Catherine Ward Thomas: 'Mum told us don’t swear or talk politics or religion'

Celebrating a No 1 album that kept Jamie T off the top spot, the dark-haired half of the country pop twins on Shania Twain, Sister Act and free footwear

Hello Catherine Ward Thomas. Let’s start with the basics: how did you and Lizzy meet? (1)

Well, we’re twin sisters, so probably in the womb and then at birth.

Who’s the elder?

I am, by two minutes.

How does that fact manifest itself in your respective personalities?

Oh, well I’m always two minutes early. No, I think we’re both always more than two minutes late to most things, to be honest.

I know you’re not identical, but did you used to dress the same when you were young?

We’ve always wanted to have our own personalities and identities so we’ve always dressed very differently. But we do share clothes now; I’ll wear the same clothes as Lizzy but never at the same time.

Are you getting sent free stuff now that you’re No 1 in the album charts (2)?

No, if only! That would be nice. We spend a lot of money on clothes every year.

Maybe just mention some brand names you’re a fan of and see what happens.

I’ll have a think …. We do wear a lot of Converse, actually. We wear Converse all the time.

It has been quite a big few weeks for Ward Thomas. Can you rate your recent successes in order: being added to the Radio 2 playlist; becoming the first UK country music act to score a UK No 1 album; being interviewed by Gaby Roslin on ITV’s Lorraine?

I think the first one would definitely be us becoming the first UK country act to have a No 1. Just because we definitely didn’t expect it and it’s still something we’re trying to question; like, there must be another album chart. Being interviewed by Gaby Roslin is No 2; to be on Lorraine with her was lovely. And to get on the Radio 2 playlist is amazing as well, because they’ve been so supportive to us.

Watch the video for Ward Thomas’ Guilty Flowers here.

When you tell people you went to a convent school (3), what’s usually their first reaction? That it’s stuffy and strict? Or that it’s like Sister Act?

I think it depends. Sometimes people think Sister Act. It definitely wasn’t stuffy, although they were quite strict on the uniform and how neat and tidy you had to be. People ended up giving us the nicknames Scruff 1 and Scruff 2 because we were so bad at being neat and tidy. We didn’t have any nuns teaching us, so we didn’t get any cool Whoopi Goldberg moments.

Your school had Alison Goldfrapp as an alumna. But your brother went to the same school as Lily Allen, Daniel Day-Lewis, Kirstie Allsopp, Cara Delevingne and the singer from the Kooks. That doesn’t seem fair.

He definitely trumps us. It was a bit more of a cool school (4) where cool kids went and ended up being really famous. The school is very quirky and you get to call your teachers by their first names and wear home clothes. We didn’t get to go; apparently girls concentrate more in all-girls schools. Or at least that’s what we were told.

You wrote your first song in the sixth form and then started having songwriting lessons – what did that entail?

I didn’t know what to expect from our first lesson but essentially it’s just writing a song. The guy we had lessons with, Matt Greaves, is just a great songwriter and he showed us how to structure a song and different rules of songwriting. Those rules were so important to us initially because now we can break them. It was basically just us sitting in a nice room writing songs.

You’ve cited the Dixie Chicks as a big influence. They got quite political as their career went on – do you think we’ll see something similar from Ward Thomas?

Definitely not. Our mum has always told us the three rules of an interview are be yourself, don’t swear and don’t talk about politics or religion. I think we’ll try and avoid that because there are always lots of different opinions floating around. It’s best to keep it to yourself I think. We’ve learned from the Dixie Chicks to not do that, because it didn’t really have a very good effect on them (5). Good for them, though, for speaking out but it had negative effects; people don’t really want to hear everyone’s political opinions when they go to a concert.

So no Brexit anthems?

No way. No way.

You’ve said previously that your songs are about “good old British stuff”. What do you mean by that? What marks your lyrics out as being British?

I don’t think they’re about British stuff as such, we just try and write about our own experiences and our own life lessons. We tend to write about emotions and feelings, and stuff that we’ve experienced. So not about cowboys and old dirt roads.

I like that one of your songs is about getting lost in the Essex parish of Ugley (6).

Yes. Basically we were using the satnav and it really didn’t work. A lot of it was down to the fact that we’d just played a wedding; I was driving and Lizzy, who had just had a couple of glasses of wine, was in charge of directions. It was a bit of a nightmare.

Watch Ward Thomas performing Cartwheels live at Kenaltown Studios.

