Lucy Ward used to tell a story of the first time she met June Tabor, and how nervous she was when being introduced to such a folk icon. I wonder how long it will be before we hear people talking of the first time they met Lucy Ward? Based on the evidence of her 4th solo studio album I would suggest it won't be in the too distant future. For somebody still in their 20s "doyen" seems a big word to use but there's no doubt Lucy will be a major fixture on the folk scene for many years to come. Some have even made comparisons to Norma Waterson.
Knowing I would be at the launch I'd deliberately not listened to any of the tracks beforehand. I wanted to experience them for the first time with no preconceptions. What I discovered was that "Pretty Warnings", as with previous releases, shows a progression. Lucy is not somebody to sit still or rely on previous success so the big world themes of "Single Flame" are not in evidence, nor the youthful exuberance of "Adelphi Has To Fly" but that does not mean the songs are small. Instead there's a more focused view of personal relationships, perhaps reflecting her new life as a mother.
The launch was held in the Guildhall, at 600 years old and one of the finest timber framed buildings in the country it still holds a central place in the life of the City, hosting regular entertainment events. It's a perfect location to listen to traditional music and the good audience sat in keen anticipation before the always welcome "Ey up!" rang out. It always brings a smile to the face and a feeling of being part of the family.
Lucy has always said that her best instrument is her voice and for the launch she had her band with her, with Sarah Matthews on fiddle instead of Anna Esslemont. This allows her to bring a much greater range and a fuller sound to her music, whilst she can concentrate on the vocals and she has got such a beautiful voice. It's rich, it flows, and can expressed a whole range of emotions.
The songs on the album are a combination of those written by Lucy, or arranged traditional pieces. Of Lucy's songs certainly can't be categorised so we heard of love and death, beauty and horror in equal measure. "Sunshine Child" bought a tear to many an eye, being written for her son and it's a song that only a Mother could write. In the best traditions of folk it's about people from experience and from the heart.
Even a reworking of The Red Barn, "Maria Martin", with its tale of premeditated murder was presented in a melancholy way, rather than with a sense of shock. Of course, these songs seen live have an introduction that sparkles. "Bill Norrie" is a song about a secret love child being killed by a jealous husband who believes him to be his wife's lover rather than son. It ends with the line "If I had known he was your son he would not have been killed by me." That brought musings and laughs in equal measure because folk music can have a sense of 'hey-ho these things happen'. The songs suggests the husband is out of favour, but we don't know if revenge is planned. That gave Lucy an idea for a follow up version.
Another song that moved the audience greatly was Mari Fach, it takes a look behind the more traditional The Cruel Mother. In this true story a 17 year old serving girl in Wales gives birth and then kills her child. Lucy uses the line from the original "all alone and aloney-o" to great effect to emphasise how there was little support for those who made a mistake. What was also interesting, we were told, was that her employer went to great efforts, including riding to London, to try to save her from the rope but returned home with the pardon too late. His motive wasn't clear but we all hoped it was a good one and not guilt.
That's what you get at a Lucy Ward show, there's a dialogue between the audience and stage, as well as on it. Lucy has been working with her band (Helga Ragnarsdotir, Sam Pegg and Stephen Maclachlan) for many years now and it's a fairly democratic arrangement - normally. There was some some dissent when Lucy wanted to move away from the set list, which led to her telling them to accept some benevolent dictatorship on occasions. After that she was referred to as "supreme leader" for the rest of the evening! It was a beautiful show, in a beautiful location, and the leaving was at a leisurely pace as people chatted and planned the next time they would be able to meet up.
The album is an excellent addition to the growing back catalogue, but seeing it presented live brings it to life. If you can't make one of her shows then you can buy it through her website, and you should.
Tony Birch - Words & Pics
There are only so many hours in a day and only so many gigs we can get to. We'd really like to expand our national coverage of the live scene as it remains the life blood of music.
Are you able to help us and the artist you're seeing out by dropping us a review once you get back home, and maybe even a picture. If you are able to help, Mail Us your review and we'll get it up as quick as we can
The Fatea Showcase Sessions are a series of downloads featuring acts that we've really enjoyed and think that more people should get the chance to hear.
Click Here to get the latest session