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Kate Rusby’s Happy Holly Day: Live Review

Christmas without some songs from Kate Rusby wouldn’t be Christmas. Fortunately for us all, Kate and her band set up not far from home and bring some seasonal cheer.

Streamed Live on Saturday 12th December

Recorded at CAST, Doncaster.

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The year is in its decline” – an arguable sentiment. 2020 has actually shown a bit of late form after its previously underwhelming showing. “Send the old year out on the rolling tide” – yes please to that notion. Despite its slight upturn, can someone please cast 2020 adrift and let it sail away until we can see it’s disappeared over the horizon? “Just take with you what makes your heart glad” – sterling advice. All three lines from Let The Bells Ring resonated strongly with how welcome and how timely Kate Rusby’s seasonal shindig, Happy Holly Day felt on Saturday.

Recorded at CAST, Doncaster (capacity 600), it was streamed 15,000 times worldwide. If we assume that each screen had two or three pairs of eyes watching, then we essentially enjoyed a large arena show that would need two nights at the O2, London or in Manchester Arena, or, keeping it local, three at the exquisitely named FlyDSA Arena in Sheffield. All that with the added bonus of everyone having the best view from the best seats in the(ir) house.

There were enough reminders of what we were all missing (audience and performers) in references to shows from recent years. Kate had three toy hippopotamuses on stage, gifts received last year when well-wishers followed up on the lyrics of I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas as literally as they could manage. The microphone was attractively swathed in a garland given to Kate at the Sheffield show that year. Happy Holly Day was undoubtedly an evening for the people, but very much of the people too.

The quality was paramount. We’re accustomed to the accomplished musicality that Kate and her supporting entourage demonstrate on such occasions, but it cannot go without saying just what a beautiful and uplifting sound was made. Every effort was made to replicate the ambience of a performance with an actual audience present. Video and sound production were of the highest quality. For those who were just missing their fix of festive folk and needed melancholy heads turning to ‘holly heads’ it more than did the job.

There will be have been many who’ve missed the essential vitality of live music throughout 2020. Let’s assume that Kate Rusby is amongst that demographic from how emotional she admitted to finding rehearsals, and the times she looked on the verge of feeling overwhelmed on the night. Collectively, the ‘brass boys’ kindled numerous tunes with warmth. Duncan Lyall brought an atmospheric Moog mood to songs like Paradise and The Holly King, as well as opening Joy To The World with Axel F, the theme from Beverly Hills Cop.

Damien O’Kane and Aaron Jones brought everything from texture to tuneful twang out of their various guitar and not-quite-a-guitar-like instruments. Nick Cooke’s accordion often felt like a second voice in the ensemble and Josh Clark’s cymbal rolls in particular served to heighten this listener’s world-weary emotions to the point of near lamentation.

Whilst your sentiment was going haywire, there was still plenty of humour to be found, including in the annual fancy dress nativity-themed encore. Kate’s wings from the Angels & Men cover got a rare outing, Nick Cooke was some kind of camel-themed homage to Bernie Clifton and Damien O’Kane went hilariously yet fetchingly off-theme as Anna from Frozen. Worth buying the DVD for his costume alone.

If you had the foresight to purchase the version with access until early January (which you can still do), then Happy Holly Day can surely be your soundtrack “on Christmas Day in the morning,” as the words of Sunny Bank recount. Such glorious things happen in this carol (as opposed to the chaos of materialism that can otherwise prevail once Santa’s been). Bells ring. All the souls on Earth sing. Putting the ‘merry’ into Christmas – it’s a Rusby thing.

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