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The Shires: Country duo who are on the fast track to success

Singer Crissie Rhodes from the English band, who play Belfast on Monday, tells Andrew Johnston why Garth Brooks’ loss is their gain as they aim to win over more fans

People often talk about 'overnight success' in pop music, but it doesn't come much more rapidly than being signed to a major label after barely half a dozen shows. Yet that's what happened to Hertfordshire-based country duo The Shires, after they caught the ear of the venerable Decca Records. The influential company in turn secured a contract for the duo with the US Universal Music Group, thus making them the first UK country act to be signed to a major Nashville label.

If it seems like a dream come true for any musician, lead singer Crissie Rhodes is certainly still reeling. "Everything's happened really, really quickly since we've been together," she says. "It was never our plan for it to go as quick as it has. Ben had been a struggling songwriter for years, writing for various artists and never really getting picked up, and I was gigging in bands and working as a session singer around London.

"Our manager knows some people at Radio 2, and he played them a couple of our demos, and they took it Decca and said, 'You've got to hear this band'.

"It's absolutely amazing that a major label noticed us and really believed us. Decca have been absolutely brilliant, and they're really excited about everything that we're doing. They leave a lot of control up to us, which is perfect for an artist."

If Crissie and musical partner Ben Barnes's rich harmonies and mature songwriting make it sound like they've been together for years, the twosome – who play McHugh's, Belfast, on Monday – actually only met in May last year.

"Ben put up a status on Facebook saying that he was looking for a female country singer," says Crissie. "One of our mutual friends just happened to tag me into that status, and we met up the next day and it went from there, really. I loved the songs that he had, and the two of us started writing together.

"Our voices really blend – it's not something that we've ever tried to work on, it's just happened very naturally."

With first single Nashville Grey Skies having received airplay from the likes of Bob Harris and Terry Wogan, and with more tour dates and festival appearances being booked, the duo find themselves growing as friends, as well as musically.

Crissie says it's "surreal" to have the support of such iconic figures as Harris and Wogan. "When we went into Radio 2 to meet Bob Harris, I was a ball of nerves," she smiles. "It was very nerve-wracking. But we knew we had to get our songs to him – he's the guy who knows everything about country music over here in the UK. To have him and Terry Wogan believe in us, it's crazy."

With a second single due and an album in the works, the band are looking forward to taking their music forward. "Neither of us have ever been to Ireland, so we're really excited," says Crissie. "We know there's a lot of country lovers over there."

And with 400,000 of them recently disappointed by the cancellation of Garth Brooks' concerts in Dublin, Crissie doesn't see why The Shires can't pull in a few new fans.

"It's a shame that Garth won't be able to perform there," she says, "but I think with country music, it seems everybody's really open to new acts, as well as still loving and buying the albums of the older acts.

"There's just a love for the music, as opposed to personality or who the person is."

The Shires play McHugh's in Belfast on Monday. For more details, visit

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