It may have been a cold and drizzly night in Liverpool when Ward Thomas took their headlining tour to the East Village Arts Club, but that didn’t affect the solid enthusiasm of the crowd. In fact, even when support act Jessica Ridley took to the stage with way too much brash American smiles and enthusiasm for a decidedly middle-aged British crowd, they gave her the benefit of the doubt and even responded to some of her constant attempts to interact with the crowd (for the record, she needs to tone every aspect of her act down just a little bit). So by the time Catherine and Lizzy Ward Thomas took to the stage, the few hundred people squashed into the small gig space were buzzing but ultimately not prepared for the novel way in which the girls would start the show. Stomping their feet for a beat and singing a capella, they performed one minute of Loretta Lynn’s ‘You Ain’t Woman Enough’ in one of the most pleasant surprises of the night before launching into ‘Way Back When’ for a great thematic segue and a perfect tribute to the country music of years gone by.
And the slick performances continued. Running through a number of the upbeat offerings on their 2014 debut album ‘From Where We Stand’, Catherine and Lizzy were ever the professional performers on the likes of ‘Guest List’ (dedicated to their teacher, who was at the show and who was the first one to ever hear it performed), ‘Who We Are’ (about their mother and dedicated to all the parents out there), ‘Footnotes’, ‘The Good & The Right’, and ‘Take That Train’ (complete with explanation of the real experience that inspired it). Both alternating between playing guitar and just focusing on singing, after an initial period of finding their feet during the opening song their vocals really shone, their sisterly harmonies as good as anything I’ve ever heard and each girl’s solo parts strong and technically on point. Just as Lizzy took on much of the stage patter she also seemed to be more of a ready-made popstar than her sister; yet that is not to discredit Catherine, more to draw attention to her relative endearing awkwardness behind the mic when not armed with a guitar, or the way she often closes her eyes and gets lost in the song. Lizzy’s movements were more dynamic, her facial expressions more passionate, her eye contact with the audience more regular, but the differences between the two only served to highlight their own characteristics that make this outfit such a compelling one.
After all, any duo consisting of twin sisters is likely to be perfectly in tune musically, but Ward Thomas aren’t afraid to show their individual personalities in their performances while remaining in line as a collective. It’s something that many groups may struggle with as they attempt to remove the faceless concept of unity and begin to delve deeper into the separate voices that lie underneath. We are able to get to know both Lizzy and Catherine over the course of their one hour set, and it’s entirely to their credit (whether accidental or deliberate) that this is possible. Still, we feel their amazing chemistry and relationship during the likes of new song ‘Safe’ (that they wrote on a three month writing stint in Nashville), a truly incredible cover of Hosier’s ‘Take Me To Church’, and their captivating acoustic rendition of ‘Caledonia’ for their encore. This extends into personal interactions, too, as Catherine starts to talk as Lizzy is still introducing ‘Who We Are’, and there’s a brief moment of hilarity as they both say “oh, we always interrupt each other,” while consequently interrupting each other.
In general, although they are incredibly good at what they do musically (considering how young they still are – they turned 21 recently), I did feel that there was a lack of compelling stage patter, but that could have been down to wanting to squeeze as many songs in as they could before curfew. They have also only been doing this for a couple of years, and often honing those amusing lines and stories takes time and life experience. Still, it was the unplanned descents into silliness that were the most enjoyable and loosened everyone up a bit, such as when Lizzy asked her sister, “are you ready?” in order to begin their cover of Michael Jackson’s ‘Man In The Mirror’, and Catherine panicked as she had a mouthful of water. Then there was their introduction to ‘Push For The Stride’, where Lizzy explained to the audience which part to sing along to, and had to start her vocal example again because she stopped halfway through to giggle, “that was awful!” Once she had sung it correctly the laughs continued, as it was perhaps so complex that the audience didn’t really know how to repeat it or where to begin, before Catherine’s guitar promptly fell off her and they broke into the sweet spot of where a show truly becomes fun.
All that said, it was an incredibly enjoyable night. They are clearly very capable musicians and are certainly at ease on the stage, making them an unmissable act and one that I’m sure will be around for many years to come. We may have seen the results of the first layer of polish on a rough diamond that night, so I can’t wait to see how it shines when it’s done.