Imagine the scene, I am sat at my desk, wading through the backlog of emails that had amassed in my inbox and I stumbled upon one from a PR company offering me the chance to attend a show in Exeter, he went on to tell me it was an act that have been receiving some great airplay on Radio 2 and recently appeared on BBC Breakfast, ITV This Morning and even did a live session with the one and only ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris. He went on to tell me that the act was a Hampshire based set of female twins called Ward Thomas, we were there….
We had arranged to meet up with Catherine and Lizzy Ward Thomas at the Exeter Phoenix Arts Centre prior to the show to have a quick chat, take some pictures and pass the time until they were to grace the stage. I was given a phone number to call when I arrived at the venue, imagine my surprise when Catherine answered the phone (not a burly, pony-tailed manager as I had imagined it would be), they were half way through dinner so we arranged to get together shortly before ‘curtains up’.
We were invited into the ‘green room’ which was quite ironic as it was painted a dark red colour, to chat to the ladies about their successful debut album and recent trip to Nashville (the full interview will be available in our Introducing section in a few days’ time).
8pm came and Jess Roberts and Dan Gordon (Guitar) took to the stage, Jess is a singer songwriter from Lancashire who cites her influences as Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton, Dixie Chicks & LaVern Baker.
She performed a couple of her self-penned tracks (Rose Coloured Glasses & What You Never Had) and even managed to slip in a wonderful cover version of Patsy Cline’s ‘Walking After Midnight’ which was very well received.
Jess sung beautifully, you could literally hear a pin drop whilst she floated through every track, every word being sung from her heart, effortlessly drifting into the audiences sub-conscious. It would have been good to hear more from Jess and I look forward to hearinger her new EP ‘There’s an Old Saying’ is available now from iTunes and Amazon. Keep upto date with Jess’s whereabouts and happenings at her Twitter page.
After a brief intermission, it was time for seats to be taken in readiness for the arrival of Ward Thomas. They took to the stage to rapturous applause alongside Dave Baker (Drums/Percussion) and Dan Gordon (guitar/Mando-Guitar)) and burst straight into a cappella version of Loretta Lynn’s “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)”, which was a brilliant way to showcase their superb harmony skills.
After the opening track, they launched straight into one of the strongest tracks on their debut album ‘The Good & The Right’.
They strode through ‘Footnotes’ and then played the track that I have heard so many times on Radio 2 over the past few weeks ‘Push for the Stride’ which cajoled everyone into clapping along, creating a great atmosphere. Amongst the tracks lifted from their album, they played a cover version of George Ezra’s ‘Budapest’ which sounded so different in their country styling, it certainly added a positive slant to the song that I had not heard before.
Their ‘between song banter’ was amusing, it wasn’t meant to be, it just ended up that way with Catherine thanking the audience, Lizzy then interjecting with a story about the next track, then Catherine disagreeing with her and eventually turning the whole thing into a very comical on stage bun fight which was enjoyed by all. It was before they played a song midway through the set, that Catherine had started to announce another track that they had written in Paris/was about Paris or had a certain Parisienne theme about it, I can’t say anyone found out for sure, either way, it wasn’t the track that was next on the agenda and as a result, Catherine blamed the size of the writing on the setlist and not having her glasses on to be able to read the words properly so had got confused….ironically, the track was called ‘Go To Plan’ and after much chortling and apologising, they cracked on and nailed it perfectly. I think the track that was based on/sounded a bit Parisienne was ‘Cartwheels’ but by this stage, my frantic note taking had taken a turn for the worse and I had all but given up on trying to untangle the web of comedy that was unfolding in-between songs.
They ended their set with two great tracks, ‘Guest List’ which they explained was all about a ‘larger than life’ character from their hometown known as ‘Irish’ who lit up the room wherever he went and finally the closing track from their album ‘A Town Called Ugley’ where they admit they got lost and spent two hours driving around (the town of Ugley in Essex), passing buildings such as the ‘Ugley Women’s Institute’ and the ‘Ugley Parish Council’ buildings.
After this, they left the stage to rapturous applause, half knowing that despite there not being an encore penned at the bottom of the setlist (we had a sneaky peek before the show!) they would be back to entertain the crowd for a short spell with at least one more song. They did just that and came back out to sing a beautiful track that was dedicated to their mother, the name of the song escapes me and I will remember it, one day. Whatever it was called, it was a beautiful track, sang from the heart about how they repeat things that she had said in the past and how they feel that she is a large part of how they have turned out, such a beautiful ending to a wonderful evening.
So where do the ladies go from here? Well, having appeared on national TV, becoming part of Radio 2’s ‘A’ Playlist and recording a live session and interview with the one and only ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris (which can be heard on his show on August 14th), I feel that they have more than enough ammunition to stir the UK masses into finally start to take country music seriously.
If you get the chance to go see them on their current tour, please do, as you’ll be in for a great evening of music, unplanned comedy and some great stories from two of the most talented ladies of the UK country music scene. Ward Thomas, here’s to the future!
Review by Steve Muscutt
Photographs by Julian Baird