Midweek gigs, don’t you just love ‘em? I’ve had my fill of these over the many years that I’ve been covering shows for my website and they seem to follow the same pattern;
1. Arrive at the venue slightly early
2. Meet the act/band
3. Have a chat
4. Get a drink
5. Shoot the breeze with the merch staff
6. Wait for showtime
7. Cringe due to the fact that inside the 450 capacity there are about 65 people
8. Clap louder than usual after each song to make up for the lack of punters
9. Leave the show and go home
10. Rinse and repeat
Every now and then, something amazing happens, sometimes, not very often, you get to the venue slightly early (see step 1 above) and rather than being able to enter the building, you have to queue, yes folks, queue….on a weeknight, I know, how crazy is that? The reason I had to queue to get in? Two lovely ladies known as Ward Thomas were performing at the venue and there were a LOT of people there, a LOT!
Not wanting to appear rude, I waited in line for a good ten minutes, met a couple of friends who had been lucky enough to get tickets whilst they still could and slowly filtered in. Once inside, I met up with Matt & Shaun who were on photography duties during the show for me, shot the breeze and generally caught up on the gossip.
The auditorium was nearly full by the time we got in, we shuffled to our side of stage vantage point and prepped our gear, not holding out much hope in getting to the front of the stage owing to a healthy throng of fans who had been queueing outside for some hours in order to get a great view of the forthcoming performance.
Just before 8pm, the lights dimmed and the opening act took to the stage. Sarah Darling hails from Des Moines (Iowa) but has been Nashville based for some years now and she was really excited about being here, supporting Ward Thomas. She sang of dreams, she sang of stars, she sang of romance and simple, uncomplicated times. Her honey tinged vocals accentuated with the addition of two acoustic guitars and nothing else and this was more than enough to hold a room full of people captivated, hanging onto every note played, every word sung.
Accompanied by UK guitarist Dean Roberts, they made light work of their 30 minute set and from the reception they received, clearly won over a bucket load of new fans in the process. She was a joy to be in the company of and her in between banter told us a little of her background and from this, I learned that her new album ‘Dream Country’ is due out in the Spring of 2017, certainly something to mark on the calendar! We chatted to Sarah after her set and she was SO nice, happy to pose for pictures and talk about Nashville and her music, her influences and even agreed to doing an interview with us in the near future so please keep your eyes peeled for that in the not too distant future.
The room thinned slightly as the stage was prepped for the arrival of Catherine and Lizzy (aka Ward Thomas), by the looks of things, it wasn’t going to be possible to get a very strong vantage point for photos as the room was literally at bursting point!
For anyone NOT aware of who Ward Thomas are, here's a 30 second recap - Back in June, their second album ‘Cartwheels’ was announced and scheduled for a September release. Lead single ‘Carry You Home’ was released in June and received massive support (championed by the ever influential ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris), followed by second single ‘Guilty Flowers’, both being added to the Radio 2 playlist and garnering huge interest both in the UK and across the pond. Tonight saw the finale of a 16-date UK tour that followed the album release which reached number 1 in the UK Albums Chart, making Ward Thomas the first UK country act to top the charts and officially making them the most successful UK country act to date.
They strode on stage with their backing band and launched into ‘Good On You’, the ladies harmonising perfectly with the audience stood in silence, the sound of my pen on paper threatening to spoil the atmosphere. ‘Boomerang’, lifted from their latest long player changed the mood and the audience were happy to bob about, hands in the air as the ladies lead the charge from the front of the stage.
The last time I saw Ward Thomas in Exeter, they were joined by Dan (guitarist) and a drummer, this time, they came mob handed, with Catherine and Lizzy, they were a formidable six piece, the sound richer, more rounded, more complete, not for one moment am I insinuating that they lacked anything a couple of years ago, I guess I’m trying to get across the point that their sound has evolved so much more as their songwriting skills have progressed.
They took the room right back to the start with ’The Good and the Right’ which was the first track they ever released and was picked up by Radio 1 who played it on heavy rotation saying that it was “the coolest track ever written’. ‘Guilty Flowers’ followed, sounding better live than it did on the radio with the room really getting behind the ladies to make it one of the highlights of the set.
Another highlight for me was ‘Proof’ which saw Dan take to the Ukulele, this man is SO talented, he literally turns his hand to any stringed instrument and makes it sing (don’t you just hate Dan? - only joking, he’s one of the nicest musicians I have ever met!)
The band left the stage for a short break and after what seemed like an eternity (2-3 minutes tops) they took to the stage once again for the final tracks of the evening.
‘Carry You Home’ saw the audience literally jumping, from the opening lines through to the super catchy chorus, they were in raptures, this has to be one of THE tracks of 2016 from any genre and the level of applause at the end demonstrated the love that this room had for the ladies.
By the time they launched into ’Town Called Ugley’, the room was on fire, the upbeat nature of the song really raised the roof and the stunning guitar work from Dan just sealed the deal for me.
They played a great mix of new and old tracks, keeping the capacity audience engaged throughout the set and leaving them wanting much much more, I dare say that judging by the amount of people crammed into the main auditorium at The Phoenix, this may very well be the last time they played here, luckily for the residents of Exeter, there are many larger venues in the city that will be able to host them in the future!
I was somewhat surprised to see that Catherine and Lizzy left the stage and headed straight to the merchandise table where they were more than happy to sign autographs, pose for photos and chat to the myriad of fans that had engulfed the table. For us, it’s great to watch a band come from humble beginnings and through hard work, extreme dedication and raw talent, carve their own path in the business that we know as ‘Show’! I applaud the ladies for what they have achieved so far in a relatively short space of time and we will always be keen to see what they have in store for us in the future, here’s to an amazingly successful 2016 and what is looking to be an equally strong year in 2017!