Review: Ward Thomas at Open, Norwich, sees the twins wow with a more personal sound
- Credit: PA
Twins Catherine and Lizzy, who made history when they topped the album charts, becoming the first ever UK country act to achieve the feat, give a fantastic set featuring the latest album, Cartwheels.
Joining a long queue outside Open you quickly realise how much the fan base for Ward Thomas has grown over the last few years and how varied their audience members are.
Twins Catherine and Lizzy's country pop music has gained more fans by each release and the audience here ranged from teens up through to over-50s. Country music seems to becoming more popular and less of a guilty listening pleasure than it used to be.
I first saw Ward Thomas live in 2014 when they toured with fellow UK country band The Shires. Again, the twin sisters put on a brilliant show, but let's not jump ahead.
Supporting for this tour is Wildwood Kin, who were new to my ears. They are an indie/Americana group comprised of sisters; Beth and Emillie Key and their cousin, Meghann Loney.
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From Exeter, these ladies were the perfect support band to Ward Thomas. Simplicity was the key, they stood at the front of the stage, just the three of them, and performed, all instrumentalists (drums, guitars and bazouki).
Their sound was beautiful, the harmonies were close and at times haunting. They perform well, having written all of their own music, Warrior Daughter being a particular favourite.
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At times Wildwood Kin's harmonies were emotive, beautifully so. This was showcased at its best with the song On and On, which they dedicated to family members, a heartfelt song. They reminded me of another country/folk group; The Wailin' Jennys.
The ladies were comfortable on stage and even though they spoke of being nervous, it certainly didn't show in their performance.
From one family group to another and the headliners. Catherine and Lizzy Ward Thomas, who hail from Hampshire, started singing, acapella, the opening to their new single Material with the lights still down. Then once the drums kicked in, up went the lights and we were off.
Drums, keyboard, bass guitar, lead guitar, the twins with vocals and guitars, their musicianship is superb. The atmosphere of the audience shifted as the music surged with strong beats, not so much country more pop with a driving rhythm, Dirt and Gold.
'Can we see some hands the air!' Ward Thomas asked and the audience happily obliged as they shifted into Boomerang.
There wasn't room for a lot of chit-chat tonight as in previous shows, but the band now has a bigger catalogue of music to go through and they showcased their second album, Cartwheels, superbly.
Next song, about small town gossip, When It's Not Me, saw the twins watch each other constantly as they performed, ensuring that they came in together in time and that their harmonies were on pitch. Their music may be leaning more towards the country pop sound, but their songs are still country in style. The lyrics have meaning and are well rounded, having a beginning, middle and end like true country songs usually do.
The tempo was brought down as the band next performed Almost Easy, moving easily into Good on You. The sisters treated us to two new songs; Breathe In, a sweet and simple song accompanied only by the piano, and I Believe in You, a fast-paced song with a folk rocky edge to it.
The sisters had the audience join in and learn, on the spot, a little harmony singing. It was a fun little contest to see which side of the audience won. I'm not certain which side did win but everyone, including the band seemed to enjoy the sing-along.
They also told us of their excitement at having seen the major country band the Dixie Chicks in Australia this year and, inspired by that group, set-up for a small acoustic section as they performed their own song Proof.
The subtleties of the song in this acoustic set again showed the vocal clarity of the twins as their band supported them. As much fun as the rocking and fast paced songs are, the acoustic and quieter songs showcase the talents these young ladies have. We were then played a song from their most recent covers EP Shine, a Years & Years cover.
The evening came to a close with Lose Me, a rocky song about the ending of a bad relationship. During the instrumental break the sisters introduced their multi-talented and hardworking band.
Carry You Home, to me this song about friendship and support was reminiscent of Carole King's You've Got a Friend, similar in style for a new generation of music lovers. They completed their fantastic performance with an encore of their first hit single, Push for the Stride.
It's obvious from the performance that Cartwheels is a departure from their debut, and more country sounding From Where We Stand, but the music is now far more grown-up, it's more personal.
You recognise the influences of Fleetwood Mac and Taylor Swift in their new sound which works well for them. I'm not a fan of over produced pop music and Ward Thomas are the furthest thing from that, long may that continue.