Kate Rusby

The folk singer-songwriter leads from the front - but James Meredith misses the man with the trumpet

There’s a telling moment towards the end of Kate Rusby’s evening performance at the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival marquee, which pretty much sums up all that’s right and wrong with her as a live act.

Introducing the encore, ‘Green Fields,’ she tells an entertaining story about an old fella who brought along a trumpet to one of her gigs last year and asked Rusby for the set list, and which key each song was in. When Rusby and Co took to the stage the man played his trumpet along to every song. 'The band weren’t impressed,' Rusby tells us, 'but I loved it.'

Kate Rusby is a wonderful singer and an extremely engaging personality, but her band (on stage, at least) hold her back by playing it too safe. Rusby has been performing as a professional musician for 20 years now and her ease in front of an audience shows, even when there are hiccups.

This is her second performance of the day (following a family matinee show at the same venue). Rusby bounces onstage alongside her second husband, Coleraine raised guitarist Damien O’Kane.

After a bit of banter in her broad Barnsley brogue about a lovely seafood dinner they have just eaten, the set begins with ‘The Wishing Wife' (listen below), the opening song from last years’ Make the Light album, Rusby's first album of exclusively self-penned songs.

The sound in the marquee is crystal clear, and Rusby’s singing voice (childlike in its purity) engages the audience throughout the aforementioned humorous tale of a no-good husband who gets turned into a dog.

Rusby introduces the next song as ‘Only Hope,’ changes her guitar, realises her mistake and changes it back before commenting that she had had the right guitar all along but had introduced the wrong song. It’s not ‘Only Hope’ but ‘The Good Man’ she should be playing. 'I’m a right spoon,' she informs the audience. The band look on, stony-faced.

‘Only Hope’ follows, after Rusby laughingly blames eating too many prawns for the song mishap. O’Kane asks for more bass on his guitar monitor. Sharp as a tack, Rusby asks if she can have more brains. The set continues in this charmingly haphazard fashion. Rusby’s between song banter is both endearing and often at odds with the set's mostly sombre tones.

O’Kane sings lead on a Coleraine folk ballad entitled ‘Summer Hill,’ the title track of his own album, released last year. Though his guitar playing is exemplary, his close-mouthed singing style is put to shame by Rusby’s soaring harmonies on the song.

After a short intermission the band return and we’re treated to more of the same: humorous stories about Rusby's young baby Daisy and her dog Doris, interspersed with carefully crafted folk songs (both traditional and self-penned) professionally played by the musicians.

Highlights include ‘Matt Highland’ (a Scottish folk tale learned from her musician mother, during which Rusby dances like a cross-dressing Joe Cocker, one hand at her side the other fluttering like a bird by her breast) and ‘Awkward Annie,’ a song about a boy who falls in love with a girl who can’t stand him, and who destroys all the presents (mostly animals) he brings her. 'Though no animals are harmed in the singing of the song,' Rusby kindly informs us.

The second set concludes with ‘The Wandering Soul,’ first heard on the soundtrack of Billy Connolly’s World Tour of New Zealand. And then the band returns for the encore of ‘Green Fields’ and the story about the old fella with the trumpet.

Though gifted with a voice that has earned her the moniker ‘The Barnsley Nightingale’, and despite a show full of northern cheek and charm, I couldn’t help but wish that aul’ fella with the trumpet had turned up and helped the band out by playing along.

This event was a ‘Celebrating Amnesty International, 50 years of Human Rights Campaigning Worldwide' concert.