Spotlight with Ward Thomas
It is six o’clock on an extremely wet Saturday evening, and we are stood outside the Boileroom in Guildford. The venue with its’ blacked out windows seemingly an unlikely venue in what otherwise, are seemingly quiet suburban streets.
The sound of Cartwheels is gently escaping through the windows, as Ward Thomas near the end of their sound check. As we amble around to the entrance, we find the first few eager fans queuing, a full 90 minutes before doors open eager to gain a prime spot in what is one of the smallest venues of the current tour!
After a short wait, we are invited in by Lizzy and Catherine, they survey the somewhat inclement weather, apologize to the waiting fans and usher us in. A quick request for an autograph comes and a rather wonderful artefact is produced, the requestor has taken a photo from an earlier encounter and had it blown up on to a canvas ready to hang on a wall. It is a beautiful picture and is a sign of how they are well regarded by many of their fans.
The venue is still in a state of disarray, Una Healy (the ex-Saturday) has yet to complete her sound check and the barriers have yet to be put in place. It is a tiny venue, short on chairs so in a W21Music first we conduct the interview, standing at the far end of the building, next to the bar. Catherine and Lizzy, slightly smaller than you might think off stage, are ready for another grilling. There is only one place that the interview can begin….
#TEAMw21: We were chatting with Shelley (Poole, Red Sky July singer and WT Co-Writer) who said that you were genuinely surprised when you hit number one?
Catherine: We had no idea!
Lizzy: We were hoping for Top 40, then the Management were saying we could get Top 10 and then… Number one!!
Catherine: In the midweeks we had been number one Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and then on Thursday which is the best indication there was a delay in the midweeks coming out, they were 2 hours later than normal!
Lizzy: It was so tense!
#TEAMw21: That was an intense publicity campaign with you appearing just about everywhere.
If you were anywhere near a radio or television you’d have seen Ward Thomas pop up on The One Show, Lorraine, Woman’s Hour, Michael Ball’s Sunday Show among others as well as in store signings at HMV Guildford and Oxford Circus.
Lizzy: It was a very very crazy promo tour, right up to this tour – it’s all been go go go!
#TEAMw21: Were you taken aback by the surprise everyone had to you being number one? Sky News had it on the rolling news ticker, the Daily Telegraph made a feature of it?
Catherine: I know (sounding truly amazed) It was on BBC Radio 2 and they said “The news at 8 o’clock Ward Thomas have made chart history”!
Lizzy: What was funny about that though, was that we were in London and they went to find a farm in Vauxhall, to shoot an interview and a song whereas normally we are in Hampshire by a farm!
#TEAMw21: What surprised us was that everyone was surprised – it was the culmination of two years hard efforts gathering fans willing to go out and by the record on its day of release.
Catherine: Yes (nodding in agreement) We never like to set our expectations too high. It has been a lot of work and we are very proud of the album, and fingers crossed it has all paid off!
#TEAMw21: Martin Terefe is on production duties this time round, was he an obvious choice?
Lizzy: Yes we liked his work with KT Tunstall, and this is very much the second kind of sound that we were wanting to go for!
Catherine: He was very good at recording live instruments in a very organic way and we wanted to record in London rather than Nashville for this record.
Lizzy: Making the songs sound real - letting them speak for themselves
#TEAMw21: Some of the other work on his CV, A-Ha, Englebert Humperdinck?
Catherine: He has worked with a variety of people including Shawn Mendes, so he has the cool and the Englebert!
Lizzy: Willie Nelson as well – he had lots of funny stories – and Englebert is cool!!!
#TEAMw21: Last time we spoke we did mention about the possibility of a vinyl release and with “Cartwheels” it comes as a lovely double disk package
Catherine: We love the vinyl, the artwork and the two disks as it was so long. We actually went and bought a record player so that we could play it!
#TEAMw21: You went with the title “Cartwheels” – were there any other titles in the running?
Lizzy: That was the first song written for the second album with the new sound in mind – like a cartwheel of emotions
Catherine: We never really thought differently it was always going to be Cartwheels
#TEAMw21: The song titles on the album are also shaped like a Cartwheel. The cover is quite unusual in that you don’t often see the white on white look
Catherine: When we got dressed for that, we wanted to avoid white as we were going on to a rooftop but then we just really liked the outfits
Lizzy: The yellow really worked!
