Proud to call herself a folk singer, Kate Rusby’s expressive vocals never fail to connect the emotional heart of a song to that of her audience. Ahead of her much-anticipated festive concert this Tue 4 Dec, Kate talks touring, South Yorkshire and her own Christmas traditions.
Your Christmas concerts are one of the main highlights of the festive season for your fans, and feel Christmas begins once they have been to one of your concerts. Is the preparation different from an album tour?
Totally, I love taking the carols out there and singing them all around the country, one of the amazing things is that now when we go back to a town that we have played at Christmas before, the audience sing their hearts out as they have remembered the songs. It always makes me quite emotional to hear them all singing these South Yorkshire carols that we have taught them, I just love it. So where on a 'normal' tour I will be conscious of having the set list quite different to the last time we played a place, on the Christmas tour I like to make sure we have a lot in the set that the audience have heard as I know they want to sing along with them. I do always have a few new ones in there too though, but I suppose that would be the main difference in my approach. Also we do go to a lot of effort to make it look and feel Christmassy too. A lot of thought is put into the lighting and the sound to make sure people come away feeling like Christmas has begun.
What about the South Yorkshire tradition inspires you?
The South Yorkshire carols are still sung every year, starting the Sunday after Armistice Day and continuing until new year. They are sung in a certain select few pubs in South Yorkshire, my favourite is The Royal in a little village called Dungworth, I was taken there as a child and even though we were in a different room playing and drinking pop and eating crisps, we were all the while soaking up the songs. So learning them through osmosis really. Thankfully the tradition is showing no signs of dwindling, you only have to go to one of the sings for proof of this, it's an incredible experience, as the carols are sung with such passion and gusto!
The carols are one you may not know, they were thrown out of the churches by the Victorians for being too happy, but the people who loved singing them took them to the pubs instead, that way they could drink beer too! Some have words you may recognise but a different tune so there are many different versions of the same carol. There are about 30 different versions of While Shepherds Watched with each tune having a different name, usually named after a road or place, some versions have choruses and some don't. There are also carols that are sung as solos, and they are sung by the same people every year. I suppose it's a bit like a right of passage, if you've been going for a long long time and a slot becomes available you might be asked to sing one of the solos, even the positions in the room, i.e. prime spots by the piano player, are earned by longevity. It's a fantastic thing to witness and hear of course, it's such a powerful thing when so many voices are singing in harmony all united in a small room, all smiley and moved by the sound they are making, it really is very special.
What was the inspiration behind your fourth Christmas album, Angels and Men?
I absolutely adore Christmas. It is always an incredibly happy, sparkly, musical time of year in the Rusby household. I am lucky enough to be from South Yorkshire where we have a fascinating treasure trove of old Christmas songs rooted in the soil of our hills - they are sung in pubs here, not churches, and they are handed down from one generation to the next. I have been brought up with these songs and it brings me great delight to share them.
Angels & Men is a mixture of songs old and new, some you may recognise, others you may not. It’s the first festive album to be produced by Damien and because of that it has a different feel - an iridescent twinkle, a brighter palette of sound and a musical depth that surrounds and hugs you like a cosy log fire!
How will your tour get people into the Christmas spirit?
I think it's a great excuse for people to get their vocal chords warmed up and pile in to the songs. People don't get much chance to sing together anymore so it provides the perfect setting to have a good old sing. We have our Brass Boys along with us again of course, and even when they are just tuning up they sound like instant Christmas! Not forgetting of course there will be tinsel and tunes, Christmas trees, stars, fairy lights and liberal sprinkling of brand new tracks from new album for good measure. I am also working on a wheeled vat of mulled wine but I don't think it will be ready for this year! We even had some snow fall during gigs last year, so when the audience left at the end of the night it was really special, I hope that happens again!
You do regular Christmas tours, what is the appeal of the festive season for you?
I adore sharing these songs with the rest of the country! Apart from South Yorkshire the only other place that has this tradition is Cornwall, so most people up and down they country have never heard these songs. I love going back to a town where we sung the songs previously, because the audience all pile in to the choruses! It’s one of my guilty pleasures to hear people singing these amazing songs back to us as we travel around, what an honour! We always have a brass quintet with us at Christmas so that’s always just gorgeous. Being a Yorkshire lass from a mining background, I find the sound of brass instruments so moving. Sometimes I cry when they are just tuning up! It’s great to stand there singing with them playing away with us, they are mighty, it must be like surfing a huge wave!
Will you get time to relax over the festive period and what will your Christmas involve?
Yes I hope so it will have been a long tour so we will all be ready for some relaxation and family time. We will be having Christmas at home, my immediate family all live here in the same village so we usually have starters at one house, then a couple of hours and a trip to the pub later we will have the main course at someone else’s house, then a few hours and sherries after that we have pudding at someone else’s house. It’s really lovely as one person doesn’t have to host the whole day and you get to have a walk and a socialise in between courses. I love it ho ho ho!
One of the best times to go for a walk with my lovely little dog, Doris, is on Christmas Day, it always seems to be the calmest of days and so, so quiet. Not many people are out in the fields on Christmas Day, but anyone who is are in such a great happy, smiley mood that it makes the world such a bright, colourful place. Even the birds have a kind of reverential quietness, as if they know it's Christmas, it really is magical.
Finally, what are your plans for after your upcoming tour?
Well, back in the studio next year, this time for a ‘normal’ album, I seem to alternate between Christmas and ‘normal’ at the moment. We will also be hosting our 6th Underneath The Stars Festival here in our little bit of paradise! We grew up at festivals as our dad used to be a sound engineer, my little brother has done my sound for 20 years or so now. Growing up, most weekends through summer we would be at some festival or other having a whale of a time, we wanted to create a similar feeling to those festivals that used to pass on the music, songs and dance to kids, with of course fab beer and tea, amazing food and the most gorgeous brilliant music! Touring around the world for 25 years we have met stunning musicians and bands, now we get to invite them to Yorkshire for our own festival, just amazing! So if your free 2 – 4 Aug come along, you’ll love it!
Book now for Kate Rusby at Christmas at Brighton Dome this Tue 4 Dec.