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Live / stage review

Kate Rusby at City Hall, 4 December

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You know Christmas has officially begun when local lass Kate Rusby brings her travelling band of merriment to town.

Set to a beautifully wintery but warm backdrop, Kate's annual Christmas show has become as much an essential part of the festive period as mince pies and mulled wine. Dressed in a glittering emerald green dress, Kate started the night as a disco Christmas tree.

Beginning with the sweet 'Hark Hark', Kate's down-to-earth explanations kept the audience engrossed as she told the story about the show being a homage to forgotten Christmas carols and lesser-known local versions of familiar favourites. Many of these were sung from Cawthorne to Cornwall, and some she heard as a child in the corner of local pubs as her older family members gathered round to sing. Backed by quintet The Brass Boys and her loyal backing band, including husband Damien O'Kane, there was a richness and warmth of sound that filled the City Hall.

The crowd didn't have to be asked twice to join in

Led by Kate, the show playfully swung between traditional gig and cabaret, occasionally tipping into a full-blown comedy as the lack of airs and graces allowed for a real connection between stage and audience. The crowd didn't have to be asked twice to join in with the choruses of some of the songs, with 'Sweet Bells' being a particular favourite. Various versions of songs like 'While Shepherds' were covered, including a Cornish version of 'I Saw Three Ships' called 'Sunny Bank'.

The show was made even more special as the acclaimed Willy Russell came onstage to give the highest award from the English Folk Dance and Song Society to Kate for her services to folk music, after which she received a standing ovation.

The night ended in fine form as the band returned for their encore dressed as a full Christmas dinner, with Kate dressed as a Christmas pudding.

Andy Tattersall

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