If you love country music, you might have heard of The Shires, the UK’s most successful country duo. The Shires are Ben Earle and Crissie Rhodes, two singer-songwriters who have taken the country music scene by storm with their catchy melodies, heartfelt lyrics and sublime vocal harmonies. In this article, CountryMusic UK will explore their origins and influences, their rise to fame, their media appearances, their activities outside of making music and their future plans.
Origins and influences
The Shires hail from the neighbouring counties of Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire in England. For those reading this outside the UK, the name “Shire” is a traditional term for an administrative division of land in Great Britain, which is generally synonymous with county. The duo chose the name to maintain a British identity and take a small part of Britain to the United States.
Both Ben and Crissie had a passion for music from a young age. Crissie started singing at weddings, pubs and clubs, performing songs by Dolly Parton, Alison Krauss and Faith Hill among others. She also auditioned for The X Factor in 2013 but failed to qualify out of the early rounds. Ben was a solo artist and a songwriter who had supported KT Tunstall on tour. He also tried out for The X Factor but was rejected. He discovered country music in 2012 via Lady A, the American Grammy Award-winning group. He cites the Kacey Musgraves album Same Trailer Different Park as a major career inspiration.
The duo met through Facebook in 2013, when Ben posted a message looking for a country singer to form a partnership. Crissie responded and they soon realised they had a lot in common. They started writing songs together and blending their voices in harmony. They were influenced by acts such as The Civil Wars, Lady A, Dolly Parton, Faith Hill and Alison Krauss.
Rise to fame
After performing just a few shows together, The Shires caught the attention of Decca Records, who signed them in the United Kingdom. They also secured a contract with Dot Records, an imprint of the American label Big Machine. They became the first English country act to be signed to a major Nashville label. They also became the first UK country act to receive an award from the American Country Music Association. The pair were presented with the CMA Jeff Walker Global Artist Award in 2017.
Commenting on their award, The Shires said:
“We are completely thrilled to win the CMA Jeff Walker Global Artist Award. To win a CMA Award this early in our career and to be the first band from the UK to be acknowledged by the CMAs in this way is huge for us – thank you to everyone who voted for us and thank you to our fans who support our music and the UK country movement.”
They released their debut album Brave in 2015, which became the first UK country album to chart in the top 10 of the UK albums chart. The album featured songs such as Brave, I Just Wanna Love You, Friday Night and State Lines. It received positive reviews from critics and fans alike.
Their second album My Universe came out in 2016 and climbed to the No.3 spot on the UK albums chart. It was the fastest selling UK country album of all time. The album included songs such as My Universe, Beats To Your Rhythm, A Thousand Hallelujahs and Daddy’s Little Girl.
Their third album Accidentally On Purpose was released in 2018 and also reached No.3 on the UK albums chart. It was recorded in Nashville with producer Lindsay Rimes (Kylie Minogue, Thomas Rhett) and featured songs such as Guilty, Sleepwalk, Stay The Night and Ahead Of The Storm.
Their fourth album Good Years came out in 2020 and followed in the footsteps of its predecessors by reaching No.3 on the UK albums chart. It was also produced by Lindsay Rimes and contained songs such as Crazy Days, New Year, Lightning Strikes and On The Day I Die.
In January 2022, The Shires announced their lead single from their upcoming fifth album, ’10 Year Plan’ would be titled ‘I See Stars‘. The band appeared on the Radio 2 breakfast show with Zoe Ball for the single’s debut on the 26th of January, and followed it with the release date for their new album on March 11, 2022. ‘I See Stars’ was BBC Radio 2’s record of the week in February 2022.
‘10 Year Plan’ is a collection of songs which takes all of The Shires’ biggest influences and condenses them into one cohesive, confident record. Its title harks back to their modest goals when they first started back in 2012.
The Shires have been featured on various media platforms and outlets throughout their career. They have performed live on BBC Radio 2, BBC Breakfast, The One Show, Sunday Brunch and Good Morning Britain. They have also appeared on documentaries such as Nashville Meets London (BBC Four) and Country Music: A Film by Ken Burns (PBS/BBC Four).
They have also been interviewed by various magazines and newspapers such as The Guardian, The Independent, Country Music Magazine and Billboard. They have received critical acclaim and recognition from various media outlets and organisations such as BBC Radio 2 (who named them Album of the Week twice), The Guardian (who called them “a fine addition to British country music”), The Independent (who praised their “impressive harmonies”) and The British Country Music Association (who awarded them UK Album of the Year twice).
Activities outside of making music
The Shires are not only talented musicians but also passionate advocates for country music in the UK. They have helped to raise the profile of the genre and inspire other artists and fans. They have also been awarded Honorary Doctorates of the Arts by the University of Bedfordshire for their services and contributions to music.
Stars of the UK Music Scene
The Shires are a remarkable example of how country music can transcend boundaries and cultures. They have brought a fresh and unique sound to the UK music scene, combining their British roots with their American influences. They have also achieved remarkable success both at home and abroad, breaking records and winning awards. They have also shown their versatility and creativity by exploring different styles and genres of music. They have also used their platform to support various causes and inspire others.
As they sing in their song Anything:
“It’s a brand new day, I can feel it change
It’s like a million lights lied up, spelling out your name
It’s a brand new start, I can feel your heart beat now
The fire never burned right out, there were always sparks”.
The Shires are a duo that have proven that anything is possible with love, passion and music.