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Introducing: The Shires

It’s a marker for the revolution in country music. A product that originated from Nashville, Tennessee, was exported to the UK; then revised, renewed and refreshed before being exported back to the States, whereby it was declared that a whole new form of the genre had been discovered. Thank goodness The Shires are refusing to take any of the credit…!

The truth is the country music revolution has been a long time in coming. One of the purest forms of music, and a style that has inspired and encouraged so many genres across so many decades, its re-emergence as a credible and fashionable style outside of the United States has arguably taken too long. “I don’t think we were helped by Billy Ray Cyrus or line dancing,” jokes Ben Earle, one half of UK country music lead-outs The Shires.
 
“I think, as a genre, it is now looked on as an extension of the singer/songwriter mode, which of course is at a huge peak in popularity. So that really has helped carry country music back in the mainstream, along with some other genres such as jazz, folk and world.”
 
Of course, Ben is being effortlessly modest here in the implication that the genre’s popularity is just a piggybacking of other styles. That discredits the huge talent, resourcefulness and workload The Shires have invested in their craft, long before they leapt into the public consciousness two years ago.
 
“I guess we may have played a small part,” he concedes, begrudgingly. “When we first started The Shires I think a lot of people thought we were slightly crazy for wanting to do country music, but the value of what you do will always be in the music and I think we’ve won a lot of people over, as well as converting few as well.”


 
Soon after forming, The Shires became the first UK act to be signed to such a major US label, Universal. "To be, as they say, ‘the first’, was just great and then the fact that we got to make the album out there in Nashville as well – it was a bit of a dream.”
 
“The first time we were out there we got through six sessions in seven days. We got to hang out with a couple of the cast from the TV show Nashville, and saw Grand Ole Opry, a great venue which features in the TV show quite a bit. But it was a whirlwind.
 
“Now, going back is about really feeling we have a part to play in making modern country music truly global. We’ve seen first-hand how it excites and entertains people and it’s great to think we did this from such modest beginnings.”
 
Modest indeed, they might have spent time in the sunny American South, but Crissie and Ben are British Home Counties through and through.
 
“I grew up listening to this genre in Bedfordshire, while Crissie is from Hertfordshire,” says Ben. “You couldn’t really be that much further in terms of culture from Tennessee! Even now, although travelling is amazing, it’s always nice to come home.
 
“In terms of the name, it was really important for us to think of a word that summed up the UK country - and that was the countryside. When Crissie was at university, if she was going home, she’d say, ‘I’m going back to the Shires’. That kind of thing: that’s exactly why we chose the name.”
 
In fact, a song on their debut album is dedicated to the green grass of home. “Made in England is about all the things we love about being English and British. We talk about fish ‘n’ chips, pints and grey skies. We’re very proud to be from here. In America you see how proud they are to be American, and that’s something we feel we don’t do as much over here… we don’t appear proud to be British all the time, and we think we should be.”


 
With back-to-back top 10 album successes in the UK mainstream charts, and double chart-toppers in the specialist country music chart, The Shires’ upward ascent shows little sign of slowing. And a selection of carefully-planned dates across July and August takes them to all corners of the UK, kicking off at Bristol’s Colston Hall on July 14.
 
“Playing live is such a thrilling experience,” Ben says. “It feels so good to see people believing in your music, particularly because I could feel myself falling out of love with music before The Shires came along. I wasn’t writing great songs and was frustrated; I discovered country and it just gave me a completely new lease of life as a songwriter. Then I met Crissie, and everything from that moment in 2013 has just been really easy.”
 
Certainly the ease with which The Shires are producing meaningful, catchy, thoughtful, beautifully crafted country music, and the genre’s expanding fanbase, will only provoke further new recruits to head to Nashville. But if you can’t make it to the American South, The Shires are a little closer to home.
 
The Shires are paying Bristol’s Colston Hall on July 14. Tickets from £22.50.
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