REVIEW: Ward Thomas – Live At O2 Institute, Birmingham

Photo by Dee D James

Before I start the review of the show, I’d just like to mention the goings-on beforehand. Having travelled to the show specifically to write a review, I arrived at the venue to pick up my ticket, only to be told at the box office that I wasn’t actually on the list. Apparently Ward Thomas’ management had “forgotten about it”. As the box office had no contact whatsoever with the band or management (as unbelievable as that sounds), I was effectively told to just go home. Then, having stood outside in the cold for 45 minutes, thankfully the PR rep sorted out the issue (thanks MBC for being so helpful and apologetic) and I was allowed in. Having offered to give up my time to write a review, that didn’t exactly leave me with a great deal of enthusiasm.

But anyhow, on with the review. Newly signed Sony Music act Wildwood Kin, from Exeter, opened the show with their rather dark, atmospheric brand of roots music and the audience seemed to respond really well to their set. Their crisp three-part harmonies were haunting and created a very different vibe to what we’re used to. Speaking to the crowd in between songs isn’t their forte, but their passion and talent shines through in their very raw, Americana-influenced music. They have a busy summer ahead, including shows at Cambridge Folk Festival, Walled Garden Festival and more; I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot more of Wildwood Kin fairly soon.

Catherine and Lizzy took to the stage at around 9pm, backed by their 4-piece band. Some nice thought went into the staging, with the backdrop made up of cartwheels. After a short acapella introduction of ‘Material’, they kicked off the show with the up-tempo ‘Dirt and Gold’ to crank up the energy in the packed-out Institute. They continued the poppy start to proceedings with ‘Boomerang’ and ‘When It’s Not Me’ which provoked an enthusiastic reaction from the crowd for the sing-a-long choruses.

For me, Ward Thomas really come into their own and find their strengths with the ballads, which provide the high points on what was a very mainstream-orientated sophomore album. ‘Almost Easy’ and the absolutely gorgeous ‘Good On You’ were a joy to experience live, despite the ridiculously obnoxious group of people chatting by the bar (shout out to our dear friend Michelle for sorting out the situation!). ‘Good On You’ is the song I’d play to anybody yet to discover Ward Thomas; spine-tingling harmonies – the perfect justification for why they can sell out at these large venues. Faultless as always.

Towards the end of the show, the band congregated in the middle of the stage for an acoustic section which included performances of ‘Proof’, ‘I Believe In You’ and a cover from their recent ‘A Shorter Story’ EP, a rendition of Years & Years’ ‘Shine’ which was given a signature country twist. It was a stand-out period of the show that took us right back to their roots and transported us into the writing room. Their raw talent is unquestionable.

Most of the set list was dominated by the ‘Cartwheels’ album with a few older fan favourites thrown in along the way, including ‘Town Called Ugley’, ‘The Good And The Right’ and the encore, ‘Push For The Stride’. It’s a shame so much of the first album seems to have been put on the shelf as there are some golden tracks on there that would add so much more of a traditional country element to their shows. But the new album provides much more of a punchy, high-energy vibe and it’s given them the platform to perform on the big stages.

Looking at the show from a critical angle, one thing that struck me was the lack of conversation, both between themselves and to the audience. They come on stage, power through their set list and go off, there’s not much else to it. This is where The Shires, having seen them the week before, provide more of an all-round concert where you feel a connection with the artists and it’s something Ward Thomas have always seemed to lack. However, what you can’t deny is their ever-evolving talent and they seem to become more accomplished performers with every show that goes by.

Dan Wharton

Set List:

Material (intro)
Dirt and Gold
When It’s Not Me
Almost Easy
Good On You
Breathe In
Guilty Flowers
The Good And The Right
Town Called Ugley
I Believe In You
Who I’m Not
Lose Me
Carry You Home
Push For The Stride

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