Having performed two excellent gigs in Manchester over the last twelve months, UK Country Album of the Year award winners Ward Thomas had already set high standards. Their performance at The Castle in July was an intimate affair featuring just the twin sisters and their guitarist Dan in a largely acoustic set, whereas their more recent joint headline show alongside fast-rising outfit The Shires at Band on the Wall saw them perform alongside a full band. So the question was, would they continue to live up to their own very high standards? In short, the answer … absolutely.
In front of an mostly full Gorilla, off the back of recent performances at Country 2 Country in London, the duo come on stage, full of energy, beaming with delight. The audience is perhaps the most friendly you could imagine – it’s enthusiastic, diverse and keen to enjoy the night’s festivities and having enjoyed excellent sets by the incredibly talented Jess Roberts and a high tempo upbeat session from the excellent Jessica Ridley they are really in the mood for it.
Starting off with Way Back When, it’s clear that they are really in the mood for this and they seem to have slightly upped the tempo of their tracks and gone for a touch more of a robust and rockier sound. Songs such as Guestlist, Push for the Stride, which garners the biggest cheers of the night and set-ender the ever brilliant Town Called Ugley have a bit more of an edge than usual with guitarist Dan giving a guitar performance Vince Gill would be proud off. The approach pays off as the crowd lap up the show, singing along, cheering and applauding. But they also provide beautiful contrasts as the slower, more delicate Footnotes and Take That Train, which have the audience hanging on every word and chord.
Twin sisters Catherine and Lizzy Ward Thomas are on top form. Laughing, joking, singing and playing to perfection. And they also take the opportunity to try out some new tracks, testing the feedback. They perform the stunning Safe, a track so new that they haven’t actually written a full arrangement so their trusted guitarist, bass player and drummer make a brief exit as Catherine dons the guitar for the beautiful rendition, before later playing the excellent thumping Carry You Home. If these are anything to go by, the writing for their next album is bang on track and they are certainly on to a winner.
In a slightly unexpected twist, they also throw in a few covers – with Hozier’s Take me to Church and an outstanding version of Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror as well as Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline in the encore, which again has the crowd swinging and swaying along.
But the evening belongs to them and as good as the covers are, it’s their own music which has their growing army of fans cheering the most.
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