Kate Rusby live review

© Paul Tomlins/Lebrecht Music & Arts/Corbis

Some things have changed a lot in the folk world of Kate Rusby since we last saw her play the Colston Hall. Every member of her band for starters. Replacing guitarist Ian Carr is Kate's, now husband, Damien O'Kane on acoustic, electric, tenor guitar and banjo. Prolific Scottish six-string and bouzouki player Malcolm Stitt also joins the fold.

There are setlist changes abound too for one of British folk's greatest artists - six songs are debuted tonight from forthcoming album Make The Light (Kate tells us it's due 20 November). The album is the first exclusively to Kate's own compositions and on the evidence tonight, it's going to be very good indeed.

Other trademarks don't change - her between song banter is as humble and hilarious as ever. The heartwarming stories of her baby daughter Daisy and dog Doris are often completely at odds with the serious and somber tone of some of her songs. But it makes for the perfect intimate and inclusive atmosphere for this carefully crafted acoustic music. After opening with the upbeat title track from her last album, Awkward Annie the sound mix is immediately crystal clear. And the stage set is as unpretentious as ever; simple fairy lights the only excess.

One of Kate Rusby's mainstay live and studio custom made guitars made by British luthier Peter Barton.

The contrast between optimistic tales and mournful ballads has always been Rusby's calling card and sure enough the next song is a heartbreaking one, her take on traditional song The White Cockade (as she explains it's one of the first folk songs she learned from her parents). The minimalist picking of Stitt's bouzouki entwining with O'Kane's acoustic guitar is the perfect accompaniment for Rusby's stunning vocal. The sound of her voice so fully immersed in the tragic tale time could almost halt and you wouldn't notice.

Of the new songs aired, the first Only Hope is one of the most immediate. Its blend of melancholy and the chiming lead line from O'Kane on a Gretsch (an electric guitar is a rare sight indeed at a Kate Rusby gig) make it instantly memorable. Another, Let Them Fly, is a departure in that it's political - although Rusby won't say who its incisive lyrics are aimed at.

Northern Irish musician O'Kane is a solo artist in his own right and Kate accompanies him on his song Summer Hill (the title track from his album released earlier this year). It's interesting to hear his use of delay here. It's something he revisits on Green Fields, another strong new Rusby song aired later in the set that features some stunning falsetto from her in the chorus.

Elsewhere Mockingbird, another new song that features only double bass and O'Kane on tenor as accompaniment, recalls another past standout bird-monikered Rusby song, The Lark, in its stark emotion. Meanwhile O'Kane plays banjo, for which he is known for in folk supergroup Flook, on the Bluegrass-flavoured High On A Hill and a thrilling duet with accordion player Julian Sutton on one of the latter's own compositions.

With her 20 year anniversary as a professional musician approaching next year, it's clear from tonight that Kate Rusby has never been happier in her work. But all six new songs tonight suggest the best is yet to come for one of British folk's all-time greats.


Awkward Annie
The White Cockade
The Goodman
Only Hope (new song)
Let Them Fly (new song)
Summer Hill (Damien O'Kane song)
The Old Man
Green Fields (new song)
Mockingbird (new song)
High On A Hill
I Wish
The Daughter Of Megan
Walk The Road (new song)
The Old Man
Green Fields (new song)
Instrumental section: two songs written by accordian player Julian Sutton
The Wishing Wife (new song)
Wandering Soul
I Courted A Sailor

Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar in the UK. When I'm not rejigging pedalboards I'm usually thinking about rejigging pedalboards.