The Shires With Support From Jonathan Jeremiah

by Helena Gadsby

I can’t say I’m a big fan of country music. Ask me about the genre, and I could probably mention a Dolly Parton song; the names Hunter Hayes and Lady Antebellum vaguely register in my mind. My knowledge, however, stops there. So, on entering Exeter Pheonix, I had no idea what to expect from The Shires.

The opening act, Jonathan Jeremiah, was a singer-songwriter. On researching the man after the concert, I was surprised to learn he had a record deal with Island Record. Whist his songs were lyrically unimpressive (and sometimes far too cheesy), he was a talented guitarist with strong vocals – demonstrated by his rapid finger picking. Whilst he may not be as skilled as others that preceded him (I’m talking about the wonder that was Nick Mulvey), it was evident that he was a good player. His act did improve as he switched to the more bluesy music but the set itself was short – only lasting about half an hour. Not a musician I would probably go and watch again, but he had the crowd on board and they seemed pleased with the performance.

Then came the main act. The spotlights illuminated the stage when the band walked on and the crowd started cheering magnificently. It is clear from the get go that the band has already got a lot of fans. They began their set with All Over Again or as I like to call it, the Mysterious Girl song, as there is a vocal descent that is incredibly similar to the Peter Andre song. After hearing them sing, you expect a southern American drawl to come from their mouths in a way fitting of the stereotype; instead they speak with a British accent. Not what you expect from a country duo.

The Shires are a country pop duo from Bedfordshire/Hertforshire (hence the name, ‘The Shires’), composed of singer-songwriters Ben Earle and Crissie Rhodes. The band only formed back in 2013 and has received great support from the music industry so far – BBC Radio 2 in particular has very keen to broadcast the band. Their album, Brave, was released earlier this year, back in March. The amount of support felt in the crowd seems insane considering this was their debut LP. But then again, the duo have already performed at key country music events including the weekly Grand Ole Opry concert in Nashville and Country 2 Country.

The concert was good. Really good. Whilst I may not be the biggest fan of country music, love for the genre was not required to enjoy the performance. They played some stereotypically country-esque music, but they also had some really beautiful songs. Made In England and I Just Want To Love You were just two of such songs.

The band had great rapport with the audience and managed to create brilliant crowd participation in their performance. What’s more, the vocals were actually good - it’s always a plus to go to a concert where the singers can, in fact, sing in tune. The vocals of Rhodes were supplemented nicely by the voice of Earle, who plays either the keyboard or piano in each song. But not only was the duo good, they had a very impressive band behind them. The two guitarists and drummer may have only looked about 16, but they were skilled instrumentalists. They five performed well together, creating a basically flawless concert.

The band finished the concert with a beautiful cover of Islands In The Stream, a song originally performed by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. While I could have done without the drunken, out-of-time singing by some members of the crowd, it was a fabulous ending to a brilliant concert.

Favourite song of the show? Made in England - any song that makes reference to Fish and Chips, rain and tea is going to be a hit in my opinion.

Photo by Helena Gadsby.