The Green Note in Camden, London is a very intimate and very special venue, which I first visited to see The Toy Hearts back in April. I can’t think of a better venue in which to see Ward Thomas for the first time, as they ride the crest of a very fast rising wave of success. Just two days before the gig, their debut album From Where We Stand was listed at number 20 in the midweek charts. This would be a big achievement for one of the big hitters from Nashville, so for a relatively new act from the UK, it’s nothing short of remarkable. This is no fluke though, as anyone who has heard Ward Thomas’ album will attest to its exceptionally high quality.
After hearing Jess’ EP a few months ago I was keen to see her perform live, so when it was announced that she would be supporting Ward Thomas, well, all the pieces fell in place for me. Jess was the first of the three acts to take the stage, and from the very start of her 4 song set she was the picture and sound of class and serenity. When Jess sings the whole room is silent, captivated by a voice that feels every single word of every song.
It was great to hear a couple of songs from Jess’ EP, Rose Coloured Glasses and What You Never Had, and to hear them sounding so fantastic. Jess sung so beautifully that I completely forgot a conversation we’d had on Twitter 48 hours earlier, where I discovered Jess had lost her voice. This is why her set was cut down to 4 songs, but she was so good that it never entered my head that she wasn’t at 100%. This leaves me wondering what a fully fit Jess Roberts sounds like, if she was that good last night with a poorly throat? I’ll find out at the inaugural YeeHaw Festival in September.
The Black Feathers
This married duo I knew least about going into this gig, other than listening too their EP whilst at work earlier in the week. It didn’t take long for me to become a fan of Ray and Sian last night, as just like Jess before them, they oozed passion and got completely lost in their music. There’s some folk, some roots and some southern rock in there too, and while Ray is great on guitar, it’s their harmonies that shone through the most. They describe them as tight as blood, and that’s pretty spot on.
If you are looking for gushing love songs you’ve come to the wrong place, and they even joked at one point that they had written a love song called I Hate You, but in fact it was a song titled You Will Be Mine, I think! When they weren’t wowing us with their music they had us in stitches, with the kind of humour that can only come from a married couple. It’s obviously a very strong relationship that they have, and you can see that when they turn to look at each other during the aforementioned harmonies. According to Sian the album will depend on her success with scratchcards, so let’s hope she gets some good luck as an album from these two is something to look forward to.
It was exactly two weeks before this gig that I heard From Where We Stand for the first time, and I’ve listened at least once a day since, usually two or three times actually. It’s got to the point where I have other singles and album stacking up to review, but I can’t bear to take their album out of my CD player. Kacey Musgraves’ Same Trailer Different Park was the last album that had me so entranced, and it’s without a doubt my favourite album of 2014. To put that into perspective, that ranks it above Eric Church’s The Outsiders, which for anyone who knows me will understand how highly I must rate From Where We Stand.
Catherine, Lizzy and band took to the stage, and started to sing a song that wasn’t from their album, or even one of theirs! That shocked me somewhat, but their a capella version of Loretta Lynn’s “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)” was a great way to kick things off, before going into The Good And The Right, which I know well from their EP and album. I had a bit of nerd moment when I said to myself, “that’s track 2 on the album” – told you I’d been listening to it a lot!
The girls sung with such energy and excitement, that the songs were practically bursting out of them. I’m pretty sure Catherine had maybe only a few moments where she wasn’t moving, and the love for the music and the fun they are obviously having is incredibly infectious. As for their sound – it was absolutely perfect, and their harmonies I described as telepathic. There are times when they are either looking away from each other or have their eyes closed, and it seems almost impossible for them to be so in tune with each other, but they nail it, each and every time.
From Where I Stand is my favourite song from the album, and live it took my breath away and gave me a spine tingling moment. I found myself completely lost in that track, as the live performance brought even more emotion. I got a similar feeling during Caldeonia, which seemed to be even more stripped down than on the album, and sounded sensational. By contrast their upbeat songs like Push For The Stride and Town Called Ugley gave us a party atmosphere as Lizzy and Catherine showcased their versatility in spades.
As well as singing they also play guitar on many songs, and when not performing they regale us with stories behind the songs. It seemed like a night of comedy and music, as like The Black Feathers before, these twins from Hampshire were hilarious, and sometimes intentionally so 😉 We also got some new songs, with one called Go To Plan, which may be about Paris, or maybe it’s a Parisian atmosphere, or maybe it was written when they’d just been to Paris – okay, you had to be there! It’s a great song, as is Cartwheels, which wasn’t a definite for their set but they sung at the very end, with no mics and their guitarist behind them. This was another goosebumps song, and left us all in awe of this exceptionally talented duo.
Catherine and Lizzy have such endearing personalities that you’d be willing to forgive less than 100% performances, but you don’t get that, no. From the very start to the last second, Ward Thomas are a superb live act. Credit to their band who back them up brilliantly, and especially Dan on guitar who pulled off some fantastic solos. If I didn’t have plans to see them at YeeHaw, Fort San Anyone Festival and Midwinterfest I’d be disappointed, because Ward Thomas are the kind of act that once seen live, you want to see them again and again. I got to chat to them after the gig and for a couple of 20 year olds who have just recently become the talk of BBC Radio 2, featured on ITV Weekend with Aled Jones and seen chart success, they are incredibly grounded and humble. They are the kind of people that anyone lucky enough to call them their friends, will be all the better off for that. In fact Jess and Black feathers members Ray and Sian were also a delight, and it was lovely to be able to see them play and chat to them too.
The Green Note is to my mind the best venue in London, with an incomparable atmosphere, and last night it was done proud by Ward Thomas, The Black Feathers and Jess Roberts. All three of them had me coming away wanting to see them again, and looking forward to the release of more music. A fantastic night of country, folk, roots from three of the UK’s finest.