Thea Gilmore ‘John Wesley Harding’ Album-Out May 23rd
In celebration of Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday, Thea Gilmore will release a new album, a recording of Dylan’s acclaimed John Wesley Harding, on May 23rd through Fulfill Records. The album’s release will be supported with a headline show at London’s Union Chapel on Tuesday, May 23rd, the day of Dylan’s birthday. Says Thea… I’ve always thought that, whilst clearly other Dylan albums may have more ‘famous’ and ‘iconic’ songs, and more of those moments that are alleged to have changed music forever, JWH is his most sustained, satisfying record. It runs beautifully from start to finish, songs bounce off each other, characters seemed unfathomably but implicitly linked, and the sense of earthiness and economy in Bob’s lyrics is startling. As a singer I also find it chock full of melodies I love to wrap my voice around, and stories I enjoy passing on. Now Bob and I seem to have approached recording this album similarly.
We both recorded “I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine” first. But one key difference is that Bob then left it around an hour, I gather, before moving onto the next track (”Drifter’s Escape” I think), whereas I left it 9 years. See, in 2002 I had been invited to contribute a track to a CD of Dylan covers featured on a national music magazine. I had intended to record “What Was It You Wanted”, but late the night before the session my producer and I were still sifting through albums and we suddenly changed our minds. A quick call the next morning confirmed that no-one else had bagged “St Augustine”, so away we went. With the mighty Robbie McIntosh (of Pretenders, Paul McCartney fame) on guitar using a tape echo which was on the edge of breakdown throughout the whole day, Paul Beavis on drums and Nigel Stonier on bass, we recorded “St Augustine” live in a Cheshire studio in about five hours. Longer than Bob took but I blame technology for this sort of thing. And it could have all stopped there. In fact things did sort of stop there… except that track somehow never left me. The magazine concerned received it gratefully and were kind enough to praise it; once it was out in the world my audiences kept telling me they loved it and requesting it – unluckily I was mostly doing acoustic shows that year and so the band was never there to play it. So the crowds seldom got their requests answered. But over the months, then the years, e-mails continued to come in from all over the world about the track. One journalist in the US told me he had spent 30 years collecting thousands of Dylan covers and it was in his top five. And when in 2008 I met Bruce Springsteen, who most graciously had been in print as a fan of my work for some years, he told me – in around the third sentence he uttered to me – “Man, that St Augustine, it’s one of the great Dylan covers”. I may have blushed, I can’t remember… The message seemed clear… that day in Cheadle Hulme we had got something right. In fact we all felt with the benefit of hindsight that some magic had been in the room. Around 2009 I started playing “I Pity The Poor Immigrant” in my live shows, and heard at least one version of “As I Went Out One Morning:” that made me want to cover the song. And when I was invited to take part in a 70th birthday tribute to Bob at Celtic Connections in Glasgow this January, and realized that the honoured three-score-year-and-ten moment was due to fall this coming May, I decided I had to do something. Can one -should one – attempt to re-record, re-interpret, a 40 year old, somewhat legendary piece of work, a piece of work which could be argued to be inseparable from its author? Probably not. So… Nigel called Paul Beavis and Robbie McIntosh – neither of whom we had worked with for some six years – in the first week of 2011.
Both were mad keen to work on the project. And miraculously, both were free at the only point – early February – where we could realistically record. The Chapel in Lincolnshire is one of my favourite studios – I’ve recorded four albums there, it’s one of the ultimate get-it-together-in-the-country places. Anyway the merry band convened on February 7th, and by the early hours of February 15th we had recorded and mixed eleven tracks. Needless to say – to anyone that knows us – there were no rehearsals: on at least two of the tracks you can hear, I think, that none of us had any idea how we were going to finish the song in question, but somehow the vibe from back in 2002 still felt present right away. Nigel had keys and loose arrangements… albeit mostly in his head. Paul immediately slipped into top gear and reminded me he is without exception the most empathetic, singer-friendly drummer I know. And Robbie began to produce magic phrases, here a snarling choppy rhythm, there a lyrical high ripple. Every day Nigel drove the session till around three in the morning. My four year old son slipped in and out of the control room to keep us updated with his opinions; our great mate Tracy Browne drove all the way over from Manchester, initially just to support and cook wonderful food for us every day, though eventually she was thrown into the fray herself to contribute some beautiful backing vocals. Do I want, at this point, to elaborate on how I find the myths, the dramatis personae of these songs, the hovering whispers of Old Testament morals, the howls of despair and elation from outcast souls so affecting? No I do not. In February 2011 we took seven days out of our lives and recorded “John Wesley Harding”. There really seemed nothing else we could do. The Album will be released on May 23rd 2011.