Catherine: It was a bit weird and then it looked a quite striking image. Completely different from the dark cover of “From Where We Stand”
#TEAMw21: We noticed that only Dan of the current live band makes an appearance on the record
Catherine: Well originally the producer wanted to use his guys, as he knows the way they play and then when we were recording Cartwheels we wanted Dan to come in as he plays it a certain way, and while he was there he put down some guitar for other tracks. We’d love to get them all in for some stuff!
Lizzy: We’d love that!
Ward Thomas recently played Cadogan Hall as part of the Under The Apple Tree Festival, the weekend they hit number one – the show climaxed with guest appearances from long term WT Collaborators, Rebekah Powell and Jessica Sharman on stage.
#TEAMw21: Was it great to get Rebekah & Jess on stage?
Lizzy: It was so so nice so share the stage with the people we created the whole thing with!
Catherine: We always thought it would be great to get them on stage especially with Patti Griffin headlining – “Cartwheels” was inspired from a line in a Patti Griffin song – But with Rebekah being in LA it was going to be a shame it couldn’t happen – and then when she heard on the Wednesday that the album might go to number one she booked her flight that night, and arrived on the Thursday!
#TEAMw21: We notice that as Cheyenne Medders (Sarah Darling bandleader) is also a co-writer?
Lizzy: He wrote “Lose Me” with Rebekah
Catherine: He’s actually Rebekah’s cousin! – It’s a small world!
Lizzy: That’s very Nashville!
Catherine: That was a Nashville song. It is one of the oldest, written around the same time as Cartwheels
#TEAMw21: Last time we met you it was you your respective 21st Birthdays – Is that being reflected in your song writing, some of the songs from the first album had been around a while
Lizzy: Yes definitely, the first album was mainly written when we were 17/18 it was a different
stage of our lives. We’ve had a lot more experiences in the music industry before that we had no background – we were at school! We also had some time apart to help write this album.
Catherine: It almost feels like we had more time to write this album, we took some time out and then were also writing during the tour for the last album so it has been two years in the making.
#TEAMw21: There’s also some more adult lyrics “notches on the bedpost”!!!
Catherine: *laughs* That’s Linus’s (bass player) favourite part of the song!
#TEAMw21: Do you think you get enough credit for your song writing, take the opening lyrics to your 1st single; “Swallowing my morning cup I saw a mother out with her child,
while she was yelling down the phone he held the game that occupied his mind,
And I wonder what will happen to his life and I can't help thinking something just ain't right”
…It says as much about modern day Britain as any Brandy Clark lyric says about the US?
Catherine: We always like to think of ourselves as singer songwriters as opposed to just country singers. If you say you are a Country singer people tend to make certain assumptions. At the moment it is not nearly what it once was - country music is no longer a dirty word. Crissie from the Shires was saying that far fewer people turn up in cowboy hats, it is less gimmicky – they are coming because they like the sound of the music and the quality of the songs. For this album we did not want to brand it a specific genre, we wanted each song to speak for itself.
#TEAMw21: It’s a mixture of songs, some obviously more story songs while others are clearly autobiographical
Lizzy: That’s what country music is – stories mixed with everyday life!
Catherine: I think we were very influenced by things going on around us so sometimes our friends might say “Was that one about me?”
#TEAMw21: Some of the songs have undergone dramatic transformations – “Almost Easy” being the one most noticeable?
Lizzy: It is like what we mentioned earlier with Martin, he lets the songs speak for themselves and now that we are older we get taken more seriously…
Catherine: …and that song we recorded it live around the piano and then built it up
Lizzy: We also had people thinking about how it would sound on radio.
#TEAMw21: The album is very much the sound of now - big drums, random Hey’s
Catherine: It’s meant to be emotionally epic!!
#TEAMw21: With so many good tunes – was it hard to decide on the singles?
