From being a nominee for 1999’s Mercury Prize – almost unheard of for a folk singer both then and now – for her stunningly assured second solo album, ‘Sleepless’, to 2016’s enthralling ‘Life In A Paper Boat’, Kate Rusby has stayed true to her folk and acoustic roots. For over 15 years, Kate has hosted ever-popular Christmas tours so Damian Robinson caught up with her to find out more about her love for the season and her future plans.
For most of your audience, the Christmas concerts are one of the main highlights of their festive season. Does the preparation form 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. 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 too to make sure people come away feeling like Christmas has begun.
Tell me about the South Yorkshire tradition that inspired the album…
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 and 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.
Your new album, ‘Angels & Men’, is coming out soon. Tell me a bit about the inspiration behind the tracks…
I absolutely adore Christmas as it’s 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. ‘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.
Finally, what are your plans for after your upcoming tour?
We’ll be 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 5th 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. 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 and brilliant music! Touring around the world for 25 years we have met stunning musicians and bands, and now we get to invite them to Yorkshire for our own festival. So if you’re free between the 20th and 22nd July then come along, you’ll love it!
Kate Rusby brings her Christmas tour to the Sage, Gateshead on Wednesday 20th December. Tickets, priced from £21.80, are available from sagegateshead.com.