Keeping it in the family helps Kate hit milestone

Kate Rusby
Kate Rusby

SHE is renowned for her magical singing, her chirpy personality and the way she has introduced folk music to a wider audience - and now Kate Rusby is celebrating 20 years in the music business.

It’s an anniversary being consolidated with an album called 20 and a tour that starts at Sheffield City Hall on Sunday.

And before the performance, there is another date in the city - with the Lord Mayor, who is due to present her with a record industry award for selling 1m albums.

Firmly rooted in the Barnsley area, where she continues to live, Kate regards the Sheffield concert as home territory to an extent that an impressive list of names from the acoustic music world is due to join her on stage.

In addition to her band, the line-up for the City Hall is due to include Declan O’Rourke, Sarah Jarosz, Ron Block (from Alison Krauss’s band), James Macintosh, Dick Gaughan, Jim Causley and Andy Seward.

They appear on the album of new recordings and re-interpretations from her back catalogue, which is released on Monday. Such is the South Yorkshire singer’s standing, that other musicians and singers appearing on the album include Paul Weller, Alison Krauss, Richard Thompson, Nic Jones, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Eddi Reader.

“I am really excited about playing at the City Hall in Sheffield as this is one of only two special 20 year anniversary concerts we are doing this year,” says Kate. “The other is in London. We HAD to do an anniversary gig in my beloved Yorkshire, of course, and the City Hall is the perfect place. The audience is always fantastic, the hall is so beautiful and a delight to sing in. I can’t wait! “

Kate is regarded as one of a new generation of singers and musicians who breathed life into the folk tradition.

Her success, and that of Barnsley-based Pure Records, has been underpinned by her family. “I have a good team behind me, made up mainly from my immediate family.

“There’s no way I could do it all on own! Myself and my dad originally set up Pure Records. After a while my mum came on board to take over the accounts, then about 12 years ago my sister Emma had her second child and left the graphic design company she worked for and came to work for us, my brother Joe has been my sound engineer for about 15 years now, so they are all involved somehow.”

It explains how Kate has kept her feet on the ground, despite the widespread popular and critical acclaim, including being one of the few folk singers to have been nominated for a Mercury Prize

“Why would you want to be anything but nice to people?” she asks. “I really don’t understand musicians who think the world should bow to them, it really is just silly.”

She points to the saying: ‘Be kind to everyone going up, ‘cos you’ll meet them all coming back down’. “It’s very true.”

Kate, married to musician Damien O’Kane, who is in the band, and with two young children, can’t quite believe the 20 year landmark, although she was immersed in folk music from a very early age through her parents.

“It does make me feel rather old. The music industry is so very fickle and unfaithful that many musicians don’t enjoy longevity, but we seem to have been lucky that way. “At ten years I was thinking ‘woo hoo’, this is great to have been going for this long, how lucky are we!

“So 20 years is just fabulous. And, yes, I am immensely proud of the way we have gone about it all. Way back then we took a gamble and thought let’s have a go at setting up our own record company and see if we can keep ownership of my work, because that’s what it’s all about really.

“Musicians in the mainstream world don’t own their own music, they have to sign it away or co-own it with the record company and they then get to control what music you play and write, and when you should play and write it, and who you should play and write with. These are all choices that I have been free to make over the years just due to the fact that we have our own record company so we are own bosses.

“Over the years many major labels have come a-wooing but after speaking to then for a while it always became clear that they just wanted me to change the music I played for something ‘more commercial’, but I always thought that would just make me like everyone else, and surely being a bit different was a good thing.

“And I love playing the music we do so why would I want to play something else, of another person’s choosing. If we kept control then we could make our own decisions. We are very lucky to be in that situation, very lucky indeed.

Twenty years on, there are indications that the Rusby name will be heard in folk music circles for many years.

Phoebe was born about three quarters of the way through making the new album - “so she just had to put up with coming in the studio to finish off the record.

“Daisy, our two-and-a-half-year-old is already singing constantly.

“She makes up songs for most of the day, and dances about singing them, as little Phoebe just watches her thinking, ‘Ooh one day I will be able to do that if I want’!”

l Kate Rusby will perform a live concert on BBC Radio 2 tonight (Thursday) at 8pm.