The Shires have been making history within the UK for five years now! Yes it’s hard to believe but they’ve achieved so much in that time and now with their third album performing well particularly on radio they have embarked on a UK tour which draws to an end in just a few days time. I went along to the Manchester date at The Bridgewater Hall to see what all the fuss was about - most of the shows have been sold out. What I was met with was a high energy performance showcasing the best of their three albums, with support from Sinead Burgess and Andy Brown.
Sinead opened the show, I had heard great reviews from previous shows but prior to The Shires announcing her as support I hadn’t heard of her. She engaged the audience from the get go and spoke of how she first met the duo. Her vocals were flawless throughout her short set and blew the capacity crowd away. Performing acoustically with her guitar, foot stomp and on one occasion a harmonica she made a big sound for just one person. Her musicianship was good but her songwriting was great, standout tracks for me was the foot tapping Mama Raised a Ramblin Man as well as the reflective Wild Flowers of Colorado. She closed her set with Somewhere Between You and Vegas before she headed off to the foyer to sign autographs and chat to new found fans for almost an hour, the queue was huge!
Second support was Andy Brown who after initially walking out looking a little like a deer in the headlights, eased nicely into his set. The front man of Pop Rock band Lawson has been making a name for himself recently amongst Country fans after he teamed up with Crissie on his single Landslide. He played that single of course although unfortunately he didn’t bring Crissie out to duet with him. This was preceded by a cover of the hit song You Look Good by Lady Antebellum which suited his vocals quite nicely. He concluded his set with Lay With Me which he explained the story behind before saying goodbye to the crowd which was slowly beginning to fill out again after everyone had left to speak to Sinead (fifteen minutes wasn’t a long enough break to orchestrate that impromptu meet and greet). His band which consisted of another guitarist and a keyboard player were tight and complimented his vocals nicely with their backing vocals.
The duo came out to rapturous applause and launched straight into Echo off their most recent record Accidentally On Purpose. The song which reminds me of an early, maybe Red era Taylor Swift is a fantastic catchy number to open with as there are simple sing along hooks that get the crowd engaged from the off. Crissie who was wearing a silver sparkly top wore a big grin on her face as she walked up and down the stage. Beats to Your Rhythm followed and kept the energy levels high. The crowd stayed on their feet for My Universe as Ben walked backwards and forwards to join members of the backing band particularly during the guitar solo. He moved close to Crissie as they ended the song and they both wore matching wide smiles.
The audience took a seat as Ben moved to the piano and The Shires neon site changed to red, white and blue. State Lines ensued, one of my favourites off the first record. They then took it back up a notch for another older song but a fan favourite - Friday Night. It was a real party atmosphere amongst the mixed aged audience. They spoke about the stories behind some of the newer songs and told of how the title track came about, Accidentally on Purpose. Their last writing session of the Nashville trip and Crissie didn’t want to leave or the boy she’d met. Ben had scribbled notes as she poured her heart out, she thought he was listening, he thought it was great material for a song! Members of the crowd whooped when she announced it didn’t last and that she was now single. Ahead of the Storm followed and they began to take the tempo down a little. The band left the stage as the pair did an acoustic mash up of Black and White and I Just Wanna Love You before continuing into Brave.
One of the musicians rejoined the duo as Crissie explained about Ben becoming a father for the second time. This linked nicely into Crissie talking about the song she wrote about her Dad for the last album called Daddy’s Little Girl. The arrangement they’d put together was beautiful, just acoustic with the added pedal steel. Crissie’s vocals were beautiful throughout the whole show but particularly in this song. Ben applauded her for her bravery of singing such a personal song night after night as the band returned to the stage. They took the tempo up slightly with one of the songs off this latest record The Hard Way. They played their latest single Sleepwalk which is performing well on radio lately and even on these slower numbers the audience joined in and lifted their phone lights in the air on Ben’s request.
Crissie drew our attention to the amount of changes that had been going on in the background, every few songs Ben had changed a guitar and the backing band had changed instruments - there was always something going on so Crissie decided she wanted to change too. I was half expecting them to bring on some weird and wonderful instrument but what they actually brought out had the audience in uproar… a pair of sparkly trainers and they placed them on top of Ben’s piano. Crissie changed out of her high heeled boots and into the trainers before asking the audience have you got your dancing shoes on? They broke into their first single off the latest record Guilty which really got the crowd going. They went back then to their first ever single Nashville Grey Skies which kept the crowd on their feet, singing at the top of their voices. The night was beginning to draw to an end as they played their penultimate song River of Love before finishing on a fan and festival favourite Tonight. This has always been a great song to finish on as the oh’s are easy to sing along to and when they make it into a competition between Ben and Crissie’s side everyone ups their levels a notch! When the crowd called for an encore they sang the hook over and over again until the duo returned.
The encore began with Loving You Too Long, the closing track off their latest album. They talked about the first time they played this next song as part of something the BBC was doing, a cover of Islands in the Stream. They sing this just beautifully, their voices blending so well together and their slightly slower acoustic interpretation of the song is refreshing. But they don’t stay quiet and sedate for long as they finished the encore on one of their biggest numbers and one that not only has vocal melodies the audience can join in with but hand movements to mimic as well. Yes, A Thousand Hallelujahs brought the night to a close with the whole three tiered bridgewater on their feet, singing at the top of their voices and pushing their hands up in the air. A perfect night ended in the best possible way and Ben and Crissie seemed genuinely overwhelmed by the show of support from the Manchester crowd as they walked up and down waving to and applauding their fans.
In five years they’ve made chart history here in the UK, released three records, played the Opry and wowed audiences on their countless tours and festival appearances. Here’s to the next five years guys!