Pasta, Performing & Perfect Producers: In Conversation with Lucy Ward (Part 2)

Derby based Brit-Folk star, Lucy Ward has had a busy couple of months; a tour with her new band, a variety of festival appearances, most notably a fantastic performance on the Leftfield stage at Glastonbury; and working alongside Billy Bragg on the 14 -18 Now project commemorating World War One.

Our writer, Danny Stockdale managed to grab a chat with her before the rollercoaster set off…

Lucy Ward
Danny: Stu Hanna (of the folk duo, Megson) has been involved in producing the two solo albums and has supported and played with you in the band, is he a Phil Spector-type mentor or role model for you?

Lucy: I think he’ll be pleased with that comparison! Working with Stu has been a fabulous experience for me, as was making two albums which were very different from each other. When we made the first I was very young. I didn’t know how I wanted things to sound so we spent a lot of time playing the songs and talking about the sound that we wanted. All the time I was learning what phrases to use to let him know how I wanted the editing to go. It was a collaborative process but led by Stu , which was an amazing experience for me.

When it came to making the second record it was much more of a level playing field, coming to the album as friends rather than producer and artist. We spent a lot of time drinking tea and eating biscuits as well as making the record and that’s a really special thing. Making, recording music with Stu, and having him as producer has certainly been a relationship I’m pleased happened, all be it completely randomly, I’m really pleased that we came together and that I hope we can continue to make records together in the future.

D: How did the partnership come about?

L: I got introduced to Stu by the fabulous Mick Peat, co-organiser of the Derbyshire Folk Festival and presenter of Folkwaves on the BBC. He’s a Derby bloke and was very supportive of me when I first started out. Knowing that Stuart was an up and coming producer, he introduced me to him at a conference and for a while we ended up on a lot of the same bills with Megson. At first we were acquaintances and then we started chatting and it was just great.

I knew I wanted to make an album but the right opportunity hadn’t come up so I said to myself after I finished my A-Levels “I’m going to give this five to ten years of plugging away on the club circuit to see where I can get”. I’d actually had a conversation with my parents and said that “the likelihood is that I’ll still be living with you, is that cool with you?”

Then I got this email out of the blue, it was Stu and it said Navigator Records want to work with me on an album. There is me looking at this email saying “Do you even need to ask?”

So that’s how it came about and then to end up with Navigator being your record label was fabulous and above what I’d anticipated I would achieve. Then to be in a situation again with a producer who is so generous with his time and who wants to work with young artists to develop their skills, rather than whack out an album of commercially viable songs as quickly as possible turned out to be an incredibly fruitful relationship for all of us. It’s a really good position to be in.

D: I’m very envious of his hair.

L: Stu is the most stylish man in folk music. I’m throwing that out there, I think its true!

D: What has been the best advice that Stu has given you?

L: Lots! I would say that Stu’s been someone who, even when we haven’t been making records I’ve been able to ring up and say, “this opportunity has come up or this has happened, what do you think? What’s the standard? I don’t want to mess this up, I don’t want to get messed around”.

He’s been a real font of information and support in that respect, totally, and that’s been really nice to have. I think Stu has mainly taught me not to be precious about your songwriting. When we made Adelphi Has To Fly I came to him with every song being a ballad. They were all seven minute epics and he was like “Can we cut that verse? Can we cut that?” and I was really hurt! How could he want to get rid of words that I’d written! But he’s right, they didn’t take the story forward and it was dead space in the song and that really helped shape the way I looked at my songwriting. By the time I got to Single Flame with every song I was like “We can cut that and we can cut that bit out Stu, and we’ll speed it up and get it through! Three and a half minutes, let’s go!” and he’s going “Woah, Luce, no”.

Not to be precious and to enjoy collaboration because I’m quite sure that without Stu, and without the musicians we invited to play on the record it wouldn’t have been the record it was, and I like to think of it as a collaborative effort that I was lucky enough to be at the front of.

D: Are there any plans for future collaborations with Stu?

L: Well, we’ll see. We’ve just started talking about plans for a third record, in very loose terms and I’m only just getting round to thinking about it and starting to write for it. So we shall see what happens but it’s all being talked about.

D: Is there a lot of pressure from the record company to produce a third album quite quickly or within a certain time frame?

L: No not at all actually. I don’t know if it’s a folky thing or its just the people I happen to be working with currently, but I think they know that I’m not done and I’ve got songs in me and that I’m ready to start working on it. I think they are quite happy. I’m very lucky to be working with Navigator because so far it’s been the type of experience where they would rather wait for a great album that the artist feels good about, than rush you into something that isn’t right for you because at the end of the day, you’re the only person who can sell your record.

We’re not Beyoncé, we’re not Adele, there aren’t millions of pounds going into production and marketing and so they really need to believe in what you’ve got to offer to spend your life travelling up and down the country singing those songs.

