Getting to Know... Kate Rusby | Living North

Getting to Know... Kate Rusby


image of Kate Rusby
If you haven’t already noticed from her four previous festive releases, Kate Rusby is leading the race to become Santa’s biggest musical helper. We catch up with the ‘Barnsley Nightingale’ ahead of the release of her fifth Christmas album, Holly Head


You’re set to release Holly Head, your fifth Christmas album, on 29th November. What is it about Christmas music that you love so much? 

I love most things about this time of year, apart from the mud, and a lot of it has to do with the music. Here in South Yorkshire we have a tradition of going to certain pubs where Christmas sing-a-longs are held every weekend, starting the weekend after Armistice Day and carrying on until New Year’s Day. The songs were sung across the whole country, but the Victorians threw out the happy ones! But the people who loved to sing them took them to the pubs and there they have remained, passed down through generations. I was taken along by my parents so I soaked up the songs before I realised. It’s a real social thing, not about religion or folk music, but about meeting up with people you haven’t seen all year and, of course, you can combine it with beer and wine! The sound of all those human voices crammed in a room singing at the top of their voices is just mind-blowing, it’s amazing. 


What makes Holly Head different from other festive albums? 

A lot of the songs on my Christmas albums come from the South Yorkshire pub sings, I think of them as a Christmas treasure trove. For example, there are over 30 different versions of While Shepherds Watched, so on the five Christmas albums I have made so far, there are six versions of that one song! Some of the songs in Holly Head people will recognise, some they won’t, some I have written. There’s also lots of brass too, and those guys are coming with us on tour, so to have that extra element on the record is lovely. I find the sound of brass instruments so moving – sometimes I cry when they are just tuning up! It’s great to stand there singing with them, they are mighty. I imagine that’s what it feels like to surf a huge wave. I suppose my mission is to provide people with alternative Christmas music, for a change from the songs we hear every year in the shops.


Some of the songs on this album – ‘Bleak Mid-Winter (Yorkshire)’ and ‘Yorkshire Three Ships’, for example – are rooted in your home county. What’s your favourite thing about Yorkshire?

It has to be the people. A lot of them are from mining stock, like myself, so they are tough, hilarious and generous to a fault. The countryside is beautiful too, of course, and we have such vibrant, diverse cities. What’s not to love, really?!


What’s Christmas like in the Rusby household?

Most of my close family live in the same village, so we tend to have starters at one house, main dinner at another Rusby home in the village, pudding at another, and head to the pub in between each! And, of course, much music and merriment along the way.


What’s top of your Christmas list this year?

My favourite cheese, Cornish Kern. It’s absolutely gorgeous!


What’s your favourite Christmas film?

Oh, I can’t decide between Home Alone, Santa Claus The Movie and Elf.


What’s your first memory of music? 

I grew up in a house full of music. Both my parents sing and play, it’s actually how they met. So we have been singing and learning songs ever since we could talk. I remember when they threw parties, us kids were meant to be upstairs in bed, but we would lie on the floor trying to listen to the music and singing going on downstairs! Most of their friends were musicians and singers too, so the house would be full of music. Our Dad used to be a sound engineer, so we were taken to a lot of festivals every summer when we were young. There was a lot of singing in the car! They discovered if they got us singing we couldn’t argue, so we learned a lot of songs back then and made up harmonies before we really knew what they were. If it sounded nice it worked!


How would you spend your ideal Sunday? 

Start with a chilled-out morning, take the dogs out, then all the family round to ours for pizza. We built a pizza oven in the garden last year and we are loving it. So sunshine, family, wine and pizza would just be the best Sunday ever.


What was the last book you read?

The Strawberry Thief by Joanne Harris. She’s a fellow Barnsley lass who wrote Chocolat. In fact, this book is the next in the Chocolat series. I adore them, she conjures up the most stunning images, I love escaping to her tiny French town where the books are set.


Who would you invite to your fantasy dinner party?

Dolly Parton and my family. I think we’d have a laugh and a good sing! And pizza.


In your view, what is Yorkshire’s best-kept secret?

Underneath The Stars Festival, which will be from 31st July–2nd August next year (taking in Yorkshire day!). It’s the best festival I’ve ever been to.


Are you already planning your next Christmas album?

Of course! I still have a list as long as my arm! 


Holly Head is released on Friday 29th November, and Kate is touring nationally from 1st–21st December. 

For more information, and for all Kate’s Yorkshire dates, visit


Published in: November 2019

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