At no time in music history has country music been more popular or more accepted in the UK than today. The classic country artists of the seventies such as Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson and Patsy Cline along with Garth Brooks nineties stereotypical Achy Brakey Heart, are now almost distance memories as a new country has rolled in to town – with new stomping boots on, and a big ol’ truck.
To some the new country music is almost unrecognisable to it’s hey day or its roots, although the same instilled amazing story-telling still rings through. It’s this story-telling, as country music fans across the UK will tell you, will drive them en mass to any country music concert or festival up and down the UK.
If you listen to two country music fans in conversation, at some point the inevitable question will pass one of their lips…’what song first got you in to country music?’. Every fan has a song, a song that reached out and connected with them. A song leads you to an artist, which leads you to a genre that ultimately leads you in to a welcoming community.
Relative newcomers to this ever growing community are Ben Earle and Crissie Rhodes, or perhaps better known as The Shires. The duo from England, signed to Decca Records in London, have sprung to attention in the past two years. They first performed on the Pop Up Stage in 2014, went on to the Satellite Stage in the main arena during 2015 C2C Festival and later went on to become ambassadors of C2C 2016.
Both artists had embarked on solo performances, and song writing for a number of years. Crissie Rhodes singing at a number of small venues in and around her home town, whilst Ben Earle tried his hand at songwriting and even a supporting artist for KT Tunstall. Like many signed artists both wondered if that big break was ever going to happen. Then after a social media post the pair met, and after only a few gigs playing together they caught the eye of Decca Records who rushed to sign the duo. They then also signed a US contract with Universal Music Group Nashville, and have become the first UK country band to sign with a large US country label.
After their C2C performances, and touring with Little Big Town amongst others they released their debut album titled Brave, which also secured this country duo a Top 10 mainstream chart position. A UK country act securing a Top 10 UK Chart position is almost unheard of here. Country Music had finally arrived.
Now after the 2016 success of C2C, their fans can see The Shires support Tom Jones in Bedford this August, and perform alongside names such as Jamie Cullum at the Cornbury Festival near Banbury.