Defiant, dextrous and determined

Thea Gilmore
Thea Gilmore
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In a world of self-trumpeting, tireless promotions and hype, Thea Gilmore is a breath of fresh air.

For more than a decade, the Oxford-raised singer songwriter has been wooing the music industry with her sharp lyrics, astute observations and musical craft.

Bruce Springsteen loves her, she’s been hailed as one of Oxford’s greatest cultural exports – alongside Radiohead and Supergrass – and she’s resisted offers from the five major record labels.

Yet, still, Thea Gilmore is not quite a household name. The reason being: she refuses to ‘fit in’ with the flowery image of the female artist.

“It’s an awful fact but the majority of the record-buying public are men and blokes are often more comfortable hearing men sing songs about politics. Many women singer songwriters consequently make themselves ‘attractive’ in all respects and this includes sounding flowery and pretty and singing about feminine things like relationships – there tends to be a lot of relationship stuff in songs by women.”

Gilmore’s determined resistance to this female stereotype and retention of integrity is why she’s turned down offers from the big record companies.

“It’s very difficult going your own way but it would also be very difficult for me if I had to conform. I don’t like being told what to do. If I think something’s right I’ll do it. Being independent and staying small is a difficult path as I don’t have financial assistance but that’s okay. There are people out there though who just want the money and they are more common than you’d think.”

Success, according to Gilmore, shouldn’t be the goal of what someone is doing, it should be incidental.

But success has come to Gilmore – as documented in the music sections of serious newspapers, Radio 4 and MOJO magazine.

Gilmore started writing songs at the age of 15 as a way to ease her through her parents’ divorce. She released her first album at 18 and hasn’t stopped since. In 2011 she released a record called Don’t Stop Singing, for which she recorded unreleased writings by folk rock singer and Fairport Convention frontwoman Sandy Denny.

But Gilmore’s affection for folk and Fairport runs deeper than her 20111 record. Gilmore did her work experience placement at Fairport’s Oxfordshire studio when she was a teenager.

“I was brought up in the folk world in Oxford and it’s there where Fairport Convention have their annual festival.”

This upbringing is mirrored in Gilmore’s phrasing, which is inspired by the lyrical and phrasing arrangements on traditional folk songs. Her Amazing Floating Man sounds as if it were written in the 16th-century: “Gather one, gather old, it’s a sight to behold,” she sings.

“I just write it in that style,” says Gilmore, modestly.

Now 33, Gilmore has been writing songs for almost 20 years. But her style has evolved with her. Now a mother of two and a wife – married to her producer, Nigel Stonier – her lyrical themes are different to those when she was still at school.

“It’s like anything, as you grow older you change. Your outlook on life changes and the way you deal with people changes.”

But one thing that doesn’t change, is Gilmore’s commitment to song.

Thea Gilmore plays at City Hall on Sunday, July 7.