★ ★ ★ ★
Ward Thomas and The Shires are changing country music. There has been a country scene in the UK for a long time, but this is the first time that homegrown country artists have truly been acknowledged by the media. With considerable mainstream radio play, The Shires and Ward Thomas are giving Nashville a run for their money.
The Shires were the first to take to the stage at the first of two sold-out London shows. Playing new songs, and those from their latest EP, the band balanced their set with acoustic and full band arrangements. The audience sang along to the band’s hits, Nashville Grey Skies and Tonight, and when they played their new single, On a Friday Night, we clung to every word.
The set featured incredibly impressive vocal licks, and a band that sounded like they had been doing this for years. Their encore, a cover of Islands in the stream, proved the band’s skill, as they adapted the classic track to their own sound. Their full album is due to be released in January, and it will be well worth the wait.
In headscarves and hot pants, Ward Thomas may not look stereotypically ‘country’, but their close family harmonies and folk instruments embody the essence of the genre; they even managed to transform Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off into a far better song than the original. The twins vocals are so impressive, they barely needed any accompaniment, but the band perfectly enhance their sound, bring a contemporary country feel.
Although the audience knew the band’s hits, the standout song was Cartwheels. Written on a trip to Nashville six months ago, the hauntingly beautiful ballad displays the best of the girls lyric writing and vocal ability. The premise is simple, yet striking:
‘I’ve been doing cartwheels, anything to save us, anything to make you notice me;’
The vocal line is delicate, adding to the endearing vulnerability of the song, and it has stayed with me since yesterday.
The Shires joined Ward Thomas on stage for the encore, a cover of Striking Matches’ I Ain’t Leaving Without Your Love, it seemed to be something special to see these bands play together, at the beginning of their promising musical careers. After last nights show, there is no doubt that these bands are bound for great things.