universal, it's the latest landmark in the career of this much-lauded singer-songwriter, hailed the likes of Radcliffe and Maconie, described by one national newspaper as “the best wordsmith of her generation” and by Uncut magazine as “the best British singer songwriter of the last 10 years - and then some”.

Not that Thea was exactly short of subject material for her new release, with her life facing a string of unexpected upheavals. Before the release of Harpo's Ghost, Thea had been diagnosed with depression. During this time she had split with her previous record label and, temporarily, with her long-term partner and, almost as if for good measure, gave birth to her first child.

The album sessions began with Thea still battling off the shadows from her illness, writing her darkest, starkest songs ever. Perhaps not surprisingly, Liejacker also sees Thea at her most direct. “Where in the past I've probably been guilty of hiding a little bit, falling back on an image or a metaphor - this time I was trying to get to the bone, to just tell it like it is,” she says.

Honesty is at the core of Thea's music - hence the title. “As a listener I can hear dishonesty, when people aren't really living what they're singing about. But there are those that will always kick against that. There are a lot of Liejackers out there.” The next step was to practically barricade herself in her newly-acquired home studio, “Well I say studio… it's basically a tiny, nine-foot-square room in my house. I practically had to mount the mic stand on the desk to sing and when I recorded the guitars I'd have to be halfway out the door. But for all the recording oddities, I was making music that was gritty and genuine.

“The songs kept coming and coming and I was able to record them as they arrived. As a result, I think they have a much less self-conscious feel to them. They are entities in themselves, quite apart from me.”

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Having brought the material into her favourite studio, the Loft in Liverpool, and adding a couple of new tunes to the pot, Thea then called upon some of her favourite kindred spirits. Erin McKeown added vocals to Dance in New York, Waterboy Steve Wickham was invited to play fiddle on The Lower Road - and McCabe on Old Soul, of course. Oh, and a certain Joan Baez on the narrative The Lower Road.

“Joan Baez practically invented my job 40 years ago - I can't think of anyone else on the planet with the voice, presence and standing to carry this off,” Thea enthuses.

Not only was Joan pleased to be asked, but she fell in love with the song and has recorded it now for her own forthcoming album - tribute once again to Gilmore's artistic standing.

t Thea Gilmore plays Norwich Arts Centre on Thursday, June 26 (8pm). Support comes from Pete Du Pon, an English singer/songwriter making waves as an up and coming unsigned artist touted as the next James Taylor. Tickets from 01603 660352 (£12.50, concs £10) Norwich Arts Centre box office and