For Celtic Connections 2012, Thea Gilmore brought her much acclaimed project Don’t Stop Singing to The Old Fruitmarket in Glasgow. Don’t Stop Singing began in 2010 when Island records and Sandy Denny’s estate commissioned Thea to write music for a collection of unscored songs.
A short opening set included one of Sandy Denny’s best known songs – Fotheringay and a collection of Thea’s own material, most memorably the opening song, Old Soul, made very warm and welcoming with the addition of Liz Hanks on Cello.
Of the re-discovered Sandy Denny songs on offer, Glistening Bay, celebrates Sandy’s love of the natural environment, while also hinting at her affinity with the urban sprawl.
“I do recall I took a stone and felt it with my hand / I sat there on the high cliff top upon the warming land / I hid the precious stone I held inside a weathered tree / The perfumed cedars caught the wind which blew in from the open sea”
The album’s title track Don’t Stop Singing picked up the tempo and provided an element of the awww factor when Thea’s son Eagan (aged 5) joined the company on stage with his violin. The lad just oozes confidence and is clearly destined for great things!
Frozen Time, with its chilling violins and cascading piano, almost defies explanation; but bearing in mind songs like Who Knows Where The Time Goes, Sandy Denny’s view of time as a form of entrapment must have had some bearing on the content “beauties of stone, they’ve no need to breathe air”.
Gilmore confided during the set that when the project was first discussed, she was far from convinced that she could see it through. But when the lyrics to Goodnight came along, everything seemed to fall into place “..the music started to arrive as though it had already been written…”
It’s ironic that while Thea’s keen not to dwell on the troubled side of Sandy Denny’s life, Goodnight‘s bleak content confirms, as did Thea’s commentary throughout the set, that there’s just no getting away from the tragedy. More standard fair is presented in the touring musician’s song of exile, London, or a more traditional song of parting such as Sailor.
In addition to Thea Gilmore’s singing voice, which is as clear and, it has to be said, beautifully suited to singing these songs, Thea’s band consists of Tracey Browne (vocals, keyboards, autoharp) Steve Butler (vocals and guitar) and Dan Logan (percussion). Tracey Browne has graduated from working as sound engineer for the show and has some recording projects of her own under her belt. Her soft voice was a perfect compliment to Thea’s where backing vocals were required. A special mention was made of the hastily assembled string section; Steph Brough (1st violin) Elspeth Luke (2nd violin) Maggie Miller (viola), all pulled together by Liz Hanks (cello) who has led the string section throughout the project. Thea’s husband, Nigel Stonier (guitar, piano), has acted as producer and MD throughout.
The combination of Sandy Denny’s lyrics in the contemporary setting provided by Thea Gilmore’s music, Thea’s beautiful singing voice and the support of an accomplished group of musicians provided a great evening’s music. The audience seemed a little subdued – perhaps, with Celtic connections in its second week, the strain was beginning to show, or perhaps the event wasn’t as lively as some of the more hectic performances available. There’s no doubt, though, that the audience enjoyed the show. Don’t Stop Singing was an impressive performance and a wonderful achievement.
Don’t Stop Singing was released on Island Records Nov 2011