Everyone mentions Taylor Swift when talking about bringing country to the UK pop but what about poor Shania Twain?

Everyone’s heard of Shania Twain and everyone knows her songs over here. She was a huge pioneer, but what Taylor Swift did that no one else had done really is open up country music to such a young female audience.

Man, I Feel Like a Woman is a tune, though.

Oh yeah, that’s timeless. Of course.

Are you planning on slowly moving into pop music and disregarding your country roots like Taylor?

No. I totally respect Taylor and she obviously wants to have a good time, but we love country music and everything about it.

Do you think that country music is still seen as a bit of a joke in the UK?

We have said that before. At the Country 2 Country festival at the O2, the first time we went, there were people wearing the whole gimmicky dress. But as the years have gone by people are going to a gig because they enjoy instead of just dressing up.

You once said: “We call Lizzy the trumpet and me the French Horn.” Is this about flatulence?

No, the only reason we said that is because Lizzy and I have got very different singing voices. Lizzie’s got very much a belting, trumpet-like voice, whereas I have a much lower voice. Trumpets and French horns do sound quite nice together, so hopefully it’s quite a nice comparison.

So long as it’s not about farting it’s fine.

No, not at all. Completely about the sound of our voices.

(1) I knew that really. I’m a professional.

(2) With second album Cartwheels.

(3) Leading independent Catholic day school Alton Convent in Hampshire.

(4) Bedales School in Steep; brother Tom Ward Thomas is an actor and playwright who worked for six months on a horse farm in Australia.

(5) After criticising then President George W Bush, Dixie Chicks were blacklisted by some country stations, with disgruntled fans encouraged to bring their CDs to a demonstration where they would be crushed.

(6) Town Called Ugley. Key lyric: “Turn right, the Tom-Tom said/ I want to chuck it right out of the car and leave it for dead”.


Michael Cragg

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Linda Ronstadt: 'I don’t like any of my albums'
The country music legend has won 11 Grammys, made 28 studio albums and worked with everyone from Paul Simon to Frank Zappa. She says listening to any of it now is horrifying

Laura Barton

28, Sep, 2017 @12:39 PM

Article image
Dolly Parton: 'I've seen my songs slaughtered pretty good'

The Queen of Country on people singing her classics, being the toast of Glastonbury and who should play her in the biopic she's planning

Rebecca Nicholson

24, Jul, 2014 @1:10 PM

Article image
Willie Nelson: 'If we made marijuana legal, we'd save a whole lotta money and lives'

The veteran musician on God, politics, his favourite singer and why weed should be decriminalised

Michael Hann

17, May, 2012 @2:45 PM

Article image
Ward Thomas: Cartwheels review – slick country pop and millennial whoops

Hannah J Davies

01, Sep, 2016 @9:14 PM

Article image
Kenny Rogers: 'I figured, someone asked for me, so here I come'

Ahead of his Glastonbury appearance, the country legend talks about telling jokes onstage, being huge in Jamaica, and having a higher tennis ranking than Björn Borg

Alexis Petridis

27, Jun, 2013 @12:01 PM

Article image
Rick Astley: ‘I made tea for Bananarama, Dead or Alive, Mel and Kim’
After perfecting the art of brewing hot drinks in a studio, pop legend Astley retired at 27. But how much did he make from rickrolling?

Peter Robinson

12, May, 2016 @12:09 PM

Article image
Brendon Urie: ‘Everybody wanted out from Panic! at the Disco’
As the only remaining member of the band, the singer no longer has to compromise – whether that’s about making music or being naked

Peter Robinson

28, Jul, 2016 @10:24 AM

Article image
Randy Newman: 'I would never not play You've Got a Friend in Me'
The singer is back with his first album in nine years, complete with songs about Putin and medical research. But he still plays the Toy Story tear-jerkers too

Dorian Lynskey

07, Sep, 2017 @12:38 PM

M Ward: A Wasteland Companion – review
M Ward continues his careful restoration job on the sounds and styles of early-60s US pop to pleasing effect, writes Michael Hann

Michael Hann

05, Apr, 2012 @8:15 PM

Article image
Margo Price: ‘Country music is about divorce, drinking and jail’
The outlaw Nashville singer worried she’d be singing to empty bars her whole life until Jack White heard the songs on Midwest Farmer’s Daughter

Laura Snapes

12, May, 2016 @5:13 PM