Kate Rusby Band
at the Nantwich Folk & Roots Festival,
Cheshire, England
(24 August 2003)

Kate Rusby gave an outstanding concert in Nantwich Civic Hall as part of the Nantwich Folk & Roots Festival. Although we arrived 15 minutes before the scheduled opening time, there was already a crowd of about 50 queuing outside and this number had increased to more than 200 when the doors opened -- an obvious sign of the ever-increasing popularity of her music. The smallish hall was packed to capacity and the tables appropriately set out in an informal cabaret style, which added to the ambience. We managed to find an excellent spot close to the stage.

The Kate Rusby Band was surprisingly without stalwart diatonic accordionist Andy Cutting, who was otherwise engaged. The other five in the band more than made up for his absence throughout a full set of impassioned singing and playing. I had only heard Rusby live once previously, in the company of just Cutting at the Middlewich Folk Festival last year, and while that experience was very enjoyable, hearing her with the band in full flow took the music to an even higher level of excellence. There is no doubting the richness and subtlety of Rusby's voice -- a quite remarkable talent -- and her singing and guitar playing was faultless. John McCusker for me was the key instrumentalist with his passionate fiddle, cittern and banjo playing, and breathtaking interludes on the whistle. Brian Finnegan on flute and whistles was an inspiration, as was the intricate guitar playing of Ian Carr. I always love seeing Ewen Vernal in action for Capercaillie and his double bass playing at this gig was full of his usual panache and vibrancy.

The gig got off to a tremendous start with the popular "The Fairest of all Yarrow." The whole band was instantaneously straight into its stride and I was struck immediately by the complex richness of the upbeat sound with a particular impact being made by Finnegan's whistle. The band never looked back from the audience's cheering of this opening song and looked very relaxed throughout. In "Polly" McCusker demonstrated his lyrical fiddle playing and then effortlessly switched back to cittern, and provided backing vocals, in "Cruel." "I Courted a Sailor" was one of the concert's highlights with resonant bass, two whistles and then superb flute playing by Finnegan of a Michael McGoldrick tune at the end of the song.

While Rusby took a break, the audience was treated to the great Celtic sound of the instrumentalists playing a waltz (McCusker's "Al's Big Day" -- a cheap wedding present for his sister, he explained!) and two reels. The epitome of a Rusby song is perhaps "The Cobbler's Daughter," which was movingly emotional with McCusker at his very best on fiddle.

As an encore the band played the lively "Sir Eglamore." The crisp delivery and precision pauses were amazing and I would defy any double bass player to get a more resonant sound from the instrument than Vernal did here! Rusby has been able to augment the sheer quality of her voice by assembling a remarkable band.

- Rambles
written by Andy Jurgis
published 3 January 2004

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