Typical of Lucy Ward’s down-to-earth nature, I grab her for questioning around at her Mum’s house following her fifteen minute demolition of a plate of homemade pasta. Agenda Magazine writer, Danny Stockdale talks to Derby’s own star of Brit-Folk, Lucy Ward as she is about to embark on the first tour with her new band line-up; stopping by in Derbyshire’s Matlock Bath Grand Pavilion on 25th April 2014.
Danny: You seem to be really excited about Friday and the start of the tour…
Lucy: Yes, it’s really good! I’ve been kind of nervous about it for a long time, with it being just a step in a different direction, would the audience like that? Also you’re taking five other musicians on tour with you; you want them to have a good and exciting experience. It felt like a lot of pressure. I really , really wanted it to succeed, but it’s all going well, everybody’s working hard and all of the musicians are working hard to make the music sounds awesome.
D: With your success as a solo artist, what made you decide to form a band?
(The Lucy Ward Band consists of Belinda O’Hooley (Rachel Unthank and the Winterset), Heidi Tidow (O’Hooley & Tidow), Stephen MacLachland (The Willows), Joy Gravestock and Sam Pegg)
L: A first record for any solo artist I think is really important for it to be a calling card for the sound that you can produce live. I think particularly when you’re a folk artist and you’re going to be going up and down the country to folk clubs and venues. If they [the audience] come and see you live and you sell them a record where it’s you and a fifty-two piece band it’s just so incongruous. It didn’t feel right. I think a second album is an opportunity to lay down a lot of the things you hear as a songwriter and put them on the album. People took to it [the current album Single Flame] really well, it was successful and had good reviews and so at the launch we decided it would be fun to get together some of the musicians who had performed on it to do a band gig and it just felt awesome! For me it was such a different experience to be sharing the stage and the energy with different people who were bringing their own awesomeness to the table. I think I got the impression from speaking to the audience afterwards that they felt we were able to walk that fine line of connection, which I feel is one of the most important parts about what I do and what I offer as a musician, that audience banter and togetherness but all this music didn’t take away from the intimacy.
So then I went off on my solo tour and I was just missing the sounds and ended up talking to the musicians who now form The Lucy Ward Band, saying “I really enjoyed it! What do you think? Do you think it (a band) is feasible? Would you like to do it?”.
Everyone said yes and it’s happening! It’s not the end of folk clubs and solo performances, but it’s really exciting to be able to realize all of those sounds live and the harmony. It’s so hard to sing harmony as a solo performer…but I’ve already got four great singers up on the stage so we go for it like that!
D: How much of the idea to form a band was influenced by the ‘Mills & Chimneys’ project?
(The 2010 ‘Mills & Chimneys’ project was a collaboration between Derbyshire folk musicians (Lucy Ward, David Gibb, Elly Lucas, Sarah Matthews, Julian Butt and Mike Smith) who worked with together with schools to create an album of songs which represent Derbyshire.)
L: I would say that Mills & Chimneys has been the most consistent experience I’ve had collaborating with other musicians and it’s different in the respect that it’s solo people contributing equally to a band, whereas obviously this band is my music and the musicians put their own spin on top of that. I would certainly say that it has been my main experience of touring with other people and if The Lucy Ward Band can have half as much fun as Mills & Chimneys managed to have then we’ll have a really great tour and a really great time!
D: I was thinking as a solo artist it is essentially the relationship between you and the audience which determines the gigs success and if that’s not quite there on the night it’s pretty difficult. Whereas if you have other people on stage you can make your own fun and that feeds through to the audience, would you say that’s fair?
L: Yeah, I think there’s something in that certainly. I hope that bad nights are a thing of the past, but rather you have good nights and really good nights. That can be for all sorts of reasons including the mood of the audience. I think when I’ve been in those situations where perhaps I feel like I’m trying to gain the audience’s approval, having these musicians around me in the few gigs we’ve done together as a trial has given me the confidence that the music can speak for itself. I don’t need to be nattering away for them to get the point which is a lovely position to be in and I hope that it will make for a different experience to my solo shows.
D: I think it probably would do. It’s been lovely to see you so many times over what seems to be a couple of years and to see you confidently taking hold of the stage. Now from my point of view because I know your set list I’m able to see it from an objective point of view, looking at how engaged the audience is and how lovely it is to see the audience really taking to you…
L: That’s really cool! That’s really nice! It has been a mad few years and I have spent a lot time honing my craft, going up and down the country, speaking to all kinds of people and I hope that means that there is very little that can phase me in that live experience now. It’s all the better when people shout out and sing and we have this amazing communal space. I’m hoping that the others musicians will just add to that.
