They are the queens of UK country music, twin sisters whose “rams to riches” rise from a Hampshire farm to the chart-topping cream of the crop has been powered by those three key staples of success – talent, hard work and synchronicity.
The duo’s big break came at sixth-form college. “Our singing teacher loved our harmonies, she thought they were country-sounding,” Lizzy Ward-Thomas tells me. “She’d been a session singer in Nashville for eight years, and asked if she could send our song Footnotes to her contacts there.
“The next thing we knew we were on the plane flying to Tennessee.
“We were seventeen…”
Now 28, Lizzy recalls “We thought Nashville would be a dirt track, but it’s a very cosmopolitan city. We love the vibe. Everyone you meet – your waitress, the person at the supermarket check-out – is probably a better guitarist or singer than you are.”
Lizzy and her sister Catherine prospered even among the stiff competition. Today, America’s Music City is a second home for the women, who grew up on a farm near Petersfield, East Hampshire. They recorded their debut album, From Where We Stand, in their A-level year.
Independently released in 2014, it shot to the top of the UK country charts.
Major labels sat up and took notice. Sony signed them and their 2016 album Cartwheels made the duo the first British country act to score a UK Number One.
“That’s when I really pinched myself,” says Lizzy. “That and ending up on the Hyde Park line-up with James Taylor, Bonnie Raitt and Paul Simon in 2018. All heroes of ours.”
The girls got the call when James Blunt wanted to do a country-flavoured duet on his 2019 song Halfway.
“We thought it was a wind-up,” laughs Lizzy. “We couldn’t believe he’d thought of us, or even heard of us.”
James invited them to support him on his arena tour. “We were accompanying ourselves, without our band, on our first arena show. It felt very different.”
To put them at ease, James, in his inimitable way, told them straight-faced, “Listen girls, don’t **** this up.”
Little seems to phase the sisters, but then music is in their blood.
“Our parents were in a band together when we were growing up and our whole upbringing was filled with the music they loved – 60s and 70s rock, the Beatles, the Kinks, the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac. »
“We were always singing together and harmonising. Then our cousin from Canada introduced us to country music legends like Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Miranda Lambert and the [Dixie] Chicks. »
“We absolutely loved Taylor Swift.”
Their father Anthony – the founder of the removal firm Anthony Ward Thomas Removals – accompanied them on that first trip to Nashville.
“Dad’s a music nerd,” Lizzy laughs. “He was talking to the musicians about artists and albums they loved, he knew everyone who’d played on them. He was in his element. »
“My mum was really musical too. She advised us not to get involved in politics or religion, or to swear in interviews…but sometimes that goes out the window.”
At Alton Convent School the loyal sisters were nicknamed Scruff 1 and Scruff 2.
Catherine calls them “the trumpet and the French horn” saying Lizzy’s voice is “belting, trumpet-like”, while hers is lower but they complement each other.
Born by IVF, they’re not identical but do share their parents’ work ethic.
Their UK tour runs from March 30 to April 18, despite Catherine being heavily pregnant.
“We’ve always had big personalities,” says Lizzy. “We’re very different as people but we’ve always stuck up for each other.”
Even now Catherine, though very caring, is completely unconcerned about little things like time management.
“She’s scatty,” Lizzy reveals. “If we’re going abroad, she always forgets to bring her passport. Me or her husband Rob have to take it for her.”
It took all of Catherine’s bridesmaids to get her to the church on time last May.
Lizzy’s biggest fault is “over-worrying” she admits, and being “over-emotional – I’ll burst into tears at a TikTok reel. And I’m a loud crier. When Dobby died in the Harry Potter film I was howling. People were looking around thinking ‘is this for real or is it a micky-take?’.”
They played Glastonbury last year and returned to the London leg of the C2C festival this weekend.
They’ve already started writing their sixth album.
Both are remarkably free of ego and controversy. Odd tour stories include having a baguette thrown at them on stage.
“A plain baguette, not even a sandwich,” says Lizzy feigning indignation. “I caught it and threw it right back.”
When David Gray invited them to sing backing vocals with him at Bluesfest “we’d had no soundcheck, and our voices were so loud in his ears you could see him wince”.
Their Sony contract ended after their poppier third album, 2019’s Restless Minds, a top ten hit.
Their 2020 follow-up, Invitation saw them return to country vibes. It was written and recorded on the family farm during lockdown “in our pyjamas with a constant stream of chickens wandering through the kitchen”.
They went back to Nashville to write their fifth album, Music In The Madness – just released on East West label via Warner and already critically acclaimed.
Produced by long-time associate Ed Harcourt and recorded with the duo’s live band, the stand-out tracks peak with the heart-warming, harmony-infused Love Grows.
Justice And Mercy, inspired by true crime podcasts, is a catchy but creepy song about a psychopath “partly based on Putin”, reveals Lizzy.
The uplifting title track, inspired by the Ukrainian resistance, is about finding hope amid life’s downpour.
“In Ukraine in particular we witnessed these wonderful, moving moments of music in the madness,” says Catherine.
“Soldiers singing the national anthem and getting married on the front line, the viral video of the girl in a bomb shelter singing Let It Go…
“In times of crisis, music matters even more. That’s what we set out to celebrate.”
*Music In The Madness by Ward Thomas is out now. For tour dates see wardthomasmusic.co.uk