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Bury Festival: The story of a pocket-sized songstress called Kate Rusby

She’s enjoyed a 27-year musical career and shows no signs of stopping, but she does stop off in Bury St Edmunds to take part in this year’s festival with her band, made up of the cream of British folk musicans, on May 25.

Credited with moving folk forward while remaining true to tradition, Kate’s music has been described by the Daily Telegraph as: “. . . exquisite interpretations of traditional material from the pocket-sized folk singer with the heartbreakingly tremulous voice and bawdy Yorkshire wit.”

What drew you to your career?

When I look back, I had no idea what I wanted to do as an adult, everyone around me at school was choosing their GCSEs and I had no idea, I remember thinking, how do they all know what they want to be? I always think the music career chose me, not the other way round. We had been taught songs and had been singing since we could talk, musical instruments were all over our house and my parents played a lot, but it never dawned on me to make it a career. A family friend was involved with a festival near here and heard me singing and playing. She asked me to do a little spot at the festival 26 years ago, I said yes, but then thought what on earth did I agree to that for? I did the gig, vowed I would never do it again cos I was so terrified I was nearly sick and was shaking like mad. Someone from another festival came up at the end and asked if I would play at their festival, I said yes, and again I was thinking, shut up Kate stop agreeing to these things!!

It just went on like that and I looked back after a couple of years and thought, ooh look at that, I’m a musician and singer!

Who/what inspired you?

Nic Jones is my musical hero but, without a doubt, it’s the stories that appeal to me the most, and the simplicity. Folk music is music of the common man, and the themes that run the strongest through the tradition are everyday thoughts and lives. It addresses human emotions like no other genre of music – love, loss, happiness and on it goes. The songs are as relevant now as they were when they were written however long ago that was, we still have the same emotions running through our lives, and when we hear stories of people living their lives we can all relate to how they’re feeling, and the tunes are some of the prettiest I have ever heard. Some of the songs are like mini films, you get the characters set up at the beginning, and then you hear what happens to them, by the end you can be on the edge of your seat waiting to hear what happens to the characters! However we arrange a song, I always try to make sure the story can be heard first and foremost – if anything gets in the way of that then there’s no point singing it, as you won’t get the same effect. I grew up surrounded by these songs as both my parents sing and play; I used to love hearing them and would ask for certain songs just to hear the story again, just like children watching the same DVD over and over again, even though they know the story it doesn’t lose anything seeing/hearing it again and again.

kate rusby (8480005)
kate rusby (8480005)

What is the favourite part of your work and why?

It’s a hard question that, cos when we are on tour and my head is in creative mode, I want to be in the studio trying out new songs, and when we are in the studio, I want to be on tour playing the new songs

live! But I love both sides of the coin so I am happy doing both.

What is the least favourite part of your work and why?

Since having children, we have to do early mornings as well as late nights!! We are used to the late nights, of course, after touring for 27 years, but the early mornings at the same time sometimes is not pleasant!

If you weren’t doing what you are now, what else would you have liked to do? And what do you feel is your greatest achievement?

I think it’s a great achievement to have been working as a musician for over 27 years. It does make me feel rather old though! The music industry is so very fickle and unfaithful that many musicians don’t enjoy longevity, but I seem to have been lucky that way. At

10 years I was thinking woo hoo this is great to have been going for this long, how lucky are we! So 27 years is just fabulous.

And if I wan’t a musician, I would have a shop I think, a shoe shop maybe, or greengrocers, or even a post office! I love chatting away to people, even

though I’m very shy, I love hearing people’s stories. Perhaps a joint shop that services all veg, shoe,

stamp requirements.

What has been your favourite venue to perform and why?

OOOOH that has to be our Underneath The Stars festival tent. It sounds so beautiful, comfortable for the audience, and has all my backstage crew etc, so I’m happy as Larry! And the audience every year is just amazing. August 2nd-4th this year if anyone is free and fancies a trip to our village – this year we have the Proclaimers, Billy Bragg, The Unthanks and so much more, come along you’ll love it.

What has been your biggest challenge so far?

Hmmm, I think it would be trying to fit working around being a mother. In the past I would just sit

and write music whenever I fancied, but now I have to plan childcare to be able to concentrate on it. So that was a hurdle to get over, writing when I fancied had to change too, having to sit down and be creative when I have childcare.

What can the Bury St Edmunds Festival audience expect?

Oooh, a bit of everything really, new songs, old songs, stories, laughs, family updates, trapeze, kitchen sink. . .!

kate rusby (8480015)
kate rusby (8480015)

How do you like an audience to react? Best reaction you have had?

I love it when an audience sings along. Best reactions we’ve had is during Big Brave Bill I think, it’s a song I wrote about a super hero from Barnsley. Even if it’s been the quietest audience up until that point, people can’t help but sing along, they let their inhibitions go and pile in, it’s so lovely to see. I especially enjoyed playing it at Cambridge Festival a few years ago. Through the day we had been handing out paper superhero masks like Bill’s, and for that song about 20,000 all put them on and sang along, it was a career highlight, and of course they were singing about Barnsley too, which made it even more fabulous!!

How do you gauge success?

Longevity, and happiness.

Next steps for you?

We are releasing a new album 17th May, and the first track will be out on the 8th of April actually, so look out for that. We tour April, May, then it’s festival season, then autumn tour and then its December and the Christmas tour, of course. In fact, I have already started the next Christmas album, we start recording in April. It’s always odd doing Christmas songs out of season but this will be Christmas album number five so I’ve got used to it now.

Will you be back?

Absolutely hope so, and there’s no getting rid of me anyway, I’m always lurking.

What do you do in your free time?

Be a normal Mum. We have two dogs, so we are out walking with them a lot. I have an allotment too, so a lot of time is spent there.

And one for fun: If you were a fruit, what would you be and why?

I might be an apple, English, quite often rosy, and I enjoy the ‘news pips’ on Radio 4!

Kate Rusby, Saturday, May 25, The Apex, Bury St Edmunds. Call 01284 758000 or visit theapex.co.uk