D: A couple of years ago when I first saw you at the ‘Look’ Benefit Concert you’d just won the BBC Folk Horizon Award and it almost seems within a blink you’ve been nominated for the BBC Folk Singer of the Year Award. How does that feel?

L: That was a bit mental to be honest with you! I held a vague hope that Single Flame might be considered for an award, or best original track or something. I didn’t think it would happen but I certainly was awaiting a call, or hoping for a call… and then the call came and it said “I’m terribly sorry but ‘Single Flame’ didn’t get nominated for anything” and I thought “That’s totally fine, there’s been loads of great records out this year.” Secretly I was disappointed, then they said “but you are nominated for Folk singer of the Year.”

I said “Are you sure?” It feels very strange to go from Best Newcomer to being considered best on the scene, and there’s no higher compliment and I hope that I can work and live up to that.

D: How’s life been since the nomination and awards night? Has it been any different?

L: Grand really, what more could it be! The nomination was an amazing thing to happen and it was a great opportunity to share and to celebrate, and to let audiences know that it’s a thank you, and that’s a nice position to be in.

The award’s night was just fabulous. I’ve never been to the Albert Hall before and oh my, it’s an amazing building! I didn’t expect to win, I’m twenty-four, a couple of years after the Horizon Award, I didn’t want to count my chickens for it and just wanted to enjoy a wonderful evening. It was rewarded when Derbyshire brought it home anyway!

D: I enjoyed all the pre-award fake rivalry you had with Bella Hardy, who won the award.

L: We were doing the Penguin gigs together so it seemed like a great opportunity and Bella is a good friend, a fabulous musician and a lady I have a lot of respect for so I was very happy and losing out to a mate is the way to do it, I reckon.

D: The lovely thing about the Folk Awards is it doesn’t seem to have the major music industry rivalries, it just seems like a folk club that’s been taken to the bigger stage and everyone is just pleased for everyone else.

L: A folk club where Jarvis Cocker is sitting on the next table to you. That is just the perfect combo. We spend a good portion of our lives on the road, you’ve bumped into the majority of people in the room somewhere before, even if you don’t know them, they are still a familiar face or they are talking to someone you know and I suppose as bijou and niche as our scene is in many ways, it seems that no matter how much it grows it maintains its sense of community. We’re all trying to get along. All of these musicians deserve to be here and many more besides who the folk awards don’t have space to honor and appreciate.

D: It seemed like a Derbyshire and Sheffield sort of a night, because obviously there was a big representation from both.

L: Yes it was a bit wasn’t it? It kept getting mentioned and I was thinking the people at home must be thinking, what’s cracking off here? It’s like when you when you watch Today in Parliament and everything is London-centred, they are going to think that folk is just Sheffield-centred. I think that is just how it fell this year and really proud that the Midlands and Yorkshire are a huge and vital part of what’s bubbling and really hot on the folk scene currently. That’s certainly exciting and something to be celebrated alongside all the other counties who bring their spin to everything.

I think Scotland was well represented, they didn’t necessarily win as many awards this year but they were all there as nominees. We were actually sat on the table with lots of the Scottish musicians and it was really fabulous. The best bit being when the Morris Dancing was on, someone turned to me and said “Well, that is just a bit weird isn’t it?”

I think the Folk Awards this year in terms of what was shown on the television really walked that line of glamour and eccentricity and that has got to be a great example of what folk music should be.

D: Bella Hardy seemed genuinely surprised to get the Folk singer of the Year Award.

L: Yeah, she’s a very modest woman. We’ve just done a gig together last week and the MC started introducing each of us and he said, “Here we have BBC Award winning Bella Hardy” and she pipes up “Yeah, I won it for best shoes!”

She’s really modest and like all of us on the scene, to be nominated is great and if you win, it’s even better but you try not to think about it because look at the category we were in, to lose to an absolutely incredible musician and amazing songwriter.

Then there’s Fay Hield with the Full English and between all of us women, a whole female category was grand. We are such diverse musicians with different styles and I wouldn’t guess which of those ladies would win, and I think Bella must have been in the same position judging by her speech being mainly about tea!

D: Did you have a speech prepared?

L: Certainly in my head, like who do I make sure I thank, but beyond that I didn’t think about it because I thought “You’re tempting providence there girl, stop thinking!”

D: The final question before I let you go is, will 2014 be mostly focusing on the band-related projects?

L: It’s a mixture, it is a huge part of the year. We’re going to be touring together and we’ve got the festival season but during that time I’m going to be writing and recording the new record for release in Summer 2015. I’ve got collaborations in mind, been talking to people about just writing and opportunities. So its certainly going to be a packed year I think. I have things bubbling under the surface ready for 2015 to pounce with all sorts of different projects.