Last night I headed into London to see ‘The Shires’ at the iconic Shepherd’s Bush Empire. I interviewed the duo just a couple of weeks ago and they were clearly excited and enthused about the tour so far, so I couldn’t wait to see them appear live for myself! Upon arrival, it was clear it was going to be a busy night, as there were long queues outside and soon after heading in, the place filled quickly. By the time Canaan Smith (the lone support act) appeared, the place was packed – I would say there was ‘standing room only’ but being in the stalls, standing was the only option.
Canaan Smith was just excellent as the support. He managed to get the crowd on his side immediately and we all got more and more involved as his set went on. There were three big highlights in his set for me. The first was a song (which I didn’t catch the title of) which referenced ‘Miranda Lambert’ and her ‘crazy’ side, which is always going to be a winner for us at Belles and Gals. A great cover of the Goo Goo Dolls ‘Who I Am’ got everyone singing – not sure I’ve ever seen a support act get everyone THIS involved before. My final highlight was the song ‘Bronco’, which was about Canaan’s brother who died in a highway accident. This was beautiful and heart wrenching all at the same time – the kind of song country music is made for and Canaan Smith is clearly made for country music. Come back soon Canaan – the UK loves you.
The lights came up and after around half an hour, the lights went down again to a huge roar, which became even louder when Ben and Crissie appeared on the stage (complete with band). It feels strange saying ‘Ben and Crissie’, but these two are so familiar to us UK country fans that in some ways they feel part of the family – and you can’t help but love them!
They opened with ‘Nashville Grey Skies’ which was just a perfect choice. The whole UK country scene is just fabulous right now and it genuinely feels that we’re building something amazing on these shores – and for me, this epitomizes the mood of every country fan in the UK.
The whole set was a real good mix of songs from their first two albums with a great cover thrown in (Robbie Williams’ ‘Angels’). Angels was actually one of the highlights of the set for me, and even the guy with the worst voice on the planet standing next to me singing it at the top of his lungs didn’t dampen the song (even if he did dampen my ears on a couple of occasions – it was OK, I had a tissue).
Sometimes you go to a gig and a song really jumps out at you, a song perhaps that you hadn’t really latched onto before. This song was ‘Not Even Drunk Right Now’ – just brilliant live. This was the first song I played in the car on the drive back from the station, so I knew it was a winner!
Crissie singing ‘Daddy’s Little Girl’ was very emotional (Crissie’s father died 20 years ago) and this was aptly followed by ‘Brave’ – this was just a great section of the show and it really showed just how much The Shires have grown and grown in their three(plus) years together.
‘State Lines’ and ‘Friday Night’ were always going to be fantastic and got the crowd into yet another frenzy and were quickly followed by the even higher energy ‘Jekyll and Hyde’. ‘I Just Wanna Love You’ was brilliantly sung before the final song of the night – “Tonight”. If I tell you the crowd were singing the chorus to the song long after it had finished, it will tell you how good it was.
Of course, The Shires weren’t going to get away without an encore and they duly obliged. ‘Made in England’ had everyone singing along and yeah, being English myself, it gave me a goosebump or two – not sure what it is about ‘fish and chips’ and ‘tea’ that gets to me so much! The anthemic ‘A Thousand Hallelujahs’ was the final song of the night and there was little doubt that the night ended on a real high, the whole crowd throwing their arms in the air in unison with the chorus.
‘The Shires’ story has been a joy to behold and seeing the guys appear live last night in front of such a large crowd and loving every minute of it was fantastic. With two albums under their belts now, the wide choice of songs could have been a difficult one, but they got the mix just right, knowing exactly when to bring it down, before raising it up again. The Shires are at the leading edge of an ever growing army of great UK country acts and have recently signed with the Big Machine Label Group in the US – with performances as good as this, its little wonder that Uncle Sam has taken notice.
This was a perfect December night.
Image courtesy of @theshiresuk Twitter feed.