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Folk musician Damien O’Kane hosts prostate cancer concerts six years after wife Kate Rusby’s father was diagnosed with disease

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Folk artist Damien O’Kane is staging two concerts to raise awareness of prostate cancer - a disease that has affected his wife Kate Rusby’s father. Laura Drysdale reports.

The day that folk musicians Kate Rusby and Damien O’Kane welcomed their youngest daughter into the world was also the day they were told Kate’s father had prostate cancer.

“It came as a big shock to the whole family at the time, like it would do with any family,” Damien recalls. “It was a difficult time because we were trying to deal with the emotions of having a new child and then obviously finding that out.”

His cancer was detected early enough to be treated; and today, after undergoing several operations, he has been in remission for over a year.

Sadly, not everyone has an outcome so positive. Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK, affecting one in eight at some point in their lives. More than 47,000 men are diagnosed every year and every 45 minutes, one man dies, according to charity Prostate Cancer UK.

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Damien, who lives with Kate in Barnsley, now has plans to support the cause, with a duo of concerts next month. “I am a big people person so if I can help in any way then that’s happy days,” the 40-year-old says. “I am hoping to sell out both concerts which could potentially raise a lot of money.”

Folk Prostate Cancer will be held at Penistone Paramount in South Yorkshire on November 25. In a fitting move, Kate will perform at both the afternoon and evening concerts and will be joined on stage by Damien. Raising funds and awareness is something he has wanted to do for several years, and after coming up with the concept, he has been supported to stage the event by Pure Records, the independent label run by Kate’s family.

“Kate is obviously very proud,” he says. “It was such an emotional time for her so I think this will be a good way of getting a bit of that emotion out.”

“There’s definitely a large sense of pride around the house at the minute,” he adds. “Sometimes you go along just getting on with life and trying to do the best you can for your children.

“This has been a bit of a wake up call, putting a lot of effort into doing something for other people. I have definitely been influenced by the folk scene in that way. They are very charity [focused] people and this is me giving something back to a cause that needs to be put out there more.”

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Damien’s musical roots stem back to his childhood. Growing up in Coleraine, Northern Ireland, his family played Irish traditional music and from age 13, he took to the stage as part of the O’Kane family band, starting in local pubs and clubs but going on to play in the likes of Austria and Iceland. Aged 21, he moved to Newcastle to study a degree in folk and traditional music and from there began playing in different bands and performing at festivals.

He would “hang out” with Kate’s brother, who Damien says later asked him to record with Kate, when she was in need of a banjo player for some of the music she was providing for the Jam and Jerusalem television series. It was the first time the pair met - and a life-changing move for them both. From 2008, Damien started playing in Kate’s band, and ten years on, they are wed with two children Daisy, nine, and Phoebe, six.

The musicians performing at Damien’s event - Lori Watson, Ross Ainslie and Ali Hutton with Jenn Butterworth, Jack Rutter, Dave Burland and The Awkward Squad, and Mawkin - are all friends or musical companions of his, whilst attendees will include men who have experienced prostate cancer. “It is hopefully the first event of many where we can raise awareness of this disease, through the power of music, in this case folk music,” he says.

Branded merchandise with #folkprostatecancer will be sold to boost the amount raised. Tickets cost £20 for adults and £10 for children and can be purchased from the Penistone Paramount website.