Live Reviews

Kate Rusby at Christmas – York Barbican: Live Review

Kate Rusby at Christmas – York Barbican – 18th December 2022


Festive songs, seasonal shenanigans and manly tunes. It’s the traditional way to end the year and one that Kate Rusby and her trusty (and trusted) band – Aaron Jones, Damien O’Kane, Nick Cooke, and Duncan Lyall joined on things to be hit by Josh Clarke – have nailed. In times of austerity, how good was it to see a pretty packed out Barbican as well, gathered to share an evening of pre-Christmas spirit with the self-confessed Holly Head (def: person who derives unquestionable glee at the thought of Christmas).

She’s even written a song that celebrates the Holly King, inspired by an encounter with a local Narnia/frosty environment and stories from childhood of the battles between the Holly and Ivy Kings. It’s a rare moment of drama as Nick Cooke even abandons his line of melodeons (melodia?) to join Josh Clarke on some restrained percussion thunder. It also follows a sprightly opening with voices and hearts (and hands) warmed by a volley of Hark Hark-ing, the chiming of Sweet Bells and the first of several Wassails. The latter seeing Her Kateness musing over the nature of leather skin purse in Here We Come A-Wassailling – reference is made to Silence Of The Lambs serial killer Buffalo Bill…

Moving swiftly on…it’s impossible not to get caught up in the festive mood as the sounds pour from the stage. One that’s beautifully lit and decorated, nay dressed, in signature fashion; the mic stand resembling a feathery boa, a overhead curtain of starry lights and some of the famous crocheted snowflakes. Not forgetting the enormous snowflake backdrop that hides a subtle ’30’ reminding us that even with a decade of so of Christmas tours in the bag, 2022 marks thirty years of Kate Rusby performing professionally.

Over to one side, Ruby (2) the reindeer stands , suitably lit and adding the occasional head nod, tended by Aaron Jones multitasking on various six and eight stringed things. The gentle pump of brass from those brass boys who come to the party at Christmas time, gives most of the set a warmth and it has to be said, a very Yorkshire/Last Of The Summer Wine vibe. A lively and hard to fault first half that sees us dashing between the traditions of South Yorkshire and Cornwall is brought to a close with the traditional carol Little Town Of Bethlehem before we come full circle to Paradise that introduces set 2. The latter showcases the sound of Kate Rusby in 2022 with the of reverb of electric guitars and Moog synths inducing an otherworldly ambience.

Along with the “ho-ho-ho“-ing of Kris Kringle (watch out for the audience participation video compilation from the tour) and the latest in the Big Brave Bill series, the highlight of set 2 comes when the ten strong band are left to let loose on a handful of tunes from Damien O’Kane, Duncan Lyall and friends and where Aaron Jones leads the line with some hefty work on the bouzouki. Having said that, the sentiment of Let The Bells Ring – celestial ambience to the fore once more – is enough to melt the hardest of hearts.

Our annual pilgrimage once again proves how you can’t beat a good old wassail to stir the Christmas spirit. We take our leave all set for the big day to see what he brings. Five seasonal collections have been mined for the evening’s entertainment although being a teeny bit fussy, there’s been no Misteltoe Bough (yet) but a hint dropped for 2023. Here’s to it.

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