Oh the weather outside is frightful (wet and windy) but the music inside is delightful – thanks to the dulcet tones of Barnsley songbird Kate Rusby and her beautifully packaged 10-piece festive band.

Kate Rusby At Christmas
  • York Barbican
  • Dec 18

Rusby’s stage persona is as cosy as the fluffiest Christmas jumper; she soon had the enthusiastic York audience singing, clapping and cheering.

The stage is festooned with fairy lights and there is even a rocking reindeer called Ruby to add a touch of kitsch. The Danes have another word for it – hygge (pronounced hue-guh) – to describe a cosiness and togetherness where everybody feels safe and content despite the harsh winter.

Steeped in tradition

Kate and her band on stage at York Barbican. Photograph: Richard Foster
Rusby loves Christmas and her touring Yuletide show has become a vital part of the festivities for countless fans of her family-friendly style of folk music.

She is steeped in the tradition of “Song Valley” near Sheffield where people gather in rural pubs every November and December to sing carols to vibrant tunes seldom heard in church.

Different versions of familiar carols have evolved organically over the years as fresh tunes are composed and passed orally from generation to generation.


She told her audience there were more than 30 versions of While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night and it was a dream of hers to perform them all in a single concert; such is her charm, she would probably get away with it.

She managed the fit in three versions of While Shepherds… at York, with the final one wrapping up the show as the climax of a well-deserved encore.

New take on old carols

Rusby’s band breathed new life into well-known carols, such as O Little Town Of Bethlehem and Joy To The World, with sumptuous arrangements that made the most her five-piece brass ensemble.

The Moog synthesizer came to the fore in a febrile rendition of a moody song called Paradise. To lighten the mood, Rusby sang a rousing version of Santa Never Brings Me A Banjo, adding that her nine-year-old daughter Daisy is already getting to grips with this demanding instrument.

More comedy was added to the festive concoction when Rusby left the stage to allow the band, led by her husband Damien O’Kane on banjo, to let rip with some blistering tunes.

However, in keeping with the season of goodwill, they peppered their boisterous medley with some evergreen Christmas favourites.

Rusby and her band of gifted musicians conjured up a charming Christmas concert in York that generated enough warmth to melt the heart of the meanest Scrooge.