The Shires @ Shepherds Bush Empire

Ben Earle & Crissie Rhodes (Kalpesh Patel)

Ben Earle & Crissie Rhodes, The Shires. (Kalpesh Patel)

Hot UK country music duo The Shires lit up Shepherd’s Bush Empire on Saturday evening for the final night of their headline UK tour.  The band, comprising singer-songwriters Ben Earle and Crissie Rhodes, met in 2013 through a mutual friend on Facebook.  Just two years on, who would have predicted that this chance meeting of music minds would be the catalyst for the revival of country music this side of the pond.

Ben Earle (Kalpesh Patel)

Ben Earle of The Shires (Kalpesh Patel)

With strong vocals and oodles of chemistry, it is not difficult to see how the pair have achieved such a rapid ascent.   They were quickly recognised in the UK and became the first English country act to be signed by a major Nashville label over in the US.  In the last year they have performed at Country to Country music festival, made a Glastonbury debut, and recorded their first album, Brave in Nashville.  The record was released in March 2015 and peaked at a phenomenal number 10 in the UK album charts.  Just a month before, the duo had performed the Shepherd’s Bush stage to support critically-acclaimed American country group Little Big Town. A mere eight months later they were back, thanks to the album’s success, for a sell-out headline show to top off their 18-night UK tour in style.

Ben Earle & Crissie Rhodes (Kalpesh Patel)

Ben Earle & Crissie Rhodes (Kalpesh Patel)

Each tier of the theatre was abuzz as the crowd waited eagerly for the band to adorn the stage.  A coming of generations, the crowd reflected the fact that country music appeals to all.   Under gleaming glitter ball light, twenty-somethings Ben and Crissie joined supporting band members Charles (guitar), Harry (bass) and Ollie (drums) on stage to rapturous applause.  Dressed in a sparkly black and gold top, denim shorts and fringe boots, stunning Crissie looked every bit the country music star.  Alongside, other half of the duet Ben brought both his trademark dreadlocks and acoustic guitar to stage.  Kicking off the set with All Over Again, it was only a few chords before Ben and Crissie had the audience singing along.

Crissie Rhodes (Kalpesh Patel)

Crissie Rhodes, The Shires. (Kalpesh Patel)

“How’s everyone doing?” shouted Earle after the first song.  This was met by a cheer which grew louder when he announced that we were all going to know the next song.  Fast becoming an anthem, Nashville Grey Skies followed which is cut from the classic country mould but with a resoundingly British twist.  The track dreams of building a Nashville in the UK, where not the grey skies nor the rain would stop us uniting for country music, provided of course we had a G&T in hand!

Ben Earle (Kalpesh Patel)

Ben Earle, The Shires. (Kalpesh Patel)

Next up was the band’s stunning cover of Nashville TV show hit, Ain’t Leaving Without Your Love by friends Striking Matches.  Crissie then introduced Only Midnight as being about “a really good first date and about all those feelings you get from a first date” which has all the couples in the Empire turn to one another and recall their own experiences.  The power of Rhodes voice is tremendous in this track, and towards the end a strong solo part elevates the song to power ballad status.

Crissie Rhodes (Kalpesh Patel)

Crissie Rhodes, The Shires (Kalpesh Patel)

Crissie continued solo for the start of their title-song from debut album, Brave.  Explaining that the song “connects with so many people out there” Crissie recounts the numerous messages they have received letting them know how the song has helped people to get through difficult times.

Ben Earle (Kalpesh Patel)

Ben Earle, The Shires. (Kalpesh Patel)

Despite having released just one album so far, the duo manage a varied and energetic 18-song set. Announcing that in the next part of the show they wanted to do something different, Earle said “We wanted to showcase some new songs.  A little bit of Nashville.  It’s all completely brand new”.  New songs Other People’s Things and Drive pay homage to Nashville, the spiritual home of country music, and allude to the fact that there is plenty more we can look forward to from The Shires.  Describing Nashville as like Disneyland for them, Earle admitted that the new material was written just 8-weeks ago, and that it was nerve-wracking to be playing these songs live for the first time.

Crissie Rhodes (Kalpesh Patel)

Crissie Rhodes (Kalpesh Patel)

Returning to their comfort zone with hit State Lines, the band then treated those present to a jubilant cover of Runaway by The Corrs, describing it as a self-indulgent moment, before announcing that they will be supporting The Corrs on their UK tour from January 2016. Very much a bouncy country-pop track, Earle confessed to getting over excited during next track Friday Night and breaking his ‘G’ string.  Whilst Ben fixed his guitar, Crissie spoke of how strange they first found it that Americans were so very proud to be American.  After returning to a cold and drizzling Heathrow they were inspired to write the heart-warming Made in England, which is brimming with nostalgia and guaranteed to make you smile.

Crissie Rhodes (Kalpesh Patel)

Crissie Rhodes, The Shires (Kalpesh Patel)

Closing the set with a Dolly Parton classic they chose to cover for BBC’s Sound of the ‘80s, Islands in the Stream bought the show to a perfect end.  They thanked all for their support, in particular BBC2 who they credit with helping them achieve six single releases from their debut album, a feat only ever achieved previously by Dolly herself.

Review by Lauren Patel and Portraits by Kalpesh Patel. Kalpesh has his great Flickr stream here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/somethingforkate

The Shires @ Shepherds Bush Empire ON 24/10/2015

The Shires are interviewed by Kalpesh Patel right here:https://rockshot.co.uk/17197/interview-the-shires-fish-n-chips-country-licks/