The G-Live in Guildford remains a slightly baffling venue, where the seats steeply bank up but where there is also a mini standing area in front of the stage which must surely block the view of at least the first 5 rows of seats. We're here to see Ward Thomas & The Wandering Hearts, it's not the first time we've seen them together, they first met at a gig in Northampton where Wildwood Kin the established tour support were unable to play a rearranged gig.
Recently we saw Wandering Hearts triumphantly finishing their UK tour in London with a sell out show at Islington Assembly Halls. A few weeks later the four became three with Tim leaving the band. In many ways coming out on tour again this early seemed a strange move or perhaps it was a chance to see how they'd adjust to their new status as a three piece. As with Islington they supplemented their sound with an additional double bass player, this time replacing the drummer with a guitarist and a stomp pedal. Audibly therefore there was perhaps not a great deal of difference visually though the girl, girl, boy appearance lined up in a straight row looked a little odd and only seemed to emphasize that someone was missing.
A 30 minute support slot is something they probably thought they'd left behind and with enough material to fill a set twice as long this was always going to be a bit of a walk in the park. The duly professionally played a strong 7 song set with their trademark harmonies, they smiled a lot but did not really seem to be entirely comfortable. Of the set "Burning Bridges" still had the power to be a "pin drop" song completely silencing the hall, and "Til The Day I Die" was the gentlest piece of folk rock you could hope to hear.
Skip forward to Shepherd's Bush Empire on the same tour and it was a completely different picture, The intervening weeks had given them a chance to get more comfortable in their new line up, no doubt helped by a confidence boosting appearance at C2C in front of 19,000 fans on the Pop Up Stage after Ashley McBryde. The issue with how they appear on stage was addressed and fixed with the smallest yet most effective of tweaks. Instead of appearing in a straight line, Chess's microphone was moved a foot or so back and they appeared as a triangle - such a small change but visually it made a big difference.
From the thumping foot stomp intro of "Fire and Water" the band had recaptured some of their swagger, exemplified by the cries of "1,2,3, 4" which led into the sped up final section. AJ then led the vocals into "Til The Day I Die", and even just two songs in this was altogether a different performance from a few weeks earlier. The bands harmonies duly came to the fore during "Burning Bridges"
The other sign of a band moving forwards is the playing of new material and with "Your Love Hurts" replacing "Nobody's Fool" in the set, they showed a move towards a lot more volume while still staying true to their roots, even on first listen this track was outstanding. Up until this point the Shepherd's Bush Empire had been somewhat noisy, this came to an end with "Wild Silence", the track that gives Tara and Chess a chance to shine, once again with the mandolin high in the mix. "Rattle" was dedicated to "any dancers" For the final song "Devil", Tara's tambourine was also brought into play and the Shepherds Bush Empire audience provided the required "Whoa's". The performance closed with a well wisher throwing bouquets of roses on the stage and the band seemed truly touched by the gesture.
They were to later return to join Ward Thomas in the encore and looked truly pleased to be there - it's been an interesting few months for The Wandering Hearts but they now seem to be heading for calmer waters.