From making her debut at the Holmfirth Folk Festival at the age of 17, Kate Rusby has had an impressive 30-year career, becoming a Mercury Prize winner in 1998 and breaking records and headlining everywhere from the Royal Albert Hall to the Cambridge Folk Festival.
Tomorrow night, August 4, will see her packing out the main stage at the renowned Sidmouth Folk Festival, and at the end of this month, Kate is bringing her lovely voice to the Claydon Estate, the stunning new venue for the much-loved Towersey Festival.
To mark her 30 years touring as a professional folk singer, Kate has released a new album, 30: Happy Returns, which features brand new versions of some of her favourite songs with other artists including Ladysmith Black Mambazo and KT Tunstall.
So what can the Towersey audience expect from the much-loved singer on Bank Holiday Sunday, August 28?
Kate said: “I’ll be doing a lot of the songs from 30: Happy Returns. I’ll be doing some of the songs from my last album which is called Hand me Down, which for want of a better term is an album of covers, but it’s an album with some of my very favourite songs from childhood and some more modern.
“We made that actually in lockdown – we’d just started rehearsing it before lockdown. I’d been meaning to make that album for about five years, so finally we got around to it and then lockdown happened. But luckily we have our own studio so we could just carry on with working there.
“And of course that meant we had our daughters with us, because there was no school. It was a strange album to make but absolutely lovely, and they ended up singing on it too.”
Kate and her husband, the musician Damien O’Kane, have two daughters, Daisy Delia, aged 12, and Phoebe Summer, 10.
"They just go about the whole day, singing, singing, singing – we’re really quite musical,” said Kate. “There’s no escaping music in our house.
“They’ll probably be coming to Towersey so I’ll have to get them up. Whenever they come with us, they always get up and sing.”
Kate will also be supported by her full six-piece band, including husband Damien.
Now aged 48, she’s come a long way from the petrified 17-year-old playing her first gig in Holmfirth in 1992, after her best friend’s mum heard her rehearsing in the garage at home.
“I was so scared I was nearly sick. I couldn’t even walk on because my legs were so wobbly, but I did my half hour and I vowed I was never going to do this again, ever!
“And here we are 30 years later, still doing it. It kept calling me back.”
Nowadays nerves are not a problem, as a rule.
"Sometimes, all of a sudden you will get nervous for some reason. And actually a bit of nerves is a great thing because it keeps you on your toes and it keeps you focused.
“And also, every single gig that we do, you appreciate the time and effort and money it’s taken for those people to be sat there in the marquee or the theatre or wherever you’re playing, so it’s always a bit of pressure there to always do your very best because people have made a real effort to be sat there.”
And this year there’s something extra special in the air, as live music makes its return after Covid.
“We started my 30 celebration tour in April and we've really felt it at every single gig that we’ve done. The whole of the audience is stepped up a level really.
“That thrill of being back with other humans in a room, in a marquee, in a field, enjoying music, standing next to each other, it’s just unbelievable.
"People are just so happy to be out and about again and feeling OK to be doing that.
“You can really, really tell that everybody's been away from live music for a couple of years.”
Although the impact of Covid on the folk scene has perhaps not been as bad as might have been expected.
“I think musicians in general are very very creative people,” said Kate. “So I think we all found ways to still carry on doing what we were doing during lockdown, like online concerts.
“Me and my husband did a series called Singy Songy Sessions from our sitting room. We would do a different song each week, I think we did 22 of them, and we put those on Facebook and sent them out into the world. So not only were we keeping doing what we were doing but we were still connecting with our audience.
"And actually it felt like we were a bit closer, because we would send a song out there and have a chat and say what we’ve been up to this week, on the allotment or whatever else we were doing. And the stories we got back from people, and the gorgeous messages about what that song meant to them and how it fits into their family and what they’ve been doing.
"So actually we felt more connected to people than on a normal tour when you’re playing to people but you don’t necessarily get to meet and chat with people. So across the board really, people were creative and just carried on."
And what changes has she seen in 30 years of performing?
“Over the years, I’ve noticed that my voice has mellowed a bit. But that was quite early on, actually. I think once I’d got into the flow of singing, I kind of found my own voice.
“And, you know, the folk scene has completely changed in that time as well.
“Because when I started off, there was only a handful of younger people playing and singing. and therefore the audiences that we were playing to were kind of our parents’ age.
"And then gradually those people were bringing their kids, and then more and more younger people started playing.
"And now I look round and it’s so vibrant, and there’s even anoher generation coming through now
“And it’s just so lovely to see folk music in such a fabulous place, being enjoyed by so many completely diverse people, people from all backgrounds from all over the world come here for our amazing incredible festivals and concerts. It’s so gorgeous to see, and it’s all safe, it’s great.”
So what would she say to urge people to come to Towersey?
“I would say, come along, don’t be worried, it’s an outdoor festival, give a go.
“Come along, be brave, and come and feel that lovely hum of being part of a really special festival and create some gorgeous memories again.
“And also, it’s a proven fact that when you sing in close proximity with other human beings it releases happy hormones in your brain and makes you feel amazing - so why would you no come and be part of it?"
Towersey Festival is the UK’s longest-running independent festival. Established in 1965 as a one-day event to raise funds for the repair of Towersey Village Hall, it has grown to become one of the UK’s major arts and music festivals.
Run by three generations of the same family (with a fourth in training), 2022 sees the festival move to its new home on the Claydon Estate, near Buckingham, for the bank holiday weekend of August 26 to 29.
For more information and tickets, visit the Towersey Festival website.