The Shires @Gateshead The Sage, May 5 2022

The Shires’ bid to build their own Nashville is gathering pace.

As the UK’s leading country duo, Ben Earle and Crissie Rhodes continue to cultivate a like-minded community of Stetson-wearing, whiskey-sipping Brits.

And Gateshead is just one of the music cities where The Shires are guaranteed a welcome as warm as a mid-summer Tennessee night.

Not so long ago, Earle and Rhodes were playing to a handful of punters at The Sage’s café bar.

But it was gigs like that that laid the foundation for nights like this.

And shows like those which led to five Top 10 UK albums, regular trips to Music Row and main stage success at the massive C2C festival.

Building their own Nashville? 

Within the space of a decade that grand project has gone from mission impossible to mission complete.

And with new album 10 Year Plan winning rave reviews, a huge headline run across the UK simply feels like the end of the beginning for this endearing pair.

Rhodes Trip Takes New Turn

With Rhodes expecting twins and Earle gearing up for child number three a brief hiatus is, inevitably, on the cards.

But don’t be surprised if the former’s quip about a travelling creche becomes reality with demand for The Shires’ shows far outstripping supply.

Backed by a stellar band and a snazzy light show, a tidal wave of emotion flowed through this hotly anticipated return to the banks of the Tyne.

On more than one occasion Rhodes failed to hold back the tears — a volatile mix of affecting lyrics and sheer relief at being back where she belongs making this a poignant evening for a special performer.

Earle’s response to a capacity crowd was more one of joy and disbelief: his beaming smile as wide as the river racing past outside.

Sure, The Shires missed a trick by not making more of Black And White.

But after a passing mention of their stripped-down show in Sunderland drew the odd playful jeer, maybe it was best to steer clear of partisan football banter.

10 Year Plan Complete

Of the six new tunes culled from 10 Year Plan, A Bar Without You and Plot Twist underlined the true quality of The Shires at their shimmering best.

The former, co-written with Jennifer Wayne and tour support Eric Paslay, is prime country and oozing perfection, while the latter’s neat wordplay pays homage to a genre staple.

But do Shires songs get much better than Guilty and Tonight?

Building up to the three-song encore, two firm fan favourites never sounded better.

A Thousand Hallelujahs (or maybe a few more inside the Sage’s main hall) rang out at the end of a career-spanning 20-song set.

Building their own Nashville? 

Slowly but surely, The Shires are building their own nation of UK-based country music devotees.

Access All Areas Paslay

Armed with nothing more than his guitar and a few neat one-liners, Paslay proved to be the perfect warm-up for the main event.

Utterly engaging and genuinely funny, the renowned hitmaker revelled in the opportunity to step out of the studio and onto the stage.

Responsible for a string of country’s most heavily rotated country hits, it’s rare for Paslay to perform the songs that forged his reputation on this side of the Pond.

And Gateshead was treated to a brisk but brilliant career resumé that included the Jake Owen number one Barefoot Blue Jean Night and Wild Hearts…Paslay’s chart-busting collab with Keith Urban.

Earlier, Kezia Gill oozed confidence, charisma and a touch of northern sass as Derbyshire’s answer to Tenille Townes owned the Sage main stage.

Mixing canny chat with her typically forthright tunes — Thirties and Whiskey Drinkin’ Woman, in particular, warming up the Thursday night crowd — the rising star of the UK’s country scene nailed her latest North East show.

Live images courtesy of Adam Kennedy