Ward Thomas, O2 Institute, Birmingham 01/04/2019 Live Review
Just a few weeks ago at C2C Ward Thomas were awarded the prestigious CMA Jeff Walker Global Artist Award, a hugely prominent award that recognises artists who have outstanding achievements in Country Music signed outside of the USA. They are only the second ever U.K. act to be given this award.
On Monday I went along to their gig at the O2 Institute in Birmingham to see what all the fuss is about!
First on the stage supporting the girls were the phenomenal Wandering Hearts. I’m a huge fan of theirs and delighted to hear they were playing alongside Ward Thomas. I was surprised to hear so many people in the audience who hadn’t heard of The Wandering Hearts, but I guess it just goes to show how Country Music is really spreading into the “mainstream” (Ward Thomas get a lot of radio air play and the crowd was clearly not your average hardcore Country Music fans.)
The newly evolved 3 piece opened the night with the punchy ‘Fire and Water’ and they showed just how full of a sound a few people can make, with the right mix of instruments and vocal arrangements. They then treated us to a few recognisable tracks from their new deluxe version of their album ‘Wild Silence’ before finishing their set with the stunning ‘Devil’ which was the perfect song to get the crowd going for Ward Thomas.
Watching them perform was like they were just rehearsing in their garage, they barely even noticed the crowd in front of them; even forgetting to announce who they were until a few songs in! But this didn’t matter as they filled the room with glorious harmonies, and lyrics that could touch the heart of every single person in the room.
Ward Thomas opened with their first single from the new album, ‘Lie Like Me’. Delivering a snappy and polished performance, having the support of the band behind them meant Catherine and Lizzy could focus on their signature vocal harmonies and really engage with the crowd in their performance, something I’m not sure I’ve seen before. They moved straight into fan favourite ‘Guilty Flowers’ and continued the high energy with ‘Same Love’.
The whole gig was brought down a notch as the twins got back to what I think they do best, just them and a guitar (with a bit of keys thrown in for good measure) to perform acoustic versions of ‘Hopeless’ and ‘Little Girl Sorrow’, the latter being one of my favourite tracks off the new album, and it was stunning to see and hear it sung this way. They have incredibly expressive voices and have the ability to draw you in to every word they sing. Old favourite ‘Cartwheels’ followed before the band joined them again on stage for ‘Ain’t That Easy’ and ‘One More Goodbye’, I could have happily listened to more tracks sung acoustically with just the girls. Whilst there was nothing wrong with the performance with the band, I think they really come into their own when there is just the two of them on stage.
Having seen the girls perform a number of times over the past few years, one thing is certain, they’ve grown as performers and this was never more evident as they kicked into ‘I Believe In You’ inviting the crowd to singalong (inevitable foot stomping and clapping followed, which nearly drowned them out!) it’s a great, feel good song and it was awesome to see the girls bouncing around on stage, clearly having the time of their lives.
After a quieter moment with ‘Its Not Just Me’ the girls launched themselves headfirst into a mashup of ‘The Good and The Right’, ‘Town Called Ugley’ and ‘Push The Stride’ this is where I noticed how much the girls really stretch themselves into a variety of different genres, as these songs have a very old school rock and roll feel and got many people dancing and bopping along.
The set was finished with the latest single from their new album ‘Restless Minds’, ‘No Filter’ and it was nice to hear the story behind where this track came from; which helps immensely for people to really connect with the song.
The crowd went wild as the girls left the stage with their band, and when they returned for their encore (I shall discuss my opinions with encores in another post!) they even said it’s the first time they’ve ever had s foot stomping reaction to wanting them back on stage.
The encore started with a mini Ashley McBryde moment as the room slowly started glittering with flashlights as they sung the beautiful song ‘This Too Will Pass’, and were genuinely humbled as the crowd were hanging on every word.
They then launched into their final song ‘Carry You Home’, this has become a bit of an anthem for the pair, and every single person in the room was singing along. Credit has to go to Catherine at this point as the rather enthusiastic crowd were clapping along very much out of time, but as true professionals the girls plowed on and didn’t let this put them off!
They cross over so many different genres, but I think this is exactly what’s making them so successful; they appeal to a huge range of tastes and styles, they’re not compartmentalising themselves in one box, and whilst to many this can be difficult to get your head around. One thing is for sure, they are incredibly talented singer/songwriters and whether they decide to sing pop, country or R&B, these girls are going to go far.
I went to this gig thinking I wouldn’t necessarily enjoy it too much, their new album didn’t set me on fire. As a singer/songwriter myself I totally appreciate their musical talents, it’s just the music they’re delivering now isn’t necessarily my taste or style, and y’know what? That’s not a bad thing! We can get so wrapped up in the “it’s not country” debate that I think we sometimes forget what country music is, it’s not about how much banjo is in the song, or what beat it’s being played at, it’s deeper than that. It’s how it makes you feel, country music is about expressing emotions, transporting you to moments in your life. Whether those feelings are good or bad, if a song moves you and makes you feel something then it’s done its job well. And there’s no doubt about it, Ward Thomas do this in abundance.