Country music is often regarded as having niche appeal but nobody told The Shires. Their recent debut album, Brave, became the first in that genre ever to reach the UK’s official top 10.
Decca, according to Crissie Rhodes, one half of The Shires, revived its special Nashville label especially for them.
This was the natural recording home of such Country greats as Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn and, for a time in the 1990s, Dolly Parton.
All were girlhood heroes of Crissie, from Bedfordshire, who says she learned a lot of the great Country songs from her grandmother, along with some wartime staples.
But you could have been forgiven for thinking Crissie’s ambitions didn’t lie in the direction of Country when she appeared on The X Factor in 2013.
“My family were like, you’re getting on a bit now. You need to get a proper job,” this ancient 27-year-old recalls.
“I thought I’d do the whole X Factor thing.”
Music, she says, had always been her main preoccupation. She had studied it at school and later at the Academy of Contemporary Music in Guildford.
“I always wanted to be a performer,” she says. “And I always had this dream of having a record deal but I never thought it could happen.”
The X Factor was not to be the route for her. “It was a great time and I did reach boot camp. They showed me on there. But by this time I’d met Ben and my heart was on The Shires.
“I think The X Factor would have taken me down a more popular route so I probably did myself a favour getting out of it.”
Ben is Ben Earle, also 27, and the other half of The Shires. The pair got together when he put an imploring message on Facebook to the effect that there must be some good female Country singers out there.
“He was quite a new Country convert but he could see that was where his songwriting was meant to go,” says Crissie.
She replied to him and he sent her four of his songs, including Brave and Black and White (both now on the album).
“I listened to the first one and got straight back to say I absolutely love it. It turned out we only live 25 minutes away from each other (Ben is from Hertfordshire) so we met up the next day and it was very creative.
“We didn’t know if we’d be friends but musically we were on the same track. We have since had a lot of laughs together.”
After the initial meetings, Crissie got on and then off The X Factor, and then, after a handful of gigs, they acquired a manager who said he could probably land them a record deal if they allowed a year.
It took five months and already they have had people raving.
“Two great voices in harmony,” declared Mark Ronson, while Chris Evans on BBC Radio 2 called their sound “beautiful”, “amazing” and “absolutely brilliant”.
While this tour, starting on April 8 in Leeds, is their first as the headlining act, Crissie says they have performed on Tyneside a few times and appeared at Sage Gateshead last year in the SummerTyne Americana Festival.
Now they are looking forward to returning for the second date on their tour.
Many more gigs might follow. As Crissie says, in a retort to her family’s age-related urgings: “In pop music 27 might be classed as old but in Country we’re still pretty young.
“The most humbling thing is knowing there are so many Country artists who are still working in their sixties and seventies.”