Friday 26 December 2014


Live review

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Looking like a Christmas humbug in her black and white hooped dress and with obligatory tea mug in hand Kate Rusby greeted the assembled Birmingham audience with a massive Barnsley "'ello!"

Kate Rusby
She then launched into the first of her Christmas songs with Here We Come a Wassailling. Which is the perfect tune to get anyone in the festive spirit.
If you have seen Rusby's Christmas show before then you know it's pretty much the same format but of course this year there are few songs from her latest album Ghost thrown in. But it doesn't really matter because if you are new to the show then it's a real treat and if you have seen it before then it's still a real treat because you get to hear Rusby's gorgeous tones and enthusiasm for all things festive again.
Rusby's Christmas show is to educate the rest of the world as to how Christmas is celebrated in the traditions and pubs of her native Yorkshire.
With her assembled band which includes hubby Damien O'Kane on guitar, banjo and vocals and a brass section she treated the audience to a mixture of traditional carols and festive songs done in her own inimitable way.
The rest of the band were Aaron Jones on bouzouki, Nick Cooke on accordion, Duncan Lyall on double bass and Stevie Iveson on electric guitar and of course her brass section which she calls her Shiny Boys.
The noticeable thing about Rusby is, in typical Yorkshire no-nonsense style, the show is all about the music and her singing.
There are no flashy pyrotechnics, no retina burning light shows, no spangly dance routines.
She has a slightly school ma'amish manner when she is giving her, often, fairly lengthy explanations of where the songs and tunes come from and why she includes them, and the odd anecdote about her family in between what is great traditional music which is enough to keep the audience rapt.
The Barnsley Nightingale sums things up as all being carols which the Victorians chucked out of the churches for being too cheerful.
Damien O'Kane
Rusby followed her opener with Joy To The World, slightly more upbeat than the traditional but was accented beautifully by the brass section. She then gave a breathy version of Diadem after which the brass section left the stage for a while.
This was followed by Hail Chime On which is one of the more modern sounding Christmas tunes and showed Rusby's singing style off perfectly. She then sang The Seven Good Joys of Mary which seems to have become more popular in the public arena, so perhaps Rusby's proselytising is working.
She then sang the gentle traditional tale of The Night Visit a soft ballad which narrates the tale of lovers turning up in the night but having to disappear by dawn. Then came To Drive The Cold Winter Away which is all about socialising during the festive period.
Rusby paid her tribute to the great Louis Armstrong with her version of Winter Wonderland which she admits is a staple of her Christmas listening.
After the break she explained the story behind her latest album Ghost which was inspired by the apparition which resides in her music room back at her home up North. This led into the soft, haunting and almost Enya-sounding title track of the album which was followed by the opening track, The Outlandish Knight.
She brought the festive mood back with the jolly Kris Kringle which is loaded with ho ho hos! and Rusby invested this with her enthusiasm for all things festive to give it that extra special feel.
Rusby's latest album
Cranbrook is the tune of Ilkley Moor with the traditional words of While Shepherds Watch and if you think it doesn't work then try it for yourself, it won't sound as wonderful as Rusby but then how could it.
Rusby left the stage to leave hubby O'Kane and the boys to perform a triplet Swunk Fing a tune written by the "Hunky Spunky" Lyle and gave O'Kane a chance to show off his impressive banjo skills.
This was followed by No Name from O'Kane which has the alternative working title of How's Your Bum For Lovebites (you have to go to the concert to get the full story) and finally Castlerock Road which is a road in O'Kane's home town of Colraine, interspersed in the rousing tunes were myriad Christmas musical references.
Mrs O'Kane returned with the traditional carol Little Town of Bethlehem, Rusby's voice gives the beautiful song a really rich creaminess which is guaranteed to melt the heart of even the coldest of Scrooge types and once again "The Shiny Boys" added the cherry on top.
Towards the end of the concert she moved down south to perform the Cornish Wassailing Song and then brought a Morris dance feel with Sweet Bells.
Rusby's enthusiasm for Christmas is infectious and if, after hearing her perform, you don't walk into the winter night with a festive glow and cheery tune in your head then you were probably meant to be at a Metallica concert.

Other links:

The Mike Harding Folk Show

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