Today marks the release of Kate Rusby’s new album ’20’, this is no ordinary release, besides celebrating her 20 years of musical creativity Island Records have resurrected their ‘Island Pink’ label for this release, a fanfare if ever there was one as Kate joins the likes of Nick Drake and Fairport Convention who have also graced the label.
The album features a host of guest artists from the likes of Richard Thompson, Nic Jones, Dick Gaughan, Paul Weller, Eddie Reader and more. Kate very kindly took some time out of her busy schedule to talk to Folk Radio UK about the album and her musical roots.
Kate Rusby comes from a strong musical family, one that has brought a huge influence on her music. She was born in 1973 in Sheffield, England and from a young age she was exposed to the burgeoning British folk scene. “Me dad worked on the live side of the music scene in the 70s” Kate explains “he was a sound man for loads of different artists, working on tours and at festivals around the UK. When we were kids we were packed into the car or van along with the gear and travelled around with him to shows all over. Me mam and dad were huge folk fans and so we grew up singing in the car on our way to gigs. They also had their own ceilidh band that me and my sister Emma joined when we were old enough to hold a tambourine! We later graduated to playing fiddle and guitar and singing.”
Whilst those days may seem a long way away now Kate Rusby has kept her music a very family affair involving them in the runing her label (Pure Records) and management. Not surprsingly this a proud family moment: “My family are very proud It’s a real honour for me, and the Pink label is a very special touch. I always loved listening to ‘Crazy Man Michael’ from ‘Liege & Lief ‘ when I was growing up.”
When you look at the line-up on ’20’ many of the names read like a who’s who of the folk world. The likes of Nic Jones, Bob Fox and Dick Gaughan are legendary, selecting the artists for this album could not have been easy, made all the more harder with a baby girl on the way.
“It was difficult to boil down the song selection to just 20 songs,” she explains “because songs are like children, aren’t they – you love them all equally! I suppose I tried to choose the songs that my fans would expect to hear when they come to see me. We decided to do new versions rather than take the easy option of compiling a ‘greatest hits’ and I thought it would add something extra to have artists I’ve admired over the years helping us out. It was quite a tall order but I’m really pleased with the results. I had a C-section with Phoebe, but we had to keep going because we had a deadline to meet. I was sat in hospital with my laptop emailing musicians and singers about dates and lyrics. You just get on with these things if you have to, don’t you?”
“It’s well documented that Nic is my all-time musical hero. ‘Penguin Eggs’ is definitely one of my Desert Island Discs! When he recorded with me on ‘The Lark’ I had to pinch myself to see if I was dreaming. Dick Gaughan’s another musical genius. Other people like Bob Fox I’ve been a fan of since I was a teenager. Bob sings in the stage play ‘War Horse’, so he had to get up to Yorkshire, record with us, then get back down for the theatre show in London that same night. He made it – just!”
One surprise for some may be the appearance of household name Paul Weller who kate duets with on ‘Sun Grazers’, a new song. “The folk police might argue,” she quips “but I think Paul Weller is one of the giants of English folk music in its purest sense. He came to see my show a couple of times and we got on great. He was one of the first people I thought of when I was working out who I wanted to be on this new record. His singing on ‘Sun Grazers’ is out of this world.”
Kate also goes transatlantic on this release and features the likes of Sarah Jarosz and Chris Thile. Something she has the wonder of internet technology to thank for: “The internet is an amazing thing, int it! Sarah and Chris are incredible talents who both brought a little bit of their magic to bear on my songs, but yes they did their bits over there and we did our bits here and with a bit of jiggery pokery we put it all together with some sticky back plastic and I don’t think you can see the joins! Funnily enough Sarah is coming over next week to play with us in Sheffield and London and on a show we’re doing for Radio 2, so really looking forward to that.”
Kate makes it very clear that the whole experience of making the ’20’ was a unique one, one that she will no doubt treasure for a long time. “The guests here are all people whose music has inspired me over the years, so it’s been an incredible adventure making this album. Every day I came home smiling. Most of them came to our home studio on the moors, but a few we did using the wonders of modern technology.”
There are many standout moments on this release from her re-recording of the lamentable “Bitter Boy” with husband and artist ‘Damien O’Kane’ (read our interview with Damien here) to her duet with Jim Causely whose deep contrasting timbre sounds perfect on ‘I Courted a Sailor’. All of the tracks carry her treasured trademark sound and there are some lovely extra lifting moments from talented star musicians such as Mick McGoldrick on flute an Jerry Douglas on dobro. The contrast of Kate Rusby and Dick Gaughan is one I never though I’d hear, but they make beautiful work of ‘Jolly Plough Boys’ with the addition of colliery band making it a special track. Grimethorpe Colliery Band also make an appearance on ‘Underneath the Stars’, the results are quite magical and sublime.
I mention to Kate the first time we saw her perform was not at a folk festival or gig but at the Big Chill festival in 2005 with our young son, our first true family festival. Her performance with full band was an enduring memory of that weekend, she had the whole crowd up and dancing by the end. “It’s a real honour to be able to create lasting memories for people. Family is very important to me. We are really lucky with the opportunities we have had and the life we have. I’m not an ambitious person. I’ve never had aspirations to do more or have more than we have. Maybe it’s because of where we’re from Yorkshire. There is a bit of guilt that other people in my family have been down the mine and done that work, so it seems amazing that we can do this for a living.”
Kate proudly confirms that her kids are having a similar upbringing to her own…”Yes, my kids are having a very similar upbringing to mine, which I’m over the moon about. My parents always had musical instruments lying around the house, and I knew so many songs by the time I was 5 it was unreal. Now, Damien and Daisy and I have a game called Family Chord. We all find notes that sound nice together and Daisy loves it when they lock in. People think kids as young as her don’t understand music, but given the chance they just feel it.”
Whilst this release is a mighty on that Island make very clear, Kate has continued to hold those core values of her childhood, stardom is not something this woman is going to let go to her head. “I never lose sight of the fact that it’s a gift to be able to do something I love and make a living from it. But my Yorkshire roots mean I keep my feet planted firmly on the ground. I know the price of a bottle of milk and the paparazzi aren’t there when I go to buy it and nor are they bothered! I do my own make-up, cut my own hair, and make the music I want to. Best of all, though, I’m still going strong after 20 years!”
That indeed you are!
’20’ is released today on Island Records.
ORDER IT NOW FROM AMAZON.