Lucy Ward

BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winner Lucy Ward is one of the scene’s hottest new talents. M quizzed her about how she fell in love with folk…

Jim Ottewill
  • By Jim Ottewill
  • 27 Mar 2014
  • min read
Young folk artist Lucy Ward is one of the most exciting talents working in the genre.

As a twenty-something, she’s already proved to have a mature musical head with her two albums to date - Adelphi to Fly and Single Flame -  winning over critics and music lovers alike. Her great releases and hard work on the road have not gone unnoticed. Lucy received the Horizon award for best newcomer at BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in 2012 and a nomination this year for best folk singer.

The albums have showcased her take on the sound which blends the traditional with lyrical concerns ranging from politics to the deeply personal. Lucy has also provided the soundtrack for award winning director Kim Hopkins' documentary film Folie à Deux – madness made of two.

M quizzed her on the songwriting process and her thoughts on the future of folk music…

How did you first get into music?

My parents are massive music lovers so instead of being read stories before bed, my dad would teach me songs, much to the disdain of my mother. That took a lot longer than reading the Three Little Bears.

Artists like Bowie, the Beatles and Motown set up my passion for music. But I never anticipated I would become a songwriter or musician.

How did you start writing music?

My parents collected instruments although they can’t play any themselves. For my 14th birthday, they bought me my own guitar and ended up going to a local open mic night. It was from there that I began to play and started writing my own material. Before that I’d write poems but it was only through the night and the support it gave that I thought I could give music a go. I’m 24 now and still not made it to uni.

What drew you to folk music?

Before these nights I didn’t know that folk music existed other than Bob Dylan or Joni Mitchell. It was there where I first started hearing the stories and the songs and they totally captured my imagination. I started toying with traditional material and exploring these tales.

Do you feel a tension between the traditional and the contemporary when writing your music?

There can be. When I released Single Flame last summer, I was worried whether the style of songwriting was too far removed from the traditional.

But without wanting to sound too pretentious, I’m still at the beginning of my songwriting journey so I hope there’s room for me to grow. The notion that a song means something and tells a story of personal, political, social history - that’s in my mind when I write. But the folk genre shouldn’t be restrictive. It’s a guide. All great songwriters and musicians are genreless. They just write amazing music regardless. I hope I can become one of them and not be held back by worrying if things are traditional enough.

Was the latest album a big leap forward in terms of songwriting?

I certainly felt the weight of the second album because my first was so well received. So I put off making Single Flame for some time.

I ended up writing it while the London riots happened - people were protesting about hikes in uni fees, welfare reforms and this current of change affected the record. To have released something more throw away wouldn’t have been true to how I was feeling. The second record presents a wider world view as well as touching on the kind of personal histories intrinsic to the folk story heritage.

Are you now working on new material?

Yeah I’m getting round to thinking about a third album now. After I released the last record, I toured for three months so writing fell by the way side. I had January to March this year to think about the direction of the new record. Interestingly it’s slipped back to those personal stories. I heard [British folk singer] Nick Jones say that the thing he likes about songs is the little incidental moments which in themselves are nothing but together paint a picture. That sounded like a different way of looking at songwriting and has affected the songs which have come out.

You’ve written some material for film. Are there different challenges associated with this medium?

It’s a completely different mindset. When you write your own songs, you can start off with something historically correct, then go off on a massive flight of fantasy, ride on the back of a dragon fly, then come back to the story. Composing for screen is more prescriptive. It can’t distract from the story or add too much to the film. You need to leave room for the film to do that. But it’s a great way of flexing different songwriting muscles.

What does winning a folk award do for a new artist?

From the nomination things started to get really exciting. People were coming to me, wanting to book me. It led to the busiest year of my life after winning. The nomination for younger artists is a recommendation from the glitterati of folk music and winning was the cherry on top of the cake. It set me up for a year of really honing my craft.

Is the folk scene currently in good health?

I think we’re in a transitional stage. We have loads of fantastic new talents but we’re not seeing young people in the audiences. Or as much as we should. It leaves us in a strange position because we’ve got all these artists burgeoning within the scene. Festivals are growing with amazing diversity in audiences in terms of ages and walks of life. However, the club and concert scene not so much.

So as a folk artist today, is playing live still important?

Yes - we all know that the perfect model is release a record, tour twice in a year and limit your exposure so more people want to come to your gigs. But at the end of the day, musicians live hand to mouth. So being out on the road is the most reliable way of getting by. At my level that’s how we do it. We’re lucky because folk has always been a live scene traditionally. I really hope it will be revived.

Have you any tips for aspiring musicians?

Make the music you want to make because even at the lower levels, there will be people telling you what is commercially viable, how you need to make radio friendly tracks. I’ve had these things said to me but at the end of the day you’re the person playing and selling your music. You need to be comfortable with it.

Lucy is playing at Cecil Sharp House in London on 9 April. Find out how to get tickets