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  • Writer's pictureCHRIS FARLIE

LIVE REVIEW: THE SHIRES - ALYSSA BONAGURA - THE BECK THEATRE

It was ten years ago in a field at Rockingham Castle that #TEAMw21 first came across The Shires, along with just about every other act on the UK Country scene at the time. This was before even their first single had been released yet even then they already had a number of excellent tunes in their set and some well chosen covers. For those that were not lucky enough to see them in those embryonic days then the current "Two Of Us" tour is the closest you'll get, as it says on the tin just Ben and Crissie, some guitars a piano and a selection of their songbook stripped bare. It was enough of a prospect to sell out the rather nice 600 seat Beck Theatre on a Sunday night, showing there is a large Country audience in the suburbs if you give them something to see.

THE SHIRES - ALYSSA BONAGURA - THE BECK THEATRE

The evening would begin with a short set from Alyssa Bonagura, and her regular side kick Steve Shirley. About to head out on her first headline tour later in the year, she has these six or seven song support slots honed to perfection and this would be an exemplary warm up set. Later introduced as a "Nashville Unicorn" for actually originally coming from there, she quickly had West London under her spell, opening with "The Other Side Of The World", Steve adding backing vocals on the chorus. The uptempo "New Wings" followed, with the twin acoustic guitars and backing vocals once more a sheer joy, while "Fly With Me" was pure pop country at it's finest, with Alyssa adding in some marvelously extended notes as well as reminding us with details of her recent acoustic EP recorded at Mark Knopflers studio.


There was a touch of classic country about "Know You Better" in it's melody and lyrics, while "Road Less Travelled" about following your own path returned us to the world of excellently executed pop Country. The set would close with "Bring My Own Sunshine" heralding the first singalong of the evening in a hysterical battle of the sexes competition. It's a well rehearsed routine that never fails to bring a smile and it comes with so many hooks you can't help but enjoy it. We've remarked previously that Alyssa is conquering the UK one show at a time and tonight would prove no different, a quick trip to the merch desk at the end of her set would see he largest of crowds besieging her - hopefully they'll return for more of the same later in the year on her nationwide tour.

THE SHIRES - ALYSSA BONAGURA - THE BECK THEATRE

The whole aim of the "Two Of Us " tour, would seem to be a chance for The Shires to reset and reconnect with their both their fan base and their own material. For many this would be the first time that they had seen them perform these songs like this in an extended format and even you had seen them without a band before, as they opened the set with "My Universe" it was a reminder of just how good they are. Ben's voice all night was able to convey the emotions of the words to a greater depth than when having to compete with a band, similarly with Crissie, we've probably taken her contributions so much for granted, to really appreciate just how good a vocalist she is.


On just this opener, built around the simplest of guitar lines, they were individually excellent and as a pair sublime. It may not have had the bombast of the album version but it would win out on sheer beauty. Similarly "World Without You" buried at the back end of "Accidentally On Purpose" seemed transformed into something greater, both voices having a certain purity about them that really elevated the song.


THE SHIRES - ALYSSA BONAGURA - THE BECK THEATRE

"State Lines" would be transferred to guitar, and would see them simultaneously raise their arm and make a fluttering gesture on the "All the little things" line. The switch to guitar could not diminish this UK country classic. A move to the piano would see "Naked" in all it's glory - Crissie emphasising every line with hand gestures just adding that extra little bit of drama.


It was not all intense balladry, the party kicked off with the audience standing and singing to "All Over Again" while "Friday Night" had all the good time vibe it ever did, in fact as they played we had a flashback to when Ben first explained the lyrics so the audience could singalong!!


It was at a special album preview gig for "My Universe" that we first got to hear "Daddy's Little Girl" - on the night it was tough for Crissie to sing it to an audience for the first time and it was amazing to hear it. Since then it has become so much to so many and is the very essence of what Country music like no other genre can do best. Tonight it was once again sheer perfection.


For "The Hard Way" we were once again reminded of the line about "the worst kind of sick!" and on "Guilty" of Ben's sort of rap delivery, tonight both seemed perfectly fine!

THE SHIRES - ALYSSA BONAGURA - THE BECK THEATRE

It is an indisputable fact that The Shires always were masters of the audience singalong in UK Country, the first time this phenomenon occurred was with "Nashville Grey Skies" with it's "Country Boys, Country Girls" refrain. It seemed fanciful at the time but Ben & Crissie along with Ward Thomas did break doors down and build a UK Nashville here. For tonight's take on one of UK country's greatest anthems, Alyssa Bonagura would come back to join in on the fun, the final mass audience singalong is still a heartwarming experience. The triple harmonies would stay to refresh "Lightning Strikes Twice"


THE SHIRES - ALYSSA BONAGURA - THE BECK THEATRE

The passage of time has benefited The Shires take on "Islands In The Stream", the original has become a karaoke classic that drunken couples around the country can sing on a Saturday night, whereas Ben and Crissie really brought out the strengths of the songwriting. Another of those lost songs "Sleepwalk" from "Accidentally On Purpose", with it's new piano arrangement, was uncluttered, shining the light onto the vocals and lyrics in a way the perhaps the recorded version did not - including a beautiful section of overlapping harmonies.


Another of those classic Shires songs "I Just Want To Love You", much used as a wedding first dance still sounds as perfect as the first time we ever heard it. A further song given a new lease of life was "About Last Night", wonderfully performed highlighting another of the bands skills which is to write songs that your audience can empathize with and see themselves in. The main set would close out with another of the Shires stirring anthemic chanting songs "Tonight" initially dividing the audience to sing the different hooks, the audience then continuing the song long after Ben and Crissie had left the stage until they returned for the encores.



The evening would close with a further three songs, a Zane Williams cover "While I Was Away", the only cover on the forthcoming album, which touched on the sacrifices made to have a career, the things missed - it was easy to see how these two performers with families of their own would find so much in this relatively unknown song. Their only trip to their "10 Year Plan" album was to be a phone waving moment for "I See Stars" again really invigorated by being stripped to it's bare bones of guitar and vocals.. To send the West London audience off into the night, there was the celebratory singing and actions that come with "A Thousand Hallelujahs", it would close out an exceptional nights entertainment.


Let's hope the main takeaways from this evening are that The Shires are allowed to make the great timeless album they are destined to make off the back of the success of this new stripped back one and that those who queued to see Alyssa Bonagura tonight will go to see a full set from her on that forthcoming UK tour.


The new Shires album - is available to Pre Order https://shorturl.at/hFK48


Alyssa Bonagura's UK Tour Dates:


THE SHIRES - ALYSSA BONAGURA - THE BECK THEATRE

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