Some things change, some remain the same. For her much-anticipated second album (the follow up to the 2011 debut Adelphi Has To Fly), the 23-year old singer, guitarist, ukulele and concertina player Lucy Ward delivers a finely-tuned synthesis of original and traditionally arranged material. Production is again by Stu Hanna (of acclaimed folk duo Megson, both of whom also sing and play here). There, however, the similarities end as the new album – Single Flame – finds Lucy organically broadening her musical palette whilst remaining firmly rooted in a folk tradition that gives shape and form to her sound. Balancing the contemporary and the traditional is never an easy act to achieve but Lucy does it with a natural gift and flair. Her songwriting creates the kind of original songs that you think you’ve heard somewhere before – on an old folk recording or the radio; a testament to the quality of her lyrics, melodies and ‘hooks’.
As a child and in her early teens, Ward grew up in a household where she heard recordings by the likes of Melanie and Bob Dylan and absorbed their lyrics and impact. The album opener I Cannot Say, I Will Not Speak has the lines “they sang the songs of Safka / Candles in the rain”. “The idea behind this song” she says “was how a generation of people sung songs of peace and protest in the 1960’s and yet peace has still to come. The lyrics”, she continues, “were born out of imagining there was just a candle left in the rain, a single flame, a ray of hope that we must protect because it only takes one flame to start a fire”.
Her song For The Dead Men made a first appearance as a single in January 2012 and was subsequently used in the soundtrack to the award winning director Kim Hopkins’ documentary film Folie a Deux (“Madness Made of Two”), which premiered at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam in November 2012. It’s a moving song and performance. “I wrote this song for the dead men” she says. “The dead men are all the people who marched before us, campaigning for justice. The dead men are also those who are apathetic to what is happening around them and their power to affect it. Lastly, the dead men are all those who are left to fall off the thin end of the wedge.” It’s a song about time passing; how we react to it, how we shape our history or allow it to shape us. What we do to stand up for the rights of ordinary people. “Stand up and take to the streets / they can’t ignore us if we all choose to speak”.
Shellback she says “is the first song I ever wrote. Its inspired by a generation of men, my grandfather included, who were conscripted, lost sight of what was at home and in some cases found vices to fill the void of what they had left behind.”
Ward’s songs are compassionate and insightful. They’re also capable of seeing beyond a single event, no matter how emotional and traumatic, to the wider context. One of the most striking original works here does that: it’s called The Consequence and its about violence within the domestic environment and how it destroys and changes the nature of family and home forever. “Shame, Shame, Shame / upon this house” – the words echo in this spare and simple but beautifully sung piece. “I wrote this song after Shafilea Ahmed’s parents were imprisoned for life for murdering their daughter. In the sleeve notes I haven’t said this as I feel that it could be read in different ways; honour killing, murder of a partner”. These kinds of acts are not confined to any one community.
Moving to the upbeat, Marching Through The Green Grass is a Ward and Hanna arrangement of a song also known as the Soldier Boy or Sailor Boy. Collected in the Appalachians by the folklorists Cecil Sharp and Maud Karpeles, the song comes from a time long before the birth of the modern army and the advent of combat soldiers of both sexes.“ The recording includes a tune that Stu and I wrote together”. The performance is a feisty, strident comment on soldiering.
Lord I Don’t Want To Die In The Storm is a traditional song, collected in America by Cortez Reece. After struggling to source a tune for this song, Lucy and Stu decided to write their own. The results are a haunting, doleful piece of minimalist Americana.
Lucy’s song melodies are as memorable and engaging as her lyrics. Songs like For The Dead Men, Honey(about pure and natural beauty), The Last Pirouette (a song on the end of the world, based on a poem written by Lucy’s father in 1983), Rites Of Man (a lament for Mother Nature) and Ink (a lyric based on the life of Stuart Shorter and the book written by Alexander Masters Stuart: A Life Backwards), all have melodies that stay with the listener from first play. None more so, though, than Icarus, a languid, dreamy work containing some of Lucy’s most expressive singing, her vocals floating over the ethereal instrumental soundscape. Lucy says, in her matter of fact way “Icarus’s lover is left to drown as he chooses his aspirations over her”.
Lastly, there is Velvet Sky, an anthem, almost symphonic in nature for a piece of music just 4.13 long, with a labyrinthine lyric full of word delights.
Collectively, the songs here showcase Lucy Ward‘s consummate performance and creative songwriting abilities, her genuine and sparkling personality and stunning voice. The new album Single Flame is a shining statement of how far her talent has grown and developed in such a short time.