A musical Counterweight to ugly politics
Your songs have always had a social conscience, but the new album feels like it’s taking things a step further. Is it your most political album yet?
My 2004 album Avalanche also had a definite political edge, and the new album feels like its older, slightly
more well-reasoned sister. I wrote it in 2016 and the world really did shift that year – from the atrocity in Orlando, to Brexit, to the murder of [British MP] Jo Cox – and that all just poured into the songs. I didn’t set out deliberately to make a statement, but if you’re an artist you need to be aware of and reflect what’s going on. And last year there was an awful lot to reflect.
Do artists have a responsibility to tackle these issues?
Anyone with a public platform has a massive responsibility. I get people saying to me ‘stop making your music political’, but everything is political. I’m not talking about party politics, but about building a sense of society and community, which is inherently political. We also have a responsibility to tell the truth; there’s so little truth out there right now.
Rather than despair at the political situation, the new songs seem to be about standing firm and finding hope in difficult times.
I think that’s a product of getting older. There is a part of being in your late teens and early twenties that quite revels in disaster and enjoys writing about it; but you don’t feel that as you get older – at least, I certainly don’t! I mean, you look at kids, whether they’re your own or someone else’s, and think: ‘this is a generation that we have to look after’. So shining a light in the darkness feels like the best thing to do right now.
Does music have a special role to play here?
Definitely. Live music can create this deep sense of connection and community. The first time I played one of the new songs was in my hometown – I played the last song on the album, ‘The War’. I don’t thing I’ve ever had a reaction like it; I’ve never had a standing ovation in the middle of a gig before. They weren’t standing up for me, or even really for the song, but because of what it talked about. It spoke of pulling people together, about Jo Cox, about Orlando – the audience was making a statement about how they felt about those issues, and it was the most incredible moment. I’d never cried on stage before! But that time I did.
So there’s definitely a demand for music that reflects these issues?
Yes, and half the audience was from my hometown (which is really a Tory town), while half had travelled from elsewhere and were probably more left-of-centre. But there was still this shared, collective desire to connect and move through bad times and it was extraordinary.
What gives you hope for the future?
I really do feel that most people are fundamentally good. If you look at people’s response to tragedy, how people unite in times of true hardship, you can see that. I’m one of the most sceptical, if not cynical, people in the world so if even I can say that, then it must be true! I also look at the younger generation and I feel great hope – I can see the seeds of change in them as well. So there’s a lot of potential to change this mess, but we’re going to have to work very hard at it.
Thea Gilmore’s new album The Counterweight is available now.
Danny Chivers is a writer, campaigner, performance poet and author of two NoNonsense guides for New Internationalist: Climate Change and Renewable Energy.