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Interview: Kate Rusby

PUBLISHED: 16:42 01 May 2009 | UPDATED: 15:40 29 October 2010

Abigail Saltmarsh

One of the best-loved artists on the British folk scene arrives in Norwich this weekend. ABIGAIL SALTMARSH reports on the rise of Kate Rusby.

Further listening: Kate Rusby

Abigail Saltmarsh

One of the best-loved artists on the British folk scene arrives in Norwich next week. ABIGAIL SALTMARSH reports on the rise of Kate Rusby.

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To say music is in Kate Rusby's blood would be an understatement - the sound of folk has, in fact, been a backdrop to her entire life.

Kate, now 33, who performs at the Theatre Royal on Sunday, spent much of her childhood at folk festivals and listening to her parents' band.

Born in Sheffield, and known as “the Barnsley Nightingale,” she first thought of becoming an actor but was bitten by the musical bug, probably thanks to her early exposure to folk.

Music became embedded in her soul as she and her siblings, Joe and Emma, were carted around the folk festivals where mum and dad, Steve and Ann, would be playing in their ceilidh band or dad would be looking after sound systems

Long car journeys to events would be spent singing in the car as the songs her parents themselves had learned were passed down to the younger generation.

“Mum and dad would sing songs and us kids would sing along, making up harmonies before we even knew what the word meant. There's just something lovely about voices singing together, even more so when it's family. Siblings have the same vibrato so the sound they make together is almost inseparable.”

Kate learned to play the guitar, fiddle and piano, as well as to sing, and began to perform herself at folk festivals as a child and adolescent.

She then went on to become the lead singer of all-girl Celtic folk group The Poozies and in 1997 recorded and released her first solo album, Hourglass.

Since then, Kate has notched up a string of awards.

In 1999 she was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize, she has won four BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards and in 2000 won Folk Singer of the Year and Best Album (for Sleepless).

Kate has never been allowed to forget that she spoke in an early interview of being proud to be a folk singer and to know that it was not a genre for everyone. “It's like a rare diamond,” she said. “I like it that people have to look that bit harder for it.”

She hasn't changed her view, but how does this fit in with her own writing? “I have always said my albums will be a mixture and for now, I still feel that way.

“My first love is traditional song, and there are so many left that I haven't got through. When all my old ballad books and mum and dad's brains have been emptied of them, then I might do a record of just my own songs. I have no plan, just drift along and decide on the way.”

Collaborations with other artists have also been numerous - these have included performances with the likes of Eddi Reader, Roddy Woomble and Martin Simpson.

Most notably she hit the headlines in 2006 when she sang with Ronan Keating, appearing on Top of the Pops and enjoying a spell in the Top Ten with their single All Over Again.

Ronan Keating? “Why not?” is her instinctive, utterly unapologetic response. “He's such a lovely lovely fella! Clued up, hard working, polite, funny. What is there not to like. I was dubious at first 'cos they said I would have to do the video and lots of telly, and not having made a video before I didn't really want to start down that route at 33. That's for the youngsters, eh, dancing about pretending to sing.

“But they talked me round and promised I did''t have to dance! So I thought why not? It'll be my only chance to have a look into that crazy world of pop music, and it was really good fun. And I got to be on Top Of The Pops!! Thought that was quite cool really, something to tell the grandchildren.

“As for the couple of criticisms I heard, I don't care. I don't take direction from people I haven't even met. I even got to meet the Royals, my Nanan Connie would have liked that.”

In the same year, Kate's rendition of The Kinks' The Village Green Preservation Society was used as the theme tune to the BBC comedy Jam & Jerusalem.

Kate is now on a mission to take folk music to a new audience - to pass it down as she had it passed down to her.

She is currently on a national tour, which includes the performance at the Theatre Royal at 7.30pm on Sunday, and she continues to write new material.

“I have always said my albums will be a mixture and for now, I still feel that way,” said Kate, who believes variety is essential in folk

“When all my old ballad books and mum and dad's brains have been emptied of them, then I might do a record of just my own songs,” she said.

“I have no plan, just drift along and decide on the way.”

t Kate Rusby performs at the Theatre Royal on May 3, £5-£19, 01603 630000, www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk

Further listening: Kate Rusby

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