5th December 2016
This show was something of a double-header for me as opening act Canaan Smith has been on my radar for a year or so courtesy of friends in the Americas, so a post-gig tincture was declined and we made our way into Hall 1 just as he was coming on stage.
The ruggedly handsome singer was attired in the obligatory beanie hat, double t-shirt, washed out jeans and battered Redwing boots combo that is deemed de-rigour these days as was his pal on guitar, albeit with a Trucker cap instead of the beanie.
Enough about the fashion; what about the music you ask?
They opened their set with a song about and possibly called Getting Old, which was lyrically razor sharp and right from the heart; gaining rapturous applause as it ended. This was followed with a cool song apparently inspired by and name checking Miranda Lambert, called You Crazy Girl. As it ended Mrs. Magpie was applauding loudly and grinning like a ninny; high praise indeed.
The duo genuinely captivated the audience for their full 40 minutes, with Smith’s fascinating and slightly self-deprecating stories interspersing a well balanced mix of Country Rockers and the occasional introspective songs.
The highlight by far, was Bronco, a song about Smith’s elder brother who died in a car crash when the songwriter was but a boy. The song leant itself to an acoustic setting (I’ve subsequently seen a Rocky version on YouTube which is just as good); but when he introduced it my wife wasn’t alone as she clutched her hands to her chest as the hint of a tear formed in her eye. The song was well worthy of the story.
Tonight Canaan Smith, in the guise of a cool Alt. Country singer-songwriter won the hearts and minds of 2,000 Geordie Country fans, and when he assured the crowd he would be back in 2017 with his band, the roar of approval was as loud as for his songs.
Aha; the Shires! It’s hard to believe that in July 2014 I saw them perform for free in front of about thirty people on the concourse of Sage Gateshead at the SummerTyne Festival; and now they have two massive hit albums under their belts and tonight’s show was deemed a 2,000 seat Sell Out a month ago.
Very slick and professional Crissie and Ben followed the band onto the stage amid screams from the younger members of the audience and set the turbo to ‘warp speed’ by opening with a rocking version of Nashville Grey Skies and it’s Country Girl/Country Boy belt-along chorus set the mood for the evening.
The quintessentially English duo neatly balanced songs from their established debut album with ones from the more recent My Universe, with fans singing along word perfectly to absolutely everything.
Even though I last saw them earlier this year, Crissie seems a lot more assured with the range of her voice and Ben sounds more ’rounded’ and ‘smoky’ and when they harmonise….. even the most cynical reviewer will go weak at the knees.
As ‘fans’ you would think it would be difficult for the Shires to still surprise Mrs. Magpie and myself, but no…..they threw curve balls all night.
Tonight’s version of Naked with Ben on the piano and Crissie ‘serenading’ him with her crystal clear voice was absolutely spellbinding, and who knew Robbie William’s Angels could ever sound fresh and exciting again? Well tonight it did.
As expected Mrs. Magpie and I differed as to what the ‘best songs of the night were.’ I chose the beautiful Daddy’s Little Girl (a real tearjerker) and Save Me, which was luscious from start to finish and a lot deeper lyrically than most Country songs coming out of Nashville these day.
Mrs. M surprised me by choosing the punchy and rocktastic All Over Again, which had a hardy bunch of 50 or so dancing in the aisles and Jekyll & Hyde which saw a National Steel make its debut in the shadows.
If The Shires have signature tunes they would probably be I Just Want to Love You, State Lines, Friday Night and the ever marvellous Made in England, which all got rolled out before the evening ended, some with new arrangements but all to the audiences obvious delight.
Regardless of your feelings this IS Country Music. Hank and George may not recognise it as such, and their wasn’t a pedal-steel or banjo within a 100 yards of the stage; but this IS Modern Country and every note and word is as good, if not better than what their American counterparts are producing; and now they have been signed to Big Machine, it will be fascinating to see how they fair in the home of the music we all love.
You can’t call what The Shires are spearheading a resurgence in British Country Music, as we’ve never had anything near the crossover success as what they and Ward Thomas are currently having; and I couldn’t be any prouder.