THEA GILMORE – Don’t Stop Singing – ISLAND/MIGHTY VILLAGE

I’m always a little wary about the posthumous raking over of an artist’s work. Sandy Denny has been well served by compilations and archive tapes over the years but even here there were some tracks that I do feel would have been better left unheard – mostly because of recording quality rather than any deficiencies on Sandy’s part, I hasten to say.

Thea Gilmore has previous, too, and I am torn over her interpretation of John Wesley Harding but Don’t Stop Singing is rather different.

It comprises ten lyrics which were discovered among Sandy’s personal papers and which, after a tortuous process, were offered to Thea to score and record. Her voice has the warmth of Sandy’s without the fragility and it suits the songs well. The opening track, ‘Glistening Bay’, is a big ballad, richly orchestrated but I can’t help thinking that this isn’t the tune that Sandy would have written. The title track brings to mind the old rock songs that Sandy used to do, songs like ‘Let’s Jump The Broomstick’, and with ‘Frozen Time’ Thea has absolutely nailed the soul of the song. Again, the orchestrations are lush but you can visualise Sandy at the piano as you can with the lovely ‘Goodnight’.

‘London’ is a very different song, the sort of folk-pop that Sandy brought to Fairport during her latter days with the band, but in the main Thea has chosen the more emotional lyrics like ‘Pain In My Heart’ and ‘Long Time Gone’ and there is a great sense of insecurity and loneliness in these songs. The final selection, ‘Georgia’, teasingly quotes Hoagy Carmichael’s tune in Sandy’s lullaby for her daughter.

Musically, this is very much a 21st century interpretation of the songs. Production is by Nigel Stonier who collaborated on the music and is a major part of the band. John and Benji Kirkpatrick, Maclaine Colston and Kellie While also feature and the strings are arranged by Donald Grant who also leads the orchestra. If I have a criticism, it is that the strings are sometimes too much and although Sandy herself used similar arrangements she kept them in balance, at least until Rendezvous. That said, as an interpretation of Sandy’s words, this is an astounding album.

Dai Jeffries

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THEA GILMORE – Don’t Stop Singing

The prolific and ever-talented Thea Gilmore has announced details of a unique new collaborative album, ‘Don’t Stop Singing’Released on November 7 via Island Records & Mighty Village, the record brings together Gilmore’s songwriting and arrangements with previously un-scored lyrics penned by folk legend Sandy Denny. The seeds for this extraordinary project were planted, albeit somewhat inadvertently, twelve years ago, when a Denny biographer unearthed a collection of unscored lyric manuscripts amongst Denny’s personal effects (held in Australia by the Fairport Convention singer’s widower, Trevor Lucas). These ‘lost’ manuscripts continued to lie essentially dormant until late 2007, when Denny’s home label – Island Records – and the custodians of her estate began combing through her correspondence, as part of a BBC project. In doing so, they found the lyrics to twenty brand new and never-heard-before songs. Denny’s estate, willing them to reach a public audience, set about the unenviable task of trying to find the right artist to flesh out these words with music.

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Perhaps unsurprisingly, a name which frequently came up in discussions was that of Thea Gilmore. Beyond the frequent and favourable comparisons that have been made between the crystalline vocals of Gilmore and her predecessor, there seemed to be a strong resonance of Denny’s legacy in Thea’s work. Bizarrely, it was as an intern at Fairport Convention’s Oxfordshire studios that a young Gilmore’s burgeoning career began. Here has followed a vehemently independent and prolific output, which has thus far seen Thea release ten critically-acclaimed studio albums in as many years (she is barely 30), and acquire fans such as Bruce Springsteen and Joan Baez. Gilmore, though understandably daunted by the task of agreeing to make an album that was in some senses already written, agreed to take up the challenge.

‘Don’t Stop Singing’ is no mere exercise in hero-worship on Gilmore’s part. Thea has crafted an elegant, emotional score to accompany Denny’s unfinished songs, which effortlessly reflects the content of Sandy’s words, and shines new light on both artists involved. This is perhaps best demonstrated on the gorgeous, string-led opener, ‘Glistening Bay’, where the wistful wish to return to a far-off city acquires an emotional new resonance. And though this is a fundamentally tender record, it is not without colour: see the upbeat folk-pop of ‘London’, which features the accordion playing of John Kirkpatrick (a contributor on original Denny recordings).

Whilst the record certainly has Thea’s stamp on it, there is no mistaking the talent and unflinchingly personal narrative of Denny. This is a collection sewn together in equal parts by Denny’s awe of the natural world, the experiences of her marriage to Lucas and her well-documented personal battles. ‘Pain in My Heart’, for instance, details a conflict of love and fidelity, and even references occasions of stage fright. One of the album’s most poignant moments, ‘Long Time Gone’, portrays an artist ill at ease with travel, separation, and herself: “I’m in such a terrible state, and my city’s just like me / I can’t afford to live in this place / And I can’t afford to leave.”

And yet despite Denny’s lyrical demons, the title track of ‘Don’t Stop Singing’ proves to be prophetic: this is a record that points to the enduring value of artistry, made – in extraordinary circumstances – by two extreme talents. Says Thea-

“I can’t remember a time in my life where I didn’t know at least one Sandy Denny song. Growing up the 80s, in an impossibly rural corner of Oxfordshire, she was one of the voices who filtered through from my father’s record collection, and ‘Late November’, ‘Fotheringay’ and ‘Next Time Around’ were as embedded in my psyche as surely as the delights of Bros and New Kids On The Block were thrilling my alleged peers…

As I moved further away from my beginnings and as the world moved further away from 1978, Sandy began to assume the proportions of a reference point, a fountainhead even, for any girl who wanted to sing and write and who didn’t wish they’d been born American.

Who knows how she would have developed these fragments, poems, words without tunes, had she lived longer? I was pleased to be asked, by those who survived her and those who continue to curate her work, to develop them, pleased when the words began to carry me somewhere and to suggest places that they and I could go together, and pleased when musicians who knew her and worked with her gave me encouragement, urged me to make this record.

Would Sandy have liked to see these songs being finished by me and released to the world? I hope so, but I will never know and neither will you. I see some of her contemporaries receiving posthumous garlands, being lauded by new generations of listeners, and I wish the same on Sandy’s beautiful timeless music. If you are reading this and don’t own a Sandy Denny album, consider yourself urged to go buy one.

And hey, in the end, who cares where the time goes, the music stays.”

Artist Web Link: http://www.theagilmore.net/