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The Shires at Lytham Festival

The Shires at Lytham Festival - Image courtesy of Cuffe & Taylor

The original plan to get to this gig part cycle/part train didn’t quite work out, so it was cycle all the way in the end. It turned out that it was only doors at 18:30 with the support coming on at 19:30, so I could actually have got the later train. If the reader has not noticed, there is particularly poor public transport access from south east Blackpool to Lytham St Anne’s, unless one can get to Blackpool South station.

It had been decided that The Shires’ audience would not need to sit, so chairs had been dispensed with. Well the audience age range spread between eight years old and OAPs, so people did need to sit down. As a result chairs were robbed out of the bar and other adjoining rooms, preventing people collapsing on the floor. It was good to such an age range enjoying themselves together.

A rather quaint ringing of door-style bells heralded the arrival of Robbie Cavanagh and his band. This was a perfectly adequate support act with an appropriate country-rock style, but they did seem to be playing slightly off the beat, or threatening to do so. Robbie’s solo song turn was a bit insipid and seemed interminable. He self-deprecatingly remarked that this was the first time he’d performed it to a silent audience and after a few open-mic night experiences I can relate to what he was saying. These quibbles aside these were warm and genuine people, getting up there and doing a show of what seemed to be self-penned material, so nice one.

The Shires’ backing band crashed into an opening number and for a second I thought I was at a heavy metal gig. However, when the duo (Crissie Rhodes and Ben Earle) took the stage, everything settled into a country-influenced pop rock groove. This band was spot on the beat and a very capable group of musicians.

Rhodes has a distinctive and strong voice ideal for country-influenced music. Earle’s is from that modern day, rather over-clean, alto family. From those hot-beds of country-rock, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, the two worked well together to produce a unique, albeit somewhat inevitably derivative, sound. Lowther Pavilion’s fairly intimate surroundings leant themselves to a warm audience approach where the background to some of the songs was laid out. I particularly remember one that has been used as the first dance at a lot of weddings (social media clearly allows for rapid feedback on how songs are being used).

The pair had selected a varied repertoire, including well-chosen covers, with the band rotating and occasionally disappearing to allow self-accompanied duets. Within the country-influenced format, there were some quite impressive style switches, including one heavy rock blow-out; I noticed the guitarist switch from his semi-acoustic to a Les Paul for that one (later he used a Telecaster for yet another different styled number, so he clearly knows and likes his guitars). New numbers from the upcoming album were played; I noticed that many audience members seemed familiar with these already, boding well for sales and career longevity. A band of this quality can think in terms of a long career and not as being a flash in the pan.

As it was probably meant to, a song about Britain (called Made in England), inspired by Americans’ often fervent patriotism, stands out. This pulled in all the things that British people can be proud of, rather than winning the Battle of Agincourt or some such, which is nothing to do with now. I think fish and chips was mentioned, a culinary contribution to put next to the English breakfast. Well done for that one, I think!

The Shires have a style that might work well in a stadium situation (they somewhat ironically described contributing to an event to commemorate England winning the world cup: well it won’t be happening again soon, I fear!), but I wouldn’t like them to lose the warm intimacy and genuine regard for their audience that this gig displayed. They were among friends in Lytham and people who will stick with them as their career progresses. I hope that they are around for a long time.

Super value weekend tickets for Lytham Festival 2017 are on sale from Friday 19 August priced from just £99. For more information visit www.lythamfestival.com

Images courtesy of Cuffe & Taylor.

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    I have worked in the housing and transport professions for several local authorities, specialising in policy, strategy preparation and bid writing. Having always had an interest in film, the visual arts in general, theatre, music and lterature, I thought it would be good to combine the writing experience with these interests to contribute to altBlackpool. In addition to writing, my hobbies include watercolour and pastel painting, photography, woodwork, cycling and vegetable gardening.

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