One of the disadvantages of getting older, in my case at least, is an increased tendency to become lachrymose at times of heightened emotion. Not a good thing for a man from Northern England where men do not only not speak about their feelings but are reluctant to admit they have any in the first place. It’s not as if I reach for a handkerchief when Jennifer Aniston, or a similar botoxed muppet, realises that she loves the man she has just spent a whole movie not loving. Thankfully the self-loathing I feel for having watched such drivel still wins out. But when it comes to genuine achievement and beauty I’m the guy coughing & pretending to have something in his eye. This year’s Olympics was a tough watch for me. This is Kate Rusby and she just kills me every time.
Kate is from South Yorkshire just like our nation’s sweetheart Jessica Ennis, the Olympic Heptathlon champion. Despite the single-mindedness necessary to succeed in an individual sporting event and the plaudits which have come her way, Ennis retains a perspective about herself that is an admirable product of her family and the community in which she grew up. Similarly Kate Rusby, a nightingale from Barnsley, a recording artist for 20 years, raised in a musical family, seems to combine this same awareness with a remarkable talent. When Kate Rusby sings I become receptive to a belief in the existence of angels. “The Mocking Bird” is a self-written track from her 2010 LP “Make The Light”.
Traditional British folk music is not really my thing. Never shy of a stereotype, it’s the beards, the cable knit sweaters,the wild rovers and the jolly ploughboys that put me off. (I know…easy target. I am that shallow, sorry). One strand of folk I do enjoy is the line of women singers this country has produced. Anne Briggs, Norma Waterson, June Tabor, Maddy Prior have all introduced me to songs that I really should know. Sandy Denny and Linda Thompson are both extraordinary talents who have been involved in music of enduring quality. Kate’s transition between the traditional and the modern is seamless. As she has matured there have been more of her own songs on her records. I have to include a tune from the folk canon and this, a favourite song as she grew up , is “The Blind Harper” from the same 2011 performance at the Cambridge Folk Festival.
It’s the Northern accent isn’t it. This is music that comes from where we come from, sung in our voice. It is pure and it is beautiful and it is representative of the best of the culture of which I am part. When Kate Rusby sings there is emotional honesty without sentimentality and part of her appeal is that I feel a pride that such a singular talent is one of ours. There must have been suggestions that an attenuated song selection could widen her audience but she has continued to do what she does and more power to her. She is up there with the likes of Gillian Welch and Patti Griffin at the pinnacle of female singer-songwwriters. It was “Underneath The Stars”, the title track of her 2003 LP that first did it for me. When that brass part hits…Oh man.
Kate has a new LP “20” which features re-recordings of her songs with an array of collaborators. There are big names (Paul Weller, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Richard Thompson) and there are her folk heroes from way back (Nic Jones, Dick Gaughan, Dave Burland). I have not heard this yet but I am sure that the quality in all her work has been maintained. If you give these selections a listen I am sure you will agree that by letting a bit of Kate Rusby into your life you know that there are good things in the world.