Review: Kate Rusby, Leeds Town Hall

The Barnsley nightingale, Kate Rusby.
The Barnsley nightingale, Kate Rusby.
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Giant crocheted snowflakes set out the winter wonderland scene for Kate Rusby’s Christmas concert in a packed-out Leeds Town Hall on what was an unseasonably balmy evening.

The Barnsley-born singer has created an annual tradition of en-masse folk carolling, which for many people has now become as much a part of the festive season as turkey, crackers and YouTube videos of cats knocking down Christmas trees.

The crafted snowflakes, suspended above the stage and lit up with sparkly lights, were lovely, cosy and quirky all at once – a fitting motif for the irrepressible folkstrel, whose on-stage banter is at the heart of her appeal.

The audience glowed with Yorkshire pride as Kate bigged-up the unique warmth and friendliness of all people north of the Derbyshire border, and chatted with affection about the South Yorkshire pubs of her childhood, where carols were sung with abandon by working men whose exuberance was too much for any church to contain.

This year, though, the traditional songs belted out in inns like the Sportsman and Blue Ball were also complemented with carols from Cornwall that Kate has discovered in recent years.

Though she was apologetic about introducing Southern elements into what has traditionally been a Yorkshire-based set, the Cornish songs (especially Sunny Bank) were some of the loveliest of the evening, made magical by the mellifluous brass quintet.

The self-penned title track of her new album, The Frost is All Over, was also a highlight, capturing some of the wonder of a walk in the frosty fields on Christmas morning, accompanied by her dog Doris (possibly dressed up in a Superman costume...).

Kate also played a ‘Rusbyfied’ version of Winter Wonderland which features on this year’s Radio 2 Christmas playlist - although strangely this seemed a less successful arrangement than some, with jarringly heavy percussive notes from Nick Cooke on accordion and the hunky Duncan Lyall on double bass.

On other tracks the all-male instrumentalists were faultless, especially when jamming a selection of Christmas numbers while rocking slightly bedraggled Santa hats.

This gig came near the end of a month-long countrywide tour for Kate, and her voice was perhaps suffering the strain a little. But her breathy style is so well suited to these joyful carols it didn’t really matter. Decked out in a super-sparkly sequinned dress, emblazoned with a giant star, nothing could contain Kate Rusby’s Christmas spirit.