Review: The Shires at O2 Guildhall, Southampton

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UK country music duo The Shires hit Southampton city centre in style on Monday night, with an extensive playlist to warm the hearts of fans who had braved the wet and sultry weather to make it to O2 Guildhall.

Composed of vocalist Crissie Rhodes, and guitarist and singer/songwriter Ben Earle, The Shires star has risen fast from debut album Brave a little over 18 months ago, to embarking on a second UK-wide tour following the release of their second album, My Universe, which was the best selling UK Country album in first week. Fresh off a brief tour in Australia and having  signed a new record deal with Nashville-based Big Machine Label Group, this was a brief chance for Hampshire residents to see the band live.

Entertaining the sold out Guildhall crowd before The Shires was, joined on guitar by Samuel Whiteley,  U.S country singer/songwriter Canaan Smith, who has had his fair share of success too, reaching number 4 in the very competitive US country music album chart in 2014.

Smith oozed American charm throughout his half-hour set, expressing his excitement to be touring the UK and for one song, encouraging the audience to sing along in humorous fashion: “Pretend we’re in the shower together”. Of his seven-song set, the highlights were ‘I Love You Like That’, which propelled him to fame across the Atlantic, and the title song from his album, ‘Bronco’. The latter is a particularly emotive song, inspired by the last time Smith saw his brother before a tragic car accident, which Smith spoke of very movingly before performing it.

Then, after a short interval, The Shires emerged on stage starting with a song from their first album, ‘Nashville Grey Skies’, before rattling through some of the most popular songs from their new album: ‘Not Even Drunk Right Now’; ‘My Universe’; ‘Drive’; ‘Naked’. Whilst fantastic to hear early on the upbeat, playful number of ‘Not Even Drunk Right Now’ and the title song of the second album, ‘My Universe’, the short changeovers between each song left it until their cover of Robbie Williams ‘Angel’ for The Shires to build any kind of rapport with the audience that Canaan Smith had achieved.

After a couple more tracks, including the infectiously catchy ‘Beats To Your Rhythm’, The Shires turned to their more emotive, quieter offerings with ‘Daddy’s Little Girl’ and ‘Brave’, as they dispensed with their four-piece backing band, the lighting was toned down, and Earle played on the piano for the latter. Contradicting expectations, these songs where the backing band and tune were less critical compared to the duo’s voices, were the most memorable to see performed live.

There followed more of the faster-paced and playful tunes with the likes of ‘Friday Night’ and Jekyll and Hyde’ to conclude the ‘official set’. With raucous calling for an encore, The Shires re-emerged and in an obviously planned move, asked if the audience would like to hear three encore songs, to which there was a resounding “YES!”.

Taking the unusual approach of two of the three songs, ‘Made In England’ and ‘Other Peoples Things’, being slower-paced and comprising only the duo of Earle and Rhodes succeeded as it created an intimate close to what had been a very entertaining night. Finally, ‘A Thousands Hallelujahs’ rounded proceedings off and allowed the chance for a banjo to be used!

Overall, an enjoyable evening with the audience in good spirits throughout and the extensive playlist of The Shires containing a number of tracks from both Brave and My Universe ensuring value for money.

The Shires continue their UK-wide tour until 11 December with tickets available here 

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Now 2nd Year Modern History and Politics student/International Editor for Wessex Scene. Avid watcher of Poldark and Narcos because cocaine smuggling and tin mining are definitely the same thing

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