What a way to extend the weekend than by seeing British country-music darlings The Shires play a packed out Sage Hall on the last bank holiday of May. It was their fourth visit playing this wonderful venue since their debut album Brave in 2015. The crowd gathered early to witness the beautiful sounds of supports acts Sinead Burgess from Australia and Liverpudlian Andy Brown. The venue was even ready for The Shires’ return by removing the front seats to make way for a standing area, which saw the crowd jostling over the best dancing spot.
The opening drums of Echo from Crissie Rhodes and Ben Earle’s current album Accidentally On Purpose had the crowd roaring and kept the momentum going until they brought it down a notch, with Ben taking place behind the piano for Statelines, during which the band’s name flashed through the colours red, white and blue. It was quite a simplistic stage set for this tour but the show was still a spectacle. Crissie and Ben’s backing band stretched across behind them on raised, colour-changing blocks. There were moments when they ‘rocked out’ with the duo during numbers such as Beats To The Rhythm, Tonight and Friday Night. The latter was cleverly introduced by Crissie asking if the crowd knew what day it was and stated “no one knows cos it’s a bank holiday!,” which had the crowd cheering triumphantly.
Emotions were pretty high on this night as we went from party mode to almost tear-filled moments, starting with Ahead Of The Storm and leaving only Crissie and Ben on stage for Black And White, I Just Want To Love You and Brave. If the strings weren’t being pulled on the heart by this point, then Daddy’s Little Girl definitely had the crowd in bits, echoing Ben’s words, “I don’t know how Crissie performs this night after night.”
If you ever get to see The Shires live, you will witness a show that packs a punch. It is not just a ‘Crissie and Ben show,’ as they make sure their backing band is just as much part of the show too, but most of all, at every possible opportunity they get the crowd involved. Nashville Grey Skies was one example, as not only was the crowd on their feet following Guilty, but an echoing sing-along also ensued. The song is a huge testament to the Americana scene in the UK as they bring people from far and wide. There have been many before them but Crissie and Ben put this music firmly back on the UK map and have made country music cool to the masses.
Crissie jokes “we’ve come to the last song…in this set” before going into Tonight – a track that has one of the catchiest hooks and naturally had the high-capacity crowd stomping and chanting at the end. Crissie the returned with a G&T in hand and Ben with a beer. With such a high-energy show, these drinks were much deserved and we got a three song encore, ending the night with everyone on their feet and hands up (no pun intended) for A Thousand Hallelujahs.
The Shires, including backing-band, really do know how to put on a show. They are a group of highly-talented people but there was something inparticular about Crissie Rhodes’ performance alone that struck a bigger chord than usual, and it was by no means ‘accidentally on purpose’.
Words & Images by Victoria Ling