Wednesday, 16 November 2016

When country met city

I’m a fan of music. Not in the ‘put on your oversized headphones and listen to that rare Pink Floyd vinyl’ sort of way, more like ‘I listen to Spotify a lot and go to a gig now and again’. A duo I’m a fan of, The Shires, were having an album launch at HMV Oxford Street and tickets were limited and free. I’d been wanting to see them live for a while, after hearing them on Radio 2, so I quickly booked my ticket. They're English but play American country music. However, they're not your average yee-haw, I've got my truck, my gun and my ol' blue jeans country; they sing in beautiful harmonies, more similar to The Civil Wars than the Florida Georgia Line.

The doors didn't open until six and I got there an hour early as it was so near work. A few people were milling by the door, but I figured there wouldn't be that many people coming to see them, so I spent some time browsing Oxford Street instead of standing around for an hour. By the time I decided to queue up, around half an hour to forty-five minutes later, the line snaked around the building! I've learned that there's nothing more fascinating to people than a long queue. Those of us waiting were gawked at and a number of people even came up to ask us what we were queuing for. When we replied 'The Shires' a look of confusion crossed their faces and they shrugged, no doubt disappointed that it wasn't someone they'd heard of, like Justin Bieber.

Apparently the Shires rolled up in a massive truck but because I was around the corner I unfortunately did not get to see the spectacle. The doors didn't open until at least quarter past and we all dutifully shuffled in and up to the top floor of HMV where there is an intimate venue space. We again waited (there was a lot of waiting during the evening but I didn't mind - it was free!) until at last the Shires came onstage. The Shires consist of Chrissy Rhodes (singer) and Ben Earle (singer, guitar and piano), both attractive, hugely talented and very down-to-earth. Their set was acoustic, playing around six songs, four from their new album, one from their last album and a lovely cover of Robbie Williams' Angels. Their voices were amazing, blending together in stunning, effortless harmonies and with very few vocal cracks or off notes.  The crowd swayed toward the older demographic but the participation was lacking. Most of them just stood and stared, even when the Shires desperately tried to get them to clap and shout out the words.  I, for one, shrugged off my inhibitions and got into it, bobbing to the music with uncool jerky movements, clapping my hands above my head when they called for it, singing along and having a grand old time.

After the set we all got in line for the signing. I somehow ended up at the back of the queue - again - so it took me nearly another hour to get to them. The security guard fancied himself a comedian and would go up and down the line chatting and regaling us with his 'jokes'. By the time I neared them, we were told that we'd only have time for a quick photo and hi and bye. We were all a little disgruntled by this news, as we hadn't waited so long for a 30 second impersonal meet and greet. Chrissy and Ben, bless them, did not adhere to this at all even though they must have been exhausted. They spent time with every single person, chatting with them, signing their cds (someone even brought a guitar to sign) and posing for multiple photos.

I wasn't at all nervous while waiting in line. I like their music but I'm not a super fan girl and they are not mega famous, so I was rather laid back about the whole thing. I even rehearsed a few droll lines that would make them think I was witty and cool. And then it was my turn.

Reader, I babbled.

I went in for the hug rather than the handshake - because why not - and then my mouth ran away with me. I went on and on and on about how similar they were to the Civil Wars, and did they like the Civil Wars and wasn't it a shame they split up? Etc etc etc. It makes me cringe just thinking about it. To their credit they took it in their stride, probably used to crazy people, and engaged me in conversation and obligingly posed for the photo with the 'arms around me' shot. I mean, who wants the awkward lean shot?

I think I'm now even more of a fan of them than I was before. Their albums don't do them justice - they are a band that shine when they play live. It's sad in this day and age that it's novel to see a band that sound exactly like they do on their cd (rather than the standard weak voice being drowned out by an overpowering backing track) and The Shires are undeniably talented. While country is not everyone's cup of tea I think the Shires are a good gateway band, definitely more folky than twangy country and chilled out enough to be a soundtrack for a dinner party. Although my evening consisted of A LOT of waiting, it was all worth it to see such a great band in an audience of only 250. Having recently been signed by the same record label as Taylor Swift in the USA, who knows if I'll ever get such a chance again? 

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