May 2, 2017
The Shires’ “secret” set at this year’s Country To Country festival was one of the worst kept secrets of recent times.
Many of those who queued the length of The O2 for that treat now filled the legendary Palladium for the epic final night of The Shires’ UK My Universe tour.
Family, friends and, of course, fans marvelled at the listed building and waited with baited breath. Despite the grandeur of the theatre, this was no time for polite applause and jewellery rattling. With the opening chords of Nashville Grey Skies, everyone shot to their feet, as if instinctively.
As the band delivered tune after crisp, tight tune, the crowd settled back into their plush seats. Admittedly, that was the best way to appreciate the pure sound in the deep, steep theatre. Especially so for the sweet piano-led numbers such as Naked and, most notably, a pristine cover of Robbie Williams’ Angels.
Of course, it’s the call-and-response new country originals that have gained The Shires so much attention. Songs like A Thousand Hallelujahs had the crowd back on their feet and dancing in the aisles.
As with Nashville Grey Skies, Made in England was an exuberant singalong; lyrical celebration of the UK was fitting for a band that has led the way in proving there’s a vibrant country scene here, ready to support homegrown talent.
Crissie Rhodes and Ben Earle have certainly proved their ability to shine on the big stages, and the band behind them were more than up to the challenge, too.
The Shires are playing various UK festivals this summer. See theshiresmusic.com/tour/ for details.
“I always love when I get a pre-singing cheer because you don’t know if you like me yet”
Unbeknownst to Catherine McGrath, lots of people in the crowd did indeed know they liked her. Perhaps they’d discovered her at this year’s Country To Country festival, at The Round Up (Two Ways Home’s monthly songwriters’ circle), or on earlier dates of The Shires’ My Universe tour. The buzz before her set was palpable.
That’s why there were plenty of people singing along to her catchy country-pop tracks Hell Would Have To Freeze Over and Starting From Now, and why there were cheers for her Swifty style song Cinderella (co-written with Taylor Swift’s songwriting collaborator Liz Rose).
Along with her preternatural talent, McGrath manages to rise above the field of new country performers because she’s no identikit starlet. She’s endearing. She seemed genuinely touched by the welcome she received, and sincere when she said “you guys are my people and you’re the friends I needed when I was 12.” To be fair, that wasn’t too long ago; she’s only 19 now!
There was no sense of McGrath being fazed by the huge crowd or by the pressure of playing such a hallowed venue.
Her banter had the crowd laughing from beginning to end. There were the many and varied ways she casually dropped in the fact that she’d be selling her debut EP out in the lobby. The way that “so far it feels everything is doomed to failure” was her way of introducing her one ‘positive’ song. The way she solemnly said “you’re in my thoughts” to anyone feeling the height up in the third tier.
Credit must go to McGrath’s band. They could easily have been overshadowed by the star power on vocals if they weren’t able to hold their own musically. Instead they subtly shone. Together, the three of them will be getting plenty more ‘pre-singing cheers’ at this rate. Don’t be surprised if you see Catherine McGrath much higher up the bill at C2C festival in the future.
If you didn’t pick up McGrath’s EP, One, in the foyer at the Palladium then head to her website at catherinemcgrathmusic.com for online stockists.
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