Of all the stars in folk music’s wondrous firmament few shine as brightly as Kate Rusby. A career which spans over 25 years in music showcases her as one of the finest interpreters of traditional folk songs and one of our most emotive original songwriters. Released on Pure Records, Philosophers, Poets & Kings is her 17th studio album, and this autumn the inimitable contemporary folk songstress will be touring to Coronation Hall, Ulverston, to perform new songs and much-loved classics from her back catalogue.
Seamlessly blending old and new across 12-tracks of traditional folk, covers and self-penned songs, Kate Rusby’s new solo album is a deeply personal collection which pays homage to her family and musical heritage, and home life in Yorkshire.
With Philosophers, Poets and Kings, Kate Rusby raises a toast to her parents. She recalls an upbringing filled with music; whether recording songs performed during wine-fuelled family singalongs or her formative years spent watching festival performances by famed musicians including Richard Thompson and Dave Swarbrick.
As you could tell from the unmistakable strains of Moog on 2016’s Life In a Paper Boat, Kate Rusby’s (kind of) gone electronic. No-one gave her the Bob Dylan treatment on tour and shouted “Judas” at the appearance of weird contemporary machinery, so adventures in synthesised sounds have made for a brave new world so far.
It’s not quite time yet to call in The Pet Shop Boys for a collab or reset your Rusby radar to Kiss FM, and Calvin Harris has not yet buzzed Barnsley, but 2019 sees Kate take the next steps in being increasingly less unplugged with Poets, Philosophers and Kings.
Hang on. Philosophers, Poets and Kings? What about this ‘brave new world’? Doesn’t that sound a bit historical and backwards-looking as an album title?
Yes…. And equally, no.
First and foremost, couldn’t we all do with a few philosophical voices offering genuinely complete and well-formed thoughts in 2019 as we struggle as a nation to reconcile ourselves with who we are and where we’re going? Equally if we struggle as individuals to achieve a mindful peace in the cacophonous whirligig of everyday life, oughtn’t philosophy to be welcome wisdom?
Secondly, surely poetry – the pursuit of beauty and truth – is even more necessary than it’s ever been? It was Aristotle who asserted, “It’s during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.” So shines this album, as a good deed in a weary world.
Thirdly, and most importantly, isn’t the essence of really appealing modern folk a combination of careful homage to the past, but bringing age-old songs into the present with fearless innovation? That’s where you’re at with Philosophers, Poets and Kings: where the idea that you can only truly embrace the present if you have the past firmly in your bones rings entirely true.
Don’t get your glow-sticks and whistles out when you see the word ‘Remix’ next to track ten, but it is indicative of a novel approach in that the album carries two separate and distinct versions of the traditional track, ‘Jenny’. In Kate’s own words, “From the moment I started working on this song, I could hear two completely different ways that we could approach it… Turn this version up and get your dancing shoes on.”
As much as there’s the elevating presence of joy and much excuse for limbs to jig, there’s also the emotive, grounded sense of her South Yorkshire home that we’ve come to breathe in through our rarefied, Rusbified atmosphere over the years. ‘The Wanderer’ depicts a man from Kate’s village suffering from Alzheimer’s; ‘The Farmer’s Toast’ honours the family on whose land she hosts the Underneath The Stars Festival; ‘The Squire and the Parson’ comes from a local folk tale and carries a co-writing credit from Kate’s Dad, Steve.
Try to contemplate the final track, ‘Halt The Wagons’ without some increased action in your tear ducts. July 4th 2018 saw the 180th anniversary of the Huskar Pit disaster, where 26 children working in the mine lost their lives when a freak storm flooded the mine shaft. 15 boys and 11 girls aged 7-17years old, were drowned. They were found with arms around each other for comfort. Kate was asked to write a song to commemorate the disaster, and was joined by 26 members of The Barnsley Youth Choir, 15 boys and 11 girls, their ages 7-17. Together they went underground at The National Coal Mining Museum of England to film and record the children singing on the song: “They were brilliant. I wanted people to see and hear 26 children, to understand what a huge effect the terrible tragedy had on the small village of Silkstone (just up the road from me). Most of all I wanted to give a voice to those children and their mothers.”
The title track pays tribute to the inspiration for much poetry, philosophy and many a singalong: wine. With its mention of Diogenes, Democritus and Plato, associations with Monty Python’s ‘Philosophers’ Song’ are never far away. Conversely, there’s a cover of Oasis’ ‘Don’t Go Away’; never before has that song sounded so soberly plaintive.
A remarkable interpretive singer, Kate’s soulful vocals resonate with the wistful beauty of an earthbound angel. Inhabiting a lyric with unforced conviction – no matter how old or how modern – she has that rare ability to transport her audience, of touching them emotionally and making each tune live vividly within their experience and imagination.
Kate Rusby will be performing on her autumn tour from 9 – 20th October.
9 October – Ulverston, Coronation Hall www.corohall.co.uk