Folk superstar Kate Rusby pleased to be coming back to happy Shrewsbury Folk Festival

An annual Shropshire music festival always brings a smile to the face of one of its most popular performers.

Kate Rusby, who has been confirmed as a headline act at Shrewsbury Folk Festival
Kate Rusby, who has been confirmed as a headline act at Shrewsbury Folk Festival

And this weekend's Shrewsbury Folk Festival is set to be an even happier place for singer-songwriter Kate Rusby and a host of other performers lined up for the four-day jamboree of traditionally inspired music.

"Everyone is so happy at Shrewsbury," said mum-of-two Kate who has lost count of the number of times she has been on stage at the West Midlands Showground.

"As a performer it's great to see all the wonderful smiles in the audience and from all the volunteers and the setting by the river. It's beautiful."

Kate has already appeared at two festivals, including one her family business organises in their home town of Barnsley, to shake off any rustiness from not having any live gigs for 19 months.

"I was advised not to stay off the gig pony for too long, and to get back on as soon as possible," joked Kate, 47, who next year will be celebrating 30 years in the business.

"I was so nervous at the first one back, it was scary. I was even thinking how do I walk on stage, but we are back on the pony now and settled in the saddle," said Kate.

Like many performers during lockdown, Kate found new ways to connect with her fans online, including what she called Singy Song Sessions.

And last year her band, which includes husband Damien O'Kane, released a new album, called Hand Me Down, of songs inspired by the tunes of her youth.

The video of one of those songs, a folk adaptation of the Bangles' hit Manic Monday, sees Kate, Damien and the couple's two girls Daisy, 11 and Phoebe, nine, donning tutus and dance around their living room.

"Damien's the only male in the house," said Kate. "Even our two dogs are girls but he piled in. He's always one for a laugh!"

Kate rejects criticism of cover songs, saying: "Folk music has always been about taking old and existing and re-interpreting them.

"They are songs handed down to me, and ones that I adored."

And since this is the first time she's been able to tour the album since it was released last year, she says the reception has been great.

"The audiences have loved recognising the songs and singing along," she says.

Kate Rusby

But with nearly three decades in the business now under her belt, Kate has a huge back catalogue, ranging from the first song her mum taught her, The Recruited Collier, about a miner who was press ganged off to war.

Being proudly from Yorkshire, the mining industry's influence on Kate's own writing forms a geological seam in her own musical DNA. My Young Man is about her nan Ivy's love for her husband, coal miner Harold as he died of the lung condition emphysema.

And the music of Yorkshire colliery brass bands also features sometimes in Kate's music, as it forms a "big heart-wrenching sound."

Family and locality are massive influences on Kate's music.

"Roots are really important," she said. "I have toured all over the world and Yorkshire is the place where I feel like I belong.

"But I am not so tiny minded that I cannot look out of it to other influences. It's about the stories and the human emotions and that comes from everywhere."

As well as being influenced by her mum Ann and dad Steve, Kate has a range of musical influences, including that of American singer-songwriter Nanci Griffiths who died at the age of 68 on August 13.

"I adored all her albums, and the way she created songs and sang them," said Kate.

"I used to take the bus for 2p into Barnsley library where I would take out cassette tapes and bring them back home to listen to."

Perhaps uniquely in the music business, the Rusby family created their own cottage industry record label, Pure Records, which remains family owned. Her sister Emma is the managing director, and her dad Steve and mum Ann also play their part. Damien is also signed up.

While Kate and her music will be familiar to folk music fans, followers of the charts and TV music might also vaguely recognise her name.

Back in 2006, Kate and former Boyzone star Ronan Keating reached number six in the charts with All Over Again.

And cricket-loving Kate's version of the Ray Davies' song Village Green Preservation Society was used as the theme tune for the acclaimed TV series Jam and Jerusalem.

In a TV documentary about her life Kate spoke of music being able to "heal the heart for a fleeting moment", which has been important to many people, especially during the extended lockdown in 2020.

"I have never done so much listening to music," she said. "I agree 100 per cent that it is so important."

Kate is due on stage at Shrewsbury Folk Festival on Bank Holiday Monday.

Learn more about the festival at shrewsburyfolkfestival.co.uk.

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