I like The Shires. There I got that in right at the start to avoid any misunderstandings. Ben Earle and Crissie Rhodes are a personable and engaging couple of hosts. They look good together and clearly have an easy going rapport that comes from being friends. Out on the road in support of their sophomore album My Universe, but also drawing from the debut Brave, the duo are beginning to have a wealth of original material upon which to build a well balanced set. Tonight there were only two covers Angels (Robbie Williams) and Islands In The Stream (Rogers & Parton). Having been a supporter almost from the get-go I am totally familiar with the songs and really enjoy the way their two voices blend in harmony. Kicking off with Nashville Grey Skies and closing out with A Thousand Hallelujahs balanced the set nicely. In between, as you would expect, came all the wonderfully catchy songs that we have come to know and like so much. It is the strength of the writing allied to the vocal chemistry which has driven The Shires popularity here in the UK and increasingly over the other side of the pond. Ok so the timing of their arrival on the scene has coincided with the upsurge in appreciation of Country music on these shores but, without an under lying abundance of talent, Ben & Crissie might still have been playing to half empty pubs. However they have risen and tonight in a packed Usher Hall they were met with a huge amount of love and support from, as near as damn it, a sell out crowd. So everything in the garden was rosy then? Well…not exactly. Whilst they, and their band mates, were clearly having a good time on stage we the audience were blasted by some of the worst sound I have heard in years. I should say that I enjoy feeling the power of a live show. I am not one who, as they get older, bemoans the fact that it is too loud and you couldn’t hear the words clearly. However that was exactly the way I, and countless overheard comments from others upon leaving, felt as we wound our way home. The Usher Hall is a beautiful room with very fine acoustics but whom ever their engineer was he should be kicked off the tour immediately. There is no excuse with today’s audio technology for what happened last night. Most touring productions carry with them equipment within which the general aural characteristics of each venue is contained. Programming these into the equipment allows the crew to almost pre-tailor the front of house sound so that, at the very least, the vocals shine through with clarity. Alas not last night. For most of the set the vocals were subsumed and entirely overwhelmed by the band. Whilst the P.A. was loud, there is no getting away from that, it was completely the way the actual mix was presented that was the problem. Even though I know and like the songs it was extremely hard to follow the lyrics almost to the point of them being incomprehensible for anyone unfamiliar with the songs. Yes we danced and sang along however The Shires just about got away with it due to their popularity. They will have to watch out though because they are NOT a distortion loving rock band from the seventies they are a quality Country band of today and we, and they, deserve a more sympathetic sound and engineering to match.
Graeme Scott K107FM, Blues Matters Magazine, VRN1287