Kate Rusby in Warrington

(photo from Kate Rusby’s website)

I had a very enjoyable night out yesterday at the Kate Rusby concert at the Parr Hall in Warrington.  She’s an award winning folk singer from Penistone in South Yorkshire, very well known on the folk circuit, who’s had a number of albums that have sold well and made the album charts. She’s got a beautiful “sweet” voice.  Amazingly, she’s been performing for twenty years and to celebrate this released an album “20” with twenty of her favourite songs from previous albums, re-recorded and featuring guest artists.

The Warrington show was part of Kate’s annual Christmas tour where the shows consist of carols, based on a South Yorkshire working class tradition of singing carols in pubs.  Some were the familiar carols we’ve grown up with, but in some cases with an alternative melody, other carols particular to the South Yorkshire region and other Christmas songs. Apparently there are over 30 different versions of “While shepherds watched their flocks by night”. She performed two of them last night – starting off with “Cranbrook” a version sung to the tune of “On Ilkla Moor b’aht ‘at” – it was like “one song to the tune of another” (fans of  Radio 4’s “I’m sorry, I haven’t a clue” will know what I’m talking about!) . Apparently the tune was written for this carol by someone from Kent, and it was only later adopted for the Yorkshire national anthem.

Other songs in the two hour set (broken into two halves by an interval) included the familiar carols, “O little town of Bethlehem”, “Joy to the World” and “the Holly and the Ivy” (with an alternative melody), traditional South Yorkshire wassailing songs “Here We Come A Wassailing”, “Poor Old Horse” and “The Wren” and other carols and songs with a Christmas theme. There was also an instrumental medley performed by her band, which referenced several well known Christmas tunes. The second half culminated in “Sweet Bells”, another version of “While Shepherds Watched …”.

Sweet Bells performed by Kat Rusby on the BBC’s “Songs of Praise”

Now I’m a confirmed atheist (although not a militant one), but I’m a real sucker for carols. Last night she performed for a full two hours, split into two halves with an interval. She played with her band – two guitarists (one her husband), an accordionist and a double bassist, plus a five piece brass ensemble. The brass band made it a real “northern” English affair, even if the bassist was Scottish, one of the guitarists was Irish and the other from Bath. And one of the guitarists played a bouzouki for some of the time. Despite this being a Greek instrument the instrument is often played by folk groups. I guess it’s like a big mandolin really.

One of the first things that struck me when Kate and her band came on stage was how tiny she was! Perhaps it’s because the band members were tall? Possibly, but despite her small stature she had a big stage presence and twinkling eyes and a smile almost as wide of the stage. She really did seem to be enjoying herself, a true performer. In between songs she chatted away. Some reviewers don’t seem to like this, but I thought that it made the experience more intimate. This was helped by the venue too, which was not so large that you felt remote from the performer. We were in the 8th row so were quite close to the stage, but I think that even people on the back row of the stalls or circles would still be able to see what was going on and wouldn’t be able to appreciate the intimate atmosphere.

It was a real Christmassy show and now I’m starting to get into the mood! As I’m writing this I’m playing a CD of her Christmas songs and carols.

Here’s a recording from her Christmas show in Hull last year that I found on YouTube