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  • Writer's pictureCHRIS FARLIE

Ward Thomas - GMEX / O2 Oxford / Shepherds Bush Empire

The first part of the Cartwheels tour last year covered a lot of smaller venues, the show at Guildford forinstance was at the aptly named Boiler Room for about 120 people. For the 2017 part of the tour, the venues, (in general) are bigger, in fact everything is bigger. The new tour starts in the GMEX Guildford, a theatre type venue where the front rows of seating have been removed to provide an area for those who wish to stand while the seating for those who don’t seems to go back and up some way making an impressive sight once they were full.

The staging and backdrop immediately looked to be a definite step up, in between songs the stage lights are dimmed and everything just looks more high tech, more professional. Sound wise things also seemed to have had an overhaul, Catherine and Lizzie now use cordless microphones, so are able to wander around the stage a little more, at times Catherine seemed to be wandering dangerously close to a hole in the stage that the electrics were running out of that seemed something of health and safety issue from our standpoint! There is also the addition of a guitar tech to assist with the instrument change overs. The other welcome change is that they are once again talkative while on stage, as some of last years shows were a little short on stage banter.

The show started with Petersfield’s finest singing the chorus “Material” acapella, offstage in the wings, before then joining the band and opening the set properly with “Boomerang“. The set, as for the first tour draws heavily on “Cartwheels” though some songs seem to have been tweaked slightly. Bassist Linus Fenton now plays a more prominent role, especially when he takes to the front of the stage to play double bass, notably to great effect on “Good On You”.

This time round there is also a new covers EP, "A Shorter Story" to promote, for tonights show, it is the Years & Years track “Shine” though presumably this may vary night to night. More interesting for long term fans will be the appearance of 2 unrecorded songs one making its debut, “Breath In” a piano led tune being the first, while the second “I Believe In You” came during a mini acoustic session which by their own admission was an idea borrowed from the Dixie Chicks. This song came with a slightly ill conceived audience participation slot where the audience were divided in half an invited to sing along. It was all going so well in that Catherine had her half singing their bit but then Lizzie seemed to get her half singing the same phrase! I guess we can put this down as an early tour teething issue that will be ironed out as things progress.

Highlights included a delightfully convoluted instrumental introduction into “The Good and The Right” which saw guitarist Dan Gordon have his guitar set to eleven, and the energy of “Lose Me” though really you could almost pick out any song as a highlight. The few minor teething issues could not take away from the fact that this was an exceptionally well polished, well constructed show that passed by in the blink of an eye.

For Oxford, the previous tours venue The Bullingdon had been replaced by moving a few doors along to the O2 Academy. With the doors allegedly opening at 18:30, the queues were already snaking around the block in expectation of perhaps an early start to proceedings. As it turned out this show started the same as all of the others around 20:00 so why the early doors is anyones guess. The venue itself switched between being swelteringly hot when the AC was off to being quite chilly when it was on, and throughout the evening it seemed to be off and on a number of times.

On to the show, which was more or less similar to Guildford, with the exception being that “Town Called Ugley” moved from the encores and replaced “The Good & The Right” in having the meandering introduction while “Where The Sky Is” disappeared from the encores altogether. The sound at Oxford possibly was better than the GMEX however the low ceiling meant that the good people of Oxford never really got to see the benefit of the improved lights.

The smaller stage also meant that Catherine and Lizzie’s new found freedom to wander around the stage was somewhat curtailed. The “I Believe In You” audience participation section still seems a bit clunky but it was good fun for both band and audience.

Oxford was the first time #TeamW21 witnessed the “Carry You Home” refrain used by the audience to bring the band back after they had left the stage after the main set, and once again in unison they made a powerful noise until everyone reappeared.

Four days later and it is time to decamp to the biggest show of the tour and a bucket list moment for the girls. The set by now seems to have settled down and was the same as Oxford. The stage at Shepherds Bush was wide enough to allow both girls to wander about freely. The crowd certainly in the early part of the show were a little too talkative but things quietened down as the show progressed. The most notable event was certainly the end to “Carry You Home” when a smoke confetti cannon showered the arena to the point of almost snow blindness for a few seconds. It is safe to say everyone went home happy apart from the cleaner who was last seen weeping while holding his broomstick!

#TeamW21 will be reporting from further shows as the tour progresses.

"A Shorter Story" EP is available at the tour merchandise desk and is also available online

The Cartwheels tour continues to travel the UK throughout May - Do Not Miss It!!!!



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