Wherstead: The Shires can’t wait to join star-studded sausage and beer festival at Jimmy’s Farm
- Credit: Archant
The power of Facebook. This time last year Ben Earle and Crissie Rhodes were at a crossroads. He was broke, she was stuck on the wedding, pub and club circuit. One simple posting later, The Shires as they’re now known have recorded their first album in Nashville; becoming one of the buzz bands of 2014 in the process.
“I’d been writing for nine, 10 years, with a bit of minor success,” says Earle, who had supported KT Tunstall on one of her first tours back in the day. “I’d reached the point where I was literally broke, and I put a thing on Facebook saying ‘There must be a country singer somewhere’.”
A mutual friend tagged Rhodes, who’d been looking for a songwriter without success, in. Seeing videos of her performing online they met the next day and have been performing and writing together ever since.
Word soon began to spread, with one well-connected observer spreading the word to another and the ball was rolling. Both admit it’s been a whirlwind few months.
Getting a record deal was obviously the dream, but being signed by Decca - who sent them straight to country’s spiritual home Nashville - seven or eight months in came out the blue.
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“The fact we’ve recorded an album already is crazy because record labels can sign you up then let you sit writing songs for a year or so, so it’s really nice they’ve got us straight out to Nashville and kept the balling rolling because we’ve been ready to go. It was amazing out there, everyday we had to pinch ourselves, we can’t believe we’re here,” says Rhodes.
“Nashville is flooded with history; for us to follow the likes of some of our favourite artists - Brad Paisley, Civil Wars, Martina McBride, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw - it really was magical for us.”
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You can understand them being tagged overnight sensations. Ask them about any London dates in their first months together and they’ll ask you if Watford, St Albans and Biggleswade count. Truth is they’ve been working up to this moment for a long time.
“We don’t want to be known as just springing out of nowhere, because behind the scenes, we’ve worked really hard,” says Rhodes. “We’ve done our legwork and the two of us finding each other has just worked.”
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“Every stage has been a bit fateful. When we first met Decca in December it felt it was a bit too early to sign us. If we’re honest, it was too early, it probably still is,” he laughs. “But I came out of that meeting feeling like it wouldn’t be the last time we were there. Two weeks later everything changed.”
Rhodes doesn’t know why the label changed its mind. The duo didn’t have the following, online or queuing to get in their gigs, that record companies look for these days.
“We had six or seven songs to our name at that point and we’d done about five gigs in the most local places that weren’t heavily attended - everything labels don’t usually like to buy into.”
Ignoring suggestions of making a “cool video” to get people onboard, the duo - who made their official live London debut at the second annual Country 2 Country Festival at the 02 Arena - decided to take the old school approach of garnering radio support, with BBC Radio 2 vigorously championing them.
Inspired by American music, it’s good to hear they’re proudly British.
“We’re from the shires (Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire). Our name retains that English country thing, we’re a country band and we never want to try to be American... You don’t really have shires anywhere else, apart from in The Hobbit,” laughs Earle.
The duo are looking forward to Jimmy’s Sausage and Beer Festival on July 26-27.
“We’re mega excited about it. We want to play as much from the album, out in September fingers crossed, as we can. We just love going out playing, that was the most enjoyable thing for us when we met, it just works.”
The festival, which runs July 26-27, will see chart-topping X Factor winner Matt Cardle and pop rockers Dodgy headlining the main paddock’s truck stage. Others playing include Farrah, The Vagabond and Polar Collective to name a few.
BBC chef and truffle fan Valentine Warner will be cooking up a storm on the demonstration stage with restaurant chain LEON co-founder and TV chef Allegra McEvedy.
They are part of a team of prestigious and award-winning chefs including Marcus Bean, Galton Blackiston, Alan Paton, James Barber and the farm’s own award-winning head chef Jon Gay who will all be using the best East Anglian produce to come up with original ideas for festival-goers to try.
You can try more than 100 different beers and ales in the Wherstead farm restaurant which be transformed into a Tyrolean beer keller with long tables, oompah music and a menu offering a range of its sausages which are all made in the farm butchery from Jimmy’s rare breed, free range pigs.
With two young children, Jimmy Doherty and wife Michaela have made sure the festival is fun for the young at heart with the Chipolatas Kids Zone packed full of street dancing, circus skills, puppet shows, music jams and high wire challenges. Most of the farm’s regular children’s activities will also be open for the weekend including the popular nature trail, Hobbit House, zip wire and adventure playground.
Theatre company Red Rose Chain will still be on-site with The Comedy of Errors.
“All the early bird tickets for the Sausage and Beer Festival have gone, lots of festival-goers must have happy memories of previous events,” says Doherty.
“With such an action packed couple of days some people will want to make the most of it by staying overnight so, for the first time, there will be a camp site. Visitors can buy tickets for the day or for the full weekend. It’s going to be a blast.”
Catch Event on July 25 for interviews with Mathew Priest of Dodgy, Matt Cardle and more about the festival.