Lauren Ruth Ward made her Manchester debut on Thursday night in front of a packed Rose And Monkey crowd that hung on her every word and threatened to drown her out at times by singing along to a set of songs that have made a connection with her audience. Support came from local Emily Lockett and Emma Cole who also was part of Lauren's live band.
Emma Cole is first up and her set up for all but one song of her set consists of her singing to a backing track. It allows her to live out the songs, her performance as much about the visual aspects as about singing - and it's an intriguing proposition that keeps the audience's attention throughout her half-hour set. There's a moment during the dramatic Shot Down where the music appears to stop then kicks back in again and she lets loose, hair everywhere, lost in the moment. It's an intense performance throughout - you sense how much these songs mean to her by the manner of her delivery, like she's reliving each one in full right in front of us. She's joined by Lauren and picks up an acoustic guitar for a song called Zachary that feels very different and a real contrast to the rest of the set. She finishes on her forthcoming single Glassed In, complete with its own shape-throwing for the chorus, and leaves to a warm reception from Lauren's fans who are familiar with her work.
Next up is Emily Lockett and her six song set focuses primarily on sad songs about unrequited love. They're delivered in a voice that accentuates the innocence of the feelings expressed in the lyrics and a desire to pick herself back up and carry on. Situations are articulately described and set to an acoustic guitar that's understated, but in being so focuses on the simple sentiments of her voice and this draws most of the audience in although there's a few people who can't shut up and pay the support the appropriate respect. Towards the end of the set, there's a more positive outcome to songs, Front Porch is about finally getting over a crush that never responded in kind whilst her new single That Girl feels like it's more about coming to terms with things and reacting positively rather than dwelling on things.
Towards the end of her set Lauren addresses the love in the sold-out room for her first visit, how communication on social media with a fan base that's never had the opportunity to see her live before but who have shared stories about how her songs have helped to heal them feels like a real privilege and an honour. And that one interaction sums up her set - the women around us know the words to each and every song and are living them as they sing along with their eyes closed, loud enough for Lauren to hear and at moments look on and smile knowing the effect her words are having.
She starts with three acoustic songs - I Feel Cool, Travel Man and Burden - simple in structure but with a potency in her voice and the words she is singing that has everyone in the room's attention focused on her. She's joined by Eduardo and Emma as the main part of the set is focused on last year's debut album Well, Hell - highlights include a raucous Did I Offend You?, Staff Only and Make Love To Myself, both of which have harder edges and are delivered with a sharper tongue than the album versions whilst this year's singles Valhalla and Wise Gal show that her new material, and she reveals there will be a second album in March and a return visit to Manchester, has the same intensity and revelatory qualities that connect with an audience as the more familiar songs from the debut.
There's a real feel-good vibe in the room throughout, starting from the stage and spreading round the room. Subtle one-on-one glances, finger-pointing, little smiles at people throughout and Lauren finishing the show amongst us clasping the hands of those dancing around her create a bond between artist and audience that's both rare and heart-warming and confirmed by the queue to talk and hug at the merch desk after the show. Her love of her fans is very evident, sincere and genuine and reciprocated fully - and the intimacy the Rose And Monkey's set-up provides accentuates the warm glow that Lauren creates just by being herself, opening herself up and through her own stories reassuring others that they're not alone in their issues, you can fight the demons and you can win and come out stronger. It's a powerful message and Lauren Ruth Ward is its perfect ambassador.
Lauren Ruth Ward's official site can be found here and she is on Facebook and Twitter.
Emily Lockett's website can be found here and she is on Facebook and Twitter.
Emma Cole is on Facebook and Twitter.