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Live review: Ward Thomas at the O2 Academy

Sam Purnell is transfixed by the joys of country at the Ward Thomas sisters’ Oxford show

Coming onto the stage with an undeniably acoustic sound, Ward Thomas feel strangely out of place with the Bullingdon’s notorious grimy vibe. Somewhere behind us, a drunken fan screams “They are sisters and aren’t they beautiful?!”

It is the second night of Catherine and Lizzy Ward Thomas’ UK tour. The audience, a mix of older people who fell in love with country music in their youth and younger students who have become enthralled by the recent surge of British country artists such as The Shires, are all united by the power of their harmonies.

The band effortlessly embody the emotion of their songs, harmonising with each other in a way that only family members seem to be able to do. Harmony is not just a trend, but the crux of this kind of music. Tonight’s support, Scarlet, is yet another act putting harmony at the centre of their performance. Ward Thomas seamlessly transition from folksy duo to pop country singers, bringing a real honesty to the stage. So much so, that their song ‘Cartwheels’ forces you to hear the heartbreak either one of the sisters may have felt, even if you’ve never been through heartbreak yourself.

No matter the heartbreak and hard times they sing about, it’s clear that they love what they do. The two sisters constantly share glances throughout the gig. Each time their faces light up with a contagious delight. The gig reaches its height when the opening of their most famous song ‘Guilty Flowers’ begins. The band share an anecdote about their reaction to this being played for the first time on Radio 1—dubbing it their first ‘cool’ song.

There is a sense of surprise mixed with pride in this story. The sisters are humble enough to have clearly never expected to reach that level, and probably never thought they’d be touring the UK following a number 1 album. They also take time to pay a rather touching tribute to the late Terry Wogan, dedicating their first single, ‘Push for the Stride’, to his memory as a “thank you” for featuring them on Radio 2.

Towards the end of the gig, they strip back to a ‘snug session’: a more toned-down version of ‘Proof’, accompanied by ukulele and accordion. Their vocal and instrumental talents shine here. With nothing to hide behind, the two musicians are stripped back and raw. At their most vulnerable state, they continue to impress, no small feat considering the close, and likely intimidating. proximity of the audience.

As they slink back onto stage for their encore, they are greeted by a chorus of fans who all sing the harmonies of ‘Carry Me Home’ back to them. You can see in their faces that the sisters are moved by the sight.

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