Lizzy: It is so hard that is why we have fourteen tracks on the album – there were still loads more that we wanted to put on
Catherine: I think we always knew that Carry You Home would be the first one. It was harder to pick the third one in terms of timing, Its going to be “Cartwheels”!
#TEAMw21: A bit too early for the Christmas number one slot?!
Lizzy: We have got a Christmas song for hopefully a Christmas in the near future!
#TEAMw21: New singles mean new videos which we know from last time are not necessarily your favourite thing to do. The first one a straight performance one while Guilty Flowers a nightmare continuity wise with a different outfit in every shot?
Lizzy: Ah it was such good fun – we got to dress up and have different hairstyles!! It was a chance to make a video with a proper narrative not like anything we’ve done before about girls having fun. It was a song which got played on Radio One – which is amazing – it not something we ever thought would happen!
#TEAMw21: You didn’t fancy literally acting it out?
Catherine: No *laughs* We thought it might be too easy!
Lizzy: With me and Catherine acting – it would not easily work!
Catherine: The video for “Cartwheels” we are shooting next week – it’s all a surprise!!
#TEAMw21: You mentioned about other songs that could have gone on the album were there many left in the can?
Lizzy: Yes definitely – we recorded five or six that did not make it – we’re saving them!
#TEAMw21: Is that things like “My Friend Peace”?
Catherine: That’s certainly one of them!
Lizzy: We loved that song so it will appear one day!
#TEAMw21: One of the most noticeable songs on the album is “Safe” where all of the bells and whistles are left off and you can even hear people shuffling around in the background at the start.
Lizzy: We wanted to close with that, it is the finale song of the cartwheel of emotions, you have had happy songs, angry songs, love songs and so we wanted to close the book with a real live authentic acoustic feel with just Catherine and I.
Catherine: It was again recorded live, and the drummer was sleeping on the sofa snoring!
#TEAMw21: Now you are with Sony does this mean a global release for Cartwheels?
Catherine: It came out physically in Australia on Friday and is available to download worldwide!
#TEAMw21: You are off to Australia for CMC Rocks!
Lizzy: Yes – In March – We can’t wait – with The Shires and The Dixie Chicks!
#TeamW21: We were at the recent O2 Dixie Chicks show – which we know you went to – did you take anything away from their performance that night?
Lizzy: Oh gosh - I cried!! It was perfection! Musically amazing – I kept turning to Catherine saying “There’s no-one better!”
Catherine: Watching them we realised how influenced we are by them! I’d suddenly think “Ah yes that’s where I got that idea from!”
Lizzy: Everything was perfect, the branding, the backdrops even the colours of the guitars. Everything was well thought out, we love to look up to them!
#TEAMw21: If you get to that stage have you any ideas about backdrops etc..?
Lizzy: Our dogs!! *Laughs*
Catherine: We’d have to think very hard and talk to some excellent graphic designers!
#TEAMw21: They really made use of the backdrops to make a point cutting in Donald Trump into songs
Lizzy: I love that during “Shut Up and Sing” – They were so clever!
#TEAMw21: For this tour you’ve got rid of the old red van for a shiny new tour bus!
Lizzy: It has made journeys not seem like journeys at all – we’re all able to watch films – it’s all due to Gibson – we play their guitars!
Catherine: I’m worried we’re a bit spoilt now!
#TEAMw21: We spotted the personalised mugs!!
Lizzy: That was a comforting idea of Catherine’s!
Catherine: When you are on tour you always have tea out of paper cups and it just does not taste the same. Now everyone has responsibility for their own mug and it has worked really well!
#TEAMw21: For the new tour, Catherine has broken out the electric guitar, Lizzy gets to stand at the keyboards, even Linus now has pedals!!
Lizzy: We wanted to grow and develop and learn more every day
Catherine: We’ve also added Gabe Piers-Mantell on keyboards who has a very musical director mind so after every gig we analyse what went right and what did not work. The sound checks seem to be getting longer and longer rather than shorter as we go on!
#TEAMw21: No slur on the previous keyboard players the 2 Toms (Jones and brother Ward-Thomas) but Gabe really has affected the overall sound. It means you can reproduce the string parts live!
Lizzy: One day we’ll have a real string quartet on stage!
