Just to put things into perspective, a few years ago, we were watching Ben and Crissie playing acoustically at the Glee Club in Birmingham, in front of no more than 100 people. I feel a sense of pride every time I see them taking it up a level, as I’m sure many of you out there can relate to; it’s a pretty special thing to have followed their journey from the start. Nothing, however, could have prepared us for the scale of the show at the Symphony Hall last week. This was something else. They’ve well and truly cracked the UK market, and it’s so heart-warming to see a homegrown band selling out such a big venue and putting on a massive production. I wouldn’t be too surprised if their tours include the Birmingham Arena before too long.
The two opening acts were great too. The first was Australian artist Sinead Burgess, who Ben and Crissie met during a trip to Nashville and invited her to be a part of the tour. We’re thankful they did, as Sinead had the audience in the palm of her hand and provided a thoroughly enjoyable 20-minute set full of enthusiasm, charisma and most importantly, immense talent. In fact, one of her songs ‘Wildflowers Of Colorado’ was arguably one of the best songs I’ve heard all year. She’s got an album coming out this summer – make sure you keep an eye out. Soon after, The Shires’ label mate Andy Brown took the stage performing a selection of tracks from his upcoming debut country album, as well as a quality cover of Lady A’s ‘You Look Good’. He received a lovely reception from the Midlands fans, who clearly appreciated the former Lawson front man’s lovely voice and homegrown brand of modern pop-country, and we look forward to hearing more from Andy soon!
Just after 9pm, it was time for The Shires, who kicked off their show with the poppiest offering from their latest album, ‘Echo’, getting the Symphony Hall crowd up and dancing from the off. It was a high energy start to the set which was maintained with ‘Beats To Your Rhythm’ and ‘My Universe’. With the help of some background graphics and lighting systems, this was a much different Shires show to anything I’d seen before; they’ve taken it up a couple of notches and the whole thing just felt arena-ready. They’ve now got the material for big shows too; the ‘Accidentally On Purpose’ album has given them some top drawer pop-country anthems and spine-tingling ballads, most of which were included in the set list.
But they haven’t forgotten about their earlier material either, and it was so refreshing to see so many people singing along and embracing the likes of ‘Friday Night’, ‘All Over Again’ and ‘Nashville Grey Skies’. Also, probably the highlight of the evening for me was the piano medley of ‘Black and White’ and my personal favourite ‘I Just Wanna Love You’, followed by a touching performance of ‘Brave’, which was dedicated to a fan currently fighting for her life. These songs are, and always will be, very special to loyal Shires fans and they never cease to blow me away when performed live.
The aforementioned new songs showcase so much variety, and the standard is right up there with much of the material coming out of music city at the moment. The album’s title track ‘Accidentally On Purpose’ sounded incredible live; it’s so radio-friendly with its Kelsea Ballerini vibe, and it’s clearly become a fan favourite already. The Ed Sheeran-penned ‘Stay The Night’ is another potential smash-hit in the making and fitted so well into the big production, as well as ‘River Of Love’ which was so uplifting and brought a really joyful moment with great energy. And, of course, Crissie absolutely smashed it on ‘Sleepwalk’… my goose bumps had goose bumps!
Another old favourite ‘Tonight’ completed the initial set, but they were welcomed back on to the stage to a rapturous crowd chorus of woooaaahhhhs, and a 3-song encore followed. Another power ballad from the latest album, ‘Loving You Too Long’ was another opportunity to delight the audience with their flawless harmonies, before finishing off with ‘Islands In The Stream’ and ‘A Thousand Hallelujahs’ which prompted the usual crowd participation!
As country music fans in the UK, we should all be immensely proud of Ben and Crissie for the way they’ve taken the bull by the horns and done so much to take the genre forward on our shores. If you were in attendance at the Symphony Hall, I’m sure you’ll agree that it was a very special and emotional evening, and whether you like their music or not, their achievements have to be admired. I can’t wait to see where they go from here!