Tonight marks the inaugural outing of the new look Lucy Ward Band, though you’d be forgiven for believing otherwise given their ability to bounce off each other with ease. The addition of new members makes for a fuller sound, the songs growing into their own especially on opener I Cannot Say I Will Not Speak, which makes a fitting opening for a performance which forms part of the Oxford Human Rights Festival.
With the new album pushing towards a more political feel, this is a vibe that carries through the night. The airing of For The Dead Men falls in wake of the news that a man in Oxford died from malnutrition after losing his disability benefits, adding an extra layer of meaning to the song. Meanwhile the a cappella rendition of The Consequence, which looks at so-called ‘honour’ based violence and control in light of Shafilea Ahmed’s murder is a haunting moment, the vocal harmonies adding weight to the sadness of the song.
This is counterbalanced however with more upbeat moments. Marching Through the Green Grass offers a welcome relief from the more sombre songs and Lucy’s stage presence (and vocals), which at times seems to channel Eliza Carthy, means the set avoids drifting into an evening of melancholy. Though it seems to take the crowd far too long to release that her closing number is a stripped back version of Come On Eileen (which moves the song from a painful pop number to a more husky cry for affection) once they do cotton on, it’s clear they appreciate Lucy’s ability to add a new twist to an old classic.
For me it’s the haunting Shellback which stands out as the highlight of the night. Its look at the effects of war on soldiers seems to perfectly encapsulate the way the world turned for many. Meanwhile it’s Icarus which highlights the full power of the new band arrangements, the guitars and subtle percussion building the song into an atmospheric number. The set, though short, is perfectly formed and serves to reconfirm Lucy’s place as one of the innovative contemporary voices in folk. She manages to turn folk back into a protest performance and reconfirms there’s still a reason to fight against ‘the man’.