#TEAMw21: We could see you at one of those Radio 2 shows with BBC Philharmonic
Catherine: For Children in Need at The Royal Albert Hall we’ll be doing 4 songs
Lizzy: We’ll be doing 9 to 5 *Looks to Catherine* we’ll have to learn that again!
#TEAMw21: The new live sound is very punchy in many ways it is even better than the album
Lizzy: Energy is what we are going for!
#TEAMw21: The tour is effectively the album and some of the previous singles, no covers no new songs
Catherine: We play every single song from the album
#TEAMw21: Well there’s no fillers on the album so you can afford to do that!
Both girls get really animated at this point!!
Catherine: ah no fillers thank you - that is so great! I think that can happen when people are rushed, we did not want any skip songs!
Lizzy: We spent over 2 hours with our manager John working out the sequencing for the record – to make it really work – so that is very important to us!
#TEAMw21: The new live show has a lot less speaking – it was song 7 at Guildford before you said Hello!
Catherine: Well sometimes we can go off on one and we think Oh God Stop talking! And then sometimes we think let’s not say anything and keep it slick.
Lizzy: We had to stop the show the other day just to blow our noses!
#TEAMw21: Was that at Cambridge – our spies on the tour said you were suffering
Lizzy: Cambridge and Hull – we can occasionally go off on one!!
#TEAMw21: We do miss the occasional rambling intro
Lizzy: You’ll see it tonight maybe! *laughs*
Catherine: I’m always very strict and say let’s be slick while Lizzy is more Let’s be ourselves. We’ve just got to find the happy medium.
#TEAMw21: Until now the Shires have had the edge on the comeback chorus sections – but at Oxford that all changed with “Carry You Home”!
In the gap between Ward Thomas leaving the stage and returning for the encore at The Bullingdon Oxford, the crowd burst into a spontaneous chanting of the Whoas from Carry You Home. The girls looked visibly pleased and shocked at the response.
Lizzy: That was so amazing!
Catherine: That’s only happened once so I don’t know if it will catch on
Despite our best efforts it does not reoccur at the Boileroom but a few days later it made a welcome return with a vengeance at Bush Hall. So WT fans out there you know what to do and when to do it!!!
#TEAMw21: For support on the tour you will soon have Sarah Darling, tonight is Una Healy and you started the tour with Scarlet – how did you find her?
Lizzy: She also writes with Jess Sharman, and so we saw her on Youtube and Soundcloud and thought we like her!
#TEAMw21: The first time we properly saw you was at The Green Note and on that occasion even the MC said it was very unlikely they’d be able to book you again – is this tour the end of playing at venues like this – we would guess this tour could have played a much bigger set of venues.
Lizzy: We wanted to do this kind of tour, taking it back to the audience as you get a chance to reconnect.
#TEAMw21: The social media sites are full of posts from those unable to get tickets – there were 2 tours for “From Where We Stand” is there likely to be a follow up next year?
Catherine: Definitely! Probably in the spring next year – maybe bigger venues – I think none of us had seen the number one album coming – so we wanted to start small and maybe move up from there!
#TEAMw21: Of course the bigger the venue then the harder it becomes to meet everybody afterwards
Catherine: We’ve always loved doing that after the show – and it is so nice to do it in this size of venue
#TEAMw21: You’ve played so many big shows with Carole King, Glastonbury, Carfests is there one show that really sticks out?
Lizzy: Beautiful Days down at Exeter is one I really remember – it was one where everything came together!
#TEAMw21: How far ahead are you actually planning? Is album three even loosely in your plans?
Catherine: No – nothings planned – our manager went on holiday the week the album was released. It’s always last minute with us!
#TEAMw21: With a Number 1 album in the bag – how famous are you – can you still do the shopping untroubled?
Catherine: No-one knows who we are which is quite nice! – it’s the sort of genre where people don’t bother you so thankfully we are still normal!
Lizzy: We always have our feet on the ground!
They leave us to take in some vapours, and prepare for that nights show. Apart from a technical glitch at the start it passes off splendidly and many would perhaps not even noticed that girls were somewhat under the weather.