Ward Thomas / Charlie Worsham - The Barbican
A memorable night at the Barbican saw Charlie Worsham finally return to London after his covid enforced absence and it also offered a chance to see if Ward Thomas could build on their spectacular return to form at C2C in a more extended format.
#TEAMw21 bumped into Charlie Worsham by the merchandise stall just as the tannoy was announcing that he would be on stage at any minute. Such had been the response to his performances so far in the tour that he had been cleaned out of merchandise and so he had been hand writing lyrics to have a little something to offer. It did not take long for him to similarly win over the Barbican audience with a set of old and new material.
Charlie kicked off his set on mandolin with "Tools Of The Trade", rolling back the years and reminding us of just how brilliant he is with some virtuoso playing. Charlie has a unique bond with the UK audiences, he even gave away advance copies of his second album to everyone attending a London show once - that is the sort of bond that is impossible to break. The second song "Things I Can't Control" once again blended storytelling and masterful playing - finishing with a cry of "Thank you London" from the back of the stage. For those new to him he gave a quick synopsis of his career to date and was genuinely emotional when recalling the agony of not being able to come over to the UK.
A switch to guitar saw another new song "I Bet You Kiss Like You Dance", the chorus really powered out across the auditorium but it was undoubtedly some of the older ones that made the hairs on your arm stand up. Spine tingling from the very start "How I Learned to Pray" was simply majestic, with Charlie finding time to run his hand through his hair mid song on the word "grace".
An introduction about his favourite Nashville haunt The Station Inn - was a prelude into "Half Drunk" about his wife from his 2021 EP with it's plaintive "I Love You" chorus.
Trailing the promise of new music to come - with an array of special guests, Charlie was genuinely enthused about what he'll be releasing this year - one of the new songs about growing up in Mississippi was wonderfully autobiographical "Creek Water Clearing" finishing with a little bow and a big smile.
A return to the mandolin saw a little bit of a musicology lesson with the background to "Callin' Baton Rouge" while "Southern By The Grace of God" was simply sublime.
The exemplary set would close with Charlie back on the guitar for some songs that introduced him to us originally - "Young To See" which saw him edge to the very edge of the stage and the ever bonkers "Lawn Chair", It was great to see him again and a reminder of just how much he has been missed.
Ward Thomas's return to form at C2C was one of the most welcome things of the whole festival - they once again looked like a band that were enjoying what they were playing and the sound was very much a return to a real well balanced warm and organic
The set was equally well balanced throughout with a nice blend of old and new and the ability to blend between Billy Adamson's guitar and the piano of Jamie Safir brought out the best in the overall sound - along with a great rhythm section.
With the band trailing their arrival Catherine and Lizzie took to the stage and immediately launched into "All Over Again", from the latest album, Catherine looking ready to be wheeled off to a maternity ward at any moment, though was still in good voice and good humour with her "bun in the oven!"
"Don't Be A Stranger" followed and then "Guilty Flowers" - reinvigorated by the revised keyboard line running throughout and a more concentrated attention to the backing vocals, which came from each member of the band. It was punchier and much more alive than on recent tours
"Give Me One More Goodbye" definitely had a warmer more soulful feel to it while "Unravel" improved on the album version with the supporting vocals.
Ward Thomas themselves looked far more at ease in the new line up , for "It's Not Just Me", Lizzie would play her own keyboard and it was interesting to watch Catherine mouthing along when it wasn't even her turn to sing.
The band would leave for "Cartwheels" which once again seems to have been reinvigorated - with Catherine's letting her guitar sound fade away to nothing on an extended break, in a nice touch of showmanship. Even "Safe" from "Cartwheels" seemed to have some new life breathed into it, sounding slightly faster paced.
Jamie the pianist would return to the stage for "Loved By You" for which had an almost Bacharach feel to it while the full band would return for "Hold Space".
There was a welcome return for Charlie Worsham and his mandolin, for the next 2 songs although he would seemingly spend much of the songs taping his mandolin back together!!
The live cover of Razorlight's "America" far surpassed the album version which doesn't capture anything like the energy shown tonight, while the recent single "Justice & Mercy" saw the twins facing each other as the story with the US's most divided town unfolded. Charlie would then leave with a final thumbs up.
More reinvention came with "I Think I Hate You" which used just Billy's guitar as backing while possibly the song which most typifies the Ward Thomas resurgence came in the shape of "Joan Of Arc" which is the most sublime piece of pop music on the new record - perfect from start to finish.
By now things were in full flow "Music In The Madness" benefited from those backing vocals adding to the overall effect.
"If It All Ends Today" excelled while "Someday" freed of tiresome electronica was another song reborn sounding much improved and dramatic.
The audience were brought to their feet with "I Believe In You" and then taken down memory land for "Push For The Stride" with a great piano solo once more rolling back the years.
A closing section would see "Next To You" the main show out, and the party then continue into the encores with "You Carry Home" driven along by the powerful drum sound from Chris Duffy which injected some additional pace like a galloping horse at times. The evening closed in true Ward Thomas style with a dedication to 2 people getting engaged - quoting at least one wrong name! The band would leave for the final time leaving Catherine on guitar duties to close the evening out with "Love Does".