The Shires/Ward Thomas @ Brudenell Social Club, Leeds, England 16/11/14

Born and bred in Leeds it is with some shame that I have to admit this is the first time I’d ever been to the legendary Brudenell Social Club. Set in the bohemian Hyde Park area on the outskirts of the city it’s not the most aesthetically pleasing venue from the outside – looking a bit like Peter Kay’s ‘Phoenix Club’ – this is a place which has held some classic nights in Leeds music and still holds the torch for up and coming artists.

Having been left queuing in the cold November rain for an hour the doors were opened and up and coming Leeds band Fitzwallace came on stage to warm things up. I was very impressed with their up tempo country which clearly had many influences from different genres. Lead singer Joe Martin’s strong vocals stole the show for me and set things up well for the main event.

​The Shires were the first on stage and opened with a nice mellow acoustic number. Having added a full band to their line up it felt like they were easing us into their new sound and things really got kicking when the whole band came onstage. Aside from female vocalist Crissie Rhodes somewhat cringe worthy banter with the crowd she exhibited an unbelievable voice – somewhat reminiscent of the great Carrie Underwood. Ben Rhodes carried himself with a great charisma and moments of real comedy onstage to keep things going – not least when he broke a guitar string. Adding a full band has really upped the anti of their show and added a great extra element. I have to give extra credit to the lead guitarist who showed some great craft on his Stratocaster, playing with a style not unlike that of John Mayer.The performance ended with a top notch cover of Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers’ ‘Islands in the Stream’ which really got everyone singing along. I have to say the slide guitar played by their lead guitarist on the resonator really was superb. All in all this was a great set with a perfect balance of up tempo and low key numbers.

Ward Thomas were next up to close the evening. Admittedly, having listened briefly to their album on Spotify, I was unsure of quite what to expect. As they fired in to their opening number I was very pleasantly surprised. Much like The Shires their set had a perfect mix of up tempo and slow songs which showcased the sisters talents as well as those of their superb lead guitarist. Including a cover of Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake It Off’ gave them an opportunity to get involved in some rapping and led to a rapturous applause. My personal highlight was the single Push for the Stride which provided one half of a barnstorming ending along with Way Back When.

As the gig finished The Shires came back on stage and both bands belted out Striking Matches song ‘I Ain’t Leaving Without Your Love’ which also featured on the TV show Nashville. This was a perfect end to a very impressive show.This was my first experience of a co-headlining show and I have to say I really liked the idea of both acts getting 45 minutes to perform. It led to the sets being well crafted and very few slow points or lulls. Prior to attending this gig I had been a little unsure of what British country music was really offering – a side from the big US acts who had come over to tour in recent years I really didn’t know much about the homegrown talents we had and this ‘Homegrown tour’ really went a long way to showing me that there was plenty out there to be excited about.

​If you ever get the chance to see any of these 3 bands in action then I really recommend it.

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