fri 21/06/2024

Kate Rusby, Barbican Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Kate Rusby, Barbican Hall

Kate Rusby, Barbican Hall

The Barnsley Nightingale brings a traditional taste of Christmas to London

Northern star: folk songstress Kate Rusby Andy Snaith‏

Kate Rusby’s Christmas show was a brilliant way to get that festive feeling. Standing on a stage lit by three huge glittering stars and a collection of colourful glowing baubles, she and her band (“the boys”) worked their way through a surprising and heartwarming selection of traditional carols, set to unusual tunes and with creative flare.

The Barnsley Nightingale’s version of “While Shepherd’s Watch their Flock by Night” was set to the tune of “On Ilkley Moor Bar T'at”. It was extraordinary. She sang “And this shall be the sign” instead of the bar t’at bit. At every introduction of a new song she said, quite genuinely, “Oh, I absolutely love this one,” before telling us the backstory of how the ditty is sung in pubs in her native Yorkshire and encouraging us to join in on the chorus.

'I'm having another baby,' she said. 'I thought I’d tell you in case you thought it was too many mince pies'

The rather sedate, seated audience at the Barbican took a while to warm up to Rusby’s beseeches to sing along, only really getting into it towards the end. There were plenty of “Ho ho hos” and “Jingle, jingles” on “Kris Kringle”, but Rusby was left to bring all the Christmas cheer herself as the audience remained silent. She didn’t falter though and, as she chatted and joked throughout, seemed at home on stage and was having a brilliant time. I last saw Rusby at the Cambridge Folk Festival in July, and (although she was good there, too) by comparison last night she seemed to be having a ball.

There was an entire brass section to support Rusby and her usual band of “boys” (which includes her husband Damien O’Kane). The cornet, trumpets and trombones provided rich and clear refrains on a folk version of “The Holly and the Ivy”. Surrounded by nine blokes Rusby shone brightly, her beautiful voice and relaxed confidence breaking through the layered sound emanating from around her.

A familiar version of 'O Little Town of Bethlehem' made the hairs on my neck stand up

It was a good moment when introducing “Seven Joys of Good Mary” for Rusby to confess to the audience that the slight bump visible beneath her little black dress was there because “me and him [O’Kane] are having another baby. I thought I’d tell you in case you thought it was too many mince pies”. She launched into a graceful new song, “Homes”, and gave an interesting rendition of a Dorset carol called “Shepherd’s Arise”.

During the second half Rusby and the brass section disappeared for 10 minutes leaving the stage to O’Kane and the other three boys who performed an excellent and gruelling medley of fast-paced folk tunes. Continuing the evening’s light and silly theme, the players hid a few “cultural Christmas references” in their short set, so occasionally a few bars of “Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer” or Howard Blake’s “Walking in the Air” would interrupt. “I knew you’d love it!” exclaimed Rusby running back on stage amid shrieks and applause.

Finishing with a familiar version of “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, which made the hairs on my neck stand up, Rusby and the boys left to wild applause. But she topped the evening off by returning to do “Underneath the Stars” as an encore. Having not felt Christmassy yet this year, I left humming carols and wondering where I can buy the CD. 

Kate Rusby performs "Underneath the Stars"


There were plenty of 'Ho ho hos' and 'Jingle, jingles', but Rusby was left to bring all the Christmas cheer herself. The audience remained silent


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters