Monday, 24 October 2011

Concert Review: Kate Rusby (Richmond Theatre) (23/10/2011)

“We’ve never played here before; we wondered if anybody would come,” confessed a characteristically self-deprecating Kate Rusby towards the end of her enchanting concert at Richmond Theatre yesterday evening. Well, Rusby need not have worried, for the folk fans of Surrey and its surrounds were out in full force last night and gave the singer and her band - Damien O’Kane (guitar/banjo), Ed Boyd (guitar), Julian Sutton (accordion), Duncan Lyle (double bass) and John Joe Kelly (bodhrán) - a very warm welcome indeed.

Though nursing a slight cough passed on to her by her and O’Kane’s two-year-old daughter, Rusby performed like a trouper and was in excellent voice throughout the night, sounding confident and clear. With no brand new album to promote - her last, the entirely self-penned Make The Light, was released a year ago - Rusby constructed a thoughtful set-list that ranged widely over her catalogue, offering a pleasing mixture of traditional and original material. And although much of her older work was of course arranged for fiddle and whistles, the competence and energy of the players ensured that the absence of these instruments in the current set-up wasn’t felt as too much of a lack.

Following an enjoyable, assured warm-up set by Kelly, Boyd and the wry O’Kane, the gig proper began with a lovely version of “Playing of Ball,” the opening track from 2001’s Little Lights, and was followed by a rollicking take on “The Cobbler’s Daughter.” (“We’ll get our songs involving deaths out of the way early on,” Rusby quipped. “And then you can relax into your Sunday evening.”) The newer self-written songs also sounded especially supple and strong, with the plaintive “Only Hope” outstanding, while “Walk the Road” - the closest that Rusby’s yet come to an anthem - concluded the first half on an especially stirring note.

It’s fair to say that, stylistically, Rusby’s work hasn’t developed much over the years, and, across an album, her music can sometimes seem to lack variety. But in a live context - and interspersed with her disarming, often hilarious banter - her music feels vibrant and fresh, and the songs sometimes gain new depths and resonances as well. The concert’s emotional highlight came towards the end of the second half with an exquisite, moving performance of “Let the Cold Wind Blow,” while other standouts included a spry, cheeky “Game of All Fours” (“If you’re under 16, then this is a song about a card game. If you’re over 16, make of it what you will”), a gorgeously rootsy “Over You Now,” and a great fun set of tunes from the band. The one-song encore of “Underneath the Stars,” which Rusby took solo, was, appropriately, celestial.

Rusby’s apparently artless, girl-next-door persona belies the talent and tenacity of a musician who’s been on the scene for 20 years now and who’s able to captivate an audience by creating an atmosphere of palpable warmth, intimacy and ease. “This theatre’s gorgeous… I think we’d like to live here,” Rusby mused. And judging by the affectionate response that she received, it seems that Richmond’s residents would be happy if she chose to do that very thing. A delightful evening.

Reviewed for The Public Reviews.

Tour dates and venue information here.

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