The Revival & Rusby

This is a really old one from deep in the vaults. Kate Rusby has been established as one of England’s greatest female folk voices for more than two decades. In fact, it’s hard to remember a time when she wasn’t at the forefront of what is now a very healthy traditional music scene throughout the UK.

Last year was the 20th anniversary of her solo debut album Hourglass. Not long after it was released in Japan I met up with Kate while on a trip back to England and she talked to me about her music. Since then she has gone on to make many more albums and has also developed into a fine songwriter. Her latest release, the excellent Life in a Paper Boat, was reviewed on this blog last year. Sadly for us, however, a tour of Japan never materialized.

The Revival & Rusby

John Potter speaks to fast-rising English folk star Kate Rusby about her popularity both here and at home

English folk music. If this conjures up visions of beer-swilling middle-aged men earnestly singing old sea shanties in cosy folk clubs, think again. For in 1998 a new, vibrant – some say even ‘sexy’ – young folk scene exists. A true English folk revival. This year is the centenary of the English Folk Dance and Song Society and old hand Martin Carthy was awarded an MBE for his services to folk music. But it’s Carthy’s own daughter Eliza who turned heads most with a cracking double album Red Rice, a Mercury Music Award nomination.

Before that there was the wonderful album Hourglass by another young upstart, 24 year old Kate Rusby, whose breathtaking singing and sensitive arrangements on guitar and piano have created new interest in an old tradition like you never thought possible. And that’s just two out of many. English folk music is now able to take its place alongside the ongoing Celtic boom and world music. Young people have even been out morris dancing.

At the Bridgnorth Folk Festival in Shropshire, I tracked down Kate Rusby – for my money the best of all the young singers – with some questions for KTO. She had just appeared with The Poozies, the band she sings and plays guitar with while continuing a parallel career as solo artist, and had agreed to meet me later backstage “outside the ladies’ showers”.  Kate is a small, friendly Yorkshire lass with a great Barnsley accent. These are just some of the answers she gave me…

Why do you think there’s such a big revival of interest in folk music, especially among young people?

I’ve sat and thought about that a lot. The generation that were in the original revival have all grown up now, and now it’s our turn to go out and play. A lot of us have just grown up loving this music. I come from a musical family and I’ve learned most of my stuff from them really. I learnt it the oral way like they used to years and years ago. It’s strange it’s happened like that really. I just love this music. I think the young people now have learnt from the older ones and have had the extra years to, kind of, broaden it and make it a wider music. I’ve got a huge record collection and I listen to absolutely everything, not just folk music, which must influence what I do as well as the stuff that I’ve learnt from my parents.

Your album ‘Hourglass’ and the earlier one that you made with Kathryn Roberts are both released now in Japan complete with Japanese sleeve notes. How did that come about?

My parents and I run our own record company, Pure Records, and a Japanese company approached my parents and arranged it all through fax and E-mail and things like that. It’s also a great thing that it’s all in the family because we can pick and choose what we want to do. But I’ve never sat down and thought, how can I expand my career? It’s something that’s just happened. I could have signed with a big label but I just wanted to stay in folk music really and have the choice if I wanted to. Whereas if I’d done that I’d have been told what I had to do, what to wear, where to go and all that. It’s not really me. But I’d love to go to Japan in the future, as I’ve already travelled quite a bit, especially for the British Council.

How did the British Council thing come up?

That was three years ago when I still worked with Kathryn Roberts. We were taken to Malaysia by the British Council for concerts and we just had a brilliant time. Just loved it. They phoned up and said: “We’ve heard about you, we’ve got your CD and we’re looking for two female performers, do you want to come?” It’s really great because you get to see some really interesting countries. We were in Egypt with The Poozies about two years ago and that was just brilliant too, and we’re playing in Turkey soon.

And the next Kate Rusby album?

That will be out next Spring. I’m going in the studio in December to make it but before that there’s a single coming out.  The new album will be more traditional songs and some of my own like Hourglass was.  I had a really brilliant time before in the studio making that but I never had any idea at the time how popular it would be. All the musicians on it, like Ian Carr who plays all the guitars, were so amazing.  And John McCusker from Battlefield Band. I recorded my album in Battlefield Band’s studio in Scotland, so we’re all linked up.

With Kate at the time of our talk

Kate Rusby also finds time to do the occasional tour with John McCusker as well as her work both solo and with the The Poozies. She also performed this year in Denmark, Holland and Belgium as well as at the major Cambridge and Sidmouth festivals in England.  In fact she’s on the road most of the time and has to make a real effort to fit in her recording, some songwriting, and trips back to Barnsley. We’ve had plenty of representatives of the Irish boom in Japan recently, how about someone bringing Kate Rusby over here so we can sample close up the best of English folk. British Council are you out there?

(Kansai Time Out, No.262, December 1998)

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