KATE Rusby At Christmas is by now as much a winter tradition as mulled wine, mince pies and LadBaby at number one.
In its 14th year, or maybe 15th as Kate and husband musician Damien O’Kane debated at Harrogate Royal Hall on the opening night last Sunday, this celebration of carols banished from Victorian church services for being too jolly returns to York Barbican on Monday night.
Those carols – among them 30 versions of While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night – have been sung lustily for 200 years at Sunday lunchtimes from late-November to New Year’s Day in the pubs of South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire, and have made their way on to five Rusby Christmas folk albums, complemented by Kate’s own winter songs, Cornish carols, Christmas curios and festive favourites.
The tour’s first week was scuppered by Kate’s bout of Covid, but she recovered in time to pick up the sleigh-ride reins at Harrogate last weekend in the company of her regular band and the “Brass Boys”.
Mindful of saving Kate’s voice, Charles Hutchinson sent his questions by email.
How will the set list differ from your last live Christmas shows in 2019, Kate? Have you come across more old pub carols demanding inclusion?!
“It’ll be quite similar actually, as my current Christmas album is Holly Head, which I released in 2019. So, the set is based around that album and we’ve rejigged the rest of the set list as there are now five Christmas albums, so quite a lot of older songs to go at!
“There’s always more pub carols reminding you to be included next time and another album is planned!”
Have you written any new winter songs since your Holly Head album?
“I’ve been messing about with new songs, but nothing complete as yet. We’ve been concentrating on my new album to celebrate 30 years touring, so that’s taken most of our time over the last few months.”
What’s the set design for the 2021 Christmas show?
“We have a lot of twinkle and sparkle; we have the return of our giant crocheted snowflakes, which I adore. We haven’t used them in a few years, so I’m delighted to have them back on tour again.
“Oh, and our Ruby Reindeer will be joining us on stage of course! She deserves her own horse box as she’s toured with us for so long now.”
Would you agree that Christmas concerts are needed more than ever after the silent darkness of last winter and beyond?
“Yes, completely! Any concerts, all the concerts!! We are social creatures; humans have been singing together since time began. It’s proven to release happy hormones in the brain when we sing, and even more so when we sing with others. It’s so lovely to hear people singing away with us.”
Monday at York Barbican closes the live tour. Will there be anything extra that night to mark the finale?
“Ooooh, who knows?! Things like that are a bit on the hoof with me. Depending on occurrences on tour…I’ll keep you posted!”
Where and when will your Jolly Holly Wrap livestream show be held?
“It will be live on the night from a secret location in South Yorkshire on Tuesday! It will be myself and the lads in the band. We wanted to do something for the people who are quite rightly still nervous about coming out to actual gigs, people who struggle to get out to gigs in normal times and people overseas who physically can’t join us.
“It’s such a strange time to tour and I want to include as many people as we can so no-one feels left out. We’ll be performing the songs live with fun and banter from 7pm. You can find the ticket info on my website, katerusby.com.
“We finish the gigs in York on December 20th, so I decided to add another show and we can have a wrap party whilst playing all the songs we love.”
You mention that you have been working on your new album. How is it progressing and when might it be released?
“Yes, the aforementioned 30th anniversay album, called 30: Happy Returns. It’ll be released in April, just ahead of our 30 tour. Can’t wait! So excited about it all.
“We did an album at 10 years [called 10, naturally], 20 years , and 30 has come along all of a sudden! Each of those albums, we looked back at songs I’ve previously recorded and reimagined and re-recorded them, some with special guests.
“We’re doing the same with 30 and I have to say I’m bursting with excitement about the guests on 30; I can’t wait to reveal all.”
You have adapted so well to lockdown times with concert livestreams and home recordings from “the front room”. Do you envisage this becoming a regular format as part of an artist’s repertoire?
“I’m guessing yes. I really loved the connection with our audience through lockdown; it seemed to bring us closer rather than apart.
“We did a series of little performances from our sitting room; I called them the ‘Singy Songy Sessions’, performing a different song each time. It was lovely hearing the stories from the people who saw them and what the songs meant to them. We plan to do more of them – and to keep streaming a Christmas gig of course.”
And finally, Kate, are any of this year’s Christmas singles to your liking? Elton John and Ed Sheeran? Maybe Gary Barlow & Sheridan Smith? Or Abba?
Kate Rusby At Christmas, York Barbican, December 20, 7.30pm. Please note, tickets bought for Kate’s postponed December 20 2020 concert remain valid. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.
Copyright of The Press, York