THE Shires – Ben Earle and Crissie Rhodes – are the biggest country act in the UK today, with their latest album, My Universe, reaching number three in the UK album charts last October.

And they'd be the first to admit a lot of their success has been thanks to support from BBC Radio 2 – they're regularly on the playlist and make guest appearances on radio shows.

Back in the North East as one of the headline acts at the hugely popular Americana festival at the Sage, Crissie reminisced about their first appearance there, in the café bar area, playing to "about 25 people" when they could only dream about one day performing on the wonderful Sage One stage.

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And now they were, kicking off with their first single, the extremely catchy Nashville Grey Skies. We were soon into a run of tracks from the My Universe album. Stand out performances were Daddy's Little Girl, which Crissie wrote about her late father, and Friday Night (which got everyone out of their seats).

Drive, which they wrote with Kip Moore while at the C2C festival at the 02, reminds me of Lady Antebellum, which is perhaps not surprising as it was on hearing that band that Ben decided he wanted to find a country singer to form a duo with. After a few messages on Facebook The Shires was formed.

We ended back on our feet with the rousing A Thousand Hallelujahs. If you think country music is all about cowboys and tractors, give The Shires a listen – you might be pleasantly surprised. The Shires are also headlining Yorfest, at York Racecourse, on September 23.

Tracey Dowson