Tooting Tram & Social, Tooting, South London
The splendidly named Tooting Tram & Social was an almost accidental host for this gig. Thea had struggled to find a venue for her London Christmas show, more usually held at the Half Moon in Putney, and when she finally secured The Sound Lounge on Tooting Road it promptly closed down leaving her to seek a last minute replacement. This worked to her advantage because the Tooting Tram & Social turned out to be a great space, a disused tram shed with white tiled walls, huge ceilings, a bar down one side of the main area, a raised seating section down the other and a small, low-ceilinged stage at the end opposite the door. Tricked up for Christmas with decorations and huge chandeliers it looked a treat.
Nigel Stonier, Thea’s right hand man in music and life, opened proceedings with a few solo numbers. He’s a very fine songwriter and built a relaxed rapport with the early attendees. Even so he lacks the crucial extra factor which would make him a headliner in his own right rather than a much valued producer, arranger and song writer for others. His set made no concessions to the festive season and I would have liked to hear a couple of his older classics (there was no Josef’s Train or Me and St Jude) but there’s only so much material you can cover in half an hour.
Nigel promised us he would be back for Thea’s set but when Thea took to the stage she did so alone except for an acoustic guitar to deliver a gorgeously breathy take on Yoko Ono’s Listen the Snow is Falling to a hushed audience. What followed was a mix of songs from her Christmas album Strange Communion and Yuletide standards from God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen to Run, Run Rudolph. I can’t remember the last time I saw Thea play a London gig which didn’t include the song London from her album of new music put to rediscovered Sandy Denny lyrics, and tonight it was the sole non-Festive contribution to the set. Sol Invictus sounded better than I have ever heard it, but as always at these shows the highlights were December in New York, possibly my favourite song of hers, and the gentle singalong of Old December. ‘You like the miserable ones,’ Thea observed to the room in general, though she could have been addressing me specifically.
It was a pleasure to hear Thea in stripped-back acoustic form, very different from her more recent albums. Apart from Nigel on guitar she was joined by Liz Hanks on cello (fresh from touring with Liam Gallagher), Fluff on fiddle, viola, whistling, shaky percussion thing and everything else, and Thea and Nigel’s 11 year old son Egan on additional fiddle for several songs. When Egan left the stage to loud applause after his first contributions Thea said, ‘Don’t worry, he’ll be back.’ ‘I’ll be back!’ he shouted from the door to backstage. ‘Oh to be 11 and everything you say is funny’ replied mum, who had the advantage of the mic. From our spot at the front to the side of the stage we could see younger son Asher too, but he was more interested in playing with his game and rolling around the floor than joining in with the family show.
It’s a standard part of Nigel’s opening set stage patter to ask who has been to a Thea show before, and tonight as usual he got loud agreement from the crowd that most of us had. That’s the sort of command she has over fans like me, who are loyal and enduring; there were a lot of faces I recognised in the tram shed. When Nige flipped things to ask who hadn’t seen Thea before there were cheers from a couple of tables. It’s a fair bet that they’ll be back next time she’s in town. There can be few more consistently excellent singer-songwriters at work in Britain today and the trouble to travel from Essex to Tooting was well rewarded.
I recognised a lot of them and dare say I’ll see many of them again, though I don’t think I’ve seen the young woman in the drummer girl outfit before and in that get up she certainly stood out (and looked great).
It made me think..
It isn’t Christmas without a Thea gig, and she gets bonus points for winding up her set at 10:20 so I could be home in darkest Essex by midnight.