The Royal Concert Hall is not my favourite venue. It is, just as it says on the ticket, first and foremost a concert hall, and as such is a little too formal for my tastes, what with the strictly assigned seats, and the audience all packed in like willing sardines.
That being said it lives up to its name as a concert hall of royal proportions, which was handy as an nice roomy royal-sized stage was needed to accommodate the celebration of Yorkshire singer Kate Rusby’s 20th year in the music industry, and the many special guests who helped make her concert at Celtic Connections such a joyful affair as she celebrated the release of her 11th album called, accurately enough 20.
20 is a double CD that features new recordings of a number of her favourite songs, and a brand new song ‘Sun Grazers’. It is a friendly album too, with guest musicians that include Nic Jones, Paul Weller, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Richard Thompson, Jerry Douglas, Punch Brother’s Chris Thile, Paul Brady, Dick Gaughan, Eddi Reader, Philip Selway from Radio Head, and the wonderfully named Grimethorpe Colliery Band.
Many of the artists be found on 20 were also to be found on the stage Thursday; notably Eddi Reader, and Dick Gaughan, with the always welcome addition of guitarist John Doyle, and a surprise visit by Donald Shaw who joined band members Julian Sutton, Damien O’Kane, Aaron Jones and Ed Boyd.
Bluegrass singer and multi-instrumentalist Sarah Jarosz also joined Rusby on stage, offering the crowd a fleeting musical taste of Texas, and whetting musical appetites for her upcoming main Celtic Connections performance at St Andrews in the Square on Saturday, January 26.
A festival first timer Jarosz was very excited to be playing with Rusby, who she warmly described as ‘my hero’.
“It’s amazing to be playing here in Glasgow,” she told the Living Tradition. “It just oh so fun. I just got in this morning, so I have actually been in sound check and rehearsals all day, and I am running on pure adrenalin.”
Texas and Glasgow? Just a little bit different?
“There are a lot of differences,” she said. “But with that being said, I think there is a similarity in how excited people will get about the music. I mean there is an amazing energy here. I hope to be back later in the year.”
A small pristine figure in angelic white, Rusby was a tiny centerpiece on the Royal Concert Hall stage, and simply exuded warmth and humour as she filled the packed room with alluring songs, sung with sincerity and heart. She is a raconteur, in song and in life, and it is easy to imagine sitting down with her for a cup of tea and a good long chat. Approachably unpretentious, she is clearly not afraid to tell the gross stories that friends tell to make each other laugh – her daughter throwing up on her dog, which then helpfully cleaned up the mess all by itself was a story in point. Disgusting, but very funny.
But that seems to be the contrasting essence of Kate Rusby in concert – an immaculately pure and lush voice mined from a dark working seam of Yorkshire down-to-earthiness; a graceful poise and serenity juxtaposed with a tangible vibrating excitement and joy in the music she and others make; and a deep heartfelt appreciation of the people that share her life as well as her stage - including the people on the other side of the stage lights, the people who make up her audience.
Rusby's talent lies in the way that she finds unique ways to spin the story of the songs she sings, whether original or traditional, re-imagining and retelling them in beguilingly luxuriant ways that make you eager to hear all the old ones yet again, and all the new.
Here’s to 20 more years, Kate. I, for one, simply cannot wait.