The Shires, who formed in 2013, are an English country pop duo composed of singer-songwriters Ben Earle and Crissie Rhodes. They hail from the neighbouring counties of Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire. Ben sings vocals and plays guitar and Shefford, Bedfordshire native Crissie Rhodes shares lead vocals. The duo fittingly took the band name in order to maintain a British identity and take a small part of the England back to the United States. "Shire" is the original term for what is usually now known as an English county. After playing hardly half a dozen shows together The Shires caught the attention of Decca Records who signed them in the UK and they secured a contract with American record label Universal Music Group Nashville thus becoming the first ever English country act to be signed to a major Nashville label.
Crissie Rhodes has performed at weddings, pubs and clubs performing songs by Dolly Parton amongst others. Her country music influences include Alison Krauss, Martina McBride and Faith Hill. Chrissie was a competitor in the 2013 UK series of The X Factor.
Ben Earle was previously a solo artist and had supported KT Tunstall on tour. He had a record deal but got dropped. As a struggling songwriter, who had been writing for 10 years, he had tried to get cuts for other artists. He discovered country music in 2012 via Lady Antebellum the American Grammy Award winning group. He cites the Kacey Musgraves album Same Trailer Different Park as a major career inspiration.
Earle and Rhodes met after Ben, with an aim to become part of a duo, posted a "There must be a country singer somewhere" message on the social media website Facebook, seeking a partner, to which Rhodes responded.
They were invited to the C2C: Country to Country 2014 Festival and performed at The Town Square Pop Stage on Sunday March 16, 2014 outside the London O2 Arena. As part of BBC Radio 2's coverage of the festival The Shires were included as a segment in a documentary titled "Nashville UK" which assessed country music's standing in the U.K and as one of its promising artists their determination to export their British country roots to their American counterparts.
The Shires have composed songs with hit Nashville songwriter Steve Mcewan (Keith Urban, Tim McGraw, Carrie Underwood) and Play Productions an accomplished Swedish writing and production company, who comprise Tim Larsson, Johan Fransson and Tobias Lundgren, who have worked with Rascal Flatts and Celine Dion. On April 21, 2014 they travelled to Sweden and then headed to Nashville to begin preparations and record their debut album. The duo toured the UK with Ward Thomas and Little Big Town, prior to their own headlining tour in 2015.
2014: Nashville Grey Skies
Their first single "Nashville Grey Skies" was released on April 4, 2014 and received its first airplay on the Bob Harris BBC Radio 2 Country show on April 3, 2014. It was added to the BBC Radio 2 "B" Playlist for the week commencing Saturday May 3, 2014 and climbed to the "A" playlist the following week.
The song was written by Ben before visiting Music City which is a song about hope with a pipe dream of building, and the UK having, a country music capital of its very own. It takes the musicality influences from America whilst maintaining a Britishness with the song writing. It contains facetious lines such as "Well they say it's way too cold for cut-off jeans and they won't be drinking moonshine and G & T's" and "We can build our own Nashville under these grey skies"