Sandi Thom’s internet meltdown last year was, I guess, resonant of the frustration that many talented performers have with their industry, particularly where they may have served their time doing the circuit in the old-fashioned way only to see some lesser-talented, or even talentless, entertainer succeed after being showcased on one of TV’s rapid-rise-to-fame X-crable talent competitions. But not all who fail to hit the Radio 2 playlist react in the way that Thom did. Some just keep on going; doing what keeps them going in fact.
Thea Gilmore, a favourite of mine, seems to do just that. Last November I undertook a 600-mile round trip to see her in my childhood hometown, Kendal, thinking that no-one would have journeyed further for the concert. In fact a group had travelled down from as far away as Orkney, so after at least 15 albums and 13 never-quite-made-it-to-the-top singles, she clearly retains a committed fan base and keeps on writing songs and touring even when, as on this occasion, she doesn’t have an album to promote.
Her set was exceptionally well received by the local audience. That surprised me as in my youth Kendal audiences would usually sit tight-lipped with arms folded, assuming a posture that spoke volumes: “Ah’ve bluddy well paid to see yer, so bluddy well entertain me!”. At that time Kendal still seemed to adhere to the TV historian David Starkey’s description that it was a right tight little northern town where, if you couldn’t trace your forebears locally for several generations, you were viewed as a dangerous outsider! So I’m pleased to say that it seems to have changed since then, even though in a certain Steven Hall (a Britain’s Got Talent finalist) it has generated the sort of X-crable ‘celebrity’ that would make most unsung talents weep, never mind Sandi Thom.
Anyway, back to Thea Gilmore …
Seemingly, as audiences go we were better in Kendal than at Wimborne! Mostly, I think, because the room erupted with cheers when asked whether we were interested in a song about s-e-x (clearly Kendalians don’t get out much). This obviously pleased Thea as she recounted the fact that such a comment was met with relative silence in Dorset. Apparently she could do no right at her gig in Wimborne, whose audience would ostensibly have preferred a humourless and tuneless recital and to not have to cope with her breaking occasionally to re-tune her guitar or add a risqué comment. And that got me thinking – we must all have, or surely will have, a Wimborne moment; a time when your skills and humour are simply not appreciated to the full.
As an ex-pat Kendalian it is perhaps no surprise that one of my own Wimborne moments relates to Kendal itself. I once sent a short, well-crafted, self-deprecating and, I thought, humorous letter to its local weekly rag, the Westmorland Gazette. Unfortunately, it was edited before publication to the extent that any semblance of humour was removed and the sense of self-deprecation was transformed into one of apparent pomposity. This was all because the opening line contained the s-e-x word, so it had to be got rid of. That, in turn, meant the last line was meaningless, so they got rid of it as well thus completing a malign transformation that made its author look a bit of a plonker. Given Wimborne’s response to Thea’s humorous mention of s-e-x, it strikes me that the feckless illiterati of the Wezzy Gezzy’s editorial team would be well at home in Dorset:
I wrote you a letter and yet
It was odds-on, or so I would bet,
That its sense would be changed
By the oh-so-deranged
Illiterates that edit the Gazette!
Postscript: Much to my displeasure, my letter (as edited) was included in a publication of the Kendal Civic Society on a look back at the town over the preceding fifty years. Even more to my displeasure, my mum bought me a copy for Christmas. Aaaaaghhh!