D: You mentioned about the public response in those two shows already, what has been the general public response to the Lucy Ward Band project?
L: I think people seem excited by it, like you said at the beginning, I’m excited and I think that has been a bit contagious for some people which is lovely that people are getting on board. I think a lot of my reviews have mentioned what a surprise Single Flame was and in a positive way. Making comments like “How can the person who wrote Adelphi have written this record?”, which I reveled in because I thought that’s what you want as a musician.
I’m 24 and I hope that experience of experimenting with new sounds and songwriting styles isn’t over and that I can write albums that sound like different people. I think people who perhaps had their view of my style and performance perhaps saw me as someone quite lightweight because of how fun I like the “in-between death songs” moments to be. This record maybe said to some of my critics “oh no, she’s singing and these are songs about big topics, environmental change and politics”.
D: I suppose seeing your music as being minimalist, sparse and your voice being your main instrument, this is different. This is more about the tapestry that comes out of this project and your songs…
Yes! That’s a good word to use. The bit I’m most excited about is that it’s going to give me the freedom to sing more. There are times when I’m handing over the guitar to the fabulous Heidi Tidow and it gives me the space and the freedom to really stretch my voice. I’m hoping that in having more instruments it gives me the opportunity to get down to the barebones of what I love, which is passionate singing and I really hope that comes across.
D: I suppose not having to concentrate on playing the guitar helps that.
L: Yes, things can happen around me and I can focus on the songs and stories as well as I possibly can.
D: Have you had the opportunity to write together as a six-piece?
L: So far we haven’t tried to write together, we have so few moments with everyone’s schedule. The focus has been on getting the material for the tour really tight. In terms of what we create together, I’m not a dictator! If you’re going to enjoy playing the music and express that passion and enjoyment when you play then I want you to claim it for your own! If you’ve got an idea, then try it! If I don’t like it, or if it doesn’t work we can move forward and work on something else. We’ve tried to create music which is collaborative within the confines of the songs that stand. There are arrangements of songs which I’ve never performed live but are on the record which will be heading out on the tour so people can expect things they’ve certainly not heard me perform before with this line-up.
D: What can people expect from spending an evening with the Lucy Ward Band?
L: Well, I’m putting on songs from Single Flame and indulging the songs I have refrained from performing live on tour. We’ve also got a few cheeky covers up our sleeve for you! Lots of passion and excitement. I hope something we can achieve is a really electric atmosphere because that’s how it feels when we play together!
D: You mentioned about the covers, are you allowed to reveal any of those or are you keeping those a secret?
L: We have already put online our cover of Come on Eileen but everything else is a secret. You’ll have to come along to hear it!
D: I was wondering, could there be an album of ‘pop-songs-done-in-a-folk-style’, inspired by the Sidmouth Cabaret in the offing? Is that a possibility?
L: I don’t know about an album! I think by the time I’ve finished this tour I’ll have enough to do an album but I think it’s kind of fun at the moment to just have them up your sleeve ready to whip out on an unsuspecting audience. You don’t want to give it all away!
D: Common People has always gone down a treat particularly when I’ve seen you performing around Sheffield…
L: (Laughs) I don’t sing that as much anymore, I didn’t sing that much on the last tour, but if I’m going to get requests for anything then it’ll be that.
D: You’ll have to bring it out as a single.
L: Well that one has been recorded but many moons ago so we’ll have to see if there’s room in the calendar to bring it out sometime.
D: What’s it like going from being just you and Rob, to being one of six others at a gig?
L: It’s certainly a different dynamic. I get really nervous before I go on stage and I think it’s just me working myself up, but if I didn’t feel that way I’d worry that I didn’t care enough about how the gig went. Within the band there are five other people who are dealing with the things they do before they go on stage, some are just totally chilled out and they’re looking at me thinking “is she ok?” when really it’s just what I’m going to go through with every gig and it’s not a problem.
Then there are people who like to eat early and others who like to eat late and that’s another interesting aspect. I think musicians are very ritualistic and we like to do things in our orders to know that we’re going on stage as prepared as we possibly can be. The problem being when there are six sets of rituals pushing against each other! But I think when we’re on tour we’ll probably get in sync!
D: I have visions of you being like one of those tourist guides with the umbrellas, telling everyone where they need to be…
L: That would suggest I’m organized! That’s another thing, you have to turn up a lot earlier to gigs when you have drums, that’s the only thing that’s changed for me!