An interview with…Kate Rusby

Affectionately known as The Barnsley Nightingale, singer and songwriter Kate Rusby has been regarded as one of the greatest folk musicians of contemporary times for over a decade.

Being born into a musical family is what Kate attributes to her natural love of music. At only a young age she learnt how to play the guitar, fiddle and piano, as well as learning how to sing properly. She spent many years playing folk festivals, and her breakthrough came in 1995 in the form of an album she recorded with her friend and fellow folk singer Kathryn Roberts.

Two years later Kate, with a little help from her family, released her own solo album: Hourglass. She has since released many more albums all of which received fantastic reviews both at home and abroad.

Since Kate has made in big in the world of folk music, she has had her music included in many television shows, most notably Billy Connolly’s World Tour of New Zealand and BBC sitcom Jam and Jerusalem. Kate also collaborated with Boyzones’ Ronan Keating singing the duet All Over Again, which reach number 6 in the UK charts in June 2006.

Kate was happy to answer some of my questions:

How did you get into the music business?

Years ago, when I was first thinking of making a record, lots of people were saying to us to be careful, and don’t sign your life away, and I was thinking, what, this is folk music and surely everyone is honest! But we had a sit and a think, and at the time my dad was lecturing on instrument repair at Leeds College of music, but he was looking for something new to do, so we wondered if it was something we could do ourselves. So we looked into it, filled in some forms and created Pure Records. Pure, apparently, is the Greek meaning of the name Kate, that’s why we chose it.

Who are your major musical influences?

Firstly my parents. They were always playing and singing around the house and in the car, so me, my brother and sister were picking up songs from the word go. Then my two other main influences are, Dave Burland and Nic Jones.
Dave is from Barnsley and I saw him play a lot as I was growing up, he’s fantastic. My dad used to be a sound engineer at festivals and gigs and it was at Barnsley folk festival that I was sat listening to Dave and decided that I might like to be professional singer.
And Nic, I never got to see him play live, but his records were always on in the house, he was  absolutely amazing. I still never leave home without a CD of his in my car.

What’s your writing style? What comes first, music or lyrics?

I definitely don’t see myself as song writer first and foremost, my first love is the traditional ballad, and my songs have just kind of popped out along the way. I could never be someone who gets shut in a room to write an album, and there are so many old songs to go at I feel like I’ve only just begun digging!

When I do write though, it’s usually the music that comes first. I have to be on my own in the house and it’s always late in the evening, I will just sit down with my guitar and have a plink about, sometimes a song starts to form, from a riff I have been playing or a set of chords, and if I still remember it in the morning then I will continue over the following few days to complete it.

Do you enjoy playing live and how do the audiences react to your music?

Of course I enjoy playing live! I honestly believe that you just couldn’t do it if you didn’t enjoy it! It is very very tiring and stressful, and having the weight of the other musicians’ and record company’s livelihood on your shoulders is a massive responsibility. Even one little cold could mean that we have to cancel a gig if I lose my voice etc. But I love it so that balances all the worries. I don’t think it would be possible to bear the weight of it if I didn’t love it. Audiences seem to like what I do so we must be doing something right!

Do you prefer to be in the studio recording on stage performing?

It’s a hard question that, because 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 have been the highlights of your career?

Ooh I suppose the fact that it will be my 20th year as a musician next year is highlight enough! I really do feel lucky to be a musician, and even more lucky to still be doing it 20 years later. We have our own record company, and our own studio which means I can make the music that I want. That is a very lucky position to be in. I also have to mention that I got to sing on a track with Dolly Parton last year, for an album by an Irish singer called Maura O’Connell, I am a fan of both women so that has to be a career highlight.

Have there been any parts of your career that you regret?

Yes but I’m not telling what, let’s just say silly decisions when I was young because I am too kind and trusting! 

What are your plans for the future?

We are just in the middle of recording a new Christmas album, made up of some local South Yorkshire carols, and some you might know. We do a Christmas tour every year now with a brass quintet and it’s so much fun! I adore Christmas anyway, but the chance to share our local carols with audiences who have never heard them is a bonus, we have trees and stars and oh it’s fab! Anyway that will be released…in December of course! Then there will be some kind of 20 year celebration next year, and lots of touring in-between and beyond hopefully. But who knows what will happen.

Do you have any advice for people wanting to get into the music industry?

Be humble, kind, and retain all the rights to your music.

Thanks very much Kate.

Thank you.

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