Country twins Ward Thomas seek out hope and love in music made in the madness

Catherine, left, and Lizzy Ward Thomas: Returning to York Barbican for the first time since 2019. Picture: Marek Puc

HAMPSHIRE country twins Lizzy and Catherine Ward Thomas play York Barbican on April 4 as the only Yorkshire show of their 13-date spring tour.

“We love York,” says Lizzy. “I think it’s one of the most beautiful places in the country. It’s like finding a hidden treasure. We love the audiences there. We always get such a lovely response at the Barbican.”

Ward Thomas made their York debut at Fibbers in March 2015 and have since performed at York Barbican in May 2017 and February 2019, as well as stopping off in the city on their Busking For Our Planet travels in 2021, ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, to raise money for the TreeSisters, Ocean Clean Up, Arctic Ice Project, Jane Goodall Institute and Client Earth charities.

Next week’s return follows the March 10 release of the sisters’ fifth studio album, Music In The Madness, billed as “a harmony-soaked balm for shattered souls and an uplifting reminder of what really matters”.

Love, family, unity and the healing power of music are recurrent themes of songs that emerged from song-writing sessions that began as war broke out in Ukraine and the world went into a post-Covid tailspin.

“The ‘madness’ is the world around us that we make our music in and we put that experience into our music,” says Lizzy.

“The reason we wanted to use that title is we were writing this album in Nashville when Ukraine had been invaded and Australia had suffered those terrible bush fires, but there’s also much beauty in a world that can be such a dangerous place and human beings really connect to each other in these situations. We see the gestures of people bringing vulnerable people into their homes.

“These incredible stories of hope and love shine so brightly, and that’s why wanted to write an album of songs bringing hope as our next album. Music really is a powerful tool, that’s so important, whether it’s coming together at concerts or bringing back memories at home.”

Ward Thomas topped the charts with their sophomore album, Cartwheels, in September 2016 but after leaving major label Warner following 2020’s Invitation, the sisters find themselves back on their own independent label, WTW Music, originally launched in 2014.

“We kept that label going while we had major label deals, and now we’ve released this latest album independently, which has been an interesting, insightful and incredible experience for us,” says Lizzy. “We’re lucky with the team we’ve got around us, with amazing marketing, radio and TV support.”

Country twins: Lizzy, left, and Catherine Ward Thomas

Music In The Madness entered the Official UK Album Chart at number 31 and has topped the UK country charts, as Ward Thomas seek to retain both their creative and commercial momentum.

“It’s important to continually learn from different people and at the same time appreciate the people who have supported us from the get-go, when we made our first album in Nashville as doe-eyed young girls of 17-18, working with these incredible musicians we were in awe of, having just done our A-levels, writing those songs at school,” says artist’s daughter Lizzy, who was brought up on a Petersfield farm and educated with Catherine at Alton Convent, a Roman Catholic day school.

“The biggest thing we’ve learned since 2014 is just how much things change so quickly in the music industry, how you need to change but work with the right people. If it feels authentic, then go that way; if it doesn’t, have the confidence to say ‘No’.

“It’s important to keep your head screwed on. You’re never in control as things change all the time and you just have to be open to that.”

Through the steady stream of five albums in nine years, the sisters’ love of song-writing has been the key. “We like to see ourselves as album artists, and when the music industry is so difficult these days, we’re lucky we have a fanbase that loves the album format,” says Lizzy. “We’re always wanting to think ahead when we’re working on the current project, to keep the momentum going.”

The gestation of Music In The Madness combined writing sessions in Texas in February 2022 with further writing and recording in the UK. “We had a guy in Nashville who set up sessions for us with Aaran Eshuis, and we wrote a couple of songs with him, and we worked again with Rebecca Powell, who we formed a great personal and creative relationship with when she wrote lots of the Cartwheels album with us.”

Back home, the sisters arranged a song-writing day at singer-songwriter Ed Harcourt’s home studio in Oxford, resulting in the song Joan Of Arc. “Our management and his management were in discussion about Ed producing the album, and after that song we felt on the same page,” says Lizzy.

“What I enjoyed about working with Ed was he was so collaborative and suggested we should bring in our live band for the recordings, when so often producers want to use their own musicians. We have that chemistry with our band, and it was really good fun having them work on the album with us.

“Ed also quietly introduced random instruments, like making a beat by tapping on his desk, and he’s old-school in his approach. You can still hear the creaking of his piano pedal when he played on Loved By You!”

The twins, who turned 29 on Tuesday, already are working on their sixth album with plans for a release to mark hitting 30. “There’ll be lots of stuff about that,” says Lizzy. “Catherine is starting a family; her first baby is due in May. I might be thinking about getting married…”

Ward Thomas play York Barbican on April 4; auditorium doors open at 7pm. Box office:

The cover artwork for Ward Thomas’s fifth studio album, Music In The Madness