Most folk musicians probably include at least one Child's ballad in their repertoires, so the names of many music collectors, like Francis James Child and Cecil Sharp are well known. There are others though who's names are less well known. And then there's Kate Rusby. Most people, I would imagine, first encountered her via Jennifer Saunders' "Jam and Jerusalem", as her cover of the Kinks' "Village Green Preservation Society" was the theme tune, or via her duet single, "All Over Again" with Ronan Keating. She is a very accomplished singer songwriter and in 2012 she released an album entitled "20" to celebrate twenty years in the music industry. Quite a well known name, but her role as a music collector may not be quite so well known.
Like other music collectors she became aware of a type of music passed down from generation to generation, sometimes not written down, with the songs mutating over the years, occassionally with new lyrics being added to an old tune, or with a new tune being added to old lyrics. She realised that unless she recorded them, they could fade forever.
Cecil Sharp famously did his research travelling through the Appalachian mountains. Rusby has found a slightly different approach for her research: touring the pubs of Barnsley and other Yorkshire towns. The type of music she is collecting: Christmas Carols. Many such Carols, mainly those that were felt to be too cheerful, were banned by the Victorians from Church, so the people started to sing them in local alehouses and the tradition still clings on in various places like Yorkshire and Cornwall.
She has, to date, released three albums of Xmas songs including her recent release, the ambiguously titled "The Frost Is All Over".
Throughout the year, from January to November, if you see Kate perform live she will be singing her usual folk material, but during December she tours performing her Xmas songs. I think it was a couple of years ago that I noticed that she was playing at the Union Chapel, but the tickets were all sold out, so when I saw that she was playing again this year I brought tickets very early, and as expected, it sold out.
The queue outside the door was massive when I arrived, far longer than I'd seen there before. The Union Chapel had sent out an email to all ticket buyers to announce that they were planning on opening the doors early so a lot of people had arrived far sooner than normal. As I was in transit when the email was sent I didn't realise till I got home. One of the good things though about the Union Chapel is that whichever pew you sit in you still get a good view so although hundreds of people got in to the venue before us, we still ended up with absolutely perfect seats.
There was no support, Kate played two full sets. Her band comprised Damien O'Kane, her husband, on acoustic guitar and banjo, Nick Cooke on diatonic accordion, Duncan Lyall on double bass, Aaron Jones on bouzouki, and Steven Iveson on electric guitar. She also had a five piece brass band accompanying her.
Unfortunately, I didn't keep notes so I can't reveal the set list. The songs were all Christmassy, but not all were old archaic Carols, or lesser known variants of Carols that we are more familiar with. As a singer songwriter, at least one of the songs, "The Frost Is All Over" was written by her, and she also included her version of "Winter Wonderland". She opened with "Bradfield", "Cornish Wassailing" and "Sunny Bank", the first three tracks from her new album, and also played the title track, "The Frost Is All Over" along with "The Dilly Carol", "Mount Lyngham"(a variant of "While Shepherds Watched"), "Cold Winter", "Winter Wonderland" and "Yorkshire Merry Christmas" all from the new album. In addition to the new tracks she also played two other variants of "While Shepherd's Watched" ("Sweet Bells" and "Cranford"), "Here We Come A Wassailing", "The Holly And The Ivy", "Little Town of Bethlehem" and I'm sure there were several others that I just can't recall.
During the second set Kate left the stage whilst her husband and the rest of the band, played some 'more manly tunes than the girly songs they usually have to play': "Swonk Fing", written by Duncan and "The Goddaughter" and "Castlerock Road", written by Damien.
Between songs Kate entertained everyone with tales of her dog, her daughter's Nativity play, the delights of Yorkshire Tea, and for good measure she threw in a couple of well aimed barbs against us Londeners: namely that the Xmas Issue of the Radio Times is released a day earlier down South than it is in Barnsley, because us Southerners take longer to read it than the Northerners, and also, she requested politely that anyone who wished to sing along to The Holly And The Ivy should respect the fact that they were singing the Yorkshire version and that if we should sing 'sweet singing all in the choir' we should make sure that the word 'choir' was two syllables and not to pronounce it kwa.
We left full of Christmas Spirit. Christmas Carols in a Chapel! I could get used to this religious life.
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