Singer-songwriter Lucy Ward's only solo show of the year is at The Spring Arts Centre, Havant
The past year has been a time when many of us have been forced by circumstance to stop and take a closer look at our lives and where they’re going.
Folk singer-songwriter Lucy Ward found herself for the first time in a decade with time on her hands.
‘It's been nice to step off the treadmill,’ she tells The Guide.
‘I never would have allowed myself the time off that Covid has given me, and although that's been a struggle in a lot of different ways, the time it's given me with my family, and the space to think about a way of touring and making music that is a better balance for all of us – that's been good.’
Lucy was actually on tour and her first gig got pulled before the official lockdown began.
She recalls: ‘They paid me half of my fee because they thought they were being overcautious because that was before many of us knew what was really happening.
‘At that point, there was a bit of me thinking, oh, getting paid to not have to travel – there are worse things to happen! Then of course it all fell apart.
‘It was weird because my identity for a very long time was built around being on the road – for 10 years, tour, album, tour, album – with some interesting collaborations and theatre in between that.
‘But this was like: Summer at home? What is this...? I met my garden for the first time which was quite cool!’
While she has done some online gigs and livestreams, Lucy adds: ‘I'm the kind of performer who really feeds off the audience connection.
‘I really believe in being an entertainer – the songs might have heavier themes, or political themes, or sad, true stories, but I want people to go away from my gigs feeling uplifted, an part of that is that personal connection you get in a room full of people, and I've really missed that.
I've managed to fit on a couple for that brief moment the world reopened last year and that was special.
‘This gig coming up in Havant is one of three live gigs I've got all year and it's the only solo gig – the other two are in a ballet project I'm part of.
‘That might change if the world improves a little bit – so it's a big deal for me and I'm really pumped for it.’
Ballet Folk – as the name suggests – is a company combining the dance form with trad music. Their show The Sisters of Elva Hill made its debut on the mains stage of The Cambridge Folk Festival in 2019 and that also been due to tour last year.
‘We had to pull back from that, it's a cast of nine people, even if we'd been able to fit in a gig, it would have been a logistical nightmare keeping everyone safe and dancing together.
‘That kind of project, keeping up the momentum for nearly two years is really difficult. We think these might be the only shows that the ballet does now.’
But the show will return at this year’s Shrewsbury Folk Festival – a place close to Lucy's heart – where they’ll be filming it too.
‘We want to get a film of it, and Shrewsbury's a very special festival to me – they've booked me for the entirety of my career. One year I did seven gigs there because I was such a tiny artist and they book you for every little thing that's going, and then over the years built up to the main stage.’
And she’s trying to remain optimistic about things going ahead this summer.‘I think another lockdown is the only thing that's going to stop events happening this year because we know how to risk assess now, don't we?’ she laughs. ‘Me and a lot of my colleagues are hopeful about the summer, but the Indian variant has thrown things up in the air again, so it's all the more important to grab the opportunities, like The Spring, where you know that you're going to a venue like that.
‘I hope that people can feel confident that this is an experience where their safety has been so highly considered, it’s about bringing us back to the best bits of music and not putting anyone in harm's way.
‘The Spring will be the first thing I've done in front of alive audience since last October, so this is potentially the first music have come out to see for even longer.
‘I think it's going to be quite an emotional experience, potentially for all of us, being in a space sharing music and stories and uplifting each other with our positive energy. It's going to be a very special thing.’
Lucy began performing at open mic nights in her teens, going on to win the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards she Horizon award (for best newcomer) in 2012. She has released four critically acclaimed albums, as well as been involved in numerous other projects across stage, film and radio.
Here most recent album was 2018's Pretty Warnings, and she is working towards a follow-up, but explains: ‘As a small independent artist, if you can't tour, you can't raise enough money to make your album, and if you have made an album, you can't tour to make that money back, so the songs have been sitting there, mulling away.’
Over the past year she has been writing a lot to commission and also started a podcast Thank Folk for Feminism.
‘In the classic fashion that all things come about for me , someone suggested it and I went: “Yeah!” Before I even thought about how to do it.
‘We said, who would be fun to talk to? I had this dream, what if we could talk to (folk matriarch) Peggy Seeger? So we said: “Okay, if Peggy says yes, we'll make a podcast.’
She did – and appeared on the first episode. The 10th episode was released this week.
‘I cohost it with Pinky Ward – no relation – she runs More Than The Music, a female collective of reviewers and photographers. She's also CEO of Oxfordshire Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis Centre, so she works within gender-based violence, and is an activist. Obviously I'm a musician and songwriter who's spoken on these topics.
‘Folk music in 2020 had its #MeToo moment with a lot of people coming forward, talking about experience of the difficulties for women, especially young women, trying to to be taken seriously and respected on the scene.
‘It came off the back of that, wanting to enter into conversation with fantastic female artists, and we wanted a space where we don't just talk about feminism – we talk about the guests, their music, their writing style, experiences on the road, and sometimes we talk about feminist issues or motherhood within that, attempting to get ready with dignity in a place that's only got a broom cupboard for you to get changed in...
‘And we have a laugh with it too.
‘It's not that there's problems everywhere and it's an awful place to work, it isn't that at all, but we're very lucky in the folk scene that we consider ourselves a family and we consider ourselves supportive.
‘I tour with my kids – there aren't many genres that would be as welcome to that.
‘We don't have the answers, we're just talking things through and talking about how to make things better.
‘This hiatus has given me the chance to give something back to the scene that I love and to help it be the best version of the scene that it can be.
‘These conversations I'm having and the learning I'm doing from talking to them will affect me as an artist, but that's the point isn't it?
‘As a solo artist who's really focused on your work, your songs, your tour, even when you collaborate with bigger bands, it's a focus on your art, so it's been really nice to just sit down and chat with my contemporaries and my betters – people who are more famous and less famous than me or who work behind the scenes, and hearing about their experiences.
‘It's been really cathartic to invest in sharing their brilliance for this little while that we're waiting for everything to get going again.’
‘We all grow and change to our surroundings and I'm a very different artist now at 31 to what I was at 21, so here's hoping there'll be another transformation and the learning and growing will continue.’
The podcast is also LGBTQ+ inclusive and looks at ways of challenging the patriarchal nature of the music business.
‘One of the big things that set off this conversation within the scene was The Shee - a six-piece female band who weren't booked for a festival because the organisers said: "We've booked our female act this year”.
‘So we're not just talking about matters of abuse, we're also talking about gender balance – I think there's only three or four female, or female-led acts that would be considered bigger enough to headline folk festival in this country and that's a problem because there are hundreds of female artists.’
But Lucy is very excited by the prospect of getting back on stage.
I've been blown away by people’s support – what a privilege to know that people are willing to wait for your work. This gig at the Spring, it will feel nice to give a real thank you to people who have taken the time to support me and share my stuff, to listen to me...
‘I think I'm coming back to performing quite changed.’
Lucy Ward is at the Spring Arts Centre in Havant on Saturday, June 12, 8pm. Tickets £14. Go to thespring.co.uk.
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
You can subscribe here for unlimited access to our online coverage, including Pompey, with 70 per cent fewer adverts for less than 20p a day.