Words: Ailsa Harper.
Last week I spent some time with Country duo, The Shires, composed of Ben Earle and Crissie Rhodes whilst they were in Glasgow at The BBC studios filming the Quay Sessions with Edith Bowman.
I took the chance to sit down with Ben and Crissie after the soundcheck to chat about their whirlwind success so far. Having formed just over two years ago, it’s been an incredibly fast and exciting start for the band. They’ve experienced success not only a national scale, but also globally with achievements such as being the first UK country band to secure a top 10 album and the first UK country act to play the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, often considered the “Church of Country Music” in the USA.
It was a status posted by Ben on Facebook back in 2013 that brought the duo together. Crissie was tagged in the status by a mutual friend and they met up the very next day: “it was amazing because we lived literally twenty minutes away from each other, what are the chances of meeting somebody with the same ideas as you” says Ben. Ben is relatively new to country music, after hearing ‘Need You Now’ by Lady Antebellum which he credits to saving his music career as prior to this he was on the brink of giving up. In contrast, Crissie has older musical influences such as Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn, having been introduced to such singers by her Grandma when she was young.
It’s been a busy summer for the duo with a great run of festivals and live gigs. The day prior to the Quay Sessions they performed in HMV stores in both Aberdeen and Inverness: “I remember as a kid going to HMV or any record store and seeing all these albums on the shelf and hoping that one day it would be me, we have sold a lot of albums which we are really proud of, we still can’t believe it sometimes, it’s way beyond our wildest dreams” Ben tells me.
The duo have worked immensely hard to achieve so much in a short space of time, particularly given the fact that country music can often have a certain stereotype attached to it. The Shires agree that the stigma does exist: “There are still a lot of people that do believe in that stereotype but there are a lot of people that have been converted to this new type of country music”. It seems that they are fairly content to be the ones spearheading the change of attitude towards country music in the UK: “I think the nicest thing is that finally people in the UK can be proud to say that they like country music” says Crissie to which Ben adds “Even in the last two years we have seen the whole thing grow massively. It’s great to be part of it at the fore front.”
The Shires have formed a type of country music to call their own; “there are so many more platforms for country music now, so many people are more welcoming to country music with the radio stations and people online. People are giving us that platform now to express what we do”. It would seem as if the attitude towards this genre of music in the UK is starting to change and soon I think we will see more acts similar to The Shires begin to emerge in the UK.
Given that they have achieved so many firsts within the Country genre in the UK, I was interested to see if they had any advice for aspiring country acts in the UK at the moment: “Do what you do, be yourself as much as you can. All the clichés are there for a reason but they are so true, we were told when we were starting out that we wouldn’t get a record deal or play on the radio. It was almost like people saying we couldn’t do it, made us more determined” says Ben and Crissie adds “Write lots with loads of different people, make sure anything that goes up online is the best that it can be, get out there and perform as much as you can, any performance whether its paid or unpaid is always more experience.”
After our chat, it’s time for a quick bite of dinner before Ben and Crissie have a pre-show interview with Edith Bowman. Backstage they relax and prepare for their performance; “Everyone thinks it’s really glamorous backstage but really it’s a lot of sitting around until we go on stage”. Something that is evident though is how much The Shires like to keep their fans as informed and involved as possible as backstage they were on Periscope chatting with fans.
Soon enough, it’s time to go on stage for the Quay Sessions. Ben and Crissie deliver a stripped back set including classics from their album ‘Brave’ and a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams’ which was exceptionally well received by the audience. They rounded off the night with ‘Tonight’, where the audience became involved by singing a chant at the end of the song; Ben and Crissie have previously credited a Glasgow audience with being the first to carry on the chant at the end of the song when they played Oran Mor a few months ago: “We went off stage and everyone carried on with the chant, we posted a video of it on Instagram and it really caught on and everyone does it at our shows now”.
It really was a pleasure to meet and spend time with The Shires for this feature. 2015 has somewhat been a pivotal year in their career, experiencing vast success across numerous platforms, yet it is clear that their feet are still firmly on the ground. The Shires are out on tour across the UK in October and I would highly recommend seeing these guys if you get a chance, they are at the fore front of the country scene in the UK and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
For more information about the UK tour and tickets, check out: