You would think that as someone who has seen The Shires live numerous times now that I would want to have a break from seeing them or that it would be overkill, but it’s quite the opposite. With everything The Shires have achieved over the last couple of years, it has become a very exciting time to see them, especially as they keep getting bigger and better.
The Shires have reached so many heights since their very first single Nashville Grey Skies in 2014. Their debut album Brave reached number ten in the main album charts, they headlined Glastonbury on the acoustic stage, Ben Earle had a baby and they toured with Little Big Town, Sir Tom Jones and The Corrs.
Their success did not stop there of course, they released their second album My Universe in September, which became the fastest selling country album in the UK ever and reached number 3 in the main album charts. The Shires have also very deservingly been signed to Big Machine Label Group in the US which is the label that Taylor Swift is signed to.
Having been a fan of The Shires since pretty much the beginning – it has been amazing to see their progression not just in their music but during a live setting.
Ben and Crissie started off as a duo who barely knew each other to a duo who are now pretty much the best of friends and it really shows.
I will start off by touching on the subject of ticket prices. I know a few people were slightly discouraged to buy a ticket as the prices seemed to have almost doubled since their last tour and admittedly, I was fairly surprised at first too but have since changed my mind.
I have mentioned before that I feel us hardcore country music fans have almost been living in a bubble when it comes to artists such as The Shires – we seemed to have missed how much The Shires fan base has grown outside the country genre. With their recent tours with Sir Tom Jones and The Corrs and the success of album My Universe, their music has clearly reached a whole new range of fans. Their entire tour, pretty much sold out despite the increase in ticket price. Non country music fans wouldn’t have even given the ticket price a second thought and another thing that we always forget is not everyone is a live music junkie, so for many, going to see an artist live is a special treat, a couples night out, mum’s night off, best friends birthdays, anything.
This tour, I opted to see The Shires in Basingstoke. The Anvil Arts Centre is such a lovely venue as is a small theatre which is all seated. There are two bars, one upstairs, one down and plenty of social areas to hang out at before and after the show. I was quite late arriving, I didn’t miss any of the show but was late enough to arrive to see that the bar area was packed. Usually when I go to a country concert, I know most of the audience but it made a nice change to recognise no one. Not in the sense that I didn’t want to see anyone i knew but in terms of seeing a new audience for a deserving act.
The stage setting was the first thing I noticed – apart from the usual instrument setting for the band, they had a huge The Shires fabric backdrop which showed they have a bit more of a budget now.
The band took to the stage first. The Shires have always kept the same band which is nice but this time they had an additional member, borrowing Dan (Smiley) Gordon from Ward Thomas. The band played the intro to Nashville Grey Skies which got the crowd going. Crissie and Ben took the stage soon after with what seemed like a lot more pride and confidence than usual and they went straight into singing the song. I did notice that Crissie interacted with the crowd a lot more this show, encouraging people to sing, clap or dance. This continued throughout the set as she told the odd joke, talked about experiences, laughed or just simply attempting to get everyone up and moving. The relationship between Crissie and Ben, which I said above is much more comfortable now and they seem to have gelled a lot more than before.
The show was electric, energising and exciting and was quite possibly the best I have ever seen them. Despite having new material, I will admit I was concerned that I would be seeing the same performance but was happily blown away. There was a great mix of songs from debut album Brave and from new album My Universe and everyone in the audience seemed to know every single word to every single song. The Shires are best known for their ballads and they made the fans happy by performing Brave, State Lines, I Just Wanna Love You and new songs Naked, Desperate and the heart breaking Daddys Little Girl – which is a song written by Crissie about her late father who she lost when she was a small child. You could hear a pin drop during Daddys little Girl as the crowd fell silent during Crissie’s emotional and heart rendering performance.
New songs such as My Universe, Not Even Drunk Right Now and Beats To Your Rhythm went down very well as crowd pleasers and the vibe was very energetic. Despite not being the most lyrically challenged, Beats To Your Rhythm is one of my favourite songs off My Universe and the live version is so much fun. It is up-beat, atmospheric and the entire vibe during that song was exciting. I wanted to jump around but I was on the balcony haha, not exactly the safest place to jump and run riot.
The Shires also did a stunning cover version of Robbie Williams hit Angels. They had originally covered this during a BBC Radio 2 performance on Chris Evans’ show where Robbie was also in attendance. The way Crissie sings this brings the song under a whole new light and makes the song current again. Seeing the show that night proved just how much of a phenomenal singer Crissie truly is. She never sings a note out of place and has the ability to make any song a remarkable and emotionally beautiful stand out performance. I have said before in a previous review that her emotion and passion when she sings is something that cannot be taught as it is something you have inside you. Ben of course, cannot go unnoticed, his vocals are becoming a lot more strong and he has gained so much more confidence on stage as he laughed more with the audience, jumped off the back of the drum stage and he was more relaxed than I have ever seen him.
I was extremeley pleased that Drive, the song they wrote with Kip Moore was on the set list and they told a nice little story of how the song came to be, all sitting in Crissie’s house.
The show seemingly ended with the song Tonight, which they have been doing for a while now, but it is a fitting song, especially as the audience chant part of the song when they leave the stage to encourage an encore, it is almost like a tradition now.
After said chanting, The Shires returned to the stage to perform a couple more songs to an eager crowd. They began the encore with the beautiful and relatable Other Peoples Things and ended the evening with the soulful and country-gospel A Thousand Hallelujahs which has now became a fan favourite. This was a great song to end with, definitley the right choice as is a crowd pleasing/interactive song and got everyone up from their seats singing enthusiastically, ending the night on a very big high.
I was quite sad for the night to come to an end after that. I was so happy that I went and the show reminded me of why I have always been such a massive supporter of The Shires and why I have and always will champion them as artists. Ben and Crissie have done so much for the UK country music scene, more than people realise. I do however, feel a little less connected with them as I used to be but you know what? I am ok with that, we have all been busy, me starting a family and of course they have their careers. I, for one am incredibly proud of their success and look forward to their ever growing stardom.
I would encourage old fans, new fans and anyone who is yet to be a fan to seek out a ticket for the remainder of the tour and have a night out seeing The Shires. They won’t disappoint you. Even if you have seen them as many times as I have, it’s worth it!
Nashville Grey Skies
Not Even Drunk Right Now
(Robbie Williams cover)
All Over Again
Beats to Your Rhythm
Daddy’s Little Girl
Jekyll and Hyde
I Just Wanna Love You
Other People’s Things
A Thousand Hallelujahs