Review: Kate Rusby @ Stockport Plaza

Award-winning singer Kate Rusby put on a folk masterclass as she continued her 25-year anniversary tour at the Stockport Plaza.

Accompanied by her husband Damien O’Kane on guitar and banjo, Duncan Lyall on double bass and moog (a funky old analog synthesizer), Nick Cooke on diatonic accordion and Steve Byrnes on bouzouki and guitar, Rusby furnished her live show with a kinetic quartet of supreme musicians that bring her songs vividly to life.

The art deco venue greeted the 43-year-old Rusby with raucous applause the moment she appeared, smiling brightly, on stage.

After 20 years of non-stop touring throughout the UK, Rusby’s fans seem to know well what to expect from her live shows. They knew they wouldn’t be disappointed this evening.

It’s been 20 years since her first solo album, Hourglass, accelerated her career towards folk superstardom and yet the spritely artist commanding centre stage seems as fresh and unencumbered as if on tour for the first time.

Rusby exudes a winning combination of modesty and down to earth Yorkshire charm which endears her to loyal fans and makes her seem quickly familiar to people seeing her perform for the first time.

Taking big sips from an oversized mug of tea (Yorkshire Tea, I presume?) between songs whilst musing on the inspiration for each, Rusby’s brand of Barnsley bon homie and jokey side-swipes at her band members had the audience chuckling throughout the evening.

Rusby, cheery and bright from the get-go, worked meticulously through her latest album Life in a Paper Boat, with the band first bursting into the jaunty folk-country of Benjamin Bowmaneer.

Cynical folk-phobics may roll their eyes at fables of witches, mermaids, star-crossed lovers and other tales of the arcane, but Rusby’s interpretation of these classic folk ballads is grounded in a humility that is genuinely moving.

After watching Rusby perform live with her band, you can’t help but leave feeling happier, healthier and more reflective. Her music and stage persona have the uncanny ability to uplift the spirits of everyone in the room and the experience is like a musical equivalent of a vitamin boost.

Songs such as The Lark and Who Will Sing Me Lullabies are imbued with a warmth and mindfulness that will appeal to those who embrace the simpler pleasures in life.

If you’re the type of person who appreciates long walks in the Lake District, strong cups of tea and a good book by the fire, you’ll appreciate Rusby’s cosy and understated songcraft.

To close the show, Rusby performed crowd favourite Big Brave Bill. The song tells the heart-warming story of a salt-of-the-earth superhero from Barnsley. Bill, ‘who drinks Yorkshire Tea all the time’, rescues the regular folk of Barnsley from a variety of trifling and comical predicaments.

Rusby encouraged the audience to sing-along and raise their arms in a superhero salute. The audience, tentative at first, are slow to cooperate. But a few more catchy refrains of Big Brave Bill broke their reserve and had the audience punching the air with their very best superhero imitations.

The majority of the songs performed were taken from Rubsy’s latest album Life in a Paper Boat, but Rusby also obliged fans with some of her ‘golden oldies’, much to their delight.

The show closed with an encore of Rusby’s 2003 hit, Underneath the Stars, which was recently recognised by DJ Simon Mayo as one of the most requested folk songs on BBC radio.

After 25 years of carving her initials into the British folk songbook, Rusby’s pitch-perfect and youthful voice communicates an ease and authority that simply cannot be ignored.

The folk songs played at Stockport Plaza may recall a mythical past of sailors and shepherds, misty fells and glens, but Rusby’s unique gifts imbue them with new life.

Those in attendance were in high spirits at the end of the set as a refreshing and convivial inter-generational mix of young and old fans filed through the doors, having witnessed a two-hour masterclass from the Barnsley Nightingale.

*Kate Rusby’s tour is continuing with dates around the country. You can buy tickets HERE.

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