By Graham Chalmers
It’s always encouraging when a musician rises from semi-obscurity into the limelight by dint of hard work and talent rather than a good PR team.
It’s currently happening to Chantel McGregor, who used to be seen playing Harrogate’s tiny spiritual home of live music, the Blues Bar, and it happened a while back on BBC Radio 2 playlisted Thea Gilmore.
The Oxford-born singer-songwriter arrives at Harrogate Theatre on Sunday, June 1 with her critically-acclaimed brand of well-crafted and insightful folk-rock.
Since her debut album in 1998, Gilmore has blazed a fiercely independent trail, earning admiration from artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Joan Baez and Martha Wainwright.
No overnight success, Thea’s most recent album, Regardless, became her first to hit the UK Top 40, a triumph of stealth rather than marketing.
In fact, Regardless is Gilmore’s 14th album and finds her journeying into new territory with long-standing musical partner/producer Nigel Stonier.
The recording included spending over nine months in a total of five different studios, hooking up with collaborators Seadna Mac Phail (Elbow) Danish producers The Suppliers (Ron Sexsmith, Martha Wainwright) and string arranger Pete Whitfield (Plan B).
Bigger and glossier, perhaps, but with the hallmarks of Gilmore’s best work – glass-sharp lyrics, dark humour, melodies that refuse to leave you and that haunting smoky voice that sets her work apart.
It’s an impressive step forward for an artist whose career was nearly finished for good by a series of traumas in 2011 triggered by a serious complications round the birth of her son. So bad was it, in fact, Thea suffered a period of physical illness followed by post natal depression.
Not that she likes to make a big deal about it.
Thea said: “I once had a conversation with a friend about a female artist who had had kids. She thought the album she released subsequently sounded as if she thought she was the only woman ever to go through the birth experience. I never wanted Regardless to come across like that.
“For me, these are songs about being the custodian of somebody, but also about the process of letting go.”
It’s all a long way from Gilmore’s first album, Burning Dorothy, which was released when she was just 19. For a start, she now takes the children on the road, too.
Thea said: “Like any working parent, it’s a balancing act. I feel very lucky that I can do both, but there’s always a lot of guilt involved.
“My older son grew up thinking that hanging out with Mike Scott and Bruce Springsteen and spending weeks on a tourbus going round the US was just a routine pre-school experience.”
Thea Gilmore plays Harrogate Theatre on Sunday, June 1.
For tickets call 01423 502116 or book online at www.harrogatetheatre.co.uk