Having seen The Shires countless times since the beginning of their career, I was relishing the opportunity to hear some of the new material performed live. Their new album ‘My Universe’ was desperately needed, and it’s given them the tools to put on a full 90-minute show, and they delivered in style at the O2 Institute in Birmingham.
I was equally excited about seeing the support act, Canaan Smith. His single ‘Love You Like That’ was a smash-hit on the US country charts and I don’t think his album ‘Bronco’ got the recognition it deserved. This tour is a fantastic opportunity for Canaan to really make his mark on a new UK fan base, and judging by the reaction on social media over the past couple of weeks, he’s certainly made a lasting impression. His set list included personal favourites ‘Stuck’ and ‘One Of Those’, but the overwhelming highlight was his performance of the title track ‘Bronco’. Canaan told the whole story of how he lost his brother in a car accident, which led to the birth of this song, and it was a moment that had everybody in the audience absolutely gripped. Stunning vocal delivery throughout and a collection of songs that became instant favourites with the crowd. Canaan will be back with a full band at C2C and he is planning to come back next year for a headlining tour. Be sure to check him out.
The Shires came on stage at 9pm, taking us right back to the start with ‘Nashville Grey Skies’ which is always guaranteed to get the crowd in the mood. This was followed by the thumping title track from the new album ‘My Universe’, and ‘Drive’ which was written with Kip Moore and his bass player Manny Medina. Aspects of the new album are tailor made for their live shows, and these songs are the perfect examples of that. Loud, anthemic and infectious.
Their cover of Robbie Williams’ ‘Angels’ was a surprise addition to the set list. They performed this in front of Robbie on the Chris Evans Breakfast Show on Radio 2…that certainly takes some guts! But when you can totally make a song your own with sublime harmonies as Ben and Crissie do consistently, there’s nothing to worry about. This was a stunning rendition of a classic which had the crowd singing along from start to finish, and it was a welcome change from the usual ‘Islands In The Stream’ cover.
‘Daddy’s Little Girl’ was the stand-out moment for me. Crissie unfortunately lost her father to cancer when she was very young, and this is a song that clearly means an awful lot to her. She was visibly emotional during the performance. It’s one of the best tracks The Shires have recorded; it’s beautifully written, it pulls on the heart strings, and Crissie’s voice is just flawless.
There was still plenty to keep the loyal fans happy with songs from their debut album ‘Brave’. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Shires show without hearing ‘Friday Night’! ‘I Just Want To Love You’ and ‘Brave’ always blow me away, and although it’s never been a favourite of mine, ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ seems to have become a mainstay in their set lists and always brings something a bit different to the show. ‘Tonight’ completed the show, before they were welcomed back on stage by rapturous applause for a 3-song encore.
‘Made In England’ has always been popular with the fans and might become even more special now they have signed with Big Machine in the states. Ben assured us that they would never forget where they came from. Wouldn’t it be incredible if they could put UK country on the map in the US? If anybody can do it, they can. ‘Other People’s Things’ followed, my favourite track on the album, written with Nina Nesbitt. They closed the show with their new single ‘A Thousand Hallelujahs’ which has just been added to Radio 2’s A-List; a great track, so full of energy.
This morning, they have announced another UK tour for Spring 2017. They certainly don’t keep the fans waiting too long! One thing is for sure, the Shires consistently deliver a thoroughly enjoyable evening and they always prove why they are the clear front runners in British country music. We should be very proud of Ben and Crissie, and hopefully their success will open the door for so many others.