Home-loving songstress Kate Rusby is caught in a lacrimonious web of tales of longing, betrayal and loss. No wonder at all then that she is the girl who couldn’t fly
Kate Rusby’s northern tones come across clearly in her melancholic vocals, and she is a singer very much attached to her roots. She is well known for her relaxed approach to touring, playing a few dates then taking a few days off to go back home. She said she does not like to be too far away from her South Yorkshire home.
People do listen to stories, it’s part of human nature, just like we love gossip, same thing
Rusby comes from a family of folk musicians (much akin to the Carthy/Waterson family touring machine), and, having spent her early years following her parents around the festival scene, from Mansfield to Sidmouth, she is now a regular on the folk festival circuit. She pre-released The Girl Who Couldn’t Fly to her audience at the recent Cambridge Folk Festival and it is now the family that accompanies her on tour.
She is an intuitive guitarist, and chooses many of the songs for her albums from a wealth of traditional songwriters: “More often than not, they have no tune, and I can’t read music anyway, so I write a new tune for them, and sometimes re-write the lyrics. I also learn songs from my parents, they seem to have an endless stream of songs that I have never heard. And of course, I write the odd song from time to time, so a combination of these sources all feed an album.”
And is the flying reference in the album’s title anything to do with her own well-publicised fear of flying? I asked her why and how she chose the album’s name, “I still hate flying. I was talking to someone about going on holiday to the Maldives or somewhere, and I said, ‘but I’ll not be going there, ‘cos I’m the girl who couldn’t fly’. As soon as I said it I thought it would make a good album title. It feels nice to say.”
Rusby has delved deep into the folk archive in her past albums and I asked her how she chose the tracks for The Girl Who Couldn’t Fly, “The same process really. I have a huge collection of ballad books, so I sit and look through them for stories that I find intriguing or moving in some way.”
The songs she chooses all have a strong sense of story in them: gallant knights face perilous challenges against all manner of evil beasties, maidens endlessly pine and have their honour protected by the self-same knights and implore them to fight dragons, and dragons have a pretty rough time of it. Miserable love-lorn men are tricked into a life on the waves by unscrupulous sorts and cheating wenches betray the miserable conscripted sailors.
I asked Ms Rusby how important the stories were to her, and what her criteria were for choosing a folk song, “Folk music is really all to do with telling stories, be they about people who lived 200 years ago or stories about me or my friends.
“It is music of the people, human emotions and actions, it is the basis of folk music. It is also why folk music is as relevant today as it was hundreds of years ago, we still behave in the same way, we fall in love, we work…
“[Folk is] the genre of music that moves me most, and I find that it is very honest music, and therefore incredibly moving. My favourite story at the mo’ is the book called Five Letters Of Love.”
I wondered if she thought audiences were still interested in going to a gig to hear stories being told or is it more to be entertained by the music? “I definitely think people come to hear the stories in the songs. When I get requests from people they always say things like, ‘can you do the song with the knight and the dragon?’ or ‘that song with the woman who smuggles the handsome man in her bed’. People do listen to stories, it’s part of human nature, just like we love gossip, same thing.”
The new release brims with slow songs of love lost and pain, and as with ‘Sleepless’ and ‘Little Lights’, the most heartfelt songs are the laments. “I do tend to be drawn to sad stories and love stories. But I know I can’t just sing sad songs all night, I would if I could though! And every one has a story to tell, it’s how we pass on information, and every story deserves a song, more folk need to get writing.”
Even down to the music she listens to herself, Rusby leans towards downbeat acoustic artists like her latest favourite, Scunthorpe-born singer/songwriter Stephen Fretwell, whose simple melancholic, bitter songs have the same bluntness and honesty as Rusby’s own.
Kate Rusby is currently touring material from the new album, details of which are on www.katerusby.com