Wednesday, 27 June 2018

GIG REVIEW: Lucy Ward - Kitchen Garden, Kings Heath, Birmingham. Tuesday 26th June 2018

It has been a contrasting couple of days at the Kitchen Garden. On the rebound from a two-night sold out ‘residency’ by Beth Nielsen Chapman it was normal service resumed as Lucy Ward bounded back into Birmingham to stoke up some fire and fury in folk fans. It is a credit to the venue that such diverse nights can be successfully staged. Some may say – tongue in cheek – that this night reflected the soul of the venue, but the gig platform is a spacious zone. This zone is vibrantly consumed when Lucy Ward sparks a feisty passion and exudes an offbeat enthusiasm. This is folk music in its purest form, give or take the frequent strum of the guitar and ukulele or the odd squeeze of the concertina. As linear, controlled and structured the two previous evenings were, tonight was a return to the maverick ramblings of a left field performer purveying hypnotic powers to lure her audience into a wonderful world of traditional fantasy and gritty political resistance.

Starting with an ode to social injustice via a version of ‘The Trapper and the Furrier’ to ending with the most moving of war futility songs in ‘And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda’, it is impossible not to join the fight, in a passive sense mind you.  As good as Eric Bogle’s song is, Lucy herself has matched the sentiment with her own stunning classic ‘Lion’. If she never writes another song again (for illustrative purposes only) this has the power and credence to live as long as the futility of war itself. Despite listening to this song on countless occasions, the opening line of ‘Tear the white linen from his sheet lad/ He won’t be sleeping in this bed tonight’ hit  hardest tonight.

Since last seeing Lucy play live at the Jinney Ring Folk Festival in 2016 a lot has happened in the world. Probably, more so for Lucy with the birth of her first child, and subsequently the inspiration for song writing on a more personal and sensitive level. The most recent development has been the release of her fourth album PRETTY WARNINGS. More temperate songs such as ‘Sunshine Child’ and ‘The Sweetest Flowers’ are now added to her catalogue and were shared with the audience tonight. Other newbies on the agenda included the philosophical ‘Cold Caller’ and a soon to be crowd favourite singalong ‘Lazy Day’. Another new addition to the set list from previous shows is a cover of Bowie’s ‘Drive In Saturday’, introduced from the angle that you cannot completely serenade a toddler with songs about death and murder.

As intimated previously, politics (of the correct persuasion) plays a large part in Lucy’s outlook and she is always open to a frank exchange of ideas. Her song ‘Bigger Than That’, with its dig at the ‘I’m alright Jack’ generation has put her on the map and its raucous delivery this evening re-enforced the message.

On an alternative songwriting front, an unreleased song titled ‘The Quickening Clock’ made an appearance and had its origin of being a commissioned piece for an Open University sustainability project explained. As ever with Lucy’s work, it looks at some of life's critical issues from the most acute of angles.

Just a brief mention of three other familiar tracks added to the main sets. ‘Alice in the Bacon Box’ opened the second half just as everybody returned from a breath of fresh air on a warm and humid evening in the middle of the current, and rare, British heatwave. ‘King Willie’ saw Lucy in vibrant form hammering out the traditional, while ‘Creatures and Demons’ is one of the best tracks from her 2015 album I DREAMT I WAS A BIRD.

Opening up the show on the evening was a splendid half hour slot of a Capella vocal harmony from the local casual quintet Women in Folk, featuring Kitchen Garden regular Katy Bennett. A diverse selection of songs ranging from familiar pieces such as ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ and ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’ were mixed with an obscure Hawaiian song and one sung in Georgian. This obviously inspired the watching Lucy, who invited two of the group on stage for the encore to join her in a version of ‘John Ball’.

The work of Lucy Ward continues to make her one of the most engaging and rewarding performers on the UK folk circuit. Tuning in is required, but art is far more satisfying and long lasting when the listener has to invest a little. Long may the fire burn in her songs, outlook and quirky stage demeanor. A long road lies ahead and certain music has a strong part to play.