Ward & Parker are John Parker on double bass and Cliff Ward, sensational guitarist and founding member of The Willows, so you know you are in for a treat before the album opens. For the uninitiated these two have brought a John Martyn & Danny Thompson sound into the 21st century, both great musicians whose skills complement each other perfectly.
"One" is a mix of Folk, Jazz, and Blues supported by terrific harmonies and first class playing. The ten track album opens with a bow stroke for "Be With Me", which is an upbeat love song that would settle at the fringes of pop were it not for the astonishingly good acoustic guitar backing. Acoustic guitar harmonics and gentle bow bass introduce "Not Enough", a slower, and beautifully constructed song with jazzy overtones that would go down a storm in any of the world's great jazz clubs. For me, this was an immediate favourite, because of its changing moods seamlessly combining folk and jazz sounds.
"Why Worry" has real echoes of John Martyn, but the voices are less slurred - I'm still not quite sure how Martyn got away with some of his vocals, but he always seemed to! Just imagine his iconic self at his best, singing with clarity of voice and you will get a feel for the quality of this song, driven by some fabulous guitar and beat box rhythms, and is one of the more inventive tracks on the album. The double bass in "Feels So Right", feels so right! Give this one a deep listen because behind the Magical Mystery Tour style BVs, guitar and beat box drive, the bass playing is truly exceptional, to the point where I now need to make a point of seeing at least one of their live performances.
The change of pace in "Broke My Heart" and the crying bow bass at the start give this track highlight status, with the female BVs adding texture. It positively chugs along as Parker's double bass switches effortlessly between bow and finger pluck. "Make A Vow" is the longest song on the album, but it seems to pass too quickly even after several listens, with vocals this time reminding me of Philip Henry - of course, another beat box specialist. The rhythms in this song are really clever and it merited repeated listening, not least because I'm a sucker for deep bow bass strokes.
Without album notes I do not know for sure who the female backing vocalist is but her contribution to "Blue Skies" adds to its lyrical emotion "you are my everything", then the standout "Down" kicks in with more exceptional acoustic guitar work. Martynesque maybe but how many guitarists can you say that about?
"Stand Together" changes the mood with beat box coming to the fore. In truth, it was always going to be tough following "Down" with any track that didn't both change mood and pace, and on that level this really works, but after a few listens I found myself playing this one on its own, over and over. "New Destination" reactivates the faster pace and some of the guitar work is up there again with the very best, the album ending with hints of Middle Eastern rhythms.
This album is pure quality from start to finish. I found myself so transfixed by the quality of the playing that I had to go back and have a dedicated lyric listen. They aren't bad either! You are left with the impression that these two will remain at the top of the folk tree for at least as long as Martyn and Thompson. Wonderful stuff.
"An Absolutely incredible experience!...A pleasure to host the innovative style and gorgeous sound of Ward and Parker"
Kettering Arts Centre 2019
"Ward and Parker are one of those rare gems of an act that command the audience from the moment they walk in the room. The witty rapport between them makes even the tuning inbetween songs entertaining. The fact that these two talented individuals found each other is a gift to us all.
A truly unique sound that needs to be experienced to be believed. Destined for great things!"
Julia's Tea Rooms, Ely Feb 2019
“Headlining Retune #10 were Ward & Parker, comprising Cliff Ward (founding member of The Willows) and John Parker (formerly of Nizlopi). The pair of them arrived at The Half Moon with plenty of musical credentials and experience, and wasted no time in launching into a frantic and well-crafted set. John is passionate about running in his spare time and definitely puts this cardiovascular work to good use on stage, singing, beatboxing and playing double bass simultaneously! Cliff’s songwriting is poetic and poignant, and accompanied by some lovely folk-style licks on acoustic guitar.
The Ward & Parker set was so polished and dynamic that it all seemed to be done and dusted in a flash. It was undoubtedly over too soon for the enthusiastic audience, who demanded an encore and duly received one. Ward & Parker are a duo that will always have you craving more.”
Retune - The Half Moon Bishop Stortford 2019
"A fantastic duo with huge potential that are really extending the boundaries of folk; a must watch act!"
Cambridge Folk Club - 2018
Given that Cliff Ward and John Parker already have excellent reputations as founder members of two very successful bands (The Willows and Nizlopi respectively) I was expecting good things from the new partnership of these two fine musicians, but I must say I was completely blown away by their recent performance at my club, not only by their genre defying music - acoustic jazz-folk-pop doesn’t really do it justice - but by their sheer energy, verve and sense of fun. These guys are clearly having a ball playing together!
Great songs, fab vocals, superb playing and musicianship, plus wonderful synergy, this is a partnership made in heaven. They really are fantastic and I can’t wait to see them again. If they come to your local club soon, be to sure to catch them - you won’t be disappointed!
Kontra Roots Club - 2019
“ Cliff and John held the packed audience at the Locker spellbound with their wonderful music. John’s bass playing was out of this world and complemented cliff guitar and voice. Their music is joyous and up lifting.
We would have them back anytime”
The Locker Cafe, Cambridge - Feb 2019
Leamington music lovers will need little reminder of the virtuoso skills of John Parker which he has displayed to chart topping success and international acclaim in Nizlopi & which today he shares with a host of other artists (including Ed Sheeran & Kate Rusby), not least the Mechanicals Band which has often featured in "Hot Music Live". This time, he was performing at the Magic Lantern as 50% of ‘Ward ‘n' Parker' with Cliff Ward, who is a founding member of folk super group The Willows, the two having met in The Megson Band in 2016.
What a privilege to be up close to such marvellous musicians.
Let's set the scene: most of the audience had not yet seen this duo live. As their album is just out, most of the audience hadn't heard any of the all original set & those that had, had heard approximately three songs. Not necessarily the most obvious recipe for a gig to work successfully from the start, with an assumption that those watching would need to acclimatise themselves to brand new music. Yet it was not so. Each song was greeted with rapturous & prolonged applause despite being previously unknown. Not one, but three songs involved audience singing & despite none of us knowing the words beforehand nor the band giving us rehearsals before hand, that worked great & added to the sense of community so evident in the whole affair.
John & Cliff don't seem to believe in barriers between audience & band and the warmth of rapport between them & the audience was only exceeded by that between each other. Rarely have I seen a band enjoy themselves so much, though interestingly I used the word "playful" about the Jazz Apples in a review of their gig at the same venue last week & I see the same element in Ward & Parker. Maybe it is something the venue enhances in its intimacy but it must also be inherent in such musicians with not just high skill levels but such a wonderful approach to their craft & a love of it.
I suppose like many of you reading this, the assumption of an evening of folk music was the expectation. I honestly cannot use that term much, despite the pedigrees of John & Cliff. Very few of the songs seemed to fit the genre snugly: it was the third number before Cliff sung in what I'd call anything like a traditional folk style. Every song while infectious & memorable was actually much more complex, switching styles multiple times throughout their courses: from time to time little echoes of various genres and other artists would float out: a lot of jazzy elements, classical bass, one song went very bossa nova, I heard bits of Herbie Flowers in one number, a couple were even close to rock (such as "Stand Together"). Was Paul Simon being channelled for that moment? Here's a bit of a Spanish vibe.
Long time John Parker fans will not be remotely surprised by his constant switching between bowing & plucking, nor I imagine by the myriad other ways he finds to play: percussive techniques all over his instrument to get different sounds & something which I can only describe as "stand up bass harmonics". Such fans will delight in his frequent revival of his renowned human beatboxing but I think I speak for many in being astounded by how much singing he did (not something one expects): mainly harmonies but on the encore something akin to lead vocals...
Cliff took the vast majority of the lead vocals & the songs come from all phases of his songwriting career from the very early to the recently written "Hummingbird". His guitar playing was interesting to watch: busy hands using a variety of techniques (never seen anyone play so much that high up the neck of an acoustic) and plenty of tasteful lead runs of various styles. The subjects were explained to us & while many lyrics pretty much spoke for themselves, (e.g. "Make A Vow") a common thread was as noted, humour & humanity.
I suggest that you listen out for both the new album & current single "Feels So Right" & recommend catching them live too.
If you missed last night, you can catch Ward ‘n' Parker in Leamington, indeed at the same venue, on October 4th.
You can also catch John in town with the previously mentioned Mechanicals Band later this month on Sunday 31st March & with another of his collaborations, Burning Salt (which also features songwriter/guitarist/singer Hannah Hull & guitarist Bobby Williams) on 4th May (both again at the Magic Lantern).