Towards the end of their sold out Royal & Derngate show this week, Ben Earle – one half of the country duo The Shires – stopped to acknowledge the band’s rapid rise to fame.
Only a few years ago, they were playing across the border in Bedfordshire to crowds of about 50 people.
Wednesday’s gig marked their second visit to Northampton in recent years with guitarist, pianist and singer Earle and singer Crissie Rhodes, previously having played across town at the Roadmender last October on the back of their 2015 debut Brave.
That album reached number 10 in the UK charts – a first for a UK country act – and has gone onto sell more than 100,000 copies.
This time around, The Shires are out supporting its successor, My Universe, with US singer songwriter Canaan Smith opening proceedings.
Wednesday’s show at the Northampton theatre was a triumphant romp through tracks from the band’s two albums with a cover of Robbie Williams’ Angels thrown into the mix mid set.
Earle and Rhodes have successfully infiltrated the mainstream with their blend of country pop, winning thousands of fans along the way.
Sometimes performing just as a duo, they were joined by a backing band who helped flesh out their sound at various points in their set.
The Shires played songs from their new record, including My Universe, Naked and Daddy’s Little Girl, which Rhodes told fans was about coming to terms with losing her father at a young age.
Angels was preceded by the story of the band playing it live on Chris Evan’s BBC Radio 2 show.
Other favourites from their debut included Brave, State Lines and Jekyll and Hyde.
Earle and Rhodes have a fantastic on stage chemistry and clearly adore playing live.
The Shires’ music slips between slower paced country ballads and more upbeat raucous sing-a-longs – and here in lies the only ‘fly in the ointment’.
Despite a strong mix of upbeat songs during their set, it took until The Shires left the stage before an encore for the Derngate audience to get on its feet.
The band left to cheers and fans singing back at them and it remained that way even when they returned to play three more songs.
However, almost every fan remained firmly rooted in their seat for most of the night– despite some clearly wanting to get up and enjoy themselves.
Granted – theatre shows are problematic – especially if you actively want to sit and people in front are standing.
However, the upsurge in atmosphere was dramatic when the show came alive towards its conclusion.
The Shires are one of a slew of bands bringing country music to the masses and if their first two albums and live shows are anything to go by, they’ll be continuing their upwards trajectory for the foreseeable future.