Made in England: The Shires O2 Shepherds Bush Empire 24/10/2015

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I first saw the Shires play at one of the pop up stages at the Country-to-Country Festival this year at the O2. C2C is an annual event that showcases big name acts in the main arena along with new and up and coming acts on pop up stages outside the main arena and on the satellite stage within. The Shires played pop up stages in both 2014 and 2015 and also on the satellite stage in 2015 on the same bill as Lady Antebellum.

Four years ago, Ben Earle, a writer of pop songs for a number of years, was starting to lose faith in the music industry and maybe in his music writing when he heard Lady Antebellum’s ‘Need You Now’, and was envigorated to write country music. He advertised on Facebook with a message of “There must be a country singer somewhere” and was answered with a hearty yes from Crissie Rhodes. Now, just a few short years later, The Shires are record breakers. They are the first British CountryAct to score a UK Top Ten album with their debut offering “The Brave” and also the first British act to sign to a major US Country label when they were picked up by one time home of Country legend Loretta Lynn’s Decca Nashville.

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On Saturday at the O2 Shepherds Bush Empire, Crissie and Ben were backed by a three-piece band, which added real depth to their harmony rich songs. From the moment they bounced on to stage and launched into current, and sixth, single “All Over Again” the capacity crowd were in Country heaven. A great number of the audience had waited in pouring rain outside to secure prime spots from which to view the duo and were vocal in their agreement as Crissie sang “We can build our own Nashville underneath these grey skies” although she ignored her own lyrics by proving it’s never “too cold for cut-off jeans”.

A third of the way into their set The Shires, who shared chatty and warm anecdotes with their fans throughout, moved the whole band to the front of the stage to play in the round, Nashville jamming style, and showcase some “new babies”, Ben’s term for three new songs. They sang ‘Other People’s Things’ (a song that was just eight weeks old), ‘Drive’ (a song they worked on with US Country Star Kip Moore) and ‘Same’. The crowd’s positive reaction to these new songs must have filled them with confidence at releasing new material. The intimate nature of this part of the set was a real high point of the gig for me.

To close the seventeen song 75 minute set, the Hertfordshire/Bedfordshire duo revved up the speed with “State Lines”, a great cover of The Corrs’, ‘Runaway’, crowd pleaser, ‘Friday Night’, and ‘Jekyll and Hyde’.  Then as quickly as they had whipped up the atmosphere they brought everyone back to calm patriotism with a lovely rendition of ‘Made In England’.

The Shires have come a long way since Crissie was singing Dolly Parton songs at weddings and Ben was looking for inspiration but they brought everything to a close with a great version of the classic ‘Islands in the Stream’ and the capacity and very mixed age audience left happy and looking forward to the new offerings from The Shires.

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This was the last date of their Tour and surely the weekend was finished off in style when it was confirmed that they had scooped three awards at the British Country Music Awards winning Entertainer of the Year, Best Album and Best Male Vocalist. They will look forward with excitement at supporting their heroes The Corrs at The O2 in January before heading off to tour the USA and Canada with Little Big Town.

The Shires were made in England but it looks like they will be spending a lot of time in Nashville showcasing Country music, Home Counties style, in the home of Country music.

Steve Holley is a live music enthusiast from London. His son Max is a singer-songwriter. Stay tuned for more of Steve’s updates, and an interview